The Swap - Robyn Harding


low morrison

I first saw Freya at my high school. I hated school, found the classes as dull and simple as my fellow students. This attitude did not endear me to my teachers nor my classmates, so I was alone, as usual, when she walked through the double front doors. No one noticed her, which seemed to be her intent. She wore a ball cap and aviator sunglasses that she did not remove under the fluorescent lights. Her shoulder-length blond hair was pulled back into a low ponytail, her heart-shaped face free of makeup. She was petite but curvaceous in her faded jeans and plain white T, with the kind of figure rarely seen outside of comic books. I had a comic-book figure, too . . . Popeye’s girlfriend Olive Oyl.

Even through the crowd in the hallway, I could tell she was somebody. There was no way I could have known then that she would come into my life and change it, change me, but I felt a magnetic pull toward her, like I had to meet her. It was destiny. The other kids were immune to her presence. It was lunch break, so they were all wrapped up in their pathetic social jockeying—gossiping, flirting, or roughhousing. We would graduate in less than three months, and everyone was already obsessing about prom, pre-parties, after-parties, and college. Everyone but me, that is.

I watched the woman head to the office as Morrissey warbled through my earbuds (unlike my pop- and rap-loving peers, I preferred to listen to angsty classics: the Smiths, Nirvana, R.E.M.). She was too old to be a student, too young to be a parent, too cool to be a teacher. As she disappeared into the principal’s domain, I wondered: Who was this woman? What was she doing at Bayview High? And why was she dressed like an incognito celebrity?

A few minutes later, she emerged from the office with Principal Graph beside her. He was enamored with her; it was obvious in his attentive posture, his fawning mannerisms, the color in his meaty cheeks. The portly administrator led Freya (who had removed her shades but not her hat) to the bulletin board in the main hall. As always, it was covered in ignored bills: school-play announcements, lost-phone notices, guest-speaker posters . . . Mr. Graph cleared a space for her, handed her a pushpin, and she posted a piece of paper on the board. They chatted for a few seconds, the principal clearly trying to bask in her aura for as long as possible, before she donned her sunglasses and left.

I hurried to the vacated bulletin board, eyes trained on the standard white sheet she had put up. It was a typewritten advertisement in Times New Roman font.

Pottery Classes

Learn to throw, glaze, and fire in a cozy home studio. Make beautiful mugs, bowls, and vases.

Ten classes for $100.

Contact Freya Light.

Casually, I snapped a photo of her contact details just as the bell rang to signal the end of lunch.

I waited two days to text her. I didn’t want her to know that I’d watched her pin the notice on the board, that I’d recorded the information directly, that I had been thinking about her ever since. It’s not as creepy as it sounds. My life was exceptionally boring. I had no friends, no hobbies, no extracurricular activities. I did, however, have a lot of chores. My family had a small hobby farm with chickens, a couple of goats, and a pig. There were always animals to feed, eggs to collect, kindling to be chopped for the woodstove. Whenever I escaped to my room to watch Netflix, my mom would insist she needed help with something. She worked from home as a bookkeeper, but she was obsessed with canning: peaches, green beans, dill pickles, kimchi, applesauce . . . As if we had to prepare for a nuclear war.

Sometimes, I’d escape to the beach or into the forest to take photographs of seals, driftwood, birds, and trees. My photography teacher, Mr. Pelman, said I had a good eye. He even let me sign out the school cameras, a privilege usually reserved for yearbook club members. Other times, I used my phone. I liked viewing the world through a smaller, more intimate lens. I liked the solitude. And my singular hobby gave me time to think. For the past two days, about little other than Freya.

She fascinated me, this woman who looked like she’d walked off the set of some Beverly Hills reality show.