Victoria comes from Victoria and she's small with a dreamy gaze that's always looking out the window. She arrives on a Wednesday and by Thursday I'm thinking of her in lengthy, PG-rated films. We're all eleven - I want Victoria but I don't know what I'd do if the daydreams came true. She has a magnificent lisp. I imagine her saying, "Teddy, I'm yourth."
One day, she asks if she can rent a square on my desk. The school board bought new ones and they’re all too small but I still have one of the older ones and I've been leasing sixteen square centimetres for ten cents an hour. As far as independent businesses go, I'm doing well. The boys rent space for their liquid paper. Jenny gives me her mood ring, since it interferes with her writing. So far, Miss McConachie is letting me get away with it but I’m worried one day she’ll want a piece of the pie.
For days, Victoria from Victoria doesn't give me anything and I'm thinking she looks down on the whole thing as being beneath her. And then she’s there. She hands me a dime and a condom in a baby blue plastic wrapper. The edges scratch my hand.
I act cool. As if this happens all the time. "I'll keep this in my drawer so Miss McConachie doesn't see."
"Is that exthtra?" There's a gap in her teeth and one of her canines is crooked. She’s a vampire in training.
"Why do you have this?"
"No reason.” Then she's crossing the room, tiny eyes fixed ahead, focused on whatever destiny only she can see.
I'm left with this jewel, this traveler from the World of Adults. Holding it makes me seven feet tall. Jason with his Latex Fleece. Miss McConachie starts teaching us the world capitals, but I can't leave the condom behind. I keep opening the drawer so I can read - let's face it, study - the wrapper. This particular condom is good until September 1989. Who knew that condoms expired? I thought they lasted forever, like the universe or God. The knowledge blows me up like a balloon. I want more. To use, roll condom over the shaft of the erect penis, ensuring to squeeze the tip . . . .
"Teddy, what is the capital of Manitoba?"
"Ottawa." The class giggle and I realize my mistake. "Winnipeg. It's Winnipeg."
"Perhaps you should be paying attention to me and not to whatever's in your desk."
"Don't worry. I can do two things at once."
"Maybe you should hand it over, just in case."
"That won't be necessary." The class titters. From her seat, Victoria looks like I'm a train about to run her down. I try to tell her I'm not. I'll protect you. I'm not the train, I'm the shield.
"I'll tell you what," says Miss McConachie. " I won't ask you to turn over whatever's hiding in your desk if you come up here and name all the capital cities--"
"--while rubbing your head and patting your stomach."
"I said I could two things at once. That's clearly three."
The entire room erupts. I look at Victoria and her grin stretches past her face and spills into the room. Miss McConachie glowers, chapped lips turned into a frown. For weeks, she’s been letting me get away with murder and now I’ve gone too far.
"Hop up and down on one foot. And list the capital cities in alphabetical order."
The laughter dies as I move to the front of the room. Victoria's blue jean eyes are fixed upon me.
"Provincial, territorial, and federal?"
"Skip the federal. We know you know that."
Score one for the teacher.
"Charlottetown . . . Edmonton . . . Fredericton . . . Halifax . . . ."
"Regina . . . St. John's . . . Toronto . . . ."
I almost say Vancouver. I want to say Vancouver. But Victoria is from Victoria and since she's watching, I can do no wrong. "Victoria. Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Yellowknife."
As I land, I drop into a bow. My friends burst into applause and Miss McConachie offers a grudging salute. Victoria beams and the space between us shrinks until it’s the same size as one of those plots on my desk. It's too small. My hopes and dreams are bigger than sixteen square centimetres, bigger than the classroom, bigger than the city, they stretch all the way to, well, right to Victoria and beyond.
There's a knock on the door. The school secretary needs to speak to Victoria. She doesn't seem surprised by this; in fact, she looks the way you do when you think you flunked a quiz only to find out you really did flunk the quiz. Destiny is here and it looks exactly how you thought. Victoria leaves without ever looking back. She doesn't return, so I'm left with the condom, which I take home and put under my pillow while I sleep.
The next day, Victoria's seat is empty. It's empty the day after too and then it's the weekend and then it's Monday and Victoria from Victoria is still missing. On Friday, I finally ask Miss McConachie. I feel like I need to have an excuse for asking, so I pretend that I owe her money.
"Victoria's not coming back. Something about a sick relative. She had to go home."
I never get around to learning her last name, so all I can do was put the condom in my wallet and carry it around. Eventually it fuses with my wallet and it becomes impossible to separate the plastic from the leather so I put the concoction in a drawer. It's still there. It's probably not surprising that I'm in real estate these days. And, obviously, if anyone wants to know the capital of British Columbia, I'm your guy.
I still have daydreams. I imagine bumping into Victoria from Victoria and proving she got her dime's worth. Look. All these years. I protected your secret. Whatever it was, I kept it safe.
Joel Fishbane's novel 'The Thunder of Giants' is now available from St. Martin’s Press. His short fiction has been published in a variety of magazines, including Witness, New England Review, and the Saturday Evening Post.