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Christopher Wilde
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Short Story: The Wait

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Monday, November 3, 2008

The Wait

A short story by Christopher Wilde

 

As the twelve-year-old rushed along the path his footfalls were punctuated by the strident zip of gray corduroys.  Fists clenched he came to a halt.  Wearing some stranger’s clothes brought dirty angry feelings.  He ignored the sound and increased his speed.  There was no time to jealously dwell on his brother’s new wardrobe.  Stewing in silence only relinquished his lead.  He must get to school. Tardiness would gnash open vicious painful wounds.

The air he whisked through smelled scrubbed clean.  Later in the day it would feel like sticky summer.  Bart liked this time of morning better.  At this hour a cool mist hung along the wood, making the overgrown weed grass between the trees and the black asphalt path swampy with dew.   

The middle school was a lonely mile from the townhouse.  Over the summer he’d made the walk once with his older brother.  Then a few times alone to be sure he knew the way.  Nearly in sight of school, an overloaded notebook slipped from under his arm.  Fresh ruled paper scattered everywhere.  Responding to this new alarm, he scooped and stuffed with frenetic urgency.

            At the end of the path there was a crosswalk that traversed the sole road leading to the school.  A few steps further and the path declined onto the walk.    This hour of the morning, fog filled the gullies and depressions of the landscape.  The road was covered.  The fog blocked his view of on coming cars. 

Fearing headlights would rush through the fog and take him down, Bart stopped in a pant.  His sides ached.  Up and to his left, he could see the school on the hill.  The busses were absent.  Only a few cars sat coldly in the parking lot. 

He looked hastily at his empty wrist.  The time for caution had passed.   With no guards to yell at him he held his breath, clasped the notebook tightly, and frantically ran across the street.

Before long the black asphalt turned into the smooth concrete of the plaza outside the school building.  A pounding between his burning lungs, pumped a sharp pain into his temples.  Bart took a seat on one of the red brick planters that lined the front walls.  He was not late.  Many teachers had yet to arrive.   

 Ten minutes washed by without the face of another student.  Bored of sitting, Bart started walking the tops of the planters.   A door to the school opened.  Out stepped a tall, older man with deep lines that wrinkled his forehead. 

            “Don’t do that!”  He shouted, using the sharp imperative voice meant to keep children from cutting off their hands.

Bart trembled and sat down. 

Mr. West grimaced and softened his voice.  Looking at his watch he said, “You could fall.”

Then, coming closer, narrowed his eyes. “Did your parents drop you off here?”  Bart clenched his jaw answering in a mumble.

“No.”

“You shouldn’t be here this early,” He said, trying to decipher whether that expression was fear or anger.

  The sound of the first bus cut between them and drove the shop teacher back into the school.

Unfamiliar faces stepped down to the plaza.  These children were bussed in from some other part of the county.  A place called “rural.” The kids from the busses knew each other, were from all three grades, and clung in familiar circles.  He felt invisible, a stranger to these students, and when the others gave him an occasional look he felt conspicuously out of place.

            Ten minutes later when the other children came, the walkers like himself, he saw the first familiar faces from his elementary school and realized that in the year he’d lived here he’d not made a single friend. 

Eventually his brother arrived amongst his own friends.  Bart hopped down and stood by his sibling.

            “What do we do now?”

            With a touch of annoyance his brother said, “When the bell rings the doors will open.  Inside on the wall there will be a list, find your name, and go to the room listed next to your name.  That’s your home room.  They’ll tell you what to do from there.” 

            “Will you walk me to the room?” Bart asked, somewhat timidly under the eyes of his brother’s friends.  His brother was two years older, two grades ahead, and a foot taller than Bart.  The friends looked at one another.  His brother rolled his eyes.

“No,” he said with distain, “Go ask one of your friends to walk with you.”

Bart felt as if he was being mocked.  His brother added.  “No one was here to help me on my first day.  You’re lucky I told you that much.” 

            Bart grabbed his notebook from off the planter and left his brother in the crowd of students.  He slipped over to the door and peaked in the long thin rectangular window.  The glass was pressed with wire, but he could see the wall across from the door.  Lists hung there, lined with the names of all the students.  He felt some relief that his brother hadn’t lied to him.  It was getting close to the bell, and the other children began pushing forward squeezing Bart against the door.

            The first day of school was not as difficult as he’d feared.  He liked that the day was broken up into periods with different teachers for each subject, and that he had his own locker for his books.  By the end of the first week he had homework, and Mom had been forced to buy him his own backpack.

            On the tenth day there was a strong chill in the air.  Bart sat shivering on the planter waiting for the busses to come.  They would not arrive for another ten minutes.  Had other’s shown up early, even on one day, he might not have felt so tormented, nor would he have suspected that it was anything but natural for some people to feel this panic.  He could have written it off, in the way he understood that some people had blue eyes, some green, and some, like him, rich brown eyes the color of soft stained wood.

He’d forgotten his jacket, and until he stopped moving hadn’t needed one.  It looked like rain, dark powerful clouds swung over the school.  The wind swam through his hair and raised goose bumps over his flesh.  He hopped off the planter to take cover under the roof that lined the plaza in front of the school.  A drop of rain touched his nose.

            The silvery rain transferred its cold loneliness into his body as if it had been a single drop of poison mercury.  He had been ignoring a terrible sadness for days now, the creeping feeling of absolute stupidity brought on by his solitary wait.  The shadows of the clouds, the chill of the air, and the far away rumble of thunder made it impossible to ignore these feelings.  It was time to deal with whatever it was that drove him to be here this early.

              He would not have used the word anxiety.  There was an emotion that swelled within from the second he opened his eyes.  It forced him to hop out of bed and sprint through the morning routine until he arrived at school in a pant. 

Panic was the only word he could think of to describe this feeling.  That his panic controlled him only heightened the natural inferiority he felt as a middle child.  On this morning it overwhelmed him. 

He did not want to cry, feel pain, anger, or be consumed by love because when he felt these things he felt them too deeply, too irrationally, and with far more passion than any situation deserved.  When he displayed his grandiose emotions he’d been called stupid by his older brother, reckless and hyperactive by his Mom and relatives.  He did not want to be “emotional.”   

            He had worked hard over this last summer to try and calm his emotions, inspired by reruns of Star Trek and the green blooded Vulcan called Spock.  He’d realized that with some meditation, deep breathing, and intense reasoning believed he could silence the storms that raged with in him.  He could most of the time.  On a day painted with all the hallmarks of a ship lost at sea staving, off emotional squalls was close to impossible.

Across from the school, the woods began to shake with a fierce wind and a slight drizzle of rain began to fall.  The first school bus approached.  In the back of his mind, he was irritated by a memory from his earliest days of school.

            The next Monday was surprisingly warm and spring like.  The woods across from the school were filled with birds chirping and hopping across the uppermost branches.  Bart had spent the weekend pondering his problem and ignoring his homework.

The act of trying to remember highlighted his deficits.  Other children his age could remember the names of their entire first grade classmates.  He could remember five or six, maybe eight on a good day.  Often, he mixed all the names and faces from first to fourth and could never really be sure of anything.

An elastic fog stood between him and his oldest memories.  He would push against them sinking into wisps of sights, sounds, and smells.  Only to meet with a growing resistance that inevitably snapped him back to the present.  These forays into his ethereal past left him exhausted, sometimes dizzy, and always bewildered.  At best he could squeeze out one or two attempts per day; more if he kept his head to a pillow.

Each time he pressed against the membrane, it stretched a little further giving him a glimpse into the memories of a few years ago.  Not far enough to understand his anxiety.

  “Why was it so difficult to remember?” He thought, hot and angry with himself.  “Why does my mind not work like everyone else?”  Then to force, perhaps punish, it into working Bart raised his hand and slapped himself in the face.

The slap was a sharp hard bite that whipped his cheek with a “crack.”   It was loud, and hurt.  Any benefit he’d hoped to gain was disrupted by the expressions on the faces of half a dozen children, who witnessed him as they piled off a long yellow bus.

 At the forefront of this crowd was Lauren Shoenfield, the eight grade girl with whom his older brother flirted.  Lauren, with the dark silky threads of thick black hair that fell to her shoulders, and swooped over her head forming a heart shaped widow’s peak.  The point of which drew attention to her beautiful porcelain face in a way that said, “I’m here, I have arrived.”  She was dressed in a blue top that accentuated her growing bust-line. Her blue green eyes caught the slap, and then narrowed on to the red mark burned into Bart’s olive cheek.  She looked at him and wrinkled her brow in a thoughtful expression that was not mean, nor overly pitying, but certainly curious.

Bart’s face turned red, a separate shade that did not drown out the mark.  He dropped off the planter and disappeared behind the crowds of students who had poured from other buses and puddled between Lauren and himself.  Later, while peering around a group of tall boys he caught Lauren speaking to his brother.  Sure to have embarrassed him, Bart felt certain his craziness would lead to a good whooping, if not some verbal abuse when he returned home.

After school Bart raced home ahead of his older brother, dropped his school books, grabbed his jacket, and hid out on the playground, for four hours until his mother returned home from work.

At the playground he lay on his back with a single foot draped over the merry-go-round.  He gently tapped at the ground, stirring the planet counter clockwise.  The eastern sky was spotted with thick puffy, low hanging clouds, but the sun was bright to the west.  He closed his eyes, just enough to clasp his long lashes, looked toward the sun and imagined himself an insect caught in the mouth of a Venus flytrap.  He understood this helpless feeling better than he knew his own memories. Bored, he turned toward the clouds hopping to see some shapes worth dreaming about.

“Cu-mu-lus,” He sounded out, priding himself on his ability to identify them.  He remembered the storm clouds from the other morning; they were cumulonimbus clouds, heavy and dark.  It had rained profoundly that day, and then was bright and sunny the next day.  He suspected today’s evaporation assisted in the forming of the puffy clouds.  Questioning himself he wondered, where did this knowledge of clouds come from?

There were pieces of construction paper- green, yellow, blue, brown, gray, and white to be glued to a poster board.  Bart remembered the pain of cutting out the pictograms using a pair of right handed scissors that cut into his fingers; causing them to swell.  Blue construction paper was shaped into a lake and river, green for grass and treetops, a bright yellow sun, and gray clouds producing rain.  Big purple arrows were cut to show the cycle of transpiration.  Vapor from clouds fell to the earth, entered the ground water, and floated back up again powered by the fervent sun.

The start of Bart’s cloud knowledge began with this first grade science project.  Visiting parents would see his work displayed alongside his classmate’s work.  He had picked it from the stack of projects offered by his teacher Mrs. Jones.

First he’d studied the water cycle with tremendous interest, then carried that science in his head, and compared it against his observations of the natural world.  In his minds eye he could see the truth of it in his experiences with rain, clouds, and sunlight.  It tickled him to know this knowledge wasn’t just something someone told him he had to remember.  It comprised a fundamental truth he could see and feel.  With this project he hoped to prove himself to his new teacher.

He cut the construction paper shapes with clumsy hands, that could not cut on the lines any more than they could be constrained to color with in them.  His seeming lack of concern over the quality of his work irked Mrs. Jones.  She saw the small child as deliberately insolent.   Frequently her disapproving shadow slid across his arms, as if her ethereal dark visage could grasp the scissors and force him to do it right. 

Bart had transferred into her class in the second month of school.  His family had moved, from the county seat into the small town of a thousand residents, after the purchase of their first home.  He was blissfully unaware that two months made him an outsider.

His time in Mrs. Jones’ class had been pocked by mild embarrassments, like when the teacher asked everyone to sit in their seats while she went to the restroom.  This sounded like a good idea to Bart.  For fifteen minutes he’d been visibly bouncing in his seat.  No one had shown him where to find the bathroom.

“Mrs. Jones, I need to use the bathroom too,” He said standing and running to the front of the classroom to follow her.  Mrs. Jones stopped him with a condescending snicker that poured down on him like the stinging tendrils of a jelly fish.

“Bart, she said, first grade students are not allowed to use the bathrooms in the halls.  You must use the bathroom in the back of the room.”  Bart had never noticed the door at the back of the room and found this an interesting idea.  At his previous school, when he’d needed to go to the bathroom he’d just raise his hand.  His teacher would let him walk out into the hall alone.  Things were now different; he felt demoted.

“We are clean here, so don’t make a mess in the bathroom, and always flush the toilet.  Do you understand?” Her voice squawked with the sort of loathing he’d only heard from adults who didn’t like children (the kind of people with the plastic still on their furniture).  Her attitude toward him was not missed by the other students.  They laughed at him as he walked timidly to the back of the room, opened the door and stood inside looking for the light.

Mrs. Jones flicked on the light switch next to the door.  “When you turn the light on inside this red light comes on out here,” she said pointing it out to him.  “That’s how you’ll know if someone else is in there.”  Hands on hips, Bart turned around to face her, leaning forward so he could see the light she was talking about. 

Mrs. Jones thought he was about to pull down his pants and expose himself to the class.  She slammed the door in his face with such ferocity it startled him.  Bart gave out a loud whimper heard by the other students.  He stayed inside until the flush of his cheeks had died down.  Long enough, he hoped, to avoid the stares of his classmates.  When he returned to his seat Mrs. Jones had not come back. 

The sandy haired boy who sat next to him, David, tapped him with his elbow.  Then, speaking secretively as if imparting deeply valuable information said, “You know if you take your pointer finger and point at the desk.  It’s the same as saying a curse word.”

  Bart though this was a strange lie.  His mechanic father had used every curse word known to man.   He knew them all, and knew not to say them. 

“That’s not true,” Bart responded knowingly.

“Yes it is,” David sneered.

Bart was used to the tricks of his older brother.  He knew enough to question anything that might be in doubt.  Bart spoke with a practiced defiance.

 “No it’s not, I know what a curse word is and that’s not a curse word.”

“Oh yeah then I dare you to do it.” 

Bart did not regard it as a challenge.  He took his fist and extended his pointer finger down until it tapped at the desk.  The whole room gasped.  David was silently furious.  Bart ignored them and focused on his work.

Mrs. Jones walked into the room.

“Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Jones!” Barked David “Bart said a bad word.”  Bart looked up in shock.  His lips began to form the first words of protest.  He was cut off by a unanimous nod of agreement from every student in the room.

Though he hadn’t “said” or gestured a bad word, he was never given a chance to explain himself.  His punishment was an angry and fanatical lecture from Mrs. Jones; a continuation of the vague theme that he was “unfit” to be a student in her classroom, at their school, possibly even to live in their community.  This was delivered while he stood in front of her desk, the rest of the classroom behind him, their treacherous stares at his back.  Afterwards he was sent into the hall for an hour.  While there, in a bold act of unnoticed defiance, he slipped off into the hallway bathroom and dreamt he was back at his old school.

            Outside the building David came up nosily behind Bart and attempted to shove him to the ground.  Bart turned around just in time to sidestep the push.  Behind David stood Julie, the cute brown haired girl with ribbons in her pigtails.  She was a favorite of Mrs. Jones. Protecting himself, Bart took up an angry fighting stance.  David, unsure of Bart’s capabilities continued past him at a run.  Julie, alone with the new boy, looked down nervously and then ran after David crying out for him to slow down.

            A few weeks later the tension in class had died down, and Bart worked proudly on his science project.  He did his best work, trying to comply with Mrs. Jones’ constant suggestions that he do a better job.  His hands hurt from the scissors, but he pressed on with enthusiasm that sprung from his innate interest in science.  Simply understanding the process of the water cycle made him feel special; a keeper of one of natures many secrets.

            Mrs. Jones found his work unpresentable, exasperated she assigned David and Julie to “help” him with his project.  

Julie, using all the tight precision of a girl who always wore dresses, and never got them dirty, started from scratch and neatly cut out new clouds, a sun, drops of rain, and the terrain on which they fell.  David pasted the shapes onto the poster board and both listened with interest to Bart who enthusiastically explained the science behind the process of transpiration.  David and Julie responded well to Bart’s excitement, and he wondered if this was the start of a friendship between the three of them.

            Four days later they stood proudly next to the poster-board as the parents came through the classroom.  When Mom came through the line flanked by Mrs. Jones he excitedly pointed to the project.

            “Look Mom, I did this one.”

            “No you didn’t,” Mrs. Jones said, “Julie and David did all the work on this.”

            “I’m sorry,” Mrs. Jones whispered sympathetically to his mother.  “Bart’s project wasn’t done on time and couldn’t be displayed.”

  His mother frowned at him, as if this was a reasonable explanation.  Mrs. Jones ushered her down the line.  Bart wanted to cry, but dared not in front of the other students.

            Remembering it all, he stood up from the merry-go-round with a fierce surge of anger.  He raised his foot, and kicked into the small pebbles that covered the playground.  Dusk had crept around him.  The chirp of crickets filled the air but did not drown out the rise of his voice.

            “Why was she so mean to me!” He kicked harder at the pebbles.  Some flew over the back fences of the townhouses.  The pebbles sprayed, rapping on the backs of sliding glass doors and aluminum siding.  Several porch lights sprang on; he ran behind a large pine tree and used it for cover to make his way home.

            Bart moved briskly along the black tarmac path, enveloped in a thick fog and unable to see more than three feet in front of him.  The fog was intense, eerie in the faint morning light.  Each step yielded a small space of vision in front of him that quickly filled in and pressed him from behind.  He felt brave to be marching forward at his usual pace, shrouded by nature, and so completely alone.  It seemed apropos to have real life, thick fog just days after he’d thought of it as a metaphor for the weakness of his recollections.  He took deep breaths of the sweet vapor, hoping this fallen cloud would purify his mind.  Staring into the swirling blankness he saw patterns that tickled forth a remembrance.

His entire life he’d walked to school.  Last year had been easy.  He lived in sight of that school.  This year’s walk was reminiscent in distance to his first grade walk.  Despite the painful reception of first grade, Bart remembered those long walks as happy, spring filled steps along paths filled with flowers and butterflies.  He was so much younger.  Back then everything he glimpsed in the natural world filled him with wonder and distraction. 

Walking through the dull gray of the morning fog he felt a pang for the sunny spot of childhood where he imagined the flowers and butterflies roamed.  He was now weary and resentful of the anxiety that drove him to arrive to school early.  He’d continued daily to fight with his mind, and felt as if he were making progress.  It was clear to him that there was some event, some thing which had happened that created this urgency.  He was determined to uncover it.

The fog crowded the plaza and hid all but the tops of the school busses as they pulled into the school.  Their exhaust now tinged the freshness of the mist with diesel fumes.   Bart sat on the planter and sighed over the loss of the morning’s purity, then turned his attention to making out the identities of the ghostly shapes of students mulling through the fog.

 “Is your brother coming to school today?”  Bart turned his head sharply to the left, and found himself peering down into the deep blue eyes of Lauren Shoenfield.

“Um…sure.” He squeaked out.  Lauren twisted her face, causing her lips to plump out in his direction.

Sounding slightly sad she said, “Because when I spoke to him last night on the phone he said he was sick and wouldn’t be coming in today.”  Lauren looked out over the parking lot as if watching for someone to show up.  Bart hid his surprise.  This morning when he’d left home his brother was hanging around the house, with his friends waiting for some girl to come over.  In a rare moment of restraint, he decided it was best not to impart this information.

Bart joined Lauren staring into the fog.  It was beginning to dissipate in the bright light of the morning sun.  She placed her hand on his arm and he found himself again staring into her eyes.

“Are you okay?” She asked, with what felt to him to be a sincere but undue concern.  He knew she was asking because of the slap, but didn’t understand why she would care.  He didn’t understand why such a beautiful girl would want to know about a nothing like him.  A wave of suspicion washed over him that must have expressed on his face as anger.  Lauren looked away in shame.

She let go of his arm.  The sleeve of her shirt fell to her elbow revealing several small scars including a thin, fresh razor cut recently scabbed over.  She saw him staring, quickly covered it up, and began to walk away.

Bart blurted out, “I’m okay.” But Lauren ignored him and disappeared into a nearby crowd of students.  His brother never came to school that day.

 

Lauren gave Bart so much to think about.  He spent the next two days of school in deep thought missing every word of instruction.  Between classes he tried to look for her in the halls but each time he glimpsed her she would spot him first and slip away.

Bart viewed Lauren at a distance and through the lens of her beauty.  He’d seen her as strong, himself weak, and she as popular as he was invisible.  Suddenly nothing seemed quite as he’d imagined.  Lauren’s exposed vulnerability plucked something deep inside him that resonated through his whole being, and touched him at his core.  He felt differently about her.  If his feelings before had amounted to a crush, this new feeling was more like a longing, commingled with a desire to unravel her inner secret.  Perhaps, he wondered, if he understood her, he could protect her from herself.

That night he lay in bed unable to sleep, dreaming romantic thoughts about Lauren.  He put his head against the bedroom wall and could hear his brother talking on the phone using the soft voice, the voice he spoke to girls.  Bart cringed at the thought that his brother was chatting up Lauren.  Suddenly he remembered his place, his difference in age, and that Lauren would never look twice at him again.  Compared to his brother he was a child.  In the next room his brother was laughing.  Then he heard a name, “Cathy, Cathy, Cathy,” followed by more of his brother’s laughing.

Cathy was the reason his brother missed school.   Lauren would be getting a cold shoulder from now on.  Bart felt sad for Lauren and slightly sick to his stomach.

He did not sleep well, tossing and turning through a variety of helpless dreams in which he could not free himself from the oppression of a large pair of winged eyes that discovered him everywhere he hid.

The next morning Bart felt as if he woke up on the red brick planter in front of his school.  It was still dark outside, about six thirty in the morning, the earliest he’d arrived so far.  He could walk back and forth from home four times, and still be at school before the bell.  Instead, he just sat determined to wait.  Stretching his body along the planter, he lay on his side facing the parking lot, and thought about the cuts on Lauren’s arm.  There were parallels between her cuts and his panic, they were both scars.  Lauren’s were self-inflicted and Bart considered that slapping himself in the face was virtually the same thing.  He wondered how much pain he might inflict upon himself if he did not resolve this dilemma.  Hitting himself had been the wrong thing to do, and he figured it could lead to worse forms of self-destruction he intended to avoid.

It was now obvious that some event in his past was controlling him.  Uncovering that event was the path to power.  The power of his choice to hit, slap, or cut was dependent on his ability to settle the panic within and overthrow the control that gripped him.  He had to remember.

Bart sat up, jumped off the planter, and began to pace back and forth across the plaza with his head down.  He stared at the ground and tried to drive his thoughts back in time, but quickly found himself absorbed in the lines between the slabs of concrete.  The lines ran vertically to the bricks of the planter and channeled his vision like water.  As he approached each line his eyes shifted down the length of the crevice until it was stopped by the solid red brick.  However, there were exactly four junctions where the lines from the pavement connected perfectly with the mortar spaces between the bricks.  Every time he hit one his eyes were drawn to the planter until he followed the mortar along a natural pathway to the top. 

Bart found this type of distraction very familiar.  There was always some diversion that seemed to draw his attention away from the problem at hand.  Again he remembered the place from his childhood where he imagined the flowers and butterflies existed.  He wondered if what he was remembering wasn’t so much a reality but simply a point of distraction on his way to the first grade.  Bored with the lines in front of him he focused on reconstructing a vivid memory of walking to school in the first grade. 

Closing his eyes he pictured the tiny six year-old Bart he used to be and entered his body as he left home for a typical school day.  Down the front steps of his old house he walked onto

Main Street
.  He looked behind him at his childhood home.  It was teaming with an oppressive dusty darkness of complicated expectations.  It contained all the emotions he’d ever felt living there, but not the answer to his problem.

There were no sidewalks in this small town, only an ever deepening gutter formed from the flow of water and filled in with gavel by the city once a year.  Heading south on main street his feet turned West, up hill, onto

Hampton Road
.  The houses were set far apart on Hampton and just to the south, to the north of Hampton stretched a grassy ravine. 

There was a huge sense of freedom associated with this spot.  Bart looked around but did not see the flowers or butterflies he’d expected.  His view of the houses to the south was blocked by bushes and to the north the nearest houses were obscured by several small hills.  This didn’t make sense.  This walk had been made in snow, rain, and in the chill of fall but here in his memory it was always sunny, bright, and safe on

Hampton Road
.  He looked into the ravine and remembered more than one time in which he nestled down into the grass and drifted off to sleep.

Bart continued walking as

Hampton Road
turned into
Longstreet Avenue
.  Twenty feet down Longstreet was intersected by
Pickett Road
.  From the intersection he could see his first grade elementary school along a narrow path squeezed beside the first house on the south side of
Pickett Road
.  An old man use to live there that cautioned the children to stay on the path and out of his yard.  There was no sign of him today.

Bart looked on toward the school and began to feel an intense cloud of dread overhead.  The cloud descended, filling the space between him and the school with a wall of darkness that threatened to thwart his understanding.  He found himself retreating to the safety of

Hampton Avenue
, imagined himself tucked into the warm grass of the ravine embracing a tender sleep.

From here he could not see or be seen by home or school.  This was the only point along his walk in which he could avoid scrutiny by any authority.  This was the only location in his childhood memory which could be called idyllic.  Bart looked in the direction of the school and realized that unless he was willing to shatter his idealism he would be trapped here.

He approached the cloud.  Beyond it was the school, and the painful memory that drove him out of bed and filled him with panic.  It was here that Bart stepped out of the child, pushed through the cloud, and walked across the parking lot. 

Standing on the sidewalk he looked up at the double doors.  The hallway beyond held the first through third grade classrooms.  He looked at the lines in the sidewalk, this was the place David tried to push him to the ground.

Bart entered the school.  Each grade had two classrooms one to his right and left.  First were the third grade rooms, then the second followed by the two first grade classrooms.  Beyond those were the bathrooms, main office and auditorium. Fourth and fifth grade classrooms were in another hall at the other end of the school.  The hallways were empty but in this memory Bart could feel the presence of four years worth of people.  They hid just beyond each door and around every corner.

His footsteps made no sound.  The door to his first grade classroom sat open.  The cold, berating voice of Mrs. Jones poured into the hall.  Bart continued walking.  The faces of his first grade classmates came into view.  Most had their attention turned toward Mrs. Jones’ at the front of the room.  Some of the girls held their hands over their ears, wincing with their faces to their desks or their heads turned away.

  Bart felt anger, resentment, and bile rising within him.  He could not yet see Mrs. Jones, but was no longer afraid.  His hatred of her propelled him into the room.

 

 The tiny boy stood at her desk, his dirty face lined with channels of tears.

 Her thick forearms flattened along the desktop, a fulcrum to forward her pug face at him.  She screamed at the child with an innate revulsion to his very existence.

  A sign on a billboard next to the clock indicated the start of class.  The little boy was late to school.  Bart remembered this was an incidence of repetitive tardiness during the first three months.  Viewing this retrospectively, no transgression by a child merited the castigation Mrs. Jones spewed.

With her every syllable these memories became clearer in Bart’s mind.  Fear, shame, and humiliation emanating from the child washed over him.  A small puddle began to form under Bart’s Buster Browns.  The young boy looked down, Mrs. Jones’ eyes followed.  Her right hand clenched a ruler but was constrained by law.  Instead her voice gave rise to a fiery new tirade branding him under a cascading volume of disgust.

 

Outside his middle school Bart fell to his knees in a cold sweat.  He held his hand to the pavement, vomited breakfast milk, bits of hastily chewed yellow colored cereal, and then collapsed.  He hyperventilated.  His first successful gasp of air brought the unusual smell of oil, saw dust, and a faint odor of cologne.  Mr. West knelt beside Bart looked him over with sympathetic eyes, then helped him up, and ushered him into the nurse’s office. 

  It took a scientific effort and careful measurements, but Bart managed to work out the time it took him to walk the distance.  He calculated when he wished to arrive and worked out the precise time he must leave the house to attend school appropriately. 

He now waited at the beginning of his journey at home, on the couch, watching the clock.  He did this for weeks until his internal sense of time adjusted to the routine and he no longer needed to watch the clock. 

Later, in his twenties Bart learned Mrs. Jones had died, denying him a long sought confrontation. Over the years he’d gained a sense of balance between his anxiety and the effort to control it.  As a rule he was punctual, but could and did on occasion simply show up grossly late by choice.  He regarded his forced tardiness a well deserved act of vengeance, not just for himself, but on behalf of anyone who has ever sought to understand exactly why they wait.

 

Copyright 2008 Christopher Wilde

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