Joyland

a hub for short fiction

Jenny Sugar

Scott McClanahan's latest books are Crapalachia: A Biography of Place, from Two Dollar Radio, and Hill William, from Tyrant Books. Jenny Sugar first appeared on Joyland in 2010.

When I was in the fourth grade this little girl in my class got killed.

I showed up at school one Monday morning and Randy Doogan was telling me all about it, “Hey Scott did you hear about Jenny Sugar? She got killed in a car crash yesterday. Yeah a tractor trailer hit her Mom’s car and they’re both dead.”

Of course, I didn’t believe him at first because Randy Doogan was always making stuff up like this. He was always going on about how his Dad lived in England, even though this was just something his Mother told him because his Dad left them and never came back.

But he just kept going on about it. “Yeah my Mom saw it on the news last night and she’s dead.”

Then he giggled and moved on to the next kids sitting at the cafeteria tables, “Hey guys did you hear about Jenny Sugar and her mom? They got killed yesterday?”

I stood and giggled too not really knowing what was going on and wondering if it was true or not.

But it was true all right. We found out just a couple minutes later from our fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Morgan. She stood in front of our class and told us that Jenny and her Mother had been visiting Jenny’s grandma in Virginia. On the way back home Jenny’s Mom was driving behind this tractor trailer. Jenny’s Mom was passing it on the right hand side of the road, but as she was passing it the truck pulled over and the car crashed beneath the truck. The poor driver kept driving because he didn’t know what happened. The tractor trailer driver drove for another five minutes before he finally realized he was dragging a car beneath him.

So after telling us this, Mrs. Morgan sat down at her desk and put her head in her hands. We were supposed to be working on our spelling words like ‘F-R-I-E-N-D-S’ and ‘M-O-T-H-E-R’ but everybody just stopped and watched her. She sat for a second and then she started to cry. It wasn’t your typical sad cry now, but it was a cry that sounded different.

It was a cry a woman would cry if she wasn’t our teacher Mrs. Morgan anymore, but a 35-year-old woman named Elaine.I put my pencil down and listened to her cry and thought, “Yes. Hallelujah! We’re not gonna have to do any work today!”

Then another girl named Ammie started crying too.

So Mrs. Morgan walked over and asked her if she needed to go to the bathroom.

Ammie nodded her head yeah.

Mrs. Morgan touched Ammie’s shoulder and asked Nicole to go to the bathroom with her.

I leaned over and told my friend Mike, “What’s up with that? She didn’t even know her that well.” But inside my head I was just jealous because I wished I could be free too.

Finally Mrs. Morgan was able to compose herself and told us all, “I know this is a horrible accident but there is going to be a funeral tomorrow and I hope we can all go. I have permission forms you need your parents to sign tonight if you wish to go. I’ll also be calling each of your parents tonight.”

She said if it was too much for anyone, we could just stay behind and Mrs. Crookshanks would be showing a movie.

Somebody raised their hand and asked, “What movie?”

Mrs. Morgan said she didn’t know. She thought maybe a Superman movie.

I didn’t say anything but I was thinking –

Superman or the funeral?

Superman or the funeral?

I picked the Superman movie.

The next day at school it seemed like everybody else picked the funeral. Dumb bastards. They got on the bus all dressed up in their nice shirts and ties and church dresses and church shoes. We watched from the window as they got on the school bus and took off.

There were only a couple of us who didn’t go that day. There was me, and Debra the retarded girl. And there was Kevin Van Meter, the kid who always pooped his pants. He wanted to go too, but since he always pooped his pants the teacher just made up an excuse so he couldn’t go.

After they all left, we sat down in the dark classroom and Mrs. Crookshanks put Superman IV in the VCR. I sat and watched and there was a part of me saying: “This is great.

This is two days in a row we haven’t had to do any work. I mean who’d go off to a dumb funeral when there’s Superman playing?”

But after only watching a half hour of Superman IV, I realized something important.

Superman IV sucked. Superman IV really sucked.

I mean you could see the wires that were holding Christopher Reeve up in the air, and the microphone was showing in one shot. Then all of the sudden Debra, the retarded girl, started crying. I was like, “Debra, shhh, or they’re going to turn off the movie.” So she finally quit crying. But Superman IV wasn’t getting any better and to make matters worse I started smelling something.

I sniffed my nose a couple of times and then I turned to Kevin Van Meter and told him, “You pooped your pants didn’t you?

Kevin Van Metter kept looking at Superman IV and said, “No I didn’t.”

“Yes you did.”

“No I didn’t.”

“Yes you did. I can smell it. You crapped your pants like you always do. It’s no wonder they wouldn’t let you go the funeral.”

Finally Kevin Van Meter raised his hand and did what he always did. He raised his hand and said in his deep, speech impediment voice, “I’m telling teacher on you.”

The teacher came over and Kevin told her, “Teacher, he’s picking on me.”

But Mrs. Crookshanks smelled him too and instead of yelling at me, she just turned off the VCR and took Kevin to the bathroom. Shit. We didn’t even get to watch the end of the movie.

It wasn’t an hour later the school bus pulled back up in front of the school and they were back. They were all dressed up in shirts and ties, and nice dresses and for some reason or other they didn’t look happy. I mean I even tried telling my best friend Matt Chapman about how Superman IV sucked and how he should be happy he went to the funeral.

“I mean, Matt, it was horrible,” I said as he looked away from me. I laughed. “I mean you could actually see the cables holding him up in a couple of shots.”

But Matt didn’t say anything to me.

He just looked at me all disgusted.

I said, “How come you’re acting like this and not saying anything?”

Matt shook his head and said, “I just came back from a funeral Scott. I don’t care about some stupid movie that my Mom can rent for me down at Country Boys. And how come you didn’t go? What’s wrong with you?”

I thought, “What do you mean why didn’t I go?” But then he gave me a look I’d never seen before. It was a look like my Dad gave me. It was a grown-up look

For the rest of the day I sat at my desk thinking about how Superman IV sucked and then I started thinking about Jenny Sugar.

I thought about how a couple of weeks earlier my mother took a picture of her at a school carnival and she didn’t smile. She didn’t smile because she was embarrassed.
She was embarrassed because she’d just started wearing braces. I thought about the last time I saw her. We were both outside cleaning out our fourth grade lockers and I was trying to make her laugh by doing a funny voice.

“Hee Hee,” I laughed in my funny voice, but she didn’t laugh. “Maybe she didn’t hear me,” I thought.

So I did it again, “Hee hee.”

She just rolled her eyes, and shook her head, and went “Ugghhh” like I was so immature. Maybe I was.

But over the next couple of weeks it was like the rest of the kids completely forgot about Jenny Sugar. It was like they were the ones who stayed behind and watched Superman instead of saying goodbye. It was like it never even happened. It wasn’t even a week later and they were all laughing again, and doing fart jokes and playing touch football at recess.

I kept asking, “Isn’t it strange that Jenny’s gone? What was the funeral like? Were people crying?”

They acted like they didn’t even know what I was talking about. And then one day doing my spelling words I came across a word.

It was spelled, ‘S-K-E-L-E-T-O-N.’ Skeleton.

So I stopped doing them. I looked around and all the other kids were spelling ‘S-K-E-L-E-T-O-N’ like there was nothing wrong with it.

I went to the bathroom and passed two teachers in the hallway talking about Jenny’s death.

They said, “I think they’re holding up pretty well. It’s just so horrible what happened.” And then the other teacher whispered like she didn’t want anyone to hear, “Well you can’t even imagine it. I heard the little girl was decapitated and that’s why they had a closed coffin. Imagine the father losing his wife and only child in the same day. I know he quit drinking when she was born. I wonder what will happen to him now?”

I kept thinking about it though.

I thought about Jenny Sugar without her head.

I thought about closed caskets.

I thought about Jenny Sugar’s skeleton and blood.

Each morning I woke up and my stomach was hurting. I was in the bathroom so much my Mom started getting worried.

“Are you okay in there Scott?” she asked through the door.

“Yeah I’m fine,” I said. “My belly’s just a little upset.”

“You want me to get you some more Pepto?”

I said, “Yes, Mam,” but I kept thinking about it.

I thought about it so much that by the time school was over that summer I couldn’t even get into my Mother’s car. My Mom and I were supposed to visit my Grandma in Virginia, but I was dreading it. I hung out all summer getting even more scared, drinking Pepto Bismol, worrying about how I wasn’t baptized yet, and wondering how I was going to tell her I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to go anywhere. I didn’t want to get in a car and get killed by a tractor trailer. I didn’t want to get decapitated. This went on for weeks.

Then on the day we were supposed to leave I just sat in the car and I told her, “I don’t want to go Mom. I really don’t want to go.”

And at first my Mom was mad, “Scott we’re supposed to be leaving. Why didn’t you tell me this a couple of weeks ago?”

Then it dawned on her that I was afraid. I was afraid something was going to happen to us.

I sat in the car and cried, “Why did Jenny have to get killed that way and lose her head?”

She shrugged and said, “I don’t know.”

I asked, “Where is she now Mom?”

She said, “I don’t know Scott. I really don’t know.”

She was telling the truth. I was shaking now.

I said, “I don’t want to go because I don’t want something bad to happen to us. I don’t want to be a skeleton.”

My Mom thought for a second and said, “Nothing bad is going to happen to us. I won’t let anything happen to you. There’s nothing going to happen to us. I won’t let it happen to us. I promise.”

I was feeling better.

And then she said it again as we pulled away, “Don’t you worry about that now. We’re not going to get killed. There’s nothing bad EVER going to happen to us. I won’t let it happen.”

I wasn’t crying anymore. My mother was a fucking liar.