On Behalf of the Class
by Elissa Cahn Read author interview June 24, 2013
Mimi’s sitting on a bench, crying, but not because she’s sad about the Holocaust. She’s upset because Sam dumped her, in between the walk through a cattle car and the footage of Dr. Mengele’s medical experiments. So Mimi’s just sitting there while the rest of us look at an exhibit of this kid Daniel’s life in the Warsaw Ghetto. There’s a replication of his bedroom and a laminated diary. In the next room, there’s a picture of him arriving at Auschwitz. The kid with the green mohawk, Eric, is crying about the Holocaust. At least, we think that’s why he’s crying. It’s hard to say. No one talks to him.
Mimi was the most popular girl in eighth grade. Now Chandra is the most popular, because that’s who Sam kissed right before he broke up with Mimi. Everyone’s saying he kissed her in the room filled with dead children’s shoes, but no one actually saw it.
Mrs. Segal keeps scowling at us, reminds us for the hundredth time to be respectful. The only person she’s not mad at is Eric, who she usually hates, but he’s busy reading placards unlike the rest of us, and for once he’s not talking back to her. The rest of us have plenty to say, mostly about Mimi and Sam and Sam and Chandra and Mimi and Chandra, who might duke it out in the parking lot, but probably not. Mrs. Segal says we might not be allowed to have lunch at McDonald’s if we keep this up. Everyone knows that’s a lie, because you can’t deny kids food as punishment. Plus, the teachers will be hungry. Marissa tells Mrs. Segal that learning about the Holocaust is so sad that we don’t know how to handle it, and that’s why everyone’s behaving so badly. No one likes Marissa. She’s a kiss-ass, but the main problem is she has a mole on her left cheek. A strand of hair sprouts from its center. Mrs. Segal must be really angry at us because she tells Marissa she’s at her wit’s end. Usually Mrs. Segal only says that to other teachers.
Chandra’s parading around with Sam like she’s just been appointed queen of the world. They hold hands while Sam leafs through Daniel’s oversized laminated diary. We doubt he’s actually reading. He’s just trying to put on a show for Chandra, like he’s Mr. Sensitive. Some of us are saying Chandra’s a boyfriend-stealer and a skank, so her popularity rating drops a little, and now she and Mimi are tied.
By the exit is a bucket for donations to the museum. Only Mrs. Segal folds a dollar into the slot. The rest of us are saving our money for McDonald’s. Back on the bus, Mrs. Segal gives a lecture before she lets the bus driver start driving. She says she’s never been so disappointed in us. She’s said that about three times before, though, so we never know which time it’s true. In the back row, Chandra is practically sitting in Sam’s lap. Mimi’s near the front, looking out the window. As Mrs. Segal continues, a few of us feel ashamed but don’t show it. Marissa raises her hand and apologizes on behalf of the class. We like her even less. The bus driver starts driving. In a surprising move, Mrs. Segal sits next to Eric.
On the outskirts of the city, the bus rolls past a crumbling fence in an overgrown lot. Some of us are further from home than we’ve ever been. We have fleeting thoughts of bald men and women, all bones, photographed through barbed wire, but it’s impossible to think about for too long, from so far away, almost seventy years ago, when these are our lives.
About the Author:
Elissa Cahn is an MFA student at Western Michigan University, where she serves as the nonfiction editor for Third Coast. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in NANO Fiction, Midwestern Gothic, Harpur Palate, Quarterly West, and The Chariton Review.
About the Artist:
Karen Prosen has been taking photographs for about five years now, and although she has newly branched out into various other modalities, photography will always be her most favorite and most natural way of sharing with the world. She believes photography is like being a mirror for someone, and saying, "Did you know that this is the way I see you?" It's why she loves portraiture—the ability to turn beauty in all its forms around to show the beheld. To Karen, photography is a gift.
Like what you read in SmokeLong? Consider donating to us. $3 helps a writer get paid.