Register Saturday | April 20 | 2024
Feedback Illustration by Anna Minzhulina.


One of two second-place winners in Maisonneuve's annual Genre Fiction contest. This year's theme was mystery.

The feedback began the moment I punched a hole through my bedroom wall. 

I was angry about the way our school had dealt with the suicide of my favorite teacher, whose name I refuse to write down on paper, so I will just call her Ms. 

Normally when I feel a surge building inside me, I just count out prime numbers until the anger passes. But that night my mother received a phone call saying school would be canceled for the rest of the week out of respect for Ms. This was a problem, I needed school to remain open so that I could figure out what happened, why someone as smart and kind and perfect as Ms. would want to die. 

My left hand cupped my right hand to suppress the swelling sensation. I felt nauseous from the stale, powdery smell that filled the room. I never liked the shape of my room; it was an uninteresting rectangle. And that wall, the one I punched, always seemed out of place. Now, with this hole in the wall, the shape of my room seemed unimportant. All I could focus on was the hole, the little absence that my fist had torn through. Eventually my mom patched the hole, but even after she had fixed it with filler putty and off-white paint, the outline was still there. Part of the wall was gone, Ms. was gone.

The week before, I had sat in the waiting room and listened to my mother speak with one of my doctors. There were lots of games in the waiting room, but none of them interested me, so I just listened. The doctor’s voice was deep for a woman, which made it easier to hear her through the door. She kept using the words “feedback loop” to describe this or that situation. She must have said it at least seven times during their brief chat.  Later, after mom drove me home, I looked it up in my dictionary, and I think that’s exactly what happened last night: by punching the wall I created a feedback loop.

Even though I was angry when I first heard the news about Ms. I didn’t cry like I did the day before, the last time I saw Ms. The day before, I waited until all the other students left the classroom, folded my arms over my desk to form a triangle, laid my head down, and cried. When Ms. asked me what was wrong, I explained to her, as I am doing for you now, that sometimes people cry. I told her how mom cries all the time even when nothing is wrong. I told Ms. that I loved her, and she tried to tell me something but I wasn’t really paying attention, because I was remembering that one of the classroom’s pet hermit crabs was missing. I don’t think any of the other students bothered to count that there were originally nine hermit crabs and now there were only eight. Nine is a beautiful number, it’s a square. Eight is an ugly number. It reminds me of the hospital. Nine unfolds in smaller parts, which are also beautiful. It rolls and spirals like a hermit crab’s shell. Crustaceans have a specific smell when they die; I knew that one of them must have died and was removed from the classroom during the lunch break so that the other students wouldn’t notice. 

I was determined to find out how the missing hermit crab died. I told Ms. I didn’t want to go home, that I should stay in the classroom even though school was over and the bus was waiting for me.  The bus driver always remembers my name and makes a point of saying it out loud whenever he sees me. This seems like a nice thing to do, and I respect the bus driver for making this effort. Sometimes I wonder if he and Ms. have an adult relationship, because they are both good people and good people belong together. Just like bad people belong together. Ms. told me I had to go or I would miss my bus; she also said that I would see her tomorrow. But she wasn’t there tomorrow, she disappeared, just like the hermit crab, and the school now has the rest of the week to make the smell go away.

Now I must plan my exit, my own disappearance, maybe that will complete the loop, and stop it from feeding back again. I will not go like Ms. and have everyone wondering. I will not go like the hermit crab and leave a smell behind. I’ll find a shell that suits me, and crawl inside, and disappear for a while.

Maisonneuve's Genre Fiction Contest runs annually.