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Panic (Short Story) By: Adam Norris

I was nine when the attacks started. Papaw said nine year olds don’t know nothin’ ‘bout the world to have panic attacks, but sure ‘nuff that’s what Dr. Jones said and that Dr.Jones aint never steered my Papaw wrong before. Dr. Jones said I was a ‘curious’ young lady and gave me a big ‘ole bottle of pills (don’t ask me to say the name I can’t pronounce it). I think those pills must be defective though because that was two years ago and everyone says my head still aint on right.

“ Aww hell, Panic is done at it again!” Leroy Bradshaw exclaims to the class. “Somebody get it done with take this girl to the loony bin!” Half the class is tickled real good at that. My twin brother is not. My twin brother Elton is fit to be tied.

“You shut the hell up Bradshaw!” Elton says. I’d be proud of his comin’ to my defense if my ears would stop ringin’ and I could breathe normal. Anyways, teacher gives ‘em both a paddling, she says one for vulgar language and one for speaking out in class but she doesn’t say who’s gettin’ which.

First of all, let me clarify that my name is Pansy, NOT ‘Panic.’ That’s just what the nastier kids at Edinburg K-12 started calling me. About two years ago I started getting what the doctor said was these ‘episodes.’ You can call ‘em what you want, I just call ‘em unpleasant. I can still remember the first one. I was in class and teacher was learnin’ us about the war between the states. Now, I don’t rightly now what I was causing me to panic, I don’t even know if that’s the right word for it but Dr.Jones says it is so that’s the word I use, but all of the sudden my hands start feeling feel clammy, and about a hundred butter flies start jostlin’ in my gut and I don’t know why but Teacher is talking very loud all of the sudden, no she’s screamin, and I must be showing signs of my discomfort because everyone is looking at me now and I’m thinking I might be sick but I can’t seem to pull myself together and ask to be excused to the bathroom and I can’t get this ringing outta my ears so I stick my fingers in ‘em but now the screaming that was in my ears is comin’ outta my mouth and before I know it teacher is paddlin’ me out in the hall.

Anyways, that’s the way I remember it. Linda Messing seems to remember it differently though, told everyone she saw me foaming at the mouth and that she was entirely sure I had the rabies just like Kujo. Well little did she know that my brother Elton put a brown recluse in her school bag that afternoon in a fit of revenge. Elton is always doin’ sweet things like that.

No one understood why I would start getting’ into these fits, least of all me. Teacher would paddle me of course, but as much as I didn’t want them paddlins the threat of paddlins didn’t seem to get my mind to stop its hysterics. I started to feel like the devil must have a hold of my brain and was messin’ with me just to see me get paddled (and let me tell you Teacher’s paddle is no joke.) After a couple weeks of repeat conniptions and repeat spankings out in the hallway, Teacher sent home a note that I was well ashamed of presenting to Papaw. You see, I can take the taunts of my classmates, I can even take that damn paddle, but my Papaw is a respectable man who doesn’t have time for this foolishness. Also, he always makes you pick out the biggest, thickest, thorniest switch you can find for your whippings. I mean, if you come back from the yard with some wimpy little branch, he sends you right back out there and your whippin’ is extended ten fold.

But papaw didn’t tell me to go get a switch; he didn’t even raise his voice to me. He just looked at me real queer like for a while and said tomorrow I’d be missing school on a count of he was takin’ me to the doctor. I looked at Elton and he looked right back at me eyes wide and jaw slacked. We both knew we were thinkin’ the same thing: Linda Messing was right, I had the rabies just like Kujo. Papaw was gonna take me to the vet and have me put down.

But of course he didn’t, on a count of I wouldn’t be telling this story right now if I was in the ground, would I? No, he took me to Dr.Jones in Carthage, and after he even took me for hamburgers at Chuck’s! All in all it was a fine day other than the doctor prescribin’ me crazy pills and all. When we got home, papaw wrote a note for me to give to Teacher sayin’ I had a medical condition and I was not to be paddled no more and if I was my Daddy would have a word with the school when he came back from the oil rig in three weeks.

My daddy works on an oil rig. He don’t get to come home as often as he would like, but he makes good money and it’s apparently a very important job. Daddy drills up big holes in the earth looking for black gold just like Jed Clampett. He says you have to be careful like, cause all that daggum oil is under alotta pressure, and the minute it finally gets loose it’s liable to shoot up to the moon in a rage. Sometimes I wonder if my Daddy knew I was gonna start having these episodes. Sometimes a grownup looks at you and you just know their eyes are sayin’ somethin’ their lips can’t, or maybe just don’t want to.

So now Teacher and Elton and Leroy are back in class and Leroy is rubbin’ his backside somethin’ fierce but Elton has his head held high and his hands free from his behind because Elton has always been tough like that. I, on the other hand, am still strugglin’ to calm down because I’ll be damned if I’m gonna make a fool out of myself yet again. I sit as still as I can even though my skin is crawlin’ and I close my eyes tight, so tight that in the darkness of my closed eyelids funny little shapes start popping up and my eye sockets start to get sore. Now teacher is tellin me “Pansy, open your eyes and pay attention” and I swear for a second she almost called me ‘Panic.’ Teacher has been fit to be tied ever since my Papaw put his foot down about the paddlings and I know that paddle has be missing me too but this time the screaming in my ears is just too much and now I’m finding it hard to breathe and without thinking I stand up from my desk to get some air and Teacher is yelling at me to sit down and Leroy Bradshaw is laughing and now half the class is laughing and the other half looks scared and this classroom looks so huge al of the sudden and I’m getting dizzy and someone is screaming bloody mary and I realize that it’s me and In my mind I’m a big thing of boiling hot oil just waiting for that drill to reach me and that’s when teacher seems to not care about no note anymore and doesn’t even take me into the hall but grabs me right there in the middle of class for all to see and gives me the whipping of a lifetime.

I’m sitting on the bus now playing with the peeling vinyl off the seatback in front of me. Elton is right by me. Elton is always right by me. My brother is cursing Teacher, although not too loudly because we sit fairly close to the front and the bus driver don’t stand for that kind of foul language. Elton says my episode today, comparatively speaking, wasn’t even all that bad and he doesn’t know why Teacher decided to paddle me again. I’m still picking at that peeling vinyl, and thinking maybe Teacher doesn’t know either.

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