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A List of Cages
Author:Robin Roe

A List of Cages by Robin Roe





For my mother, who taught me to give and love with all my heart


and


In memory of Jamie, the beautiful little boy who reminds me:

we are more than what we can see





THERE IS A room in this school that no one knows about but me. If I could teleport, I’d be there now. Maybe if I just concentrate—

“Julian.” Mr. Pearce says my name sharp enough to make me flinch. “You’re less than a month into high school, and you’ve missed your English class six times.”

I’m sure I’ve missed more than that, but I guess no one realized I was gone.

The principal leans forward, two fists wrapped around his tall, twisted cane. It has a little creature carved at the top, and I’ve heard other kids talk about it, wondering if it’s a gnome or troll or a tiny replica of Mr. Pearce himself. This close, I can see the resemblance.

“Look at me!” he shouts.

I’m not sure why people want you to look at them when they’re angry with you. That’s when you want to look away the most. But when I do what he says, the windowless office seems to shrink, and I shrink along with it. A microscopic boy underneath Mr. Pearce’s gaze.

“It’d be a lot easier for you to look someone in the eye if you got a haircut.” He glares harder when I start pushing my hair out of my face. “Why haven’t you been going to class?”

“I…” I clear my throat. “I don’t like it.”

“What was that?”

People are always telling me to repeat myself or speak up. The main reason I don’t like English is because Miss Cross makes everyone read out loud, and when it’s my turn, I stumble over my words, and she tells me I’m too quiet.

Knowing this, I pitch my voice a little louder. “I don’t like it.”

Mr. Pearce lifts two gray brows, looking completely stunned. “Do you really think not liking a class is reason not to go?”

“I…” For everyone else, talking just seems to come naturally. When someone says something, they automatically know what to say back. But for me it’s as if the pathway between brain and mouth is damaged, like a rare form of paralysis. I can’t speak, so instead I fiddle with the plastic tip of my shoelace.

“Answer my question! Is not liking a class a good reason not to go?”

I know what I think, but people don’t want you to say what you think. They want you to say what they think. And knowing what that is isn’t easy.

The principal rolls his eyes. “Look at me, young man.”

I look up into his flushed face. He grimaces, and I wonder if his knee or back is hurting him the way they always seem to be. “I’m sorry,” I tell him, and his whole face softens.

Then all of a sudden, his bushy brows come together, and he slaps open a file folder with my name on it. “I should call your parents.”

My shoelace slips from my frozen fingers.

His lips curl into a smile. “You know what does my heart good?”

I manage to shake my head.

“Seeing that particular look of fear cross a student’s face when I say I’m going to call home.” He lifts the phone to his ear. He and his little wooden monster watch me as the seconds tick by. Then slowly, he pulls the phone away. “I suppose I don’t have to call…if you promise that I’ll never see you in here again.”

“I promise.”

“Then get to class.”

Out in the hall, I try to breathe, but I’m still shaky the way you’d be if you were nearly clipped by a speeding car but you leaped out of the way at the very last second.


When I enter Child Development, all the girls lift their heads like a herd of deer sensing danger. Then, the second they see me, they look away as if I was never there at all.

Since I’m late, I have to stand in front while Miss Carlisle glares at my tardy slip. Even though no one is looking at me, I can’t stop thinking that my hair is too long and my jeans are too short and my shirt is too small and everything I’m wearing is ugly and worn.

“I already marked you absent.” Miss Carlisle sighs. She’s probably even older than Mr. Pearce, with hair that might have once been blond and eyes that might have once been bright blue before she faded like a photograph. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.”

I know the new online attendance system is stressful for her, because she tells us almost every day. “I’m sorry,” I say.

“It’s fine.” She slumps, her posture weary. “I’ll take care of it.”

As I’m heading to my seat in the back, the only other boy in class, Jared, waves to get my attention. “I’ll see you on the bus today, right?” he says.

I don’t answer.