Weight of an Overflowing Soul
Gigi had pulled out her notes to review notes from the last lesson, but she was not facing her desk; there was quite a funny sight in the seat behind hers. Joe yawned for the third time in six minutes, and last period AP English class had not even started yet.
"Hey, sleepyhead. What'd you stay up to read this time?"
"If I told you, I'd have to kill you."
"Scandalous. Playboy or Sports Illustrated?"
"Nah, the dictionary."
"Who are you?" She shook her head. The target of her faux dismay stretched his arms and took another deep breath, then exhaled slowly. Fourth time now, she counted. "Will you even be awake if we go to the movies later?"
"That depends on how the director did his job."
"My, my. Since when were you such a critic?"
"Rotten Tomatoes awaits me." He tipped his chair back. "If you think about it, I basically get to sleep in the theater for free on Tuesdays."
She sniffed and scrunched up her nose — her attempt at snorting. "That's not how discounts work."
"That's exactly how they work." He rolled foam earplugs between his fingers and stuck them in his ear before allowing his chair to fall forward and putting his head on his desk. She spoke up a bit louder:
"How about we skip this week?"
"Never. Half-Price Day is a sacred tradition."
"A sacred tradition that you're okay sleeping through?" She sighed. "It's your money in the end, but why pay for something you won't even enjoy?"
"It's all about the principle of the whole thing." He peeked up at her. "Besides, I know someone'll be having a blast."
"You're hopeless." And yet she pulled out her phone and covertly searched up movie times. Behind her, Joe put his head down on his desk and dozed off. Their English teacher, Ms. Lepore, rose from her desk and addressed the class.
"Good afternoon, everyone. And of course, good night and sweet dreams to Joseph."
The class erupted in laughter. Sleeping Beauty's sheepish guardian put her phone aside and grabbed her pen and notebook, ready to take notes.
Almost an hour later, Ms. Lepore's class was more excited about afterschool plans than about her talk of Greek literary terms. Adding to the list on the blackboard, she wrote a particularly long word:
"A-nag-NOR-uh-seez," pronounced Ms. Lepore. "The moment of discovery."
Gigi diligently scribbled in her notebook, annotating heavily as she went. She would not be the only one relying on these notes; Joe might glance over them later to catch up on the material. Meanwhile, he was fast asleep and the target of his classmates' silent glances and stifled chuckles. His friend shook off the second-hand embarrassment and let her mind wander. That loser better buy me popcorn, she thought. And a pack of gummies.
"According to Aristotle, anagnorisis is the mark of a superior tragedy," continued Ms. Lepore. "While in Medea the titular character makes her intent to murder her children clear from the very beginning and this is exactly what happens, the protagonist of Oedipus has to uncover an ugly truth before the plot reaches peripeteia — a reversal of fortune and circumstances."
"Pear-uh-puh-TEE-a? How do we spell that?" A student in the front row thinks aloud. Ms. Lepore smiled and wrote on the blackboard:
"The word comes from the Greek words for 'turning' and 'falling'; think of it as all the plot elements finally falling into place. An English word with a similar meaning would be 'turnabout', though 'peripety' is an accepted Anglicization of the original Greek word." She looked toward the back of the classroom and smiled. "In fact, there is a student in this room who bears that word as their name."
"Oh, yeah! Petty Perry!" From the back of the room came a greasy voice that made Gigi roll her eyes as some of their classmates laughed. Shut up, Fraser. Leave the poor girl alone. When everyone had settled down, the student at the front asked another question:
"So that means we won't need to know the Greek version of the word for a quiz or test?"
"You won't," Ms. Lepore sighed.
"Then why are you even teaching this?" Fraser chimed in again.
The teacher cleared her throat. "There's more to education than quizzes and tests."
"But, like, isn't there more to stories than fancy words? Why bother even learning all these big words when we're completely fine without 'em? Seems like 'moment of discovery' and 'turnabout' work perfectly fine."
Though much of the class was annoyed by another one of his famous interjections, many silently sympathized with this sentiment. Gigi, too, was at a loss.
A wry smile forced its way onto Ms. Lepore's visage. "I think we ought to appreciate the classics and the great ancient thinkers. Though the masters have long left this world, their teachings have survived for so long because of their incredible cultural value."
"Well, it all sounds like Greek to me." Fraser leaned back in his chair and celebrated the chuckles and giggles he received. Ms. Lepore shot him a contemptuous glare, but stayed silent.
"Ms. Lepore," Gigi said while raising her left hand as her right hand scribbled away. "Which terms do you prefer we use?"
Ms. Lepore's eyes lit up as she addressed her star pupil's question. "Good question, Angela. It may be pretentious and old-fashioned to some, but I think when speaking about the Greek tragedies we are enriched through learning the same vocabulary as the Greeks. But for the sake of casual discovery, 'moment of discovery' and 'reversal of fate' do work perfectly fine. Meaning," she continued while turning to Fraser, "you're not exactly wrong in your observation that these words may be extraneous in many contexts. However, let us not throw the baby out with the bathwater."
Fraser shuffled uncomfortably in his seat from the candid response and lowered his head, muttering something under his breath. Class continued.
— Apologia I
The lesson concluded a few minutes early. "Before we go," said Ms. Lepore as all her students began sneaking their notebooks and writing utensils back into their bags, "I want to tell you all about the informal presentation you will all be doing next week." Groans filled the room.
"In groups of two, all of you will be expressing your thoughts on the nature of tragedy." She looked around the room at her captive audience. "Your presentation can be in any format. It can use any props or visuals. It can be whatever you want it to be."
"But Ms. Lepore," said the girl in the front row, "there's an odd number of students."
Ms. Lepore adjusted her glasses. "Then we will need one group of three."
Everyone in the class all looked around in search of their partners. Several students exchanged knowing glances and beckoning gestures, while others observed who else did not pair off. Gigi simply turned around and poked at a certain napping boy with her pen.
"I hope you finally do your fair share this time around."
Joe scoffed. "When have I not?"
"Running my errands and doing my chores doesn't count as doing your fair share."
"I like to think of our partnership as all-encompassing."
She sighed and began brainstorming ideas for both the presentation and also the favors she would have him do.
"Joe, my man." A certain voice came from the back of the room. "Will your ball and chain let you make a group of three with us?"
Gigi looked over and glared at Fraser and his right-hand man Hudson, who was leaning against Fraser's desk. An asshole and his dunce of an acolyte, she thought.
Joe kept his head on his desk and only lifted his hand. "Thanks but no thanks. I have but one master in this world."
Gigi giggled in spite of herself. Joe's complete apathy toward his own popularity among the delinquents never failed to entertain her. Stories from middle school followed him to high school and his reputation as a dangerous bad boy had endured despite his new serene (albeit lazy) self. As his closest friend, she was the main witness to his calm indifference regarding his notoriety.
"Joe's nothing without his woman, huh." Hudson sneered. "Legend reduced to doormat. What a shame."
Fraser elbowed his companion and gave him a reprimanding glare before turning back to Joe. "Don't worry, bro. Us guys can have fun together, and Gigi can buddy up with a fellow straight-A student. Hey, Petty Perry! You don't mind, right?"
Gigi glanced over at the classmate who tried her best to look unaffected by her unwanted inclusion in the conversation. Peripety Agostino — though they had not spoken before, Gigi remembered seeing her receive an award at a ceremony near the start of the year for receiving the highest mark for junior year English. She had scurried on and off stage so quickly that she even forgot to shake hands with the principal. And now the poor girl was getting pulled into Fraser's antics.
Just as Gigi was about to speak up, Ms. Lepore came over and crossed her arms. "Maybe if you two made friends with someone like Peripety, you might manage to accomplish something notable in my class."
Fraser scoffed. Hudson ignored Ms. Lepore and popped another piece of gum into his wide mouth.
The teacher tapped her foot, then snapped her fingers. "Instead of Joe, you two should invite Peripety into your group. It would do you both some good."
Peripety and Fraser made eye contact before breaking away — her in humiliation, he in scorn.
"No thanks. Two's a party, three's a crowd. Just ask the famous duo over there." Fraser glanced at Joe and Gigi, then shrugged and tilted his head in Peripety's direction. "Besides, doing a presentation with someone like her would totally crimp my style."
"Are you saying you have any style to begin with?" Gigi snapped and rose to her feet. Just as she stepped forward to give the bully a piece of her mind, Joe grabbed her wrist. He sat up and popped out his earplugs.
"She's in my group. Gigi, me, Perry."
Ms. Lepore's surprise was written in boldface. "Did you three discuss this together?"
He shrugged. "Nah, I decided it just now. I'd love for two top students to do all the work for me. I'll just do my best to not hold them back on the day of the presentation."
She gave him a look, then turned to Peripety. "Are you okay with this?"
The quiet girl nodded her head without looking up. Gigi could see that, behind Peripety's long bangs and glasses, her face was bright red. The sight was familiar, and Gigi hated it.
"Then, it's settled. Angela, Joseph, and Perry are the one and only group of three."
Just then, the bell rang. Students poured out of the classroom and into the quickly-filling halls. Fraser and Hudson stormed out of the classroom, shooting daggers at Ms. Lepore and Gigi on their way out. Ms. Lepore sighed and faced the three students left behind.
"Those two guys are assholes."
Joe scratched his head. "Is that really fit for a teacher to say?"
She grinned conspiratorially. "I speak only the truth, and the truth must be said."
Peripety got up quietly and made her way out of the classroom. "Wait up!" said Gigi as she followed her new group member out the door. As Joe stood up to follow them, Ms. Lepore stopped him.
"Thank you, Joseph."
He looked at her blankly. "For what?"
"Don't play dumb. I know you did that for Peripety."
He shrugged and looked away. "She was obviously the victim here."
"Yep. Like I just said, Fraser and Hudson are jerks."
"What about the teacher who was ready to force her to work with them?"
When he looked up, his face was one with thinly-concealed anger. The blood rushed to her cheeks. "I thought it would be a good teaching moment if they formed a group."
"Oh, yeah? Teaching her what, exactly? That the adult in the room is ready to throw her under the bus to teach a lesson to two idiots who won't listen anyway?"
"And what do you know about teaching?" Ms. Lepore snapped.
He shrugged again. "At the very least, I know how it feels to be a student. Maybe you should try remembering that for yourself."
With that, he turned on a dime and marched out of the room. In that empty classroom, Ms. Lepore sighed and went over to Joe's seat. She sat down, propped her head up on the desk with her elbows, and closed her eyes.
Outside the classroom, Gigi and Peripety stood by the lockers lining the sides of the packed halls. The former's exasperated tone caught Joe's attention as he drew closer, as did the latter's shrinking frame.
"I can't allow that!"
"Joe! Talk some sense into her!"
The poor boy scratched his head quizzically. "What's up?"
"Peripety said she wants to do all the work herself!"
He blinked. "And what's wrong with that?"
"Joe! Take this seriously!"
Peripety cast her eyes at the ground and pressed even closer against the lockers. "Please, Angela. Just let it be."
Gigi grabbed Joe's arm and squeezed hard. "We insist on doing our part. Isn't that right?"
Ouch. "Sure, sure, sure. We insist."
Gigi released her grip while Peripety scowled at Joe. "I thought you said you wanted me in your group to spare you the work?"
"Don't worry, I'll send you both the materials by this weekend. You can just read it over a few times before the day of the presentation. I'm not great at speaking, so I'll be relying on you two for that. Talk to you tomorrow."
Peripety abruptly excused herself and joined the crowd moving out through the closest exit. Joe gave Gigi a shrug.
"All's well that ends well?"
She rolled her eyes. "You know full well that I'm not done with this."
"But a man can hope, can't he?" Joe checked his watch. "Let's catch the bus. Should still have time to make the usual route."
At the movie theatre, Joe dozed off just as Gigi predicted. She did not mind so much, though; she had all the snacks to herself, and she got a kick out of putting gummy bears and popcorn kernels into Sleeping Beauty's hair. The movie was passable, too.
That night, the two of them said goodbye and went their separate ways. Gigi went to bed at her usual early hour, while Joe passed out reading the WXYZ volume of a dusty old encyclopedia.
The next morning, Joe learned from his mother that Gigi was taken to the hospital during the night.
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