art by M.S. Corley
City of Chrysanthemum
by Ken Liu
Bobby is the first off the school bus. He always sits in the front seat on the right; first, because the driver can offer some protection, and second, because he can get out quickly.
He does not look behind him. He can feel their gazes.
It's still fifteen minutes until homeroom, and this is among the most dangerous times during the day. He makes his way to the east wing, and dodges through the crowd of eighth-graders like a minnow among bigger fish.
The art room is empty. He shucks off his backpack and pushes it under the sink, then crawls into the cubby himself.
The dim space and the silence reassure him. He lets out a held breath, a mixture of shame and relief.
He thinks about what he'll draw, later, when he's free from this prison called school: a ball gown, sleeveless, with a beaded bodice and a full skirt. He imagines patterning the swirling, smoky silk like a sun-dried rainbow so that when spun it will look like a blossoming chrysanthemum....
"There you are!" says Tom.