Eleanor & Park(9)By: Rainbow Rowell
‘Now there’s a girl who might want a piece of you,’ Cal said. ‘Looks like somebody’s got jungle fever.’
‘That isn’t even the right kind of racist,’ Park said, looking up. Cal was nodding toward the far corner of the library. The new girl was sitting there, staring right at them.
‘She’s kind of big,’ Cal said, ‘but the Impala is a spacious automobile.’
‘She’s not looking at me. She’s just staring, she does that. Watch.’ Park waved at the girl, but she didn’t blink.
He’d only made eye contact with her once since her first day on the bus. It was last week, in history, and she’d practically gouged out his eyes with hers.
If you don’t want people to look at you, Park had thought at the time, don’t wear fishing lures in your hair. Her jewelry box must look like a junk drawer. Not that everything she wore was stupid …
She had a pair of Vans he liked, with strawberries on them. And she had a green sharkskin blazer that Park would wear himself if he thought he could get away with it.
Did she think she was getting away with it?
Park braced himself every morning before she got on the bus, but you couldn’t brace yourself enough for the sight of her.
‘Do you know her?’ Cal asked.
‘No,’ Park said quickly. ‘She’s on my bus. She’s weird.’
‘Jungle fever is a thing,’ Cal said.
‘For black people. If you like black people. And it’s not a compliment, I don’t think.’
‘Your people come from the jungle,’ Cal said, pointing at Park. ‘Apocalypse Now, anyone?’
‘You should ask Kim out,’ Park said. ‘That’s a really good idea.’
Eleanor wasn’t going to fight over an e.e. cummings book like it was the last Cabbage Patch Kid. She found an empty table in the African American literature section.
That was another fucked-up thing about this school – effed-up, she corrected herself.
Most of the kids here were black, but most of the kids in her honors classes were white. They got bussed in from west Omaha. And the white kids from the Flats, dishonor students, got bussed in from the other direction.
Eleanor wished she had more honors classes. She wished there was honors gym …
Like they’d ever let her into honors gym. Eleanor would get put in remedial gym first. With all the other fat girls who couldn’t do sit-ups.
Anyway. Honor students – black, white or Asia Minor – tended to be nicer. Maybe they were just as mean on the inside, but they were scared of getting in trouble. Or maybe they were just as mean on the inside, but they’d been trained to be polite – to give up their seats for old people and girls.
Eleanor had honors English, history and geography, but she spent the rest of her day in Crazytown. Seriously, Blackboard Jungle. She should probably try harder in her smart classes so that she wouldn’t get kicked out of them.
She started copying a poem called ‘Caged Bird’ into her notebook … Sweet. It rhymed.
She was reading his comics.
At first Park thought he was imagining it. He kept getting this feeling that she was looking at him, but whenever he looked over at her, her face was down.
He finally realized that she was staring at his lap. Not in a gross way. She was looking at his comics – he could see her eyes moving.
Park didn’t know that anyone with red hair could have brown eyes. (He didn’t know that anyone could have hair that red. Or skin that white.) The new girl’s eyes were darker than his mom’s, really dark, almost like holes in her face.
That made it sound bad, but it wasn’t. It might even be the best thing about her. It kind of reminded Park of the way artists draw Jean Grey sometimes when she’s using her telepathy, with her eyes all blacked out and alien.
Today the girl was wearing a giant men’s shirt with seashells all over it. The collar must have been really big, like disco-big, because she’d cut it, and it was fraying. She had a man’s necktie wrapped around her ponytail like a big polyester ribbon. She looked ridiculous.
And she was looking at his comics.
Park felt like he should say something to her. He always felt like he should say something to her, even if it was just ‘hello’ or ‘excuse me.’ But he’d gone too long without saying anything since the first time he’d cursed at her, and now it was all just irrevocably weird. For an hour a day. Thirty minutes on the way to school, thirty minutes back.
Park didn’t say anything. He just held his comics open wider and turned the pages more slowly.
Her mom looked tired when Eleanor got home. Like more tired than usual. Hard and crumbling at the edges.