Thursday, June 26, 2014

Bad Girls

By Cynthia Voigt. Published 1996.

Oooh, look how badass they are.
Mikey Elsinger and Margalo Epps are both new, starting the year in Mrs. Chemsky’s fifth grade class. They’re seated alphabetically, so they’re next to each other. It’s all awkward at first, there’s a lot of just looking at each other, and then a bit of stilted conversation. They realize their initials are the same, but Mikey writes hers ME, and Margola is Me. They were both born in Rochester. Once Mrs. Chemsky starts talking, they start writing notes to each other. Mikey is about as good a speller as Claudia. Mrs. Chemsky is obviously going to be a strict teacher. All the new kids have to stand up and introduce themselves. Mrs. Chemsky says no nicknames, so she calls Mikey Michelle. Mikey, however, asks if she can be referred to as Miss Elsinger. Mrs. Chemsky actually goes along with this.

The rest of the morning is first day stuff, getting books and copying down Mrs. Chemsky’s list of seventeen rules. At recess, Mikey inserts herself into the boys’ soccer game. The boys are totally against it, of course, but when she turns out to be good, the boys on her team don’t seem to mind. But these two little shits, the Caselli cousins, Sal and Louis, tell her to get off the field and call her Michelle. She finally has enough, and hauls off and punches Louis. Then they both gang up on Mikey, until Margalo decides to get in on it, and starts flailing around. This pretty much starts a riot, boys against girls. By the time the teachers break it up, the fight included 19 fifth-graders, plus a couple of fourth- and sixth-graders. The third Caselli cousin, Veronica, or Ronnie, fought for the girls side, because she’s awesome. And for some reason, Mikey and Margalo are mad at each other for the rest of the day.

There’s to be a Pet Day at school, which really doesn’t seem to be great idea to me, but whatever. What pets everyone’s bringing is the big topic of conversation all week long, and kids who don’t have pets, like Mikey, get made fun of. But she says she has something great planned. Margalo brings a rat that her stepbrother caught at the junkyard, in a cage she made herself. Then Mikey comes in with a shoe box, and tells everyone it’s dangerous. So Louis, being a little shit, knocks it off her desk. Mrs. Chemsky, who is holding the rat cage turns around, and the cage comes apart, and the rat gets loose. Then Margalo says it was a black window spider in Mikey’s box. So yeah, mass chaos. They finally go out the door to the outside, and leave it open for the rat to escape. There doesn’t seem to be a plan for the fictional spider.

Margalo is a plotter. The evil genius, if you will. She starts a rumor, just for the hell of it, that Mrs. Chemsky is a witch. She gets positively giddy when Mikey tells it to her like it’s fact. Then one day Mrs. Chemsky comes in and tells them that both she and the principal have been getting calls, and she has to tell them she is not a witch. Margalo realizes the kind of power she can have.

So she turns her attention to Louis, who is still being a dick. To everyone, really, but Mikey is still his main target, calling her Porky and a bunch of other shit. Ronnie says he picks someone every year. So, first Margalo finds out who he likes, and makes sure a talkative girl in their class, Rhonda, knows, too. Soon enough, Lynnie, the girl he likes, makes a big scene, dumping out a whole bag of notes he’s written her. His friends grab some and make fun of him.

Part two is a bit more complicated. Mikey got a couple of more girls to play soccer at recess. Margalo points out they should be allowed to play on the actual soccer team. There’s a big to-do, but they’re allowed on. And they’re really good. Louis is an absolute ass to Mikey during practices, but the coach doesn’t put up with it, at least. Then Margalo tells Mikey she and the other girls should quit if she has to keep playing with Louis. And then they should start a girls team, and they should be allowed to play for the school, against all the other boys teams. It’s a bit of a convoluted plan, and it doesn’t happen, but that doesn’t matter, it does what she intended. Louis absolutely loses his mind.

But, that has its consequences. Mikey has hair halfway down her back that she wears in a braid. So, one day, Louis just cuts it off. Finally someone actually gets in trouble, though. He’s suspended four days, and has to switch to the other fifth-grade.

Margo acts like she doesn’t care. Her mom does, and takes her to a salon to get her hair fixed. Everyone at school loves it, so she comes back the next day with it dyed green. Just to be difficult.

Then Margalo has another plan. To get Louis back in their class, to show who really has the power. Bitch be crazy. Because Mikey asks, Mrs. Chemsky considers it, and has the class vote. He’s back in. But the girls are still going to try to bug the crap out of him. They sign up for activities, and Louis picks model making. So Mikey and Margo do, too, and start talking about their models for their Barbies. Louis gets all sorts of pissed, telling them they don’t know anything about models.

Class elections are coming up, and it’s a big fucking deal. It’s all anyone can talk about. Louis has always been president before, but some people are tired of that. Margalo and Mikey both consider running, and get mad at each other for both wanting it. But when Margalo hears Rhonda saying how she doesn’t want a president that might get in trouble, and make them ashamed, Margalo throws her support behind Mikey, as long as she gets to run the next year.

But neither Mikey nor Louis get it. Each candidate has a friend say something about them, and then others are allowed to say something, too. Rhonda gets up and straight up says nobody likes Mikey. Ouch. This makes the whole room uncomfortable.

 The position goes to Ira, a geeky boy in their class. Most people are really happy about it. They voted by putting their heads down and raising their hands. Mikey peeked, and saw that Margalo did not vote for her. She is pissed. They have it out at the end of the day, and Margalo fights back just as hard. She tells Mikey she never even asked her who she wanted to vote for, she just assumed she’d vote for Mikey because Mikey said to. She’s tired of Mikey being so bossy. They both realize they don’t really want to fight, though. So they part not fighting, but not friendly, either.

So, other rumors Margalo started are various theories about Mr. Chemsky. Mrs. Chemsky wears a wedding band, but no engagement ring. Nobody has ever seen him, so it could be anything. From being dead to being a terrorist, everybody in the class has different theories. But election day, with five minutes left to the day, there’s a knock on the door, and a man comes in. Mrs. Chemsky, obviously uncomfortable, introduces him as Stephen Chemsky. The class can’t believe it.

Y’all, Margalo is fucking sociopath. To get back at Rhonda for saying that during elections, Margot steals her lunch and replaces it with a dead squirrel. A few days later she does it with garbage. And then finally with Limburger cheese, past its sell date. But then she admits she did it. As Mrs. Chemsky is about to take her to the office, Mikey says she should go with her, since she knew about it. Although she didn’t really, until the day before.

As they’re waiting to see the principal, it seems to be the time to share confidences. Margalo admits she really likes Ira. Then Mikey tells her how her dad does Coke. Ok, not really on the same level there, but it’s nice you’re opening up, I guess?

Mikey manages to convince the principle she should be in just as much trouble as Margalo. They each have to write an apology letter to Rhonda, and they get five days of detention. And everybody pretty much hates them.

On Monday, it’s pretty much the same, but a few awesome kids talk to them, and tell them it will blow over.

The girls have their first detention. Mrs. Chemsky gives them a speech about realizing the girls are alike, right down to their initials, but also different. And she tells them Stephen Chemsky is her brother. Say what? And she’ll also call Mikey Mikey from now on. Then she gives them their punishments. Margalo will write “I will not start rumors” a hundred times on the board. Mikey will clean all the tops of the desks. They both complain after a while, and Mrs. Chemsky shuts them down. They smile at each other, and get back to “work”. Margalo adds things like “about the asbestos I found in the second grade classrooms” to the ends of her sentences, then erasing that part. Mikey gets creative with what she erases, and switches some desks around, so it ends up that Louis’ desk, in the front row, will look like it’s saying “Hot Babe” pointing at Mrs. Chemsky.

On their way out to their mothers’ cars, they turn to each other at the same time, and both ask if they want to sleep over that weekend. They agree to do one night at each house. Their mothers both remark that the other looks like a nice girl, and they don’t say anything to disillusion them.

o   Mikey has had the same lunch box since first grade. Bert and Ernie always make her feel better. When things get really bad, she turns it over for Grover. Grover is the shit.

o   Mikey gets all Bob Barker on Margalo’s ass about getting her cat spayed.

o   Margalo says she and Mikey are a comedy duo, like Murphy Brown and Corky. Wow! Not a chance in hell kids today would get that.

o   So this definitely wouldn’t happen today. When Mrs. Chemsky hears Louis call Mikey Porky, she asks him how much he weighs. Then she informs him, and the rest of the class that Mikey weighs a pound and a half more than him. Good intentions, I guess, but…

o   Another thing that wouldn’t be ok today, and I’m surprised it was then. All the physical fights. Mikey and Louis are swinging left and right, all over the place, with bloody noses and everything. But they don’t really get in trouble for it. Other than when Louis cuts Mikey’s hair, Margalo and Mikey are the first ones to be sent to the office all year. This boggles my mind.

No comments:

Post a Comment