I have made you wait, but here’s the rest of Arkham’s recollection of the first day of school (and the remainder of the May 8 session between Arkham and psychiatrist Joshua Symonds). Stuff actually happens!
(I should confess that I changed the spelling of Edie Allan’s name since part nine. Just so no one is confused.)
If you need to review or even get started, click these links to parts one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, and nine. I have also added, as of today, a page on the blog that contains the entire story altogether so far (I hope edited correctly and fully up to date).
Opening Day Assembly, part 2
Rog the Dodge waved Edie Allan to the gym floor, out in front of the entire cackling crowd.
Where Frank Long and was tall and fair, Edie was abbreviated darkly. She wore her hair short in some kind of bob, and it lay close and flat to her pretty, small-chinned face. Her large brown eyes gazed at the world with childlike wonder and apprehension. Sometimes, like now, moving skittishly beside Davis at that assembly, she looked scared. Rightly so.
Davis announced her name, adding that he figured she’d be managing the Lady Serpents as no one her size was going to shoot many baskets — pretty rude since she’d already tried out for volleyball and had been made manager there. Edie, looking very small, just kept her eyes on the gym floor and stood very still.
“So what do you say we check out these two on their knowledge of good old MHS,” Rog asked his crowd of stooges. Big roar. So he started in: “What’s the Mantorville mascot?” He was looking at Edie. Too scared to think (he’d just said it insulting her height), she stuttered, “Snakes?” And the mockery from her peers was rude. Frank called out the right answer — Serpents. Stupidest athletic mascot I had ever heard, although some art student about a decade earlier had whipped up a dangerous-looking cobra emblem that was plastered on the walls around the gym. That kid had been killed in a car crash his senior year.
“And when did we become the Serpents?” Neither kid knew, of course, but we all learned, after the now customary catcalls, that up until 1975, they’d been the Meteors. “Why’d we change?” got identical ignorance from both to ignite more raucous preening from the students. Even elementary kids were joining the attacks.
Rog took the road of immense-but-tried patience as he explained: they had changed mascots when a teacher had promoted a different creature — pointing out that meteors flamed out fast. That teacher had died in a terrible accident and the change had been made in his honor. Rog snootily pointed out that these new newbies could have learned about that if they had looked at the Roll of Honor display case in the hallway outside the gym.
Yeah, in addition to the usual display cases for athletic trophies — and their football boys had done well for about ten years in the Seventies and Eighties (evidently not so well in my day) — the school had a special display for some of those who had passed on, not all during their time at MHS. Examining that case later, I felt a little freaked at how many were memorialized within.
Most schools have memorials to students who have died during the course of their education. It’s always sad when a young person is taken before even having a chance to fulfill his or her real potential. Some schools memorialize favorite teachers when they pass on it (interestingly, administrators don’t usually rate that kind of posthumous recognition). I know in Jackson there was a water fountain dedicated to a freshman who’d been killed in a car accident. Just a little plaque over the water fountain, but a daily reminder of someone none of these kids knew a thing about — or me for that matter; he had died in 1963.
But Mantorville’s so-called Roll of Honor stretched at least thirty feet all along the western wall of the hall outside the gymnasium. I couldn’t bring myself to count but Edie told me sometime later there were 97 memorials, mostly students, about a dozen faculty. Apparently all sudden deaths — accidents, car crashes, a few suicides — stretching back about fifty years.
Of course there were more to come.
Quetzal County seemed an unhealthy place to reside.
But our esteemed principal wasn’t done yet. Not by a long shot. Humiliation was his specialty, and he loved performing for a crowd. Question four: “Who is the all-time passing leader for the Serpents?” He let the crowd chant the answer, “Kevin Wilson, class of 1976,” when neither victim could respond. And he went on.
Next he turned on little Edie alone again, saying, “Now let’s lob a softball to the lady here.” I could see that Edie seemed ready to cry. “What’s the motto of Mantorville High School?” She just looked blank, greeting quick and shallow through her little open mouth, moist eyes darting all around, finding no reassurance, no help, anywhere.
Rog was merciless: “Come on, little lady, it’s right in your student handbook.”
The crowd chanted venomously, “Student handbook! Student handbook!”
Roger added pointlessly, “First page. First thing on the first page.”
The chant shifted to, “She don’t know! She don’t know the motto!”
Edie began to cry, her head dropping, shoulders shaking, whole body lurching to her sobs. The jeering from her fellow students increased.
And Roger sneered, “I know you have your student handbook, little lady. I gave it to you myself when you came to registration. Didn’t you look at it? Didn’t you study your student handbook? Little lady.”
Edie turned those huge, tear-filled eyes to her principal, mascara etched wetly on her cheeks, seeking some kind of solace, but he just took a step away and made a gesture identifying her as something like dirt. And Edie ran out of the gym into the hall, earning derisive hoots from the students and a mocking headshake from Davis.
I should have done something. It was hideous, cruel, abusive — the worst form of bullying by an adult. But I was frozen, stunned, unable to believe, I guess, that this was really happening. I was hopelessly ineffectual.
Unlike Frank. The also embarrassed boy stared for a few moments at the door through which Edie had vanished, then turned with an unbelieving expression on his face at the crowd before turning on Mr. Davis. He took two steps, grabbed Davis by the shoulder, shouting, “What the hell are you doing? What the hell are you doing?”
Everyone could hear him, even over the shouting, which instantly silenced except for a few overly enthusiastic little kids whose elementary teachers shushed them.
Davis, a bull-terrier of a man, former football player and currently the assistant coach, shook himself free and took one step back from the furious boy.
“Frankie boy, that’s not how you address your principal. You’ve just earned yourself a visit to my office. Now. Go.”
Frank Long seemed to hang for a moment like a tall human missile, about to close the gap between them. Roger Dodger sublimely pointed at the door and glared. Frank turned and as the crowd exhaled finally walked out of the gym.
That’s when I finally got my nerve back. I started after them both.
Rog’s voice beckoned me back, ”Mr. Arkham. The assembly is not finished yet.”
I kept moving but said, “I’ll just make sure he gets to your office, Mr. Davis.”
Both kids were in the hall, Edie collapsed against the memorial display with Frank crouched over her trying vainly to comfort her. I went over to them, starting to say something — I don’t know what — consoling. But right away out marched the longtime PE teacher, Collins, a bulletskulled pinhead and the head football coach, Rog’s closest companion. He grabbed me by the shoulder, pulling me back. “That’s enough, Arkham. I’ll see them to the office: you might get lost, being just as wet behind the ears as they are.” Then he pushed Frank aside to actually grab Edie by the shoulders, dragging her to her feet, still crying.
“Pussies. New kids. Just a pair of pussies,” he said, not even under his breath, pushing them off ahead of him, officewards. Like a coward, I just trailed behind. I—
He broke off, dazed himself, having gotten completely caught up in that memory.
Can we quit for today? I don’t want to talk any more.
Our hour was up a while since. I let him go.
We will shoot for some more soon. Any reactions? It’s being put out to see what you think…
In case you’re interested in the process at all, I just added the PE teacher yesterday late afternoon, having substituted at Andrew again all day. The original version cut off just as Arkham hit the hall and saw the two kids. (No, I did not get the idea for the character—or any of these situations—from my activities or experiences, then or now, at Andrew. However, I did churn out about 1500 words furthering the story, and that was one idea I had in addition. You can see where it takes us soon.)