Liv dreams of a giant horned-lizard that slithers out of the Ol’ Muddy where the family used to drive on Sundays after church to get root beer floats and watch the barges creep by. A horse-drawn chariot falls out of the sky and lands on the lizard’s tail. Suddenly she is on the chariot, trying to grab the reins, but she can’t. Then she is a little girl again in her Grandy’s basement afraid of ghosts in the wood shop where all the keys are. She backs her way up the stairs. Then she wakes up.
The sound of water through pipes and a gruff cough nearby tell Liv that Dave has beat her to the bathroom. Fine, she thinks, I’ll wait. She knows she has dreamed and tries to remember the tip of the thread. Something about keys? She needs the right trigger to remember. A clue will come later, just like it always does.
After the requisite new student registration, their father offers Liv and Dave a dismissive farewell. Dave steals away to the men’s room, but Liv knows better than to wait for him. She pushes open the glass doors opposite the one she entered and lands on a bench to examine the campus map. The one-story campus spreads like magma and its design requires students to navigate city blocks to reach intended destinations. She notes a major crossroad of sidewalks, each leading to one of four academic wings.Has anyone else noticed that the layout of the school resembles a wonky swastika? She shivers.
Soon the sidewalk fills with students who trudge past oblivious to her and to the light of day, dull eyes and slack jaws abounding. Early morning looks good on no teenager. That’s the only detail that registers.
Just as she’s folding her schedule in half, her brother lands beside her like a deflating balloon.
“Hey, what’s with the silent treatment, man?” she sighs. Then with her hand out — “Show me your schedule.”
Dave raises his hip slightly to reveal the green piece of paper he has stashed out of sight. “Be quick about it.” He snatches her map in a huffy exchange.
Liv compares their days and mumbles, “We might as well be on different planets.” Then she nudges him at the elbow, “Wanna meet at lunch?”
“No thanks.” Dave grabs his slip and jams it into his pocket, tossing the map back in her lap.
Liv kicks her scuffed penny loafer against his fraying high top. “You no want be my friend, Scooby Doo?”
“Get real, man.” Dave answers as he spins off toward the boy’s gym. First period p.e. What could suck more than that?
Liv circles campus before the first bell. She makes a stop to inspect her locker, surprised to find a mirror inside that someone’s left behind. Her hazel eyes stare back at her with a sadness she hasn’t seen before. And where did those dark circles come from? She paws her bangs against her forehead to cover the hairline pimples that’ve just erupted. You weirdo, she thinks, as she slams the metal door shut.
“Welcome to the old world, Ms. Nyland.” Mr. Bolt scans her admission paper. She inspects his small frame, lean and confident, brown hair curling over his shirt collar. But what she notices most are his eyes, direct and piercing. An uncanny resemblance to Kenny Loggins. Her mind bounces to a tune inside her head. Further and further from things that we’ve done/Leaving them one by one/Listening and learning and yearning/Run, river, run. The river. The lizard. The chariot. The keys. The dream. She remembers!
“Olivia?” She snaps back at the sound of her name. Mr. Bolt lifts a frayed World History textbook from the low stack behind his desk. All the better copies had been signed out weeks before. The suddenness of her dad’s late September transfer put her in the position of the underdogs’ underdog: the new kid showing up a month after the opening of school. What had she done to warrant this punishment? Her sins were few: stealing pain pills out of her mother’s drawer, masturbating, lying about her weight, letting “that guy” feel her up “that day.” Not keeping in touch with her grandmother. But asking too many questions — that is her biggest fault.
“Take a seat over there between the 1000 and 1900 C.E.” Mr. Bolt says. All of a sudden Liv feels like everyone is staring at her. She takes the weighty book in both hands and confirms the spot in the illustrated timeline that wraps around the classroom walls. A corner. Beneath is an empty desk nestled between a couple of pony-tailed blondes made up like Twiggy, dark eyes, clumpy eyelashes. Perfect.
“Say hi to Olivia, y’all.” Mr. Bolt announces. A smatter of “hi”s and “hey”s chases her across the open floor, a mine field of embarrassment blasting her confidence. Just get to the chair. Just get to the chair, Livie, she hears Grandy say.
Liv slides into her chair and grabs a fresh spiral from her bag, pretending to care what happens next.
From the looks of the homework listed on the chalkboard, the Greeks are the subject at hand. Poor Helen of Troy and the launching of all that harbor traffic just because she was pretty. What else was there to know about the Greeks, Liv wonders, except for myths and gyros? And what is with the homework: Write a poem or story based on a line from The Golden Verses of Pythagoras. Mr. Bolt has officially surprised her twice in a matter of minutes.
Pythagoras? Wasn’t he a math guy? She flings open her textbook to the index and finds a page number in the appendix. She locates the Golden Verses which are described in a brief introduction as a series of moral instructions. As if on cue, Mr. Bolt crosses to her corner of the classroom, “Let’s talk Pythagoras. Ms. Nyland. Can you tell the class where to find his Golden Verses?”
Just her luck. Nerd shame on day one.