We’re so pleased to publish “The Light of Jackie Onuma Kennedy” by Johnny Day as part our New Voices category, which celebrates excellent stories by new writers. This piece is witty and dark and is described by its author as a “mean girls ghost story.” It follows a group of Lebanon Senior High teens, Jackie Kennedy among them, as they interpret a mysterious message that appears on the inside of the door of the fourth bathroom stall every Monday. It’s as smart as it is unforgettable and we’re sure you’ll just love it. Enjoy!
“There aren’t any clear rules about intentionally spilling a teacher or administrator’s gourmet coffee, but it can’t possibly be within the realm of OK-ness.”
The Light of Jackie Onuma Kennedy
by Johnny Day
A new inscription appears, Jackie Onuma Kennedy says materializes, on the inside of the door of the fourth bathroom stall every Monday morning, and while no one has claimed to see The Fatidic Message in bloom, to see the jagged, heavy metal font etch itself onto the industrial khaki matte just above the sliding privacy bar, Tillie Elpis claims to have been inside the bathroom at the exact moment of The Message’s arrival.
“Listen, so here.”
Tillie Elpis confesses this at lunch on Tuesday, her fork skinning the cheese off of her wallet-sized fiestada. The three well-dressed girls sharing her cafeteria table chew their salad loudly but save the Caesar croutons until after the story has ended. Tillie Elpis clears her throat and plops the steaming pile of cheese guts into an empty compartment of the Styrofoam lunch tray. She clears her throat to gauge the captivation of her audience.
“Here, but let me back up.”
Tillie Elpis was dropped off an hour early, something to do with her mother’s hair appointment, the best salon in the city having a waiting list months long—and so used the eerie morning stillness of Lebanon Senior High to get some work done, that is, to redecorate the inside of her locker. Before she had finished setting the burgundy gift-wrap that would serve as her wallpaper and baseline of her color scheme, she wandered into the women’s bathroom, that dimly lit, tiled echo chamber on the second floor, to apply some makeup.
Here her lunch partners squint their eyes in suspicion: they suspect a vulgar call of nature, since Tillie Elpis would never have left the house barefaced and open to ridicule.
Tillie Elpis ignores their reactions like a seasoned politician.
“But this is where it gets totally weird.”
As she set to work on her foundation, the single florescent light blinking out intermittently, the water of both faucets plipping as they had for years on end: a terrible metal on metal crrrrkkkkk tore out from the fourth stall. Had Tillie Elpis been at all familiar with the decibel scale, she could have specified the screech at 90 decibels, akin to the sound of a hair dryer or a lawnmower, but she had, regrettably, skipped that day of Science 9 to get her eyebrows waxed with Lola Antwerp, Miranda Yapinski, and Rebecca Chu Video.
“Pretty much pissed myself.”
Tillie Elpis broke out in a flop sweat. She tiptoed toward the fourth bathroom stall as if it were a wild dog on a chain of indeterminate length. A bright yellow Out of Order sign was taped to the door, of course; the sign had been there for at least the past year. Tillie Elpis held her breath and bit her lower lip and pushed the door open, committing to all three actions at once. Her heart wasn’t racing so much as it was preparing to detonate. Makeup or no, her face was wan and resembled the porcelain of the toilet. For a moment she thought her fingertips were literally on fire, having made actual physical contact with the cursed stall door, but the thought passed when she realized it absurd and, worse, utterly childish.
The door swung open with more force than she anticipated and clanged against the brushed steel of the handicap grip bar. When she stepped into the cloister, a rush of bleach rose up from the toilet like a chemical ghost to greet her: the janitorial staff had recently been at work. Her eyes shimmered. With all the respect she could muster, Tillie Elpis gently closed the door behind her, and, hunched over, read The Fatidic Message above the door’s metal lock.
The Message’s letters were similar in shape and incline to the rock band Metallica’s typeface. She read, then reread it.
The Fatidic Message claimed that Senior Jana Zhang would lose her scholarship to Brown. The scrawl also predicted Sophomore Esther Bode’s sexts would be made public by the day’s end.
Miranda Yapinski takes a noisy bottom-of-the-can slurp from her Diet Dr. Pepper, wipes her mouth with the back of her braceleted hand, and shakes her head, ready, it would seem, to call total BS.
Tillie Elpis lifts a thin eyebrow and calls on Miranda Yapinski in the manner of a frustrated teacher.
“The shit’s your problem?”
Miranda Yapinski’s signature facial tic is making a duck face with her lips, something she does now before telling Tillie Elpis that she (Tillie) is full of dog excrement.
To read the rest of “The Light of Jackie Onuma Kennedy” click here.