Sunday, May 03, 2009

I Should Be Laughing: Cafeteria Boys


Chewing on his lip while he read, Harry was amazed. He had never read anything like the Anne Rice novel, and he could not put it down.

‘The old man begged to be told what we were saying. He called out,
‘Son, son,’ and Lestat danced like a maddened Rumpelstiltskin about
to put his foot through the floor. I went to the lace curtains.’

Whenever he read, which was most of the time, for books were a sort of refuge, Harry became lost in his novels, far away from everyone and everything. Whether in his room with the door locked, or at the dinner table eating in silence while Mother sipped this or that and Jimmy fiddled with his baseball cards, whether walking up Hesser to school or on the long walk home through Renny’s Forever Fields, Harry read, preoccupied.

As usual, his thumbnail was in his mouth as Harry hunched over the cafeteria table, the book, Interview With The Vampire, splayed out across his knees, his neck stretched beyond belief as he read, unaware. His mouth formed the words silently…

‘I could see and hear the slaves surrounding the house of Pointe
du Lac, forms woven in the shadows, drawing near…’

…and he was oblivious to the growing swarm around him, whispering and plotting.

Suddenly, a burst of white light unfurled before his eyes. Lightening that instantly became a hand, clipping the edge of his book and sending it sailing down the linoleum floor. Lurching into a trashcan, it stopped beneath a wadded up burrito wrapper and a cardboard cup of cold fries, sliding into a mound of almost, but not quite, dried catsup.

“That what faggots do at lunch, Seaton? Read?”

Harry stared up into the faces that imprisoned him, most of them laughing, all of them smiling. Kyle Greggs stood behind him; his hand had sent the book away. Kyle had always been the one; the one who shoved Harry in the hallways, knocking his head into lockers, muttering ‘queer’ under his breath if Harry spoke in class, an exceedingly rare occurrence since Harry didn’t want to hear that word every time he answered a question.

Kyle was always the one. Throwing balls at Harry on the playing field--basketballs, baseballs, footballs, soccer balls. He coined the nickname ‘Harry The Fairy’ the day Harry tried, and failed, to climb the rope in gym class. Yet another time he tried to fit in, to go unnoticed, and failed. Kyle was always the one, but he wasn’t the only one. Dan Mahoney, Russ Lindale, Dave King helped Kyle; their girlfriends, too, had tortured Harry at one time or another. It was a lifetime of punishment when you considered they attended the same schools for ten years. Everyone did his or her fair share of pushing Harry, physically and emotionally. A kick in the hallway was as good as a snide word in math class; as good as a look or a pointed finger in the cafeteria.
....
While they kicked his book around the cold filthy cafeteria floor like a hockey puck, Harry made a fool of himself trying to get it back. Dropping to his knees, he tried to grab it as it sailed by; running insanely across the room, he screamed at them, “Stop it!” But they didn’t stop; instead they began to mimic him, lisping, “Thtop it!” The more he chased, the more they laughed, but he wouldn’t give up. That book was his, the one thing he cared for, and he would not let them destroy it.

Kyle, Dan, Russ and Linda, Connie, even some of the teachers, laughed as Harry began to cry. His face turned all shades of red and his eyes went wild with tears, but still they snickered and pointed. Then, just before they tired of the game, before lunch was over and it was back to class, Dan Mahoney slipped, on a French fry or something, and Harry was able to scrape the book off the floor. He grabbed it and began to run.

It would be okay now, he told himself, flying toward the exit, but everyone was still laughing. Then the name-calling started. Harry The Fairy. Fag. Queer. Harry looked at them through eyes so filled with tears that he could only see distorted shapes of plaid shirts and cheerleader outfits. He ran for the door, slipping on the linoleum, wiping his eyes on his sleeves, clutching the book. Out of control, sprinting like mad, he saw the other boy, at a table near the exit, bundled up in a soiled brown corduroy coat. He was the only one in the room who wasn’t laughing at Harry, who wasn’t calling him names.

Sean Cooper ate lunch by himself, too.

1 comment:

Berry Blog said...

very subtle blending of the story within the story being parallel. Looking forward to meeting Sean Cooper now. Will he be reflected by a character in the Ann Rice book?

good stuff Bob.