Note: To read The Wishing Map from the beginning, click here.
The Wishing Map
Chapter One: The Double Moon (continued)
Previously: Abandoned by his friends, Zack had never felt more alone in his life. Meanwhile, his sister Gina…
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For some cosmic reason, the Eighth Grade Promotion Ceremony had been the beginning of the end not just for Zack Dore, but for Gina Dore as well:
White and frilly with pink cherry blossoms, her graduation dress was the center of her “post-punk princess ensemble,” the other principal components being hot pink knee socks and black combat boots. With her flashing green eyes and thick auburn hair, she somehow managed to be pretty and make fun of pretty all at the same time. Mom wasn’t going to let her wear the boots until Ms. Killian, Mid-Mid’s incurably bohemian eighth grade English instructor, called at Gina’s request and insisted that the boots would be “delicious.”
It was Gina’s last official day of middle school. She’d done eighth grade right: played Katherina in The Taming of the Shrew, won the Spring Poetry Jam, and gotten nearly perfect grades.
Nearly. Truth is they’d been slipping since the end of last year, and it was getting harder and harder to maintain the illusion of effortlessness, but no one except Gina was worried. Her grades and wonky wit had landed her one of just three student speaker spots on the graduation platform. Her task: to write and recite the annual “Wings of the Future Inspirational Closing Speech.”
Fifty-three minutes into the ceremony, Mom looked up from her program, for the sixth time, and whispered “I don’t see her.”
“She’s going over her speech,” Dad reassured. He was at least as nervous as she was but, being a lawyer, had mastered the art of pretend certainty.
After getting the nod from Mrs. Williams, Gina straightened the bows on her knee socks and crossed to the platform steps. She suddenly felt absurd and inadequate. Missy Herbert had just completed her valedictorian speech. It was good, but predictable, which in Middleton was the quintessence of goodness. Not that Gina resented her—they’d been close friends since fourth grade—it was just that Missy was “safe,” and somehow her safeness seemed to draw attention to Gina’s not-safeness.
So Gina was sweating bullets because, with Ms. Killian’s approval, she’d decided to stand the whole Wings of the Future tradition on its head. “As we soar forth on the wings of the future…” every Inspirational Closing Speech was supposed to begin, but Gina planned to say, “Not everyone soars forth on the wings of the future. Some drag themselves backward on the elbows of the past.” Ms. Killian had called the line “pure genius.”
Only at this moment did Gina realize that Ms. Killian was insane.
The Seventh Grade Jazz Ensemble finished their nearly on-key rendition of “New York, New York,” which had nothing to do with anything, but was their best number. The crowd cheered.
“And now,” five-foot-four-inch Principal Glassmann intoned in his incongruously large voice, “here’s Gina Dore, winner of last month’s Spring Poetry Jam, and our own Catalina in the spring drama production of The Dawning of the Shrew, to present the Wings of the Future Inspirational Closing Speech.”
Applause—frighteningly over-expectant applause.
It suddenly seemed to Gina that the sound was coming from alien scientists on the other side of a thick glass window that were here to study her in her…what…natural habitat? Hardly. There was nothing natural about this. What was she thinking? What was she doing here? Why had she agreed to give this speech? Why?!
As she climbed the steps and floated toward the microphone, she thought, How absurd. All these humanoid creatures folded onto their posteriors, smacking their forepaws together as if it had some kind of actual meaning.
She approached the stand and raised the mic. Which as planned, brought a hearty laugh (poor Principal Glassmann had to suffer this indignity at least half a dozen times a year), but instead of jarring her out of her altered state of consciousness, the laughter only added to her sense of disassociation:
Those creatures are making strange barking noises now.
The laughter died down, and then nine hundred thousand people—out of a crowd of three hundred and thirty two—stared at her,
OhGodOhGodOhGodOhGodOhGodOhGodOhGodOhGodOhGod! she prayed inside her head—desperate, incoherent, out of control praying—because the only word she could think of, the only word she could not, in fact, get out of her mind was the word expectation.
All of Middleton was waiting
All of the alien scientists were waiting
She was fourteen, smart, and knew it, talented, and never had to be reminded, but for some reason everything was slipping: her grades, her friendships. And now she herself was about to slip over the edge…
with an insane speech,
in an insane dress,
egged on by an insane English teacher.
And then somehow the words formed themselves in her mouth. Beautiful words. Perfect words. Even as she spoke, she watched the effect they had on her audience:
“Fie, fie, unknit that threatening, unkind brow, and dart not scornful glances from those eyes.”
People listened in reverent silence as the powerful words emanated from her. Many actually had their mouths open.
“A woman moved is like a fountain troubled, muddy, ill-seeming, thick, bereft of beauty; and while it is so, none so dry or thirsty will deign to sip or touch a drop of it.”
“Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper, thy head, thy sovereign…”
Something was wrong.
“Too little payment for so great a debt. Such duty as the subject owes the prince, even such a woman owes…”
It felt just like when she’d played Katherina in The Taming of the Shrew. For good reason: it was The Taming of the Shrew. Or rather it was Gina’s final speech from The Taming of the Shrew, and it was, in and of itself, quite impressive, but it was not a Wings of the Future Inspirational Closing Speech. It wasn’t even close.
Eternity passed, and then…
“And so do we, um…so do we ‘owe the future,’” she muttered, “as we soar forth on it…I mean, on, um, you know, its wings…I mean, you know, the future’s…whatever…”
Her voice straggled off, and then—whether she was trying to say “thank ye” in Shakespearean English, or whether she was trying to say “thank you” and thinking of the word “hanky” at the same time—she said, “Thanky,” and wandered off toward the Seventh Grade Jazz Ensemble. Mr. Goldsmith, the band instructor, grabbed her just in time to keep her from stepping off the edge of the stage, and steered her toward the staircase.
As she stumbled down the steps, twelve year old tenor sax-man Jeff Simerlink said, “Truly weird, Dore, truly weird!” Which, coming from Jeff Simerlink, was high praise.
People were divided. Some thought Gina was trying to recreate her triumph as Katherina one final time, others thought she was trying to pass off Shakespeare’s words as her own. David Stigman called her a “plague-erizer.”
Ms. Killian said that “by placing Shakespeare’s words in an entirely different context,” Gina had “reinvented the speech and made it brilliantly her own.”
Birdy Trujillo waved—as though completely unaware of the tragic event that had just occurred. Roberta “Birdy” Trujillo, Gina’s closest friend and the most un-judging person in the universe, might have provided some comfort, but after a quick air kiss and a “love ya, Jeener-weener!” she was whisked away by her relatives, en route to the airport and to California, where she would remain all summer.
Gina had never felt more alone in her life.
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Thoughts: Have you ever felt crushed under the weight of others’ expectations? Ever wished you could escape to another world?
To read The Wishing Map 5, click here.