Fall, Freshman Year
Margaret Emma Brandl

Fall, Freshman Year

The grass was all slushy from melting snow that morning, and the underside of everyone’s car was a collection of dirty icicles. The parking lot was slick with ice, and when the bus dropped me off I met Marta at the band room, like always. It was Friday so we wore the yellow long-sleeve shirts we were required to have on under our band uniforms. The storm had been worse up in Michigan, and we weren’t sure the game would still be on. I was a freshman and anxious about the whole thing—I’d never marched in snow.

Marta was a year older and knew everything. She knew the best spot by the lockers to wait in the hallway—close enough to morning concessions to smell the hot chocolate but far enough away to avoid the crush of people standing in line. She knew that morning concessions was a better bet for breakfast than the cafeteria—sometimes they had fresh donuts, sometimes just packaged honey buns, but always hot chocolate. The hallway didn’t smell of industrial cleaner like the cafeteria did. I think I bought a hot chocolate that morning, but that’s unimportant.

I remember my first class was keyboarding, which I had taken in eighth grade back in Ohio. My counselor had refused to take it as transfer credit, so I spent mornings banging out “a jak salad” seven hundred times, recording my word count, and then doing math homework. I had already played all the supplemental “games” we had been assigned for extra credit, already knew the keys my classmates hadn’t practiced with; the teacher resented me but couldn’t do anything because I wasn’t neglecting the assignments and I didn’t need extra practice, and the girl who sat next to me would alternately insult me and accuse me of cheating—as if figuring out how to cheat the computer program was easier than doing the work. This morning we discussed my hair.

“Your hair’s frizzy,” she said. Her hair was blonde (dyed). She didn’t wear makeup. I think her name was Danielle.


“Don’t you own a straightener?” she continued, cracking her gum at me.

“I don’t need one. My hair is naturally straight.” It was. Mousy brown.

“You girls need to stop visiting and do your work,” the teacher said from behind me.

“Band nerd,” Danielle said when the teacher walked away.

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Margaret Emma Brandl

is a Ph.D. candidate in English specializing in creative writing (fiction) at Texas Tech University, where she teaches English classes and serves as an associate editor for Iron Horse Literary Review. Her writing has appeared in Gulf CoastThe Cincinnati ReviewPithead ChapelHobart, and other journals.