High School Fiction: Nightshade

High School, our 20th issue, is on the way. To cel­e­brate, we’re pub­lish­ing a series of creative writing and illus­tra­tion that cel­e­brate those teenage times for what they were–glorious, hope­less, funny, mov­ing, or just plain embarrassing.

Illustration by Amelia Garvin

Illustration by Amelia Garvin

By Taylor Basso

“What do you call a greenhouse with nothing growing inside?”

He asked it like some profound riddle. I peered into the cold dark greenhouse at the cracked pots and bags of old soil. Once it became apparent that Mike didn’t actually have an answer, I shook my head and brought the joint to my lips. “Save the deep questions for after we smoke this, okay?”

I pretended not to see the look Brooke shot me while I sparked the lighter. I recognized it as her “Simran, be nice” look. “My mom used to grow vegetables here,” Brooke said. “Cucumbers, tomatoes. She stopped after my brother was born. Watch the door, Mike, I don’t want Nightshade to get out.” Nightshade was Brooke’s cat, 15 years old with a long tail and with a tendency to wander.

Mike closed the door behind him. The three of us passed the joint back and forth in awkward silence as the muted house party thrummed in the distance behind us. This was Brooke’s version of Camp David, a play to unite her best friend and her new boyfriend, and so far it was failing. We weren’t warring, per se, things were just...chilly. Mostly from my end. I didn’t get the point of Mike. I didn’t see what he brought to the table. Brooke was amazing and funny and whipcrack smart. Mike was...a dude. In his group of friends, he wasn’t even the dude. He was Dude #3, faceless supporting cast in an anonymous posse of white bros.

“Do you have any brothers or sisters, Simran?” Mike asked. The way he asked the question was stilted and unnatural. Brooke must have told him to make nice with me. It’s funny how much you can pull from a single sentence. I should have been touched: I was important to Brooke and she wanted her important people to get along. Instead, I felt peeved because it implicitly put us on the same level.

“Two brothers,” I said, holding a cloud in my lungs. I passed the joint to Brooke and dove into my pocket for a pack of cigarettes. Both of them shook their heads. Mike said he didn’t want his father, the pastor, to smell it on him when he got home. I looked at the joint between his fingers and then back up at Brooke, incredulously. It was dark and she pretended not to see me.

Brooke always told me that one of her favourite things about me was that I couldn’t control my face. The first time she said it, I was in detention because I couldn’t stop scowling during Becky Ruiz’s French presentation. “This is an injustice,” I said. “Her accent was so fucking bad.” Brooke laughed and kept me company even though she didn’t have to, and Mrs. Lagos liked us so she let her. We spent the hour skewering Becky together. It wasn’t even detention, really.

It was always part of Our Thing, I thought, that we hated the same people. Hate isn’t actually the word for it – more that we lacked patience for stupidity and called it out where we saw it. Brooke was a no bullshit chick and I adored it about her. Now, in the greenhouse, Mike was halfway through stammering out some idiotic stoned screed about politics and Brooke was coaxing it out of him like his third grade teacher. “No, you had a good point. You were saying how money is sort of like this imaginary system. Simran, you listening?” I nodded.

“Yeah, like, what does money represent, you know? It’s pieces of paper and we say it’s worth like five dollars but it’s only worth that much because we say it is.”

“Money is guaranteed by gold,” I said. “Any amount of money just represents the same amount of gold at a mint somewhere.”

“Okay but like,” Mike said, “it’s also used to control us, right? Like you look at all the presidents and vice-presidents and stuff on it, they’re just there to remind you who’s in charge.”

“Do you know who the vice-president is right now?”

The question hung uncomfortably in the air. I smirked and looked at Brooke, who returned my gaze through the darkness. “Come on, Mike, let’s go inside,” she finally said.

I was taken aback. “We can finish this joint, if you want. I still have to kill this smoke anyway.”

“It’s not cool to ask someone a question to try and humiliate them. It makes you an asshole, actually.” Brooke pulled the door open. It dragged in the long grass and made a shuddering noise. She stormed out. Mike shrugged at me, took one last tug on the joint and followed sheepishly behind her. I was left there, hot-faced, groping in the darkness for something to say.

Moonlight spilled in through the crack of the door. I could hear the noise of the party louder now. Some drunk couple was on the porch, half-committed to a slurred fight. I stayed in the greenhouse for a while longer, smoking. On my last puff, a quick flash caught my eye. It was Nightshade, Brooke’s cat, poised in front of the open door. If she escaped, I thought, it would technically be Mike’s fault, not mine. He left the door open. I thought how upset Brooke would be if Nightshade went missing. The cat walked, soft footfalls, closer to the door. I was within arm’s reach, could close it if I wanted to, but I’d have to do it fast.

Taylor Basso is originally from Surrey, BC, and currently lives in Vancouver. He received his MFA in Creative Writing from UBC. His plays have been staged across the city, and his fiction work can be found online at Joyland and Plenitude.

Amelia Garvin is a painter and illus­tra­tor who has exhib­ited her work in group shows across Van­cou­ver. She has a BFA from Emily Carr. See more work by Amelia here and here.