Negligible

giantHansen von Reiche is simply too big to be allowed. He’s like an oak tree come to life. If a boy could be a mountain or a government-sponsored monument, that’s him—all vast and knobby and walking around.

I think about this on various occasions, usually on days when the forecast calls for ideal sports weather and I’ve been picked last for something. Hansen is always picked first, even for the games he’s not very good at. I can only assume this is due to his size, but I don’t make a big thing about it. Anyway, I have plenty of other things to worry about. PE is like a special kind of death-march.

Hansen plays lacrosse and varsity football. He plays rugby for the city league, because the high school athletics department doesn’t offer it. He does not actually have to take PE because his extra-curricular activities earn him an exemption. But he takes it anyway, which is downright mystifying. Like there are not enough opportunities for brutality. He actually has to go looking for more excuses to run around smashing people.

On the first day of the semester, he stepped on me, which was scary and painful, but mostly it was mortifying. Like, here you go thinking that you matter, or that you take up any space at all, and then someone huge and careless comes along and makes it very clear that you don’t.

He said that he was sorry. Yeah, that’s hysterical. The look he gave me was like I barely even registered—this inconsequential insect, or a coffee table that he kind of bumped into. Ever since then, he makes this big thing of protecting me. Like if we’re playing flag football and I have to block him, he doesn’t even try to avoid me. He just puts his hands on my shoulders and guides me carefully to one side. I hate him because he is constantly picking me up and moving me around like I don’t matter.

On the last day of the sand volleyball unit, it’s raining and we have to stay inside. This is as close to a stalemate as tenth grade ever gets. I hate rain, but I hate volleyball more.

Because we are not due to start the basketball unit until next week and any deviation will wreak havoc on Ms. Whitley’s syllabus, she makes us get in pairs to talk about our dreams and aspirations. Because I am desperately hoping to be paired with Anne Marie Shraeder, who is my best and only friend, Ms. Whitley conspires to make my life miserable and pairs me with Hansen von Reiche.

We stand in the corner of the auxiliary gymnasium, staring blankly when we’re supposed to be busting out the getting-to-know-yous.

“How tall are you?” I say, which is a bad way to start a conversation. Also, I’m desperately sure that he gets asked the exact same question every single day.

He shrugs this huge rolling shrug that takes far longer than it would on a normal person. “Six-six—six-seven, maybe?”

It is staggering to me that this does not concern him. The raw size of him is shocking. Also, if it were me, there’d be no maybe. I’d have memorized my freakish measurements right down to the centimeter.

He just grins a wide, toothy grin, like he’s preparing to eat houses and people and cars. “Do you want to know how much I weigh?”

I do, but it seems rude to ask. Girls are weird about weight. Unless they happen to belong to a certain minority who hover under a certain magic number, they keep it secret. Just looking at Hansen, I know that his poundage will clock in at two or three times the figure that girls are generally willing to disclose.

“Two-eighty,” he says, even though I didn’t ask.

I nod and stare at his tremendous feet, mulling this over. The fact that he is allowed to exist down here with the rest of us seems patently illegal.

“Is there anything else you want to know?” he says, raising his eyebrows and giving me a bored look.

I shake my head, which I realize is coolly dismissive and also a lie, but every question that comes to mind is bordering on insulting.

Hansen doesn’t seem too bothered. “My turn then. What’s the one thing you want that you know you’re never going to have?”

For a second, I just stare at him. All around the gym, people are sitting in pairs, sharing their hopes and aspirations, and I am stuck gazing at a human obelisk with my head tipped back like a summer tourist.

“I want to take up space,” I tell him, trying to sound like I am not resenting him.

“No, you don’t,” he says. And he doesn’t say anything else.

He doesn’t say anything for so long that I begin to feel an awful pressure to fill the silence, which is completely unfair. I typically have no compulsion to make things easy on anyone. “People would notice me more.”

“They’d notice you for being big, not for organizing the food drive or testing into smart math. They’d never notice that you pretend to hate things way more than you actually do, and that you’d be good at floor hockey if you ever actually tried.”

This catalogue of me sounds strange coming from him. His jaw is hard, and I’m not even sure what I want to apologize for, just that I do.

Hansen folds his arms, leaning way, way down so he can examine me at eye-level. “They’d expect you to be good at everything that involves a ball, even when you’re not, and expect you to be stupid at the things they think are only for smart people. They wouldn’t notice you for your ideas, or for how good you are at noticing things.”

“I’m not good at that,” I say, and then realize he’s not talking about me.

“No kidding,” he says.

All around us, people are laughing, sharing gossip and common ground, and I am standing alone with Hansen von Reiche, thinking maybe I hate lots of things, but I don’t hate him.

The sad truth is, I am negligible.

The better truth is, he notices me anyway.

*This week, our common prompt comes from . The illustration is by Rolf Winkler and comes from the story MUGEL THE GIANT.

26 thoughts on “Negligible

  1. “I’m not good at that,” I say, and then realize he’s not talking about me.

    “No kidding,” he says.

    Oh, SNAP.

    I like him, and this very unreliable, snarky narrator. I would like to watch her begin to notice things. Tres cool.

  2. I liked this story, thought the moral was a good one and one that’s all too rare in fiction (at least of the variety I tend to see). I’ll admit I didn’t pick up that the narrator was female until I saw the other person’s comment 😦

  3. Love it, but that’s no surprise–I love Mugel, and Rolf and him are cut from the same cloth.

    (however I do have a phobia about gym class)

  4. New MSoF reader here 🙂 I think it’s great you guys do this! I always leave a ton of comments when I read something… hope that’s not bothersome ^_^.

    I love “government-sponsored monument” hahaha, sets the tone of the narration right away. I also love that he’s too big to be “allowed”… that phrasing makes me laugh.

    So cute that our hulk picks her up and moves her, and so real and painful that she doesn’t recognize his crush!

    I think it’s really interesting that you chose to have him ask a really good question. You do something tricky in this piece, and I’m trying to pick it apart and figure out how you did it, but I can’t ^_^. You tell the reader that Hansen isn’t just an oaf, that he has thoughts and emotions, that he has empathy for other people, while all the while keeping the first person narrator in the dark about those things.

    The entire ending is great! It flows so naturally, but each line is powerful. If I get into it, I’ll end up writing an emo-essay about judging people and fitting into high school 😛 So, I won’t. I’ll just say: fantastic job! I’m really impressed with how much you developed these characters in so short a time, and how much I’d like to keep reading about them, as if there were more. I’m looking forward to your novel, when it comes out!

    Also, I scanned the comments, and now that I think of it, I have no idea what gender the narrator is, and that’s cool, too!

  5. Awwwww, sad, D’AWWWWWW AWESOME.

    I wish I could say something more coherent than that, but, I love it. You are awesome.

  6. …and because I am a geek, I want them to get together and be happy.

    On the other hand, this is flawless just ending where it does. She learned something, and maybe will pause a sec before thinking in the way she usually does. Nice job.

  7. Great story and I loved the end. I love how when I look at the prompt the stories are so completely different to what I think they’re going to be. I like being surprised.

  8. I like this. Saying stuff that you really mean and seeing things exactly how they are. I like to think I do that. Maybe not the saying, but I’m aware and I try to. And you know, there is always something we need to know. Do you know why I like visiting? At first it was something about Maggie, which is not the same as something about Mary, and a little bit of (off?of?), that in brackets. If I hang out with intelligent people, who have a higher education than myself, people who actually use that education wisely and professionally, I just might learn something. I did, and I’m always having an ohh look at that moment, but what if I say what I mean, or feel, or want to say? I feel wise, calm, and aware when I’m here. I like that. Thank you.

  9. I’m glad you enjoyed it! I do think that often, high school is a place where people first start learning to say what they mean and ask the questions they want to ask–maybe not all the time, but it’s a starting point 🙂

  10. Thanks! I love the prompt weeks because it’s fun seeing how we can all start at the same point and then go in completely different directions!

  11. Awww, I want them to be together and happy too! (I have a deep weakness where I really want everything to be good for my characters). So, you can pretend that it all works out, because that’s what I’m doing 🙂

  12. D’AWWW, thank you 😀

    I think a lot of times, crushes in high school are sad in a sweet way though, rather than an awful, tragic, grown-up way.

  13. Thanks! I love nice giants 😀 I actually also love gym class (I was one of those awful people who could have had a sports exemption, but decided I’d rather keep taking PE).

  14. That’s funny! Honestly, I think the narrator is a girl, but I’m not completely sure 🙂

  15. No bother! Ideas are awesome, and we love hearing from readers 🙂 We used to do craft-type posts on Tue/Thurs, but the best discussions always seemed to happen on fiction days, so we decided that was really what we should be focusing on.

    Also, every time I write about high school, I have to work really hard to keep it from devolving into the emo-essay. Seriously, I get so sentimental and Jimmy-Eat-World about social stuff and Just Being Yourself that I have to rein it in 😀

  16. This is so utterly charming in a totally not offensive to me way. I think you’re totally growing into this gorgeous sort of funny which is so subtle and point-blank that you don’t notice it until you’re grinning on one side of your mouth.

    *love*

  17. Awww, inoffensive-charming is good! I do like my cute crushy stories, no matter how adamantly I might claim otherwise 😉

    (*infinite James-icon love*)

  18. I WANT MORE. This pair is adorable, and I would love to see their further interactions.

    Alannaeowyn

    (Who got here from Robin McKinley’s blog and has spent the entire time since reading all the old stories, which are delicious.)

  19. Hi! We’re glad to have you here 😀 Also, it’s mildly heart-fluttery to hear that someone came by way of Robin McKinley (okay, a lot heart-fluttery)!

    I hadn’t looked back over this story in almost a year, and it reminds me just how much I enjoy writing contemporary scenes!

  20. I’m so in love with this one! I’m going to email it to my bff right now!
    As an extremely short person with an extremely tall best friend…this was amazing. That’s kind of a lame connection when the theme was so good but I can’t help it.
    I laughed really hard through most of this and then their little conversation got really real and I just made stupid faces at the screen.

    …and then someone huge and careless comes along and makes it very clear that you don’t.

    …he doesn’t even try to avoid me. He just puts his hands on my shoulders and guides me carefully to one side.

    busting out the getting-to-know-yous

    For a second, I just stare at him. All around the gym, people are sitting in pairs, sharing their hopes and aspirations, and I am stuck gazing at a human obelisk with my head tipped back like a summer tourist.

    Sorry for the quote-fest but I really am in love with this.

    Also…the narrator was a boy for me. Just saying.

  21. I’m not extremely short anymore—just really short—but as a person who has been there, I was always so impressed by the very tall boys in high school. They were like extraterrestrials. They were blatantly impossible.

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