Fridge Flash: 42

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Today’s Fridge Flash by 13-year-old Annie Lee explores the pressures of school and friendship in the digital age with clear, vivid prose. 

It was the last question.

dx/dy=

Graph! Tangent! Trigonometry! Simultaneous equations! Pi! E! WHAT IS DIS? DOS? Dominant operating system or… what?

She wondered what Elaine had written or if she were even on this question. Maybe she’d already fin-

The timer exploded. A few of the other girls held up their yellow exercise books, muttering “Ngo yiu zhen ti mu!”

It was no good. Timer was God.

She scribbled 42 and put down her pen.

Done.

 

The next day, she was walking back to that very 42, back to her answer sheet, back to school.

“I so flunked this math test…” Elaine rolled her eyes and sat down on the stone steps outside Miss H’s Music Room. “My mom is gonna kill me!”

It was Elaine’s absolute favorite place. No matter what season, it was always at a perfect temperature of …well, room temperature.

“I barely scraped a twenty four.”

“I think I should seek help.” Elaine hugged her knees against her chest.

“For math?”

“Mental help.”

“How? Not the school psychologist?”

“I don’t know…”

“Miss H? Miss C? Miss K?”

Elaine tapped her fingers against her chin, “Miss H, maybe?”

Nadine made a mental note to talk to Miss H about it next time she saw her.

“Eh.” Elaine stared at her shoes. “Whatever.”

 

Elaine fled in a flurry of rustles and tears out of the classroom as she received her test score. Nadine half stood up, but was stopped by the teacher’s “Nadine.”

At lunch, Nadine walked to the staffroom. “May I see Miss D Huey please?” She asked in her Queen Margaret voice.

“Just a minute.”

The butterflies in Nadine’s stomach could rival the particle movement in oxygen as she mentally prepared herself for the confrontation. Elaine didn’t know she was doing this. Would she be mad?

After ten minutes, she was kindly informed that Miss H was not in the staffroom and it might be better if she came back the next day. She left, ignoring the Samaritans poster on the wall.

 

The sight of Elaine screaming at Cadenza greeted Nadine the moment she stepped into the classroom. Nadine tried her best to talk to Elaine, but quickly realized she was too caught up in the fight. I’ll talk to her after school, she thought.

 

A day passed then a school week, then a regular week, then a month before Nadine finally got hold of Miss H.

By that time Elaine had huge eye bags and was spending almost all her time near the Music Room.

“Good afternoon Miss H, I’m a friend of Elaine…”

“Mmh.”

“I wonder if you’d mind if I asked a favor?”

“Go on.”

“Well…it’s hard to explain, but…Elaine…she’s been a bit…weird… depressed…I’m not sure how to say it exactly but she’s been having a hard time. I’d greatly appreciate it if you could help her…nudge her in the right direction maybe,” Nadine said, her heart pounding in sync with every word spoken.

“Yes, yes, of course. Just ask her to look for me in staffroom C whenever,” Miss H said, doing finger cartwheels on the desk. Was she bored? Or ADHD? Or both?

“Okay.”

 

“I’ve arranged a meeting for you with Miss H.”

Elaine threw her calculator in the air (and didn’t catch it) “After school, right?”

Nadine nodded. “But I can’t stay, I have computer science class.

“Not even for a bit?” Elaine said. “I’m sure it won’t take long.”

“Okay. I’ll try.”

After school, they went down to the staffroom to ask for Miss Huey.

Thankfully, she was in the staffroom and they settled at a round table with chairs the color of fire engines.

“So, what is it?”

Elaine started talking about everything but her problems.

Four minutes of the keyboard family, five minutes of the film 1900 and seven minutes about the family dog.

This isn’t going well, Nadine thought as her watch struck 4. Maybe she’ll open up when I’m gone.

Silently excusing herself, she stopped at the railing and turned back, seeing only the back of Elaine’s head.

 

She spent the rest of the afternoon on App Inventor. To be frank, she preferred C++, for C was her native language, and though she often got the syntax mixed up, she could still construct fluent sentences.

App Inventor was about as hard as HQ9+, though she was the only one who thought so.

 

Elaine didn’t wait for her after school.

She wasn’t outside the Music Room either.

Nadine walked home alone, strategizing.

If I could get the source code of Elaine’s brain maybe I could execute a program to make her happy, or execute an algorithm.

Maybe it’d get her away from the Music Room too.

 

The next day came and went, and soon it was a week. A week of loneliness and sitting at the lunch table on her own, while Elaine and Cadenza chatted in the far corner about Beethoven and Pie.

 

Another week died.

Then another.

Then another.

Soon she stopped counting.

 

The sun was out but so were the clouds.

Nadine sat on the grass, though it said no sitting, staring across at the deserted music room.

There was a tree near the window, but that was empty too.

The birds had all died.

Probably.

 

Nadine ambushed Elaine as she went to the vending machine for her daily chocolate milk. “You’ve been so distant lately.”

“Yeah, well…I have other friends that I have to make time for…” Elaine answered, pressing the button for lemon tea.

“What friends?”

“I gotta go.”

“Those music people?”

“Bye.”

 

Nadine wasn’t in math class that afternoon.

She wasn’t in computer class either.

A week later, when Elaine saw her again, she was black and white on the back of the newspaper.

‘Girl found hanged, no note left behind.’

 

Annie Lee is a thirteen-year-old student studying in Hong Kong. This is her first time being published in a journal online. Her first language is Cantonese, however she enjoys writing stories and fan fictions in English.