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Sophomores win Scholastic Art and Writing Awards

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Sophomores win Scholastic Art and Writing Awards

Sophomore Katherine Christensen's story

Sophomore Katherine Christensen's story "The Train Station Bathroom" won a Scholastic writing award in the humor category.

Sophomore Katherine Christensen's story "The Train Station Bathroom" won a Scholastic writing award in the humor category.

Sophomore Katherine Christensen's story "The Train Station Bathroom" won a Scholastic writing award in the humor category.

Allison Fitz

Two sophomore students, Katherine Christensen and Terah Gruber, won Silver Key awards in the Personal Essay & Memoir category of the national Scholastic Art and Writing Awards for essays they wrote in their English classes. Both have shared their award winning stories with Inkwell.

Michelle Foster, a junior and a member of the after school activity Annie Writers, also had her poem “Scarecrow” accepted for publication in the Louisville Review literary magazine in a student work section.

 

The Train Station Bathroom

by Katherine Christensen

My black suitcase rolls behind me as I trudge through the bustling station, shoulders sunken under my backpack. I follow a short line of students trailing behind our chaperones as we weave our way across the packed concrete floor. Despite the doors being held open by a stream of people, cigarette smoke fills the station; it permeates the hot air, clinging to my skin like wet clothes. Slowly, we force our way through the crowd, stopping finally in a little corner full of sticky, fake leather chairs.

We’re the only people within sight who don’t speak Chinese.

I look around, searching for open seats among the heaps of overfilled bags and weary travelers. Our bedraggled little group has traveled all day, hauling bags and sweaty bodies alike through the unbearable heat on our way to Shanghai. And here, our first chance to rest, and no one can sit.

It’s starting to get bad.

Really bad.

Not bad in a ‘I lost my job and my landlord is evicting me’ kind of way, but more in a ‘my alarm didn’t go off and I missed the bus and goddammit I stubbed my toe’ kind of way. There are several open seats–probably eight or nine–but they’re guarded on all sides. I stare at the only open seat in the row next to me. The man and woman sitting on either side of it stare back: challenging, taunting, just asking for me to make a move. I shift my weight forward and take a few steps towards them. I’m one stubbed toe away from losing it.

Quickly, without a look in my direction, the woman swings her purse over onto the empty chair. I pause, eyes narrowed. Suddenly, neither of them will meet my gaze. I glance around: eyes flit to the wall everywhere I look. I suspect–no, I know--that they’re in cahoots. They’re working together: they saw us coming and filled the open seats so that none of us could sit. I’m outraged. I hold them personally accountable: the passengers, the workers in the train station, even the government of China. All of them. I drop my suitcase onto its side and sit down on top of it, struggling to pull off my backpack without tipping over.

“How long until our train arrives?” I ask in a strained voice.

I get no clear answer. A moment later, the whole tour is seated on their suitcases and staring at their phones. I sigh. My muscles start to relax; my eyelids begin to close and my body grows heavy. My head falls into my hands and I take a deep breath. And, of course, I realize I need to use the bathroom.

Slowly, I gather my shredded resolve. As I try to stand, I remember the shock of the very first time I used a public bathroom in China: I swung open the door and knew immediately something was wrong.

Where’s the toilet?

I paused, simultaneously afraid to close the stall behind me and afraid not to. How had they forgotten the toilet? I looked down.

Oh. There it is.

Well, kind of. They forgot the bottom part. And the top part. And the toilet seat. And everything but the basin filled with water, set into the floor with two thin serrated strips of porcelain on either side for your feet. I was grossed out, for sure, but more than that, I was confused. Why would anyone consciously decide to use a hole in the ground instead of a full, seated toilet? Or, as I later found they call it, a ‘Western toilet.’ I was baffled. Completely and utterly baffled. Sure, it might be cost effective, but is it really worth having to squat every time you need to go to the bathroom? Do they do it for the exercise or something?

I push away my brooding thoughts and finally stand from my suitcase, remembering as I do so what time of the month it is. I’ll have to get some feminine products from my bag. No way am I risking there being a stain when I stand up at the end of our train ride: no way in hell. Not again. I kneel down and stuff my arm into my bag. I immediately find what I’m looking for, but pretend to rummage around a moment as I maneuver my body to block my classmate’s line of sight as I hastily stuff a bright orange, crinkly square into my pocket. I turn to the nearest chaperone and ask politely if I can use the restroom.

“Yes, but hurry up.”

Thankfully, she’s too tired to remind me to take a buddy as I head off in search of a bathroom. I look around, panicking for a moment when all I see are more swarms of people, all wearing the same worn-down, defeated expression. I doubt myself for a moment. Maybe I shouldn’t have marched off alone in the middle of a bustling train station in a foreign country. But, a moment later, over the thick, jostling crowd, I spot those familiar white-on-blue letters: WC. My shoulders slump with relief, and I march directly towards the sign. As I walk closer, I realize the crowd of people I had initially mistaken for another clump of seemingly depressed passengers is, in fact, the line for the women’s restroom. I step into the back of the line, taking more breaths of the probably-cancer-causing air, and reassure myself.

Yes, okay, the line is long, but the women’s restroom always has a long line. You’ll be on the train in no time.

I stand silently, the aching in my feet nearing the muscular equivalent of screaming. Thankfully, it only takes a few minutes to get to the front. There are two grey stalls, one of which has an elegant drawing of a Western toilet on it. My heart soars as I step forward.

A young girl steps quickly out of the stall, one hand over her mouth. Her eyes are downcast as she rushes towards the exit. I look after her for a moment before turning back. The woman in front of me enters the stall. I’m next.

Then, just before the stall door is going to shut, it slams back open and the woman bursts out. Her arms are up in the air, eyes wide, mouth locked in such a deep frown that, at first, I think something happened to her face. As she storms out of the bathroom, she makes a low, guttural sound. I look after her for a long moment, bewildered. I pause in front of the empty stall, searching for an explanation.

The girl in front of her must’ve not flushed the toilet.

I shake my head and step into the stall, pulling the metal lock into place with a satisfying click. I turn, prepared to reach forward and flush the toilet as quickly as possible without looking into the basin. Before I can, however, I catch something sitting on the toilet from the corner of my eye.

I freeze. My mind goes blank.

There, sitting on the back of the toilet seat, I see it. A mound of brown, half-solid chunks, soaked in a bright orange, viscous liquid that oozes slowly towards the edge of the porcelain bowl. I stare at it for a moment longer, unable to comprehend the thing before me. One lone phrase floats into my mind. My subconscious says it quietly, then returns my mind to silence.

Suddenly, all at once, I rear back. Disgusting. Absolutely disgusting. She couldn’t just vomit into the toilet bowl? Who does that? I bet she didn’t even try to clean it up!

I bring two fingers to the bridge of my nose, closing my eyes against the headache mounting in my temples. Jesus Christ, will this day never end? I sigh and reopen my eyes, glaring in the direction of the toilet.

A minute or so later, I’m back with my group. I flop down onto my suitcase: who cares if something inside it breaks. It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters anymore. I frown at the floor. My friend Emilie glances over at me; her eyebrows pull together slightly. My face, by now, is cemented in a scowl.

“You okay, Katherine?”

I don’t look at her, just grunt angrily.

“What happened?”

Slowly, I turn towards her and take a deep breath. I lean in, my face full of grim frustration, and speak in a low, solemn voice, as if sharing an important secret.

“This is the most traumatic day of my entire life.”

 

I Hate Carol

by Terah Gruber

The wheels on my suitcase swivel and shake with every slight movement as I walk down the bleak and seemingly ordinary airport hallway on an equally seemingly ordinary day. Yet this is no ordinary day. Today I am flying alone for the first time from SeaTac to Chicago O’Hare. The trip is easy, simple, and only four hours. As I get to my gate, much more quickly than my parents, I hear my mom gasp. She realizes she has to hand me over to the safety of American Airlines. She realizes she has to walk away from the airport without her daughter. My dad is silent. I quickly say my goodbyes. I want to grasp ahold of my first independent step in life.

I rush onto my plane. The gate attendant fakely smiles as he walks me to the plane. He hands me over to the next attendant, who seems to be a bit better at faking a smile. I am being tossed between different flight personnel like a sweatshirt with no name. Finally, I get to my seat in the very back of the plane. I have a middle seat, and the stewardess who is in charge of me tells me to not move and be silent. She doesn’t even try to smile.

The plane begins to move along the runway. In a matter of seconds, I am soaring into the air going further and further away from my parents, from the man with the fake smile, but I am getting closer and closer to Chicago and a simple vacation with my grandparents. I listen to the mean stewardess. I think her name is Carol. She seems like a Carol. I don’t move from my seat, but I do strike up a very interesting conversation with an older couple sitting to my left and right. We talk how Almond Rocas are made. Carol doesn’t seem to mind me speaking as long as I’m not talking to her. I forget to ask the couple’s names. An hour passes, they both fall asleep, and I people-watch the two twenty year olds in front of me. They are watching a movie that is too violent for me to even speak of in my house. I swiftly pull out my iPad from my tidily organized backpack, as to not disturb the couple and Carol, who has been glaring out the window for the entirety of flight so far. I watch two movies in a row; half way through Matilda the older man asks to switch seats with me.

“It’s always important to sleep next your wife,” he tells me as he falls back asleep.

Carol looks disgusted as I pass through her line of sight to shuffle out of the way to move myself from one chair to the next.

I watch the flight tracker on my screen on the chair in front of me. I watch the plane get closer and closer to my destination, and then I watch it turn sharply left. This seems wrong. This seems so wrong. I watch my little dot of a plane fly further and further away from Chicago, further and further away from my simple vacation with my grandparents. For nearly an hour, I watch my dot flying into the wrong direction in the wrong state. I watch my little dot fly into Michigan. This can’t be right. I wait for the intercom to screech and explain that the flight tracker has malfunctioned and that we are already at O’Hare. I wait for nothing. The old man wakes up, and I wait a minute for him to reassess his arrangement in such a confined space.

“Are we supposed to fly through Michigan?” I ask.

Before he can answer, I hear the long awaited screech of the intercom system explaining why the plane is off course. The pilot says that there is a storm, and that the pilot has flown his maximum amount of hours for the day, so we must land in Grand Junction, Michigan. At least that was what the old man told me, as he kindly translated adult language into a more simple tongue that I could understand. This sucks. This absolutely sucks. My mom is going to be so mad. I reflect silently on what I’ve been told. I’ve never heard of direct flights taking a detour. What do I do? Who do I call? Where do I go? My seat neighbor tries to console me, but he too has to worry about his own plans being delayed.

As we begin our descent from the clouds, my phone begins to beep as we get closer to cell service. As I scroll through the multitude of texts from my parents and grandparent, I realize I was supposed to have landed an hour ago. I scroll through texts that become more and more frustrated and worried sounding. I quickly dial my mom’s number and try my best to explain the situation, which does no good. The old man points to Carol. Anybody but Carol. I have already broken her two rules; this can’t end well. I unbuckle my seatbelt to extend my phone out to Carol, who quickly snatches my phone and quickly tells my mom the situation. She ends the call to tattle tale and say that I have disrespected her by getting out of my seat during the flight. I hate Carol. As soon as Carol allows me, I take my phone and sit quietly, waiting for us to hit the unfamiliar pavement of Grand Rapids, Michigan. I still don’t know what to do, as Carol has hung up my call with my mom. I really hate Carol.

My friendly seat neighbors wave their last goodbyes before they depart the plan, leaving me alone with Carol and the various other captains and flight attendants. The sky outside is an eerie navy blue with a few grey clouds hovering above me. Carol hovers over me, telling me to get up. She must not be the smartest, since she expects me to get up while blocking my exit. As I jump up to grab my overpacked suitcase, I hear Carol bark at another person. A buzzed cut hair cut pops up from a few rows ahead of me. He looks just as perplexed to why Carol is blocking his exit. I wait with the other lone boy just outside the plane. He too was flying without his parents. Carol stays behind. I’m sure she has to perform some sort of satanic witch ritual just to get through the day. One of the earlier flight attendants who had had the best fake smile slips two five dollar bills into our hands and says good luck before she scurries away. She too must be afraid of Carol.

One of the air traffic control men comes to escort us through the terminal to baggage claim. I see all the other passengers waiting anxiously for their bags. I ask my new friend with the buzzcut for his name. He whispers, “Marvin,” under his breath. His eyes can’t seem to raise above Mario Kart on his DS. Marvin never asks for my name. In the mad rush of people shuffling from help desk to baggage claim, Marvin and I get pushed to the back of a help desk. We settle down on the ground, our tiredness setting in. It is to difficult to focus on all the words being thrown around between the walls with such carelessness.

I try to focus on the lone flight attendant holding both my phone and Marvin’s phone in his hand trying to talk to our parents.

He sounds exhausted. “Yes ma’am, yes sir. Mhmm, we are finding a hotel. Okay, mhmmm. We are thinking they will each have a flight attendant in their room with them. Correct. Yes. Everyone wants to get home. Maybe a cab to O’Hare. I’m checking now.”

In between exasperated words, he is typing furiously at a computer while simultaneously managing the most furious and obnoxious soccer mom. I close my eyes for a small nap. He drops my phone in my lap. The weight of my phone and my day seems so much heavier than it actually is.

Nearly everybody is gone. I have never seen an airport so still and silent before. 12:07 is what the clock across the room says. My tiredness is coming in waves, crashing over me, growing stronger every time. An old hand reaches out for me. A kind lone janitor helps Marvin and I up. He must be tired too. His eyes are sunken back but his smile is welcoming and sympathetic.

I look over to Marvin, who still is on the same level of Mario Kart. I respect his dedication to the game. “Where are we going?”

He replies simply, still not looking up from his game, “Cab.”

Before I realize, the same flight attendant who had slipped us five dollars is on Marvin’s phone. She explains quickly that we are taking a cab to O’Hare, and she will be accompanying us. Next, she does the same on my phone.

The airport is so silent and lonely. It is hard to imagine such a busy place now so slow and solemn. The clock ticks, waiting for the next wave of passengers to wade through security and various terminals. The same kind janitor turns around a corner. He too is silent and lonely.

My suitcase wheels roll and stumble with every crease where two tiles on the floor meet. The air outside is cold and brisk. The coldness ushers me into the car. Marvin settles into his seat. His eyes are glued to his DS. The last few hours crash over me, and my head drops to the window next to me. Imagining I am back on my flight, I let the rumbling of the car’s engine drift me asleep.

As I fall asleep, I remember I am getting closer and closer to Chicago, to a simple vacation with my grandparents; yet I am getting further and further away from my parents, from the man with the fake smile. I am getting further and further away from Carol.

 

 

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