So, we’re back in the Coralville mental institute. (I was under the impression from my early days in Maquoketa that there was an institute for the mentally ill that was part of the Iowa penal system located in Iowa City, but nothing comes up on Google when I search — any ideas out there?) The longish May 8 session with patient James Arkham is over, and psychiatrist Joshua Symonds has recorded his thoughts so far — mostly a rehash of the trial documents as he glanced through them, revealing for us readers some details of the murder that landed Arkham in the penal system.
Now today is a new day: Dr. Symonds is about to discover that Arkham has some more surprises (lots more, though neither the shrink nor we know it yet).
Are you ready for some football… ?!
May 9, 2002 — 2:15 PM
Moved me back to afternoon, huh?
— I don’t have any appointments after this, so we can run long, like last time, if you wish…
I didn’t wish last time. It just happened.
— What I didn’t understand, was the importance of that first day of school. No response. Should I have learned something in particular? No response. You wanted to talk about that day, Mr. Arkham.
Don’t call me that! Call me James. “Mr. Arkham’s” done with. I don’t teach now.
— All right, James. Once again, though, you asked to start sessions again, and yesterday you chose to talk about that first day of school.
It was all there, you know. Everything important. If I had only noticed.
— Would you like to explain it to me, James?
Explain what? What I could’ve figured out but didn’t? You’d never understand.
— Not without your help.
I did have to explain a lot of other stuff first.
— Explain what you wish. For now, I thought. For instance, I’m curious about those two new students — Frank and Edie. You placed a lot of importance on them.
Wouldn’t you? How they were treated?
— It was all some kind of initiation experience. Wasn’t it all in good fun?
No. No, it was not all in good fun. It was cruel and deliberately demeaning. And that asshole Davis led at all.
— I remember you quoting him that those things were in the student handbooks?
Oh, yeah. He was getting angry about it all again. “It’s all in your handbook, little lady. Didn’t you read your handbook, missy?”
— Well. Shouldn’t they have read their handbooks?
Hell. I hadn’t read the handbook by then, either. And I had in-service days they were still enjoying as summer vacation. And I got paid.
— Then maybe it was meant to — ah — inspire them to study it.
It wasn’t meant to inspire anything at all — except maybe more cruelty from their peers. But they did read the handbook, both of them sure, yeah, and because of that horrible assembly. Heck, they both started while waiting outside Davis’s office that morning.
Note: perhaps I should contact the school and see if anyone was yet there who could report more objectively on that assembly. Nine years, but Arkham said the faculty was composed of long-term locals.
That’s the strangest student handbook I’ve ever seen, too. Not only do they contain a lot of peculiar nonsense like the answers to all those questions Davis asked that the assembly. But the most detailed and strange rules ever. You know, they had two pages of stuff that wasn’t permitted at school. A list. They had a rule stating snowballs could not be thrown in the corridor. The school board had adopted that one the previous March.
— Maybe they had a problem with snowball-throwing inside the school.
Probably. But who solves misbehavior by listing it in your handbook? That’s a lot more likely to give the kids the idea.
Psychologically, he had a point. Lists of specifically for bid and behaviors did tend to suggest just those ideas. I had done an experiment on that principle as an undergrad.
And in all those forty-seven pages not one word about bullying and hazing. And those behaviors were problems in that school. Serious problems.
— Other students picked on the new kids?
Relentlessly. And without reprimand. And plenty of teachers cooperated and instigated it all. Did you hear about Frank’s broken leg?
— No. He break his leg? Was Howard Phillips involved somehow? At long last?
Obviously, yes, he broke his leg. Or rather had it broken. Do you want to know what happened?
Are you going to talk about anything significant otherwise? — If you wish.
After that assembly, and the six detentions Davis made Frank serve after school — beginning that very first day, Frank made up his mind to go out for football. Maybe it was to show Davis. I tried to talk him out of it one day after school. I felt Rog had shamed him into it, but overall Frank showed them all. He made end, and his natural running ability — that he had been unaware of — got him on the field in a game two weeks later, mid-late September. He scored twice and ran for major yardage many times in that first game. And the Serpents won.
I didn’t see him in action that week, or in the next two games, one home, one away. But he was so excited about it all that I decided to go to the game the first week in October. Homecoming was the next week. But this game was away, just not very far — in Preston. A nonconference game because both small schools had trouble filling their schedules — others in both conferences did not play football.
Preston, one county south, on US Highway 64, only a half-hour cross-country, longer if I went south on 61 and then over on 64. Cross-country I could get lost — easily. But south, then east meant driving not just through Bear River but also, at the intersection, Maquoketa, which would take forever — it’s a long town east to west and their traffic lights are the worst.
Way off topic by now, James. No one cares. — But you went?
Yeah. Howie gave me directions. Good ones. I got there in time to eat at some downtown diner in Preston and found my way to their field, where Howie and Sonia met me. So I sat in the stands with them. I even got into some the cheers. Serpents had some very strange ones — including their so-called victory dance the girls and the crowd did when the team won: everybody’d chain up in a big snake dance all over the stands and the field (or court for basketball), even at away sites. Sometimes they’d start the chain during a game — just in the stands though — to inspire the team to go harder.
— Did they do that snake dance that night?
Oh, yeah. We won. But they also did it during the game once…
I am not a football fan — not much of a sports fan in general — then, or now. The Olympics, both summer and winter, and that’s about it. But this was a good game. The first half: medium-high scoring, so lots of TDs to cheer for. Good defense, too. All under the bright lights in the dark, chilly night. Clear as a bell but all the stars washed out, invisible. I felt cold, but I was having fun, feeling like a genuine imported Iowan.
Then came the second half. Preston had the first possession. Had to punt. We got it, and the QB, checking the sidelines where Collins’s bullethead and Rog’s Serpents cap bobbed and hands waved signs for some play. A pass. A really complicated pass.
That’s when the cheerleaders started the snake-dance routine. I had a brief idea that the head girl had looked to Rog or Collins for a signal just before they called it out, os we were all up and screaming the stupid Serpent Cheer and hopping all around in the stands as the play happened.
But I did see.
Both ends took off fast, and both doglegged toward the middle downfield. But two of the backs had charged out also and ran their own patterns. The QB threw to Frank, but it went pretty high. He jumped really high after it. But as he went up, the other end and a halfback collided and fell down right where Frank had jumped. Worse, our own fullback came charging in and just as Frank came down, plowed into him in midair, smashing Frank right into the two other guys.
You could hear the breaking bones in the stands.
And they all collapsed in a huge pile, Preston players leaping on, as well. And Frank was screaming. While we all kept dancing around.
Seriously. The cheerleaders just ignored the play and kept it up. I don’t know for a couple of minutes after it happened. It wasn’t like we didn’t know, like we didn’t see, like we didn’t hear.
The refs cleared the pile-up, revealing Frank writhing on the ground, still clutching the football, exposed like something not really human in that horrible, shadowless white glare.
— A really tragic accident.
Yeah. Sure. That’s what I thought. Briefly.
— It sounds like an accident.
It was meant to look like one.
— The play just went awry.
The play went perfectly. The only purpose in all those guys heading downfield was to break Frank Long’s leg. To punish him for being so good and not being a local boy.
— You don’t know that.
Frank knew it. He told me. Later.