Eleanor & Park(6)

By: Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor let her head fall over the box. It smelled like Chanel No. 5 and pencil shavings. She sighed.

There wasn’t anything to do with her recovered belongings once she’d sorted through them – there wasn’t even room in the dresser for Eleanor’s clothes. So she set aside the box and the books, and carefully put everything else back in the garbage bag. Then she pushed the bag back as far as she could on the highest shelf in the closet, behind the towels and a humidifier.

She climbed onto her bunk and found a scraggly old cat napping there. ‘Shoo,’ Eleanor said, shoving him. The cat leaped to the floor and out the bedroom door.



Mr Stessman was making them all memorize a poem, whatever poem they wanted. Well, whatever poem they picked.

‘You’re going to forget everything else I teach you,’ Mr Stessman said, petting his mustache. ‘Everything. Maybe you’ll remember that Beowulf fought a monster. Maybe you’ll remember that “To be or not to be” is Hamlet, not Macbeth …

‘But everything else? Forget about it.’

He was slowly walking up and down each aisle. Mr Stessman loved this kind of stuff – theater in the round. He stopped next to Park’s desk and leaned in casually with his hand on the back of Park’s chair. Park stopped drawing and sat up straight. He couldn’t draw anyway.

‘So, you’re going to memorize a poem,’ Mr Stessman continued, pausing a moment to smile down at Park like Gene Wilder in the chocolate factory.

‘Brains love poetry. It’s sticky stuff. You’re going to memorize this poem, and five years from now, we’re going to see each other at the Village Inn, and you’ll say, “Mr Stessman, I still remember ‘The Road Not Taken!’ Listen … ‘Two roads diverged in a yellow wood …’”’

He moved on to the next desk. Park relaxed.

‘Nobody gets to pick “The Road Not Taken,” by the way, I’m sick to death of it. And no Shel Silverstein. He’s grand, but you’ve graduated. We’re all adults here. Choose an adult poem …

‘Choose a romantic poem, that’s my advice. You’ll get the most use out of it.’

He walked by the new girl’s desk, but she didn’t turn away from the window.

‘Of course, it’s up to you. You may choose “A Dream Deferred” – Eleanor?’ She turned blankly. Mr Stessman leaned in. ‘You may choose it, Eleanor. It’s poignant and it’s truth. But how often will you get to roll that one out?

‘No. Choose a poem that speaks to you. Choose a poem that will help you speak to someone else.’

Park planned to choose a poem that rhymed, so it would be easier to memorize. He liked Mr Stessman, he really did – but he wished he’d dial it back a few notches. Whenever he worked the room like this, Park got embarrassed for him.

‘We meet tomorrow in the library,’ Mr Stessman said, back at his desk. ‘Tomorrow, we’re gathering rosebuds.’

The bell rang. On cue.



‘Watch it, raghead.’

Tina pushed roughly past Eleanor and climbed onto the bus.

She had everybody else in their gym class calling Eleanor Bozo, but Tina had already moved on to Raghead and Bloody Mary. ‘Cuz it looks like your whole head is on the rag,’ she’d explained today in the locker room.

It made sense that Tina was in Eleanor’s gym class – because gym was an extension of hell, and Tina was definitely a demon. A weird, miniature demon. Like a toy demon. Or a teacup. And she had a whole gang of lesser demons, all dressed in matching gymsuits.

Actually, everyone wore matching gymsuits.

At Eleanor’s old school, she’d thought it had sucked that they had to wear gym shorts. (Eleanor hated her legs even more than she hated the rest of her body.) But at North they had to wear gymsuits. Polyester onesies. The bottom was red, and the top was red-and-white striped, and it all zipped up the front.

‘Red isn’t your color, Bozo,’ Tina had said the first time Eleanor suited up. The other girls all laughed, even the black girls, who hated Tina. Laughing at Eleanor was Dr King’s mountain.

After Tina pushed past her, Eleanor took her time getting on the bus – but she still got to her seat before that stupid Asian kid. Which meant she’d have to get up to let him have his spot by the window. Which would be awkward. It was all awkward. Every time the bus hit a pothole, Eleanor practically fell in the guy’s lap.

Maybe somebody else on the bus would drop out or die or something and she’d be able move away from him.

At least he didn’t ever talk to her. Or look at her.

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