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The Meaning of the Razor

Tara Van De Mark

The ribbon brigade forms a semi-circle around Becky.  Bent over they divvy up Leah’s Ritalin.  From Becky’s position above, the blonde ponytails look like the shell in Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus.”  Becky’s face relaxes into an angelic pose, she places her hand loosely over her heart.  A goddess at Arbor Collis School for Girls, Becky grins because its mayhem, not love, that she inspires.  Reaching into her cubby she pulls out the razor.  Leah can’t avoid her now.  


Across the hall Stephanie notices Becky.  Stephanie’s grandmother had called that type of grin “The Cheshire Cat.”  Her grandmother’s funeral was last Sunday and her gaze lingers on Becky as she remembers the position of her grandmother's hands in the casket.  Then she sees the razor.  The handle is blue plastic and a clear safety cover protects the blade.  Unremarkable in a dopp kit, but at Arbor Collis, with that grin, the razor is sinister.  But why?  Sinking into her first period desk, Stephanie whispers, “Becky has a razor!” to Olivia, hoping her friend can explain what it means.  However, as usual, Olivia furrows her brow in confusion.  Stephanie rolls her eyes at her oblivious friend, pulls out her homework, and forgets about it.


“Oh shit!”  Olivia says, flush with panic as Stephanie reaches for her Kenyan Bag.  At Arbor Collis there are no backpacks, just Kenyan Bags as if everyone is on safari.  Olivia forgot to do the homework, again, which means detention from Mrs. Newfield.  She didn’t forgot as much as she didn’t have the opportunity to remember.  Coming home from school yesterday she found her mother passed out, her baby brother’s face red from crying and his dirty diaper sagging down to his chubby knees.  Olivia took care of everything, again, and fell asleep in the glider next to his crib.  Alert now she grabs Emily’s homework and runs to the bathroom to copy it before the bell. 


Amy witnesses the whole thing, the “Becky has a razor,” the “Oh shit!” and Olivia running out.  Amy knows what it means because her sister graduated from Arbor Collis last year and is at an Ivy.  Her sister tells her things, even sex stuff that makes her crinkle her nose like the story about a boy, his dog and peanut butter that so disturbed Amy that she hasn’t eaten a pb&j since.  Amy writes a note in purple gel pen to Jen and asks Mrs. Newfield if she may please be excused.  Once in the hall she tucks the note into Jen’s cubby knowing that her virtuous friend will not be able to stop herself from doing the right thing.


Between periods Jen likes to swap out her textbooks so that her Kenyan Bag doesn’t cause misalignment to her back.  The note flutters from her cubby down to her penny loafers.  At Arbor Collis sneakers are not allowed in the halls, just penny loafers, oxfords and bucks.  The words, “Becky is going to slit her wrists” looks up at her.  Jen knows its Amy’s handwriting plus her friend is such a gossip.  Having just received her life guard certification Jen is compelled by her newly understood Duty of Care to tell Head Mistress Walsh.  


Leah is late for second period.  Mrs. Newfield will give her another detention.  Detention, lunch spent safely in a classroom, is part of Leah’s strategy though.  Just like using the bathroom after the bell, all so Becky can’t hurt her again.  It’s because of her Dad that Leah knows about strategies.  As she climbs the stairs to class Leah looks out the window and sees Becky walking towards a car.  She can only see Becky’s ponytail but her parents trail closely behind like they can’t trust their daughter.  She knows that feeling.  Becky holds the car door in protest.  She says something, but Leah can’t hear her through the leaded glass windows.  Becky’s father replies then pulls her ponytail back so hard that Becky’s chin points to the sky.  She releases her grip and he pushes her into the backseat, his lips curl up exposing a toothy grin.  Leah realizes she and Becky have more in common than either will ever admit. 

Tara Van De Mark is a recovering attorney now writer based in Washington, DC.  Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Hobart, Cerasus Magazine, Bandit Fiction, Tiny Molecules, CP Quarterly, On The Seawall, and The Mark Literary Review.  She can be found at and lurks around twitter @TaraVanDeMark  

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