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This is how we play the game: pink means kissing; red means tongue. Green means up your shirt; blue means down his pants. Purple means in your mouth. Black means all the way. We play the game at recess, and the teachers don't notice. We stand on the playground by the flagpole, arms ringed with colored bracelets from the drugstore, waiting. The boys come past us, in a bunch, all elbows, laughing. They pretend not to look. We pretend not to see them. One of them reaches out and snaps a bracelet off one of us, breaking it like a rubber band, fast and sharp as plucking a guitar string. He won't look back. He'll walk back the way he came, along the edge of the football field. And whoever he picked, Angie or Carrie or Mandy, will watch him go. After a minute she'll follow him and meet him under the bleachers, far down the field, where the teachers can't see. We play the game every day. In eighth grade we're too old for four-square and tetherball and kickball. It doesn't have a name, this game, and we don't talk about it even when we're by ourselves, after school, the boys gone off to football or paper routes or hockey and no teachers around. But the game has rules. You go with the boy who snaps your bracelet. You don't pick the boy; he picks you; they're all the same to you. You do exactly what the color prescribes, even if you hate him, like we hate Travis Coleman whose fingernails are always grubby. No talking other than hello. Don't tell anyone if you hate it, if his tongue feels like a dead fish in your mouth, if his hands leave snail-trails of sweat down your sides. No talking with the boys outside of the game. No talking about it afterwards, no laughing, no anything, even if it's just the three of us. Pretend it never happened. Rub the dent on your arm, the red welt where the bracelet snapped and split, until it goes away. Ask anyone in Cleveland and they'll tell you that girls in Lakeview Heights don't play this kind of game. Maybe down in Cleveland Heights they play it, or across town on the west side. Maybe there are a few naughty girls at the high school, reapplying lipstick in the rear view mirror before they slide out of their cars and tug their miniskirts down over their thighs. But certainly not at the junior high school, where the kids still get recess, where parents still pack lunches sometimes, where Mr. Petroski the principal still comes on the P.A. every morning to lead the Pledge of Allegiance. Not in this tidy little world where there are still four-square courts and hopscotch grids painted on the blacktop. Certainly no one plays games like that here. The other girls pretend not to know us. Their worlds are full of wholesome extracurriculars: riding lessons, field hockey practice, violin, ballet. They crowd like cattle on the playground, whispering and looking our way. Some of them say we're stupid, or high. Some of them say we don't know any better. Some call us sluts. We are the fallen women of Lakeview Heights Middle. We aren't stupid, or high. We don't do it because we don't know better. And it isn't hormones either. If you asked us, we couldn't explain, but it has something to do with their stares. They've always stared. Because we live south of Scottsdale Avenue, where the houses are smaller and mostly rentals. Because we carry our lunches in plastic grocery bags instead of paper sacks, since crisp little paper sacks cost money and we get plastic bags free from the Sav-Mart. Because Carrie's dad works nights at the liquor store, and Mandy's mom wraps gifts at the mall customer service desk, because Angie lives with her grandmother and her parents are off in Vegas maybe, or is it L.A.? We hate the stares and we love them too and maybe that's why we play the game.
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