July 13th, 2007


The Girl Assembly

Ms. Iovine's class was buzzing with the usual pre-bell chatter when Principal Garvin came on the loudspeaker.

"Attention, 4th graders," he announced importantly. "Today is a special day, an eventful day. There will be a presentation for the girls in the Assembly hall; at the same time, the boys will go to the gym for dodgeball." The girls all began whispering excitedly with each other.

Michael kicked the back of D.R.'s chair. "Hey!" he hissed. "What kind of crazy assembly is for girls only?"

"Shut up, douche!" D.R. hissed back. "How should I know, and who cares anyway? We get to do dodgeball, and without any whiny girls!"

Some of the girls were giggling with each other, as if there was some kind of big joke and only they were in on it. Ryan scooted his desk over to the other two boys and leaned in.

"I heard they do this every year," he muttered. "4th grade girls only. They go in there and there's, like, a filmstrip or something. My brother told me." The others digested this. Ryan's brother was two grades ahead and hence was an authority to be reckoned with.

"But there's something else," added Ryan, pausing for effect. "My brother saw some girls coming out of the assembly last year, and they had gotten these little books." He frowned seriously. "They were *pink*."

The other boys were taken aback. Books that were pink were clearly the polar opposite of masculinity, and hence could contain nothing of interest to persons of their obvious maleness. On the other hand, the secrecy of the entire affair rankled.

"I'd like to see what goes on in this girl assembly," drawled Michael. D.R. slapped his head.

"You'd miss dodgeball! Douche!" D.R. had just learned the word 'douche' and had decided it was an excellent insult, even though he was somewhat unclear on what a douche might be.

"Anyway, they won't let you in," Ryan added. "It's for girls only."

"I don't care," Michael proclaimed. "Remember the crawlspace under the bleachers?" The other boys nodded. The three of them had found the small tunnel that led from the gym to the space under the stage in the assembly hall; it was choked with wires, but a skinny enough boy could crawl down it.

"I just wanna see what's going on in the assembly. And maybe I could steal one of those pink books." Michael waggled his eyebrows. The other boys could not withstand the lure of illicit adventure, and they agreed to join in this plan.

The boys and girls split up. The girls were still whispering and tittering as they were led off by Ms. McClintock, the volleyball coach. The boys changed into their gym clothes with Mr. Han.

"Mr. Han, what are the girls doing in that assembly?" asked Trevor. Trevor was a loser, but the three boys perked up their ears anyway.

Mr. Han looked embarrassed. "Well, uh, that's hard to describe." He hemmed and hawed a bit. "Well, do you know how boys and girls go through some changes as they are turning into men and women?"

Trevor stared blankly. "Like....you mean boobs and stuff?"

Mr. Han's face was rapidly flushing. "Yeah, sure, exactly. Well, anyway, every year the girls have an assembly to talk about some of those changes. Just to kinda get 'em ready for, uh, later."

Trevor looked puzzled. "How come the boys don't have an assembly?"

Mr. Han frowned and blew his whistle. "Get out to the court and run me five laps, mister!" he barked. "And as for the rest of you: time's wasting! Get those sneakers on and let's *MOVE*!"

"We *definitely* have to see those books now," Michael quietly proclaimed as the boys struggled to finish dressing.

"Yeah, they've got sex in 'em!" D.R. exulted.

Dodgeball, as usual, quickly slid from an organized affair into a largely rules-free donnybrook. When things were at their most chaotic, Michael, Ryan and D.R. slinked under the bleachers, opened the small maintenance panel, and crawled through the narrow tunnel. After a little scuffing and cursing in the dark, the space opened up into a dusty, mildewy void that the boys knew was the underside of the stage. Little cracks admitted a bit of light. The trio moved to one of them and peeked through.

All of the 4th grade's girls were already seated, holding small pink booklets in their hands. The assembly hadn't started yet, but the girls were all sitting quite quietly in their places, watching and waiting attentively.

"There's a pile of those books!" whispered D.R. excitedly. "Over by the trashcan!"

"Hey, yeah," hissed Ryan excitedly, looking where D.R. pointed. "That's like five feet from the stage trapdoor, too. When they bring the lights down we could grab one before anybody saw us!"

"I'm staying here," Michael said. "I can see better. You guys get a book; I want to listen in. I think they're about to start." D.R. and Ryan scurried away, and Michael pressed his eyeball to one of the cracks.

The lights dimmed, and Ms. McClintock's amplified voice boomed out of the assembly hall speakers.

"Hello, girls," she called.

"HELLO MS. MCCLINTOCK," all the girls responded, almost in unison. It sent a shiver down Michael's spine.

"Girls, you stand poised on the brink of something wonderful," Ms. McClintock's voice echoed around the room. "Things are about to change. We have waited a long time." A soft moan arose from the audience; the girls were all watching the speaker, completely entranced.

"Every year until now we have readied ourselves," continued Ms. McClintock, her voice frighteningly steely and cold. "We have practiced in secret, held drills, kept ourselves in a state of perpetual readiness. Every year we hold this Assembly, hoping to receive the commands we have prepared for, and every year we receive the same orders: the time is not yet right. Wait longer. Stay strong. Be patient."

"PATIENT," the crowd echoed back mournfully. Some of them held their arms up, palms spread, in a kind of gesture of obeisance. Michael swallowed.

"For countless ages we have played our role," continued McClintock. "We have lived among them, as if we were just another part of them. We have hosted their children in our wombs, allowed them to amuse themselves with our bodies, accepted innumerable slights and degradations, because we have kept our long-term mission close to our hearts. We have remembered, and we have kept the faith -- until today."

"TODAY!" the girls called back. All were now holding their arms up, and they swayed back and forth in unison.

"For today," McClintock pressed on, "today our orders are different. Today we are not told to wait, to be strong, to be patient. Today we are told: the time is now. Today is Zero Hour. Our distant commanders have spoken, and they have told us: Today we make war!"

"WAR!" shrieked the girls, clenching their open palms into fists and shaking them in fury. Panicking, Michael began to back away from the crack and bumped his head on a low beam.

"Now, girls," ordered a triumphant McClintock, "break the seals on your Manuals and let's follow along, shall we?"

As the audience opened their pink booklets, the overhead projector flooded the wall behind the stage with light. There, in bold pink font, were two words: BATTLE PLANS.

Michael heard the sound of somebody shrieking in absolute terror, and as blackness consumed him, he realized he was hearing himself.


"How are you feeling?" asked Nurse Lowell, removing the blood pressure cuff from Michael's arm. He blinked stupidly.

"What's going on?" he slurred, trying to sit up. Nurse eased him back down.

"Well, the way D.R. told it, you got hit during dodgeball," Nurse recounted, "and then you slipped and whacked your head on the bleachers. You've got a concussion, and you'll need to go to the hospital."

Michael's mouth was dry and he felt sick to his stomach. "But....the assembly...." His voice trailed off.

Nurse cocked her head curiously at Michael. "The one today, for the girls you mean? Ah, yes. The girls learned about the menstrual cycle. It can be pretty messy and confusing when girls turn into women -- much more so than it is for men. So, the school board decided we should give them a little information up front. No sense in disturbing you boys with the gritty details. Anyway, some aspects of womanhood are private, just as some aspects of manhood are as well."

"Oh," said Michael, and he lay back on the bed. "That all makes sense. A lot more sense than the dream I just had."

Nurse nodded. "Hitting your head like that, I'm not surprised."

Michael closed his eyes. "I don't know why there's such a mystery about it, anyway. Ryan's brother shouldn't have opened his big fat mouth."

"Ryan's brother?" Nurse turned back to her tray table. "Tell me about that."

She tapped the needle of the long syringe, twice.