PEANUT BUTTER by K. Uffelman
She stared into the camera, hair disheveled. The gum was still there, behind her left ear, and the peanut butter that Pamela promised would get it out was making her neck feel greasy.
“Say: POP TARTS!”
Marjorie scrunched up her nose and waited for the flash.
She couldn’t believe this was happening again. Last year she begged her mother not to buy her school pictures, but buy them her mother did. And included one of the wallet size in the Christmas cards she sent to all of the relatives. It had been Marjorie’s job to cut each one out (“Careful with the scissors, Marj!”), and the terrible jagged bangs of a haircut gone wrong were burned into her memory.
Marjorie slid off of the stool and shuffled to the door. Annabel Duncan was next in line to get her picture taken. Annabel’s hair was smooth and shiny and you could still detect the ironed creases on the sleeves of her rainbow shirt. She smiled wide as the photographer urged her,
“Say: JELLY DOUGHNUT!”
Marjorie and Annabel were friends, in theory, but Marjorie didn’t wait around for Annabel to finish. Or rejoin her class, milling by the orchestra room where the school photographer was set up. Instead, she headed straight down the hall, through the cafeteria, past Heather Wilkins and Gina Fromencino staring at her as if she were from Mars, and finally into the school nurse’s office.
Marjorie slammed the door behind her, and started in immediately about her dumb sister getting gum, and then peanut butter, in her hair. Nurse Becker would know what to do. Except that as Marjorie launched into her third sentence, she noticed that the office was empty. Nurse Becker wasn’t at her desk, and she wasn’t in the nap room with the cot. She wasn’t behind the supply closet. She wasn’t anywhere to be found…and the door had been unlocked. So strange.
Marjorie sat down on the bench in front of Nurse Becker’s desk and waited. Maybe she was in the bathroom? Or in the teachers’ lounge getting a snack? Nurse Becker was always in her office, and Marjorie should know, because she visited quite often.
Five minutes past, and then ten, but no Nurse Becker. There was still gum AND peanut butter in Marjorie’s hair, and if Nurse Becker didn’t show up to give Marjorie a late pass, she’d be in trouble if she went back to her classroom. Better to stay put. Nurse Becker would have to come back eventually.
Marjorie tried sitting on her hands and counting to one hundred, but sooner than it should have her curiosity got the better of her. The supply closet was likely to have something to get the gum out of her hair. It wouldn’t hurt if she just looked.
At first she was cautious with her snooping. Open the cabinet door, check back over her shoulder, smell some milk of magnesia, check the door to make sure no one was coming, unroll some gauze, close the closet quickly. But no one came, and soon she was pulling out bottles, opening those that looked promising, and rubbing soaked cotton balls over the area where her hair was tangled around the stubborn gum wad.
As far as she could tell, she wasn’t making much progress. And there were no bottles indicating that the contents were specifically for gum (or peanut butter) removal, so she might have to try everything in the cabinet before she found a remedy. Marjorie felt overwhelmed by the options. She’d been in the nurse’s office for over an hour, now, and certainly couldn’t go back to her class without being in serious trouble. Plus her hair was disgusting, and she wasn’t interested in having to live through the rest of the school day with everyone staring at her.
Marjorie flopped down into Nurse Becker’s chair and spun around, trying to determine what she should do next. In so doing, she bumped her knee against the corner of the top drawer which wasn’t pushed all the way in. So bizarre. Nurse Becker mysteriously missing and her desk drawer left open. Mrs. Wicket, Marjorie’s teacher, always locked her top drawer, and Marjorie assumed that was standard practice.
Marjorie itched to pull the drawer further open, but wouldn’t have a good excuse to be rooting around in Nurse Becker’s desk. At least, with the supply closet, she could say that she was searching for anti-gum stuff. Which was even true. But there was unlikely to be anti-gum stuff in Nurse Becker’s desk.
However, there might be clues about her disappearance!
Marjorie slowly inched open the drawer.
In the very front, right on top of the pens and pencils in the drawer partition was a white stick. Marjorie recognized the stick – it was the same kind of stick her Aunt Peggy had used when she found out she was pregnant with cousin Sammy.
Marjorie picked up the stick, rolled it over in her hands. There was a little window at the wide part of the stick. Marjorie held the stick up to the light and was able to make out a little pink plus in the window.
“Marjorie? What are you doing in here? Are you feeling sick?”
Marjorie simultaneously stuffed the stick in her jeans pocket and nudged the desk drawer shut.
“Oh nothing. I’m not doing anything.”
Nurse Becker eyed her suspiciously.
“And where have you been?” Marjorie asked, trying to turn the tables, “Aren’t you supposed to be in your office during the school day? What if somebody gets ill and you’re not here like you’re supposed to be?”
“Are you ill, Marjorie?” Nurse Becker suddenly seemed very tired.
“No. I mean, I was just looking for you.”
“You should get back to your classroom, Marjorie.”
“Would you write me a pass? I’m a little late because I was waiting for you.”
Nurse Becker sighed.
Marjorie slid around the desk as Nurse Becker wrote her a pass.
“I’ll see you later, okay, Nurse Becker?”
Nurse Becker waved her out of the office. She looked distracted.
Marjorie walked down the hall toward her classroom fingering the little white stick in her pocket. She wondered who it belonged to, and why was it in Nurse Becker’s desk drawer? And more importantly, what would she do with it, now that she had put it in her pocket?
Marjorie waltzed back into her classroom and put her pass on Mrs. Wicket’s desk. Mrs. Wicket looked irritated but didn’t say anything and continued on with her lesson about South America. Marjorie slid into her desk, fingers still wrapped around the little white stick in her pocket. The little white stick of mystery.
Marjorie was deep in thought, when Gina Fromencino kicked the back of her chair.
“Hey Miss America,” she whispered, “What’s in your hair?”