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You're an American Now
by Paul Toth


Thilo had three short triangular clots of hair that hung over his forehead like chopped dreadlocks, forming a dork's crown. He often told his friends, "Don't you evah, evah fahk wid me, did you hear'd me?" His friends were freshmen, members of clubs non-social, lovers of chess and magic, wargames and renaissance fairs. Thilo, a senior, was their king. They respected his crown, even if his nationality and mother tongue remained mysterious. They knew only that Thilo was very pale, that with good reason he had a hairstyle all his own, and that he was much older than them, which conveyed an authority he completely lacked in any other situation.

Odd things happened to Thilo. Something about him caused others to act strangely in his presence, to admit to criminal acts, to test rules and regulations. For example, one day a kid in the seat next to Thilo's lifted his right pant leg, and revealed a knife in his sweatsock. The kid grinned at Thilo.

"Wha'd you'd show'd me dat?"

"Look at it," the kid whispered.

People revealed to him when fire alarms would be pulled, when drug deals were taking place, exactly what kind of smoke billowed out of the windows of the cars in the back parking lot. Once he was even told who spiked the Civil War teacher's coffee with acid.

One day Thilo and his friends went to a party. They occupied a card table, like kids forbidden to sit with the adults. Thilo announced to every partygoer he could: "You fahking Amerigans don't know how do drink, do'd you? You fahking Amerigans." That was after one beer. After two beers: "You gogdamn madderfahking Amerigans, you fahking don't know how do fahking drink, you gogdamn madderfahking Amerigans!" By the third beer, he was vomiting on his friends' shoes.

One day Principal Weber cornered him in the hallway.

"Tell me everything you know," Weber said.

"I don'd know'd nodding."

"What do you know about my school?"

"I told you'd I --"

"Come with me."

Weber's office was filled with his old high school trophies, photos from high school, high school yearbooks, high school football jerseys.

"Thighlow, I don't know how they do things in Turkey--"

"I am'd not from Turkey. I'm from --"

"I know people tell you things. How do I know? I see them whisper to you, confiding, bending your ear. I watch these hallways. I watch, listen and learn. But I can only see so much. If I'm in Sector C, I can't be in Sector B. I'm only one man, Thighlow."

"It's Tea-low."

"There's a conspiracy in this school. Do you understand? Something going on. I'm not sure. I can't know everything. I can't be everywhere at the same time. But I know. Mrs. Carter: Coffee laced with hallucinogens. You know who did it, don't you? I know you do. Look at me. I can see it in your eyes. She has flashbacks in church now.

"Brian Madison did it."

"Madison? That big goofy kid? The one who shakes his head when he talks? With the blond mop? So he's the one?"

"Sir, I don'd know'd for'd sure--"

"Of course you don't, Thighlow. How could you? Aw, hell, Thighow, there's no way to know anything for sure. Not 100 percent. I mean, do you realize that if you looked deep down into the walls of this room, that they're moving, swirling? Don't look at me that way. It's physics. Did you know that's true of everything? It is, Thighlow. They may not have taught that in Turkey."

"Why'd are'd you'd telling me dis?"

"Why? For the same reason everyone else tells you everything. Look at you: What other purpose could you serve? All the world's a stage, Thighlow--"

"Please'd say it Tea-low ."

"-- and you're the audience. Hell, the pranks these kids pull don't matter unless somebody knows they did it. They have to tell somebody, and that somebody better be harmless, completely and totally impotent. That's you, Thighlow. We all have a part to play. You should take heart in that. That should really cheer you up."

"I am'd confused."

"I want you to start compiling a log for me, Thighlow, a list of all the secrets they share with you. And then I want you to give this list to me once a week. I want names and details."

"But Mr. Weber, I don'd wan'd spy on de oder 'tudents."

"Thighlow, I'm not asking; I'm telling."

Thilo slumped out of the office and was just about to turn the corner when he ran into Milo Benz, who was perspiring so heavily that two watermelon-shaped stains had formed beneath both armpits. "Thilo, I did it. I left this note. I'm telling you. It said, 'Attention Mr. Weber: We will get you good. We watch you and we know everything. We know all about this school so you better watch your ass good. You better play your cards right or anything could happen.' You believe that? Then I slipped it under his door. I could see him unfold it and his eyebrow going up like this, all arched. You know how paranoid he gets. He must be full throttle crazy by now. I never laughed so goddamn hard."

Thilo grabbed Milo's bicep and squeezed. "Wha'd I tell'd you? Don't you evah, evah fahk wid me. Didn'd you hear'd me?"

"What the hell are you talking about? I'm not fucking with you; I'm fucking with Weber." Milo jerked his arm away. "Asshole."

Thilo opened his notebook and on a fresh sheet of paper wrote, "Milo Benz: Left note threatening principal with unknown actions."

Suddenly Sherry Brickman ran to Thilo's side. "Thilo, there's something...there's...Only you would understand and I just have to, I've got to tell somebody. I mean, you know me and Brian Madison's been going steady, right? I mean the whole school knows that, right? That's no secret, is it? We been going steady for, like, six months now. But the thing is, Thilo, that, see, I'm pregnant. I'm pregnant and I can't tell nobody. I can't even tell Brian. He'll kill me."

"Why'd are'd you'd telling me'd dis?"

"Well, I--"

"I don'd even know you."

"I just thought you seemed so smart that maybe you'd know what to do."

"I'd get an abortion."

"An abortion? I thought you were supposed to be sweet, but you're not. You're mean, coming right out and saying a thing like that."

Thilo wrote: "Sherry Brickman pregnant with Brian Madison's baby."




On Friday, Thilo turned in his first list, which contained information about Milo's note, Sherry's pregnancy, two drug sales and one venereal disease.

"This is very, very enlightening, Thighlow, especially Milo's note. How clever they are, planting information."

"Sir, I'd really thing dat you'd should--"

"Ah, Thighlow, you stick to your espionage and leave the thinking to me. Now run along."

As Thilo headed for class, Principal Weber's voice echoed from the loudspeaker system. "Starting today, there will be no more sticking tongues down each others mouths. Sherry Brickman can tell you why. Or ask Mark Baxter."

Milo grabbed Thilo's arm. "Whose side are you on?"

"I want'd do be on your'd side."

"Yeah? Then why'd I just get handed this note to go see Weber?"

"Weber, he'd gone'd crazy. It'd not my fauldt. He thing you'd set'd him up."

"You know what? Don't think it's gonna stay the way it's been forever. One day I'll be as big as you, and then things are gonna change around here. There might be a new boss. You remember that. My dad says he grew six inches in his sophomore year. That puts me two inches taller than you next year. So if I were you, I'd watch it."




That night, Thilo confronted his father with the truth about school.

"Dis school, it'd crazy."

"Ag, nonsense, Thilo. Maybe you'd be'd da one dat crazy. Loog at dat hair. It'd loog like'd someding from'd ouder space. Perhaps if you'd try loog normal your'd self, dings would begin do loog normal do you."

"But fader, da principal, he'd thing people poison, dat dey murder. It worse den TV. He thing everybody against him."

"Eck! You god it right: You'd watch do much TV."

"Fader, you'd always say to come do you if I god a problem."

"Dat's what'd I say. But you'd god no problem, so what'd do you want'd me do do? You re a gogdamn Amerigan, now.




The next morning, Thilo bought a Clark bar at the 7-11 across from school and ate it leaning against the out-of-order pay phone outside the store. A car pulled in and Principal Weber climbed out, leaving the engine running. He bought a woman's magazine in the 7-11, returned to the car and flipped through the pages one by one.

Long after he had finished his Clark bar, Thilo watched Weber, still thumbing the pages. At one point, Weber located a pencil in the car and began filling in something on a page of the magazine. He smiled to himself, set the magazine on the dashboard and started the car. He reversed out of the space and then pulled towards Thilo.

"Oh, okay. You saw me. Congratulations. I read a magazine. We can read magazines here, Thighlow. This isn't Turkey. In America, we read magazines."

As Weber drove out of the parking lot, he took the magazine from the dashboard and slid it under the seat.





About the Author


Paul A. Toth lives in Michigan and his fiction has been published by Exquisite Corpse, The Barcelona Review, Pif, American Journal of Print and others. His novel Fizz has just been completed. He can be reached at tothnews@aol.com. His official website can be found here.