By Marléne Zadig
Frannie Cho was a white girl, and this was partly to blame for what we did. Everyone with two intact brain hemispheres knew that if you were named Cho you were supposed to be Korean, possibly Chinese, or at the very least married to one, which of course she was too young to do. But our Frannie was platinum white with fiber-optic hair, as white as the rest of us. Whiter even. She was practically albino, you might say, only minus the freaky red eyes.
The other part was that she played the cello. A Frannie Cho who was actually Korean (or potentially Chinese) and played the cello would get a free pass to be who she was because that was the natural order of things. When you hear of a Frannie Cho who plays the cello, there is a certain exclusive image that arises in your brain, and that is the one true and good image. That Frannie Cho’s mother would’ve made her play the cello, and as such, she would’ve blended into the background of our peripheral high school social dynamics and been largely ignored like a stray booger on a speech-and-debater’s paisley tie. But this Frannie Cho loved her cello more than anything in the world—more than Pop Rocks, more than second base, more than first and second base with Pop Rocks at the same time (allegedly, that is—I wouldn’t know). She carted that cello around with her everywhere she went like it was the biggest, most goddamned cumbersome security blanket in the world.
It was this unabashed enthusiasm for something so hokey and genuinely useful as playing the cello that made us want to come up with a fool-proof plan to utterly destroy her will to live. Plus, she had a lisp. And scalp itch, of all things.
No one was actually friends with Frannie Cho—no one, but one time awhile back, Grange went to second base with her on a dare. He pretended to like her for three weeks so she would let him feel her up, but in order to do that he’d had to have a real, bona fide conversation with the girl to win her trust. Everyone already knew that Frannie’s stepdad was Korean and that his last name was Cho, but she had never adequately explained to anyone who mattered why she had her stepdad’s last name and not her real dad’s, whoever and wherever he was. While having to talk about real actual shit to win Frannie’s trust, Grange asked about her real dad, who turned out to be AWOL from the whole fatherhood thing entirely. Turns out he was AWOL because he didn’t know he was the father because she (Frannie’s mom) didn’t know who the father was.
What kind of a Korean marries a white chick with an illegitimate child who’s slept around so much she doesn’t know who the baby-daddy is? He must be one dumb Korean, either that or he was desperate to get laid and knew that if he married Frannie’s mom, he’d have the closest thing there was to a sure thing in bed. This is what eventually gave Stanford the idea to overemphasize the syllables in her adopted last name so that whenever she walked by we would always cough into the tops of our fists and say “Ch-ho.” Like she was a ho. Because her mom was. But in cough form.
But that one conversation wasn’t enough to get her to let Grange feel her up, so he had to talk to her again, and this time the goods she delivered were just so, so special. This time it occurred to Grange while they were talking about real actual shit over smoothies to ask Frannie Cho why she didn’t just have her mother’s maiden name for a last name if she didn’t know who her real dad was—that was a thing that people we knew did—and this is where shit gets almost too real and he almost can’t go through with the dare because it’s so good. Turns out: her mother’s maiden name is “Butts.” I shit you not. “Butts.” Two “t’s” and all. I looked it up and it’s a legit actual name from ancient England of all places, with a family crest and motto and everything. Who the fuck establishes a name that means “asses” in their own language? Fuckwits, that’s who. And descendants thereof.
But anyway, what were we supposed to do with “Butts”? We couldn’t do anything with it. It was too pure, too perfect. Although Cruz admitted later that for awhile there he would say, “Watch-cho butt,” whenever she would walk passed him down the row of desks in biology class. As in: “Watch ‘your’ butt.” But with “Cho” instead of “your.”
(And sometimes, I’ll admit, we called her Fuckbutts in the halls.)
So given all that, how could our Frannie Cho (and her cello) not get jumped? There was no way around it, really. She (and her cello (and her lisp (and fucking scalp itch))) really had it coming. She was literally not a legitimate person. The only question was when.
Frannie tended to ignore most of our jabs, as we’ve been dishing them out in one form or another since the sixth grade, but one day we stumbled on one that really got her goat. She was trying to cross a crosswalk in front of Rite Aid with her behemoth instrument in tow like always—fucking Sisyphus in reverse or some shit—and Stanford called her “Twinkies,” which pissed her off to no end. She turns around with her cello and stops traffic just so she can mouth off. With her white hair flipping around in the wind and her nostrils flaring around what I can only imagine were also white nose hairs, the girl looked like a snow demon about to drop a curse.
“First of all, Pampers, it should be singular, as in ‘Twinkie,’ and second of all, Twinkies are yellow on the outside, white on the inside, and fucking look at me! No, really. Look. At. Me. I’m pasty as shit. If you want to be precise, call me a powdered donut. Or Hello Kitty. Or—getting back to foodstuffs—a fucking hardboiled egg. But ‘Twinkies’? Jesus fucking Christ, that’s a loser thing to say.”
First of all, she was right, which fucking did not jive. And second—“Pampers”? It was pretty good. Too good. Infantilization plus tangentially threatening his manhood all packaged up with a vague, internal rhyme with his name. She’d thought about that shit. In advance.
We had to laugh at him—it was what decorum required. We were in public and she had beat him squarely at his own game, so we had to publicly shame him in at least a token sort of way. We covered our mouths, pointed, and jeered. “Ohhhhh!!” “Daaammnn!!” “Snap!!”
After that was when we decided that Frannie needed to get jumped sooner rather than later. We would figure out a way to capture her somehow, then tie her up and rape her cello while she watched. Yeah, you read that right. We weren’t gonna rape her. We’re not sick twisted fucks or anything like that.
The morning of the day we were supposed to do the deed, I walked by the choir room to get to the bathroom during Trig and it turns out that’s the same period Frannie Cho plays her cello as backup for the Medieval Singers or Renaissance Chorus or whatever they’re called. She was jamming out on some crazy Mozart piece or Yo-Yo Ma or some shit like that, and I have to admit that it was good shit. Really good shit. I guess I never realized that she was so, I don’t know…capable. I just thought it was an act, her shtick or zeitgeist or whatever. Everybody’s got one. We have our band, but we pretty much suck.
But it was good enough that I just stood there depressing the button of the drinking fountain continuously for like ten whole minutes, even though we’re in a drought. It was good enough that I pretended to examine with interest a spiderweb which had somehow negotiated its way around the entire faucet despite being impaled several thousand times a day by this jet of water squirting through it out of nowhere. It was good enough that when it was over I went back to Trig without ever having gone to the bathroom, and I’d genuinely had to go. Practically pissed myself by the time the bell rang for next period. Still, she had it coming, so, there was that.
The way we planned to jump Frannie Cho later that day was harmless and easy: we’d use Cruz’s van that had no rear windows that he used to transport his drumkit to and from practice and just grab her and the cello while she was walking home on some side street. We all knew her route home because when you walk home from school every day with a cello, you always walk the quickest way every single time.
I was the lookout in the passenger seat to make sure no parents or cops were lurking anywhere. Cruz drove because it was his van and he was the only one who could legally drive. Stanford and Grange did the dirty work of grabbing Frannie and her cello off the street, duct taping her mouth shut and her wrists behind her back, and throwing them both in the rear of the van. We gave her a beanbag so at least she wouldn’t be slamming around the back. At least she’d be comfortable.
It was already dark because she’d had orchestra practice and the sun was setting super early now that it was getting to be late fall. The plan was to drive her out to one of the local county campsites in the hills where no one patrols this late in the season, light a bonfire, and make her watch in the firelight as we all jerked off into the great big hole of her cello. But when we got there and set it all up and opened up the cello case, we discovered that there is no great big hole on a cello like there would be on a guitar. There was just these two slits facing each other on either side of the strings shaped like this: ∫ . It was not going to be dramatic or metaphorical or, for lack of a better word, “pretty” for us to try and jerk off with perfect precision directly into these little slits without it drizzling down the front, and then we would just be defacing property—it wouldn’t send the message that we were trying to send. That you don’t fucking fuck with any of us, or if you do, you fuck with all of us, and then we’ll fuck you.
Because I was the lookout, I was supposed to go last. Grange, Stanford, and then Cruz all went before me and did as poor a job of aiming as could be expected given the target. I tried not to watch them because it was gross and reminded me for some reason of pimple porn with all the sudden giz shooting across a reflective surface. Instead, I watched Frannie, and she looked completely different in the moment than I thought she would. No fear, no wrinkled brow of vengeful loathing. No—she seemed frankly a little aloof. Eyebrows raised impassively. As if what we were doing were entirely predictable to her. Maybe even a little banal.
When it was my turn, I approached the cello as the others had but I knew as soon as I got up there that I wouldn’t be able to get it up. Maybe if it’d had that big giant hole in the middle that we’d all imagined—I don’t know—but this? I tried to picture the cello as a woman, but if a cello were a woman, she’d have big, bulging hips, and I like my bitches skinny. There was no way in hell that I was going to get hard.
“This is some next-level Gitmo bullshit,” I announced to everyone as I stood there staring down that cello and it gaped back up at me with rheumy fucking eye-slits dripping down giz. “I’m out. This shit is inhumane.”
You see, I realized in that moment and as I was walking away out of the woods and back to town that I was in love with her, with Frannie Cho, and I’d known it as soon as I got up in front of her cello. I’d known right then that if I were to ever stand a chance with her, I’d needed to take a stand. Of course I was in love with her. We all were. It was like what’s-his-face in that kids’ book from back in the day, dipping the girl’s braids in the inkwell because he had a crush on her. Or whatever the guy’s name was in Pride and Prejudice. He told that bitch she was ugly the first time he laid eyes on her and they ended up getting married.
How could we have missed the signs?
I suddenly, passionately wanted to have babies with Frannie Cho. We’d make love, she’d play her cello to our babies, even when they were still in her belly. We’d make little Mozarts and Yo-Yo Mas (but we’d call them something more culturally appropriate like Xavier or Rocky).
We probably would have, anyway, if it weren’t for what happened after I left.
According to Cruz, Grange was the one to un-tape her and let her go. “I’m sorry,” he told her after I marched off. “I guess that was kind of fucked up. I can help you clean out your cello if you want.”
“Fuck the cello,” she said, and Cruz says she just hoisted it up and threw it onto the fucking bonfire. “It’s just a tool. I’ll get another one.” That’s my Frannie, I’m thinking. Bold as a motherfucking dragon.
But then Cruz explains that after that she goes to her case and grabs her bow, and nobody expects anything from her so they are all just standing there, but she then takes the bow and jams it all the way into Grange’s eye. He’s just standing there defenseless, and sure he’s an asshole and did some pretty indefensible shit, but he never laid a finger on her and she takes out his EYE. HIS EYE. There’s no coming back from that. She will always and forever be a girl who, instead of taking the high road, took somebody’s EYE. Not really fit to bear somebody’s children after that, if you know what I mean.
She had the audacity to then go and report us all to the police for kidnapping and sexual battery—which sounds like a made-up thing—including me, who was just sitting there in the van watching it all go down, and then who fucking intervened on her behalf with my moment of clear conscientious objection there at the end.
But we’re thinking, okay, whatever, she destroyed the evidence by burning her giz-splattered cello, and of course we didn’t rape her. Any kit would’ve shown that at least. They had a point about the kidnapping charges, what with the surveillance cameras and all, but the sexual battery thing was bullshit. You can’t go to jail for raping a cello (which, I should repeat, I did not do).
So we’re all released on bond until our trial and have to go to school throughout all this, and frankly, we sort of expected a hero’s welcome, you know? Especially considering Grange’s EYE, or lack thereof. But back in the day, like five years ago, she would’ve never had the nerve to come back. She would’ve transferred to some other school or moved to some other state, or if she did come back she would have just quietly endured the gossip by developing a closeted eating disorder until she graduated and years later her legacy would’ve been an urban legend about a girl who went into the woods to fuck her own cello and got interrupted by four regular Joes.
But you know what they did? The fucking hypocrites who always hated her guts as much as we did MADE HER PROM QUEEN. The same assholes who snickered when we called her Fuckbutts and Ch-ho and Twinkie—who fucking encouraged all that shit—those same dickheads gave themselves absolution by voting her PROM QUEEN. They made themselves hypocrite t-shirts that said “Frannie’s Friend” and “Cho Means No” and the Associated Student Government bought her a goddamned hot pink cello, of all things. I want my fucking dues back.
I fucking loved that chick whilst all of that was going down. What is an act of love if not an act of righteous indignation? And you know what she said about me in her deposition? “He was the worst one of all.” I mean, what the fuck is the fuck? I defended her unworthy honor, and she has the nerve to smear my name. And now I’m supposed to roll over and be a guy whose kids find him out on the internet someday as that guy who fucked some girl’s cello (EVEN THOUGH I SPECIFICALLY DIDN’T)? Who’s a registered sex offender? Hell no.
So this is my manifesto to set the record straight for the future. It’s like The Beatles always said: “I am he as we are he as you are he and we are altogether.” I’m the Egg man. I’m the fucking walrus, yo. You made me. We are one and the same.
Marléne Zadig’s stories have appeared in Joyland, Slice Magazine, Green Mountains Review Online, Front Porch Journal, Blunderbuss, and elsewhere. She’s a 2016 Pushcart Prize nominee, a Best of the Net finalist, and her work made Longform’s Top 5 list of Best Fiction in 2015. Most recently, she was named a runner-up for the 2016 StoryQuarterly Fiction Prize by Alexander Chee. Marléne lives in Berkeley, where she is writing a novel about wildfire in the West.