Thursday, June 23, 2016

Chapters 14 thru 16

Sarah Malleck’s Dream:
Who Knew?

     I get off the bus and step down into another gray, slushy day.  I’ll be starting things off, joy of joys, with gym class today, and when I turn the corner into the gym I am greeted with my all-time favorite activity:  stations.  Opportunities in every corner for various styles of humiliation.  
     Station one:  Show your weak upper body strength with your pitiful number of push-ups.  Station two:  Jump-stumble-rope your way to insults and laughter.  Station three, station four, station five...step right up and get a cream pie of ridicule smeared across your face.  Another day, another pile of blah. 
    Station six, after watching little Silas Ward take about 23 unsuccessful shots in a row, I pick up the basketball when it reluctantly rolls to my feet.  I throw it in the approximate direction of the basket. The ball swishes through the hoop and swoops the net aside like a pair of sassy hips in a pencil skirt.  I glance at Crystal Chapman.  She glances back at me.  Surprise, surprise, the ball went in the hoop.  She hands me another ball and tells me to go again, so I do.  I flick the ball into the air, caring a little bit but not much because balls don’t go through twice, not for me.  Except this one does, with that sassy toss of the net again.  Crystal runs to get me another ball.  She has to grab it before Peter Reede can get it.  He calls her a bitch and she calls him a dick but there’s no energy to the exchange (they may like each other a little).  
     Crystal hands me the ball.  I care a little more this time but try not to because the non-caring got me the other two baskets and too much caring will break the streak.  Two in a row.  Big whoop, but I’m not the ball-throwing type so it is a whoop, at least a little one.  I half aim this time; I can’t help myself.  The ball doesn’t swoop through the net.  It bangs the backboard from my low-arched shot, but it goes in just the same.
    Peter steps closer and calls me lucky. “You got that right,” I tell him.  He hands me another ball and I put it up into the air and this time the swish of the net is the sassiest swing yet, and Crystal says, “That’s four.”  
     “Like hell,” Peter says.  
     “Four,” Crystal repeats, and I throw another ball and make it a sexy five.  
     “Betcha five bucks you can’t do it again,” Peter says.
     “No way.  I like my money.”
     “Go,” Crystal says, and she hands me the basketball. I take it and I throw it over my shoulder. I don’t even look at the basket, not even a little.  I toss the thing like it’s a piece of trash and there’s a whole landfill behind me so I don’t care where it goes at all
     “Holy shit,” Peter says with this sort of voice of awe that, I have to tell you, I’m not at all used to hearing in reaction to something I’ve done, especially not on the basketball court.  
     “It went in.”
     “It did.  It really did,” Crystal says, and then she tells Peter he owes me five bucks.  
     “She didn’t take the bet,” he says.  
     “He owes you five bucks, Sarah,” Crystal says, and Peter says again that I didn’t take the bet and he doesn’t owe me anything and Crystal says, “He owes you, doesn’t he?  Doesn’t he?”  
     But all the time they’re talking I’m just staring at the net where they said the ball went through and I’m wondering what the hell is going on.  I walk over to a ball and pick it up.  Crystal’s still saying Peter owes me five bucks.  “Doesn’t he?  Doesn’t he?” she keeps going.
     I finally say, “I didn’t take the bet.”  
     “See?”  Peter says just as I chuck the ball up in the air again, vaguely in the direction of the hoop, but the shot is so random and careless I’m practically daring the ball not to go in...but it does.  Peter says the same thing he said before about shit being holy.  
     “What’s up?”  says Michael Harding.  He’s handsome as ever and probably smells gorgeous as ever though I’m not close enough to say for sure.  Peter’s holy shit line has brought him over and now Crystal says to him, “Sarah’s made seven shots in a row.”  
     “Cool,” Michael says.  He tosses me another ball.  I drop it.  “Seven?” he asks.
     “Go,” Crystal tells me again, as if I’ve somehow become her prize monkey and she’s my manager, but I don’t let it bother me too much.  Michael’s watching now and I really want to make the shot.  I try to remember everything I’ve ever heard about shooting a basketball, but it doesn’t amount to much:  something about bending your knees and pushing to the end of your fingertips.  I start to flex my knees a little bit, but I’m sure I’m looking like a moron.  I remind myself that I’ve already made my seven in a row without any attention to form or any of that stuff, so I take the ball and flick it toward the basket, underhand.  It goes in.  The net makes that sassy swish and I think, Notice me? in Michael’s general direction and he says, “Whoa.  Sick.”
     “Eight!”  Crystal shouts and I tell her to shut up but she says again, louder, “That’s eight shots in a row!” A few kids from other stations wander over, which gets Coach Callahan’s attention.  She starts telling everybody to get back to their stations and what’s going on around here, anyway, who told them they could stop what they were doing?  Michael, so gorgeous, so persuasive he can talk to anybody and get what he wants--that’s the joy of being good-looking and nice, too, I’ve noticed--he says to Coach, “She’s made eight in a row.”
      Michael says my name.  I didn’t even know he knew my name, but I’m pretty pleased that he didn’t just say, “Her, that one over there, the one holding the ball.” Instead he  says, “Sarah.  She’s made nine shots in a row.”  
     Coach says, “Well, if you’re standing right next to the backboard…”  but Crystal and Peter both interrupt and tell her no, I was making them from all over, which is pretty much true. I chuck up another ball.  It goes in.  Crystal screams, “Nine!” as if she made the shot, not me.  Coach’s eyebrows lift.  She hands me another ball, tells me to stand in a different spot, and I shoot.  Ten.
     And I shoot.  11.  Again. 12.  Again.  13.  And so on.  14, 15, 16 and on up through 50.  
     By this time, a few things have happened.  My arm, for one, is getting really, really tired. Actually, both arms are because somebody yelled out from the crowd (a big one started to gather around shot 32), “Hey, try it left-handed!” which hadn’t occurred to me, so I did, and the ball did its regular thing:  went in the basket.  With a swish.  Not that every shot was a swish, that old sexy move.  Some went off the backboard, some circled the drain a few times.  Somewhere around shot 47, the crowd actually groaned because it looked like the ball wasn’t going to make it down the old hole.  It hesitated on the front of the hoop for a second as if to say, What, do you think I’m going down there?  But then, I swear it was like a breeze came up and just tipped the thing through.  
     So here it is, shot 50 done and everybody’s got their phones out, taking video, and I’m just plain tired and really wondering what I’ve gotten myself into.  One very nice development, though, is that Crystal has been pushed aside as my manager--who ever asked her to do that, anyway?--and the handsome and delicious Michael has taken her place.  He’s my ball boy, my caddy.  He doesn’t throw me the ball; he knows better than that.  But he walks me to this place and that place, asks me how I’m doing, hands me the ball and tells me, lovingly, to let it fly.  And I do, yes, Michael, I do.  He’s taken to giving me high fives after each shot and even a hug on number 50 which caused the whole gym to go nuts.  
     Michael leads me over the left and a little further away from the hoop than I was for shot 50.  I’m over next to Coach who’s talking to another teacher.  I hear Coach say, “There’s just no accounting for it.  This happens sometimes.  A talent emerges.  The girl just had an unrealized talent.”  
     A talent.  I’ve always wondered about those, alway wanted one, but throwing a leather ball through a hoop?  A talent?  Huh.  So this is what having one feels like.  The crowd is chanting “Fif-ty-one!  Fif-ty-one!  Fif-ty-one!”  
     When I go to lift up my arm and chuck the ball, I feel a little pull in my shoulder.  I throw the thing anyway, don’t even look to see it go in.  The screaming masses around me tell me what happened.  
      Michael puts his arm around me and asks me if I’m okay.  “I think so,” I tell him, “but I’m pretty tired.”  
     Several people are holding out basketballs to me.  The crowd is getting going again:  “Fif-ty-two! Fif-ty-two!”  Michael’s shout rises above everyone else’s:  “No, no, that’s enough!  She’s tired!  Enough for today!”  
     As he leads me out of the gym, pushing through all the people who’ve come to the gym (since when did watching me chuck a ball turn into a field trip?) I feel people’s hands patting me on the back.  “Nice job!” voices say.  “You’ve got it, Sarah!”  and “You’re a natural!”  I don’t know what tomorrow will bring.  I’m just content to feel Michael guiding me through the bunches of people, just content to think, Hey, I’ve got a talent.  Who knew?
Reality Check:  Dream 14
Sarah Malleck’s question on Facebook:  “Everybody’s supposed to be born with talents, right?  What are mine?” Answers:  “Eating.”  “Doing lots of drugs.”  “Sex?  Let’s find out.”  “Ummm….”  “Asking dumb questions.” 

Silas Ward’s Dream:

    I get off the bus to head into school.  The bus arrived late, so I have to hurry if I’m going to get to Spanish on time.  Senora Backus doesn’t take any excuses.  A crowd of kids in front of me doesn’t seem to be in the same hurry I am, so I have to wade through them to get to the front entrance.  I’m almost past the crowd, just picking up my pace, when I step on a frozen puddle at exactly the same moment that a tall kid turns quickly.  His backpack catches me in the chest.  My feet slip out from under me.  For half a second I’m laid out in mid-air.  I don’t even have time to flail.  Then I land, flat on my back.  The kids around me stop to look.  I say “ouch.”  They laugh like crazy.
    “Nice one, Greg,” a boy says to the tall kid with the backpack, “you totally wiped him out!”  More laughter.
    I stand.
    I know I’ll be late for Spanish, but sometimes priorities reshuffle.  I walk over to Greg.  He’s much taller than I am and surrounded by his friends.  I say to him, “Aren’t you even going to say you’re sorry?”
    “For what, Dipshit?”   
     I make a downward motion with my flattened hand and chop off his arm.  
     The schoolyard goes quiet.  Greg’s arm falls at his feet. The scene reminds me of the part in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, except there is no fake spurting blood.  Greg is a Lego construction someone has put together, and I just lopped off a piece of it.  
    Greg looks down at his arm and says, “What did you do that for?”   
    “Because you hit me with your backpack.  It was an accident, but you still did it, and you needed to say you were sorry.  You didn’t.  That was extremely disrespectful and I have a limit.” I chop off his other arm.
    “Hey,” Greg says.
    “That was for last week when I opened my locker and found that someone had emptied a soda over all my books.”
    “I didn’t do that.”
    “Nothing personal,” I tell him.  I punch through his stomach.  A chunk of his insides hits a friend of his, then thuds on the ground.  Greg looks behind at the portion.  
    “What was that for?”
    “The boy who shut my hand in the door last week.”
    “Oh.” Greg is understanding what he means to me now.  He doesn’t ask any more questions as I continue to dismantle him.  I chop off his leg for the word “pussy” that was scrawled on my notebook.  I flick his ears away because a month ago in gym class several boys piled on top of me and wouldn’t get off until I almost passed out.  For being pushed into the girls bathroom, I yank off his other leg.  Offense by offense, I take Greg apart and spread him across the yard.  People watch silently.  
     Finally, when only Greg’s head blinks up at me from on top of the frozen puddle, I split his skull in half in payment for the 322 times I have been called a retard.  And yes, that count is accurate.  I kick the two halves of his head away.  Most of the crowd is gone because school has started and they needed to get to class.  Some have stayed, interested in the spectacle of me breaking Greg into pieces. Now that I’m finished and have started to walk away, though, the area outside the front of the school quickly becomes abandoned.
    From my Spanish room, I look down on the schoolyard.  A couple of janitors have found Greg.  They’re using a broom and a shovel to get him into one pile.  Behind me, Brendan Hagen says, “Humpty Dumpty.”  But I imagine, perhaps with the help of the nurse and some other maintenance people, they’ll have him back together by lunch.  
     I’ve got his heart in my pocket, though.  That he’s lost for good.    
Reality Check:  Dream 15
ü  E-mail from Ms. Warren to Mrs. Shreve:  “Just got a very strange, violent story from Silas Ward.  I’ll bring you a copy.  Is this kid coded?”

ü  Items in the bottom of Silas Ward’s locker not belonging to Silas:  a math textbook, a wallet containing $30.00, an iPhone, a set of markers, a box of moldy cookies.

Brendan Hagen’s Dream:
Chicken Little

     I’m done with my vocabulary test on “The Fall of the House of Usher.”  It’s got some nice words:  annihilate, precipitous, abhorrence, phantasmagoric. I’ve done the matching, the multiple choice, the fill in questions; now I’m just sitting back, taking a moment while the rest of the class toils away.  I notice a blemish on the ceiling, over in the corner where the walls meet, a tiny fissure, and something occurs to me:  The school is going to fall down.  
     Well, of course it is.  All schools will eventually fall down, either in some cataclysmic event like an earthquake or a tornado, but most will just, over the years, succumb to the natural vagaries of time.  They’ll erode, rust, decay, implode, die.  Not just schools, naturally.  The pyramids, skyscrapers, The Eiffel Tower, even people (especially people).   
     Thirty seconds into this philosophical reverie:  Uh-oh.  
     I walk up to Ms. Warren’s desk.  I stand silently for a second as she continues to make comments on the paper of one Silas Dudley.  Ms. Warren is just writing the words “you’re spending too much time on a minor point” in the margin when she notices me.  “Oh, Brendan.  Are you done?”
     “Yes.”  I put the test down on her desk.  
     “You could have held onto it.  You know I collect them.”
     “I know, Ms. Warren, but,” and here I lean close to whisper, “I think we should get everyone out of here as soon as possible.”  She looks at me, her brow furrowed.  I can understand her puzzlement.  If Don Brooks had come up and said what I just said, Ms. Warren would have scoffed and told him to stop with the lame jokes.  This is me, though, one of her very good students.
     Ms. Warren whispers back, “Why should we get out of here?”  
     I glance over to the spot on the ceiling. The crack has grown by several inches in just the last minute.  
     “Ms. Warren, I don’t want to cause a panic, but I’m pretty sure the school is going to fall down.  Very soon.”  
     Now Ms. Warren’s face registers true conflict--she begins to smile at what must be a joke, sees I am not returning her smile, forces herself to look as if she’s taking me seriously, finally whispers, “Uuuuuh.  Could you say that again?”  I glance up to see that the crack is now half-way across the ceiling and showing no signs of slowing. Clearly, evacuating this classroom alone will not suffice.  
     “No disrespect, but I have to go,” I whisper, and I head toward the door.  Behind me, Ms. Warren calls out my name, but I’m already walking down the hall toward the office.  Glancing back over my shoulder, I see the crack has surpassed Ms. Warren’s room and is spidering its way into the hallway.  I walk quickly, giving those passing by a tight smile.  Inciting panic would not be prudent at this juncture, to coin the phrase.  I walk into the main office, straight toward the principal’s closed door.  
     “Excuse me!” the secretary, Mrs. Proom, calls out, which means “stop right where you are!”  I ignore her.  I open Mr. Connelly’s door.  He’s just hanging up his phone, which I take as a good sign; he’s positioned to hear me.  Mrs. Proom is behind me saying, “Young man, you can’t just storm in like this!  You kids think you own the place, but there is such a thing as protocol.”
     “I’m sorry for violating protocol,” I say to Mr. Connelly who’s sitting at his desk with a “what now?” look on his face.  “But protocol tends not to be important in emergencies, and this is an emergency.”  
     “What sort of emergency?”  Mr. Connelly asks.  I am about to answer when I realize that Mrs. Proom is still in the room.  Whether it’s true or just a perpetuation of a stereotype against school secretaries, I imagine her overhearing what I have to say and quickly spreading the news all over the school, again causing the afore-feared panic to explode.  I turn my head slightly in Mrs. Proom’s direction.  Mr. Connelly gets the hint and says, “Thank-you, Mrs. Proom.  I’ll just be a minute.”  She leaves, shutting the door with a disapproving slam.
     “Now, um…” Mr. Connelly begins.
     “Brandon Hagen.”
     Brandon, yes.  Tell me about this emergency.  I assume the school isn’t falling down.”
     “Actually, Mr. Connelly, I’m afraid it’s about to.”
     “Fall down.  The school.  Of course, I understand that everything falls down eventually, but I’m talking about an imminent event.”  At that moment, the crack I had seen making its progress through the hallway streaks across Mr. Connelly’s ceiling.  “Sir, we don’t have much time.”
     “What makes you think…?”
     “That makes me think!” I yell pointing up.  
     Mr. Connelly looks, furrows his brow and says, “Hm.  My tiles are cracked.  When did that happen?”  I’m slightly relieved since, before this moment, no one else has acknowledged the fissure’s existence.  On the other hand, I’ve never really given anyone else the opportunity to acknowledge it.  On the third hand, while he has admitted the presence of the jagged interruption to his ceiling, Mr. Connelly is certainly not demonstrating appropriate concern about it.  He leans forward, punches a button on his phone and says, “Mrs. Proom, would you get a message to building and grounds to have them come take a look at something in my office?”  
     “Yes,” comes the tinny response.
     “Thank-you,” replies Mr. Connelly.  Given the circumstances, the calm exchange is ludicrous.
     “We don’t have time for somebody from building and grounds to come, Mr. Connelly!  We have to evacuate everyone from the building!”
     “Brian,” Mr. Connelly says.
     “Brendon,” he says, “you need to calm down.”  
     Suddenly, I’m clear.  I know how the events of the next few minutes are going to play out.  I do calm down, immediately, but not because Mr. Connelly has told me to, not because the danger has passed, but because I have a clear picture of what I can and can’t do.  The serenity prayer, a version of which my grandmother has cross-stitched and framed in her kitchen, pops into my head:  
     God grant me the courage to change the things I can, the serenity to accept the things I cannot, and the wisdom to know the difference.” 
     I’ve exercised my courage by leaving Ms. Warren’s room and barging into Mr. Connelly’s office.  I realize, though, the futility of my warning.  Mr. Connelly won’t listen.  I am left, then, to serenely accept.
      In the middle of Mr. Connelly’s brief lecture on how we can sometimes feel overwhelmed by anxiety and the best thing we can do is simply take a deep breath, I turn and leave.  Though I no longer look for the spreading rupture in the school, I know it’s making its inexorable progress, so I walk quickly--past the gym, down the social studies hallway, through the lobby, out the exit door.  An alarm sounds.  Someone is supposed to be monitoring this part of the building, catching people like me when we leave like this, but the school is often short on substitutes, so the monitors are baby-sitting classes instead of watching the exits.  If the school weren’t about to collapse, this would be a safety issue worth talking about and remedying.  Given what’s about to happen, the beeping of the alarm has exactly no significance whatsoever.  
     I walk down the concrete steps, across the parking lot, past the football bleachers, and up a small hill on top of which sits the flagpole, two benches, and some shrubs.  I turn around to face the school.  It’s a placid-looking building.  Very square, very dependable.  The sound of the alarm is barely audible; if someone didn’t know better, she might think it was the call of a bird.  I’m not happy that I’m about to watch the demise of the school and most of its inhabitants, but I am at peace.  I tried to warn them.  I’m not exactly sure how I’m going to feel, being one of the sole survivors.  When I am mobbed by reporters and such, I’d probably better not say what I truly believe.  
     The peak of a tall pine tree pokes up above the almost exact center of the high school’s flat roof.  There, as if by design, the rift begins.  The school begins to unzip from top to bottom.  For a second, it does so silently, and then the horrendous noise of tearing concrete and metal hits me.  Interspersed, too, are screams.  The collapse doesn’t take long.  The two halves of the building fall away from one another, leaving that tall pine, now entirely in my view, seeming like the victor of some battle it enacted but didn’t actually fight.  
     This will make our town famous.  This will make me famous.  When I’m surrounded by cameras and microphones, I could say what I truly feel, but I decide, standing on the hill overlooking the devastation, that I’ll keep it to myself.  I’ll express sadness, perhaps produce a few tears, but I will let the unsaid thought warm me:  I did what I could.  
     But, in the end, I was the only one who didn’t have it coming.   
Reality Check:  Dream 16
ü  Two vocabulary words Brendan Hagen mixed up on his Edgar Allen Poe test:  “morbid” and “moribund.” 

ü  In reaction to text from Dani Spaziani saying that McKenzie Silver likes him, Brendan Hagen texted back:  “I’m not into social diseases.” 


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