The Name Game

“I don’t know where they are.”  

By Danila Botha

They called her Pits because her last name was Pitfield, and kids would sing “hands up baby hands up” and laugh whenever she raised her hand in class and saw the jungle, all dense and tangled that was growing wild.  We were twelve but the popular girls thought she should have started shaving. A popular creep came up to her in the hall and asked her if her pits matched her carpet and she kicked him in the stomach with her steel toe boots.  She told us in her quiet, measured voice that it was worth getting suspended over. 

They called her Dime Bag because she started a business making beaded necklaces, like daisy chains, all pastel colors and tiny little white flowers. She would sell them in the washroom at recess and lunch. I bought a lavender and baby pink choker that held together for ages. It was going well until the most popular girl in our grade saw the little plastic bags and told everyone she caught her dealing drugs (and later, that she found her decorating her own locker for her birthday, the popular girls could not, for the life of them decide which was worse)

They called her Bisexual because one day in grade nine science, when the teacher asked us about the two types of reproduction, she looked up, a big grin across her still full, light acne pocked baby cheeks and said “A sexual and Bisexual.” Her face got hot and turned red, and she yelled something about not being one of those indecisive people who didn’t know what they wanted, she liked men, just men- and I wanted to throw my binder at her, because I was bi and I already knew it then, even if I hadn’t told anyone. 

They called her the Librarian because of a rumor that she’d had oral sex with a guy in our school library, in this section off to the side, where people went to study. She read a lot, or you could find her scribbling something in her notebook. He wasn’t her boyfriend but you could tell she was obsessed with him, she’d stare daggers at him when he flirted with other girls, and it never stopped him. A girl and her friend said they saw them, some people said oral, some people insisted they had anal and when people asked her, and all she said was she was still a virgin.  I’ve heard she still reads a lot. 

They called her the Mattress when she was there to substitute for their favorite history teacher. She was blonde, prettier than most teachers, with a slightly hooked nose that made her look interesting, too. She wore caramel v-neck sweaters that looked expensive, and her hair pulled back in a casual updo. One of them swore that her mom knew her back in the day, and that everyone called her the mattress because she made the rounds. She had a practical, comforting energy, and when I thought about our usual teacher, who looked down the shirts of girls his daughter’s age and gave away easy A’s, it made me furious. 

They called her the Ditz because she could do a pitch perfect imitation of all those actresses in 90’s comedies, Cher from Clueless, Elle from Legally Blonde. She had the highest GPA in our grade, but it didn’t matter, all everyone ever said was that she didn’t have much substance, and I wish that I’d corrected them, even once, because I knew her better. 

They called her Miss Fist, even though she was the epitome of tiny and delicate, all polo shirts and blonde curly hair. Her boyfriend was a giant, but people insisted they saw them go under the bleachers at a school basketball game. She was a model of discretion, never saying a word to anyone, but whenever I saw his giant hands swallowing hers when I saw them walking around together, I tried not to flinch and wonder how much it hurt. 

They called her Dee, which she insisted on, because her full name was Dikla, which meant palm tree in Hebrew, but resulted in people calling her dick lover since middle school. If someone forgot her name, she’d say Dee, like my bra size. She poured herself into too tight t- shirts and told everyone about waking up one day and discovering she was a D cup, and none of her bras and shirts fit her.  She wanted everyone to know that her boyfriend was her first, that she planned to marry him. It was important that they were each other’s one and only she told me, because it was the only way things could be meaningful. I’m ashamed of how much I hoped he’d cheat on her. 

They called her The Crow because she painted her face like the guy in the movie, all black and she wore Pantera and Pop Will Eat Itself T shirts. She and one of her boyfriends used to steal scales from the Science Lab to weigh and sell their drugs. “I weigh ninety-six pounds,” she told me one day in gym class, “I’m worried about myself,” and I was too jealous to say anything helpful. 

They called her Janice, because she was 5”10, and rail thin, with dark hair and a new nose like Janice Dickinson, and a laugh as distinctive as Janice on Friends. She’d get her hair blown out and her make-up done just to walk in our school’s fashion show. She wore designer all black, and ironic jewelry, huge Dollar Store smiley face or large fake diamond rings. I didn’t know anyone could possibly envy me until I saw her try to flirt with a guy I was dating. 

They called him JD, because he had James Dean hair, he was handsome and could flirt with his eyebrows. He could compliment you on the tiniest thing no one else bothered to notice. He was always cutting class, smoking cigarettes or weed and drinking JD, like he knew how stupid everything we worried about was. He was intense about his acting. I figured he’d direct, or act in something great. I wanted him to get to live in a world where it was safe to show a fuller range of emotions. He didn’t overdose, but he was murdered, in a case related to drugs and when they invited me to a tribute, I cried but couldn’t bring myself to go. 

They called her Signs, because she had two deaf parents, and was fluent in sign language. She was always part of our school’s talent show, signing beside a singer or an actor, like an extra bit of magic. She had a sweet, helium voice, and I thought if she could get a job as a cartoon voice, she’d get rich. One day, she stopped wearing any tight shirts, including her favorite dark purple one, because her dad told her she looked like a whore. Someone saw her after she dropped out of school. He said, “Remember Signs? She’s working as a cashier at The Shoe Company. You know how she wasn’t fat before, but she wasn’t skinny? She’s really skinny now.” 

I hope they’re happier now. I hope they’re safer. 

I hope they’ve gotten kinder. I hope I have. 

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Danila Botha is a fiction writer based in Toronto, Canada. She is the author of the critically acclaimed short story collections, Got No Secrets, the Trillium and Vine finalist For All the Men (and Some of the Women) I’ve Known, and the forthcoming Things that Cause Inappropriate Happiness (Guernica Editions, 2024) She is also the author of the novel Too Much on the Inside, and the forthcoming A Place For People Like Us (Guernica 2025)

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