Why do I always fail my exams? That was the question that I asked myself every time I got an exam paper back and saw a mark that wasn’t even close to 50%. I looked at the big red circled “40%” on my English midterm exam, and sighed. It wasn’t like I didn’t spend time on studying. I mean, sure, I may not be a hardworking student, but I did study for this exam.
I looked over to my friend Dolores’s paper, and sure enough, a tripping 89%! Ugh, I wished I were her.
“Oh man,” I said grumpily, feeling annoyed. “Why do you always ace everything?”
“This is no good,” she looked scared as if she didn’t hear me.
Dolores and I were normal friends in this high school. We had quite a lot of classes together, so we always sat together and hung out after class. She was a slightly nerdy looking girl, always neatly dressed, always very quiet, with long blond curly hair and a pair of glasses with impressively thick lenses. She was pretty, I guess, but her face was forever pallid and there were always these deep and disturbing shadows under her eyes. She also carried this very cold and chilly vibe around her. I was a bit uncomfortable when I first met her but later on I got used to it. Also, I never got to see her outside school. Perhaps geniuses are always a bit weird.
“What the hell are you talking about?” I was kind of pissed now. She was always like that, acing everything and being never happy about her marks. “Are you blind or something?” I said, my voice raising. “Let me help you here, Miss. It’s an eight-nine. Eighty-nine!”
But she just kept staring at the big red “89%” blankly.
Just as I was about to continue dissing her, Ms. Jones, our English teacher, cleared her throat and said, “alright kids, I am not happy with how this exam turned out. The class average is 68% and there is only one student who made it above 75%—”
“Oh of course,” I interrupted resentfully, eyeing Dolores, who was now staring at the floor in front of her.
“—and although there are some hard questions in the exam, I don’t see how so many of you couldn’t answer the questions that I covered in class,” continued Ms. Jones, as the bell rang. “Pay attention to class, kids. Class is over.”
I didn’t wait for her like I usually would and walked to my locker.
“Hey,” she came up to me and said.
“What?” I snorted. “Gonna complain about your mark, huh? Tell you what, I got a 40%. Hope that makes you feel better!” I didn’t stop putting my stuff to my locker. She was really pushing it too far. When she didn’t get 100%, she would just look very scared and concerned and complained as if she was going to die for not getting a perfect mark. And I just sat next to her, looking at my thirty-something or forty-something, wishing I could be as smart as her.
“No, I need your help,” she said apathetically, not looking directly at me. “Can I sleep at your place for a while?”
“What?” I snapped, shocked.
“My…my dad is going away for work for a while and he doesn’t want me to stay at the house alone.”
“Um,” I didn’t know what to say for a moment.
And then she looked right into me. The next second, a chill went down my spine—her eyes looked so hollow that I wondered if she had a soul. There was a horror so terrifying in them that I felt like someone was clutching my throat. What is wrong with her?
“What?” she said, snapping me back to my senses.
“No, no, no,” I stepped back and felt disgusted. “Can’t you stay at a relative’s place or something? I don’t wanna hear you complaining about your bad mark twenty-four seven! God no!”
Without waiting for her reply, I slammed my locker, locked it and left the school.
It was -20 degrees outside and it was very windy. God damn this weather, I thought, and hopped on the streetcar bound to my home.
I was still brooding over how snobbish and annoying Dolores was. That freaking girl. Always aced every single exam. Always complained about her marks. Why can’t I be that smart? If I could have even half of her smartness, I would be happy. The feeling of acing every single exam must be heavenly. I wished I had a chance to experience that feeling.
But what was that look in her eyes? It was so hollow, so desperate, and so horrified as though she had been imprisoned in Azkaban for many years. And…why would she want to sleep at my place for a while out of the blue? Her dad was going away for work and she couldn’t stay at home alone? That didn’t make any sense. Oh well, I thought dismissively. Geniuses are just weird.
I was sitting at my desk trying to study for tomorrow’s exam, but I kept thinking about those eyes. They were so disturbing.
I gave up on studying with a sigh and logged in to my Facebook. I glanced at the chat list and noticed that Dolores had been offline for 23 hours already. That was really weird because she was always online in the evening.
I suddenly had a very bad feeling. I dialed her phone but I only got the voicemail.
The bad feeling grew heavier in my chest. So I decided to go to her house. She gave me her address once when we had planned to meet up to discuss a school project, which had never actually happened, of course.
It was 10 p.m. by the time I got to her house. The house was located in a suburb south of downtown and was quite isolated at the end of a block. It was a huge house with many windows, but none of them was lit.
I pulled my jacket together and walked up to the door. Just as I was about to knock, I heard someone yelled, “NO!”
It was Dolores’ voice. What the hell?
“No, Dad! Please!” It was Dolores again. I heard a door slammed shut.
I hurried to the side of the house quietly, and saw a dimly lit window. I creeped up to it and peeked inside—
I wish I hadn’t been so blind toward Dolores.
I saw her dad beating her, with a huge wooden stick. Dolores was curling up in a corner, yelling, begging and crying.
“I have been paying so much money for you to have the best tutors in town!” her dad bellowed. “And you have just been wasting my money—”
“I-I will do a better job in tomorrow’s exam, I swear!” cries Dolores.
“SHUT UP! YOU USELESS LITTLE WHORE!” her dad spat at her. “When I was in high school, I always got perfect marks! How could you get a good job without good marks?”
He raised his stick and struck. I turned away like I was electrocuted, my back against the cold, hard brick wall, horrified, panting, shaking. I didn’t want to see that strike.
THUMP! THUMP! THUMP!
Dolores’ shrieks sliced through the night like a knife, through my soul like a scythe.
I ran. I wanted to run as far as I could from that place despite the cold air cutting my lungs and the snow getting into my boots, soaking my feet with freezing water. I ran like death was behind me.
I never saw Dolores again.