States of Matter

Ida Schenck
  1. Solid

“Solids are the state of matter with the least electricity and heat.” I can’t focus on Mr. Sandler’s lecture. I usually like chemistry a lot but today… No, I’m nodding off again. WAKE UP!

When I got home last night it was already 11:30 and I was so tired from working at that dumb suburban AMC. Five hours of sweeping buttery popcorn and candy wrappers off the tiered theater seats is just categorically inhumane. Mom was already deep in Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep by the time I got home. She always is on nights she’s off from the hospital. I sometimes wish she would stay awake. I shouldn’t be so ungrateful though. There are many nights where I’m fast asleep and she’s running around carrying bedpans.

I tucked her in with the blue blanket she always leaves folded next to her, making sure her hands and shoulders  were neatly covered. Like clockwork I knew in the morning she’d say “I tried to wait up for you, but I didn’t make it past nine-thirty. Still, I knew when I woke up all nice and cozy that you’d made it home safe,” just like she always does. Like clockwork is a dumb expression. Most of the clocks in our house are either too fast or too slow.

  1. Liquid

“Liquids have more energy and heat than solids,” Mr. Sandler was saying. 

Liquid, liquid, liquid. Liiiiiiquid.

There’s something I wanted to ask Mr. Sander but I can’t remember what. It’ll come to me in a second. I raise my hand. He’s not paying attention. I raise it higher. He’s looking right at me. I really need to remember my question. Why isn’t he calling on me? He’s looking through me, I swear. His eyes are as blank as the eyes of my betta fish when I came home from the first day of second grade and she was upside down floating at the top of her tank. No one without adequate training should raise fish. I put my hand down.

  1. Gas

“Gas has the most energy and heat of all the states of matter. The particles move very fast and want to get as far away as possible from each other,” Mr. Sandler said. 

I remember! I wanted to ask how lights work. I wasted hours last night staring at the light in my bedroom, leaned back in my chair belly up like a dead fish. I thought about little illustrations of cartoon electrons running through rubber cords. I can’t remember where I saw that. I laugh. Shit, did anyone hear that? Appears not. I really shouldn’t have cursed. Only inarticulate people resort to curse words.

It’s odd though. I mean I know I’m a nobody but wouldn’t my stone-age-minded comrades at least use this opportunity to glance around at each other to highlight how weird I am?

This is like in freshman year when I tried to strike up a conversation in the lunch line with Grace. Beautiful, lovely Grace. She’d said “Jesus Christ what is this food?” to her best friend (whose name I’ve never bothered to learn. It’s of no importance next to Grace). With sudden boldness, I replied something like “I know, it’s truly inhumane,” and then launched into a story about the moldy fries my mom brought home from the McDonalds drive through that I’m sure are still lodged somewhere in my pharynx, perhaps at the edge of my esophagus. When I was done, the mentally challenged friend said, “Do you know what homework we have for algebra?” preventing Grace from entering into a more engaging conversation with me. I realized that to the friend I might as well have been a poster on the wall advertising after-school voice lessons. The people in my class were like the friend.

I think about the gasses mom warned me against the first time I was old enough to be left at home alone (or maybe it was the first time she was broke enough to not be able to pay for a sitter). She leaned down to look right into my eyes and warned me that if all the burners weren’t properly off, invisible, odorless gas would leak out and fill the house until just one little spark and everything goes boom. She actually yelled the last word, BOOM, and clapped, making me jump. That night I checked at least ten times to make sure all the burners were off between episodes of Planet Earth and batches of microwave popcorn.

Maybe this lesson served a bigger purpose than paranoia though. In fact, the other kids might not be simply uninterested in me but categorically unable to see me. Maybe I’m like the gas seeping through the school unseen from a burner turned a little too far. I just need to wait for the spark.

  1. Boom

Grace, Grace, Grace. I have to find Grace. Gone are the days of avoiding her since freshman year. If she can’t see me, then I know nobody can. She’s the one person who could stop me from doing this. I sit down at the table behind her. If I’m gas, even to her, then it’s impossible for her to feel my eyes on the back of her head like a target. But if I’m human, I know she’ll look. She has to look.

I don’t get lunch, and instead spend the whole time staring at the back of her head. She has to turn around, she has to turn around, she has to turn around. She’s not gonna. What is the friend even talking to her about? Probably something too irrelevant to grace (pun intended) her perfect ears.

Right before the bell rings she gets up to throw her cardboard lunch tray in the trash. She’s walking back, she’s facing me, but like Mr. Sandler, she’s looking through me. I have to wait for her to make eye contact. My heart is beating in my throat. She’s going to, she’s going to, she’s going to. She doesn’t meet my eyes.

She sits back down and for the first time all lunch I break concentration and glance around at the rest of the cafeteria. All of my stone-age-minded comrades are rushing around frantically, almost desperately as if their lives depend on talking to this person and telling that person some thoroughly useless piece of gossip. I’m sure, absolutely certain that they’re all talking about me and I hate them all. I HATE THEM I HATE THEM I HATE THEM.

Suddenly everything’s dead silent like the split second before an explosion. This is my moment, this is it. I pull a cigarette lighter from my bag that I keep with me at all times. One, two, three, BOOM. I yell it just like my mom did as I roll and press down on the top. A tiny flame pops up. Everyone looks at me, brows furrowed in unison. They go back to talking. I take my thumb off the lighter and the flame disappears. I sit back down. I guess I’m not invisible gas filling the school.