Thursday, October 23, 2008

Fall's End Part III (Part II Under Sept 08 and Part I Under Jan 08)

One mile down the road the Edgewater Diner’s windows were encaustic from the bustle of morning. A suffocating aroma of bacon and potatoes turned in onions surrounded me inside Red Jetta. As orange school busses pulled away from Center Street, they tidied up a line along the school’s sidewalk and the children effused like downpour-rain by the unfolding of the manual-levered bus doors.

I unloaded the boxes against the curb, shut the trunk empty and the thump pitted the depth of my stomach. It seemed I was always empty and though I was not inclined to eat I did so anyway. But nothing ever filled me, I thought as I picked the light box up in my left hand and then propped the camera box under the same arm, bringing the boxes out wide in a half hawk wing, like I was about to circle. Army I slung around my neck and then hoisted bazooka to my shoulder, wobbly and aiming at the Edgewater School’s windows. And those windows brought me back to the hovering of that morning. A dazzling fire crossed the front of the school as the seamless glass windows mirrored the autumn foliage. In magnification, after each child’s springing grace approached and pulled open the doors, a secret entrance was set off in one fierce whirl.

Under the burden of the heavy equipment I made for the trapdoor. I wondered if at all I would even find my way as then a young boy trotted ahead of me. He tugged the heavy glass door, listlessly turned and leaned his backpack roughly up against the cross-lever handle. I nodded graciously at him and then he did something I found very peculiar. He tucked his chin down into his neck and subjected me to the most grievous grin I had ever encountered. His saying to me that this is what you should expect from your day was unforgiving and extreme and I passed the threshold of the Edgewater with that lingering message. The boy galloped ahead of me, blending into the flux of children like milk, into slip-waxed halls and the whited stale compartments of the unconscious classrooms.

I set all the boxes outside the front office suddenly stifled with a stiff interruption of spiced potpourris. My lungs were paralyzed and my eyes watered as I surveyed the office but could find no one. The windowed room was counter-divided one-third into an undulating orange-carpeted aisle dotted with highly uncomfortable looking plastic chairs—circa nineteen-seventy-two and the remaining two-thirds was an open clutter of desks, file cabinets and papers-piles that to me remained perfectly abstract and usable.

By my third aimless pass I was finally able to pick out the secretary. She was on the telephone and when our eyes met she immediately administered a volatile double-take, shifting from her coffee-morning-pleasant to an apprehensive gasp of fright.

I was not sure what had caused the sudden attention and I checked myself down to the flat of my shoes only to find that Uniform had been intact and proper. Then the thought burned over me that perhaps in my cloudy morning I had driven to the wrong school. But I was too careful. I had never missed a day and I had never miscalculated my schedule. Then backing up I slowly realized I had been standing rather opaquely with Army slung over my shoulder and Bazooka aiming straight over the counter in, this means business right between the eyes formation.

I slowly lowered Bazooka off my shoulder and placed it on the floor along with Army and I stood in a more-friendly, at-ease pose.

“I’ll be with you in one moment,” the secretary said. She had covered the phone and mouthed the words to me. When she did this she looked antique. Her violently red painted lips pursed while she patted her hair and the hairstyle easily took the blows. Then she pulled away from her desk and the wooden chair’s castors squawked out like a gaggles south-heading geese. It really appeared as though millions of them were beneath each small wheel and floated her across the office.

“I’m sorry,” the secretary said, pinning the telephone to her neck. Her chalky skin was relieved that the bazooka no longer threatened her life and when she lowered her eyes her two darkly scalloped eyebrows that she had precisely drawn on raised up one higher than the other. She began emitting a succession of short spurted agreement into the telephone. Meanwhile her oversized floral-motifed ink pen wagged with puppy delight as she jotted dabs of illegibility on a block of stick-notes.

With all the visual stimulae of the office I hadn’t notice that there was a reverberating presence to my left side. When I diverted my attention downward I found a young boy on his tip-toes. He had such an exquisite dark-eyed soup of patience that reached his thin arms out on the cold countertop. And upon my looking down to him he gently clasped his hands together and gave a half-roll pressing his ear flat on the countertop. His gazing up at me produced a stoicism that retained dignity yet was ready to play kickball at even the slightest movement.

“Jimmy,” the secretary squeezed her voice into the telephone. She clicked the back of her pen a few times and then punched two of the clunky blinking cube-buttons on the telephone back and forth.

“Jimmy is this you again?” she darted her eyes from the both of us at the counter, “Do you really think I can’t tell when you’re disguising your voice? Hello? Jimmy—Jimmy. You better get your butt in here—hello, hello, Jimmy?” She let the receiver down, took a moment and poised herself by a few gentle sweeps off her lap.

“Misses Miller,” the boy lying sideways on the countertop began, “my mother says—”

“Hold on, Teddy, dear, let me see what this young gentleman wants,” her voice leapt in sweet licorice until her attention reached me whereby her mood shifted to the meat of adult-speak.

“Right,” I said, drawing up from the boy, “Right—picture day. Today is picture day—”

“Oh, how wonderful. I am just so sorry, doll. You are absolutely right. I do remember now. Oh, really, I am very sorry. I thought we were under siege there for a moment. Well, you never know these days. OK, doll, hold on and let me see now—”
The secretary ransacked the wind spray of papers, “The gymnasium, doll. Shall I escort you?”

“I’m fine,” I said, “I’m all right on my own,” my hand seemed to automatically raise as I quickly, unnervingly, adopted the contagious yet unaffected gratitude, “I think I can remember—thank you.”

“And, Mrs. Miller?” I said after picking up Bazooka, hoisting it back to my shoulder.

“Yes, dear?”

“Make sure you get your picture taken today,” my head was foreword-leaning in the departure. I shouldered Army and patted it like a dog.

“I’m having a bad hair day, doll,” the secretary teased. The candy of her words followed my dismissal and she ended it all with a rolling chortle.

Outside the office I took up the rest of the camera equipment. And as I crossed the bleak empty foyer of the Edgewater School the cusp of dialogue between the secretary and the boy trailed off:

“My mother said I could take my shirt off for my picture today—”

“No, Teddy, absolutely not, dear. I really don’t believe your mother would—”

“She said, though—”

“Teddy, darling, absolutely not—”

“But I want to be pure,” the boy pleaded.


The equipment dragged me earthbound. I rounded the corner and felt the moist air sucking from the gymnasium through an aching pout of dismal sun. It kept glaring sideward through an unseen window I was unable to get at. Inside the gymnasium the collapsible wooden bleachers had been walked out like accordions that were drawing in the sweet lemon-scented air. I imagined the one sustained note they played, a single dry sort of tremolo. That one note sifted like white sand in my head as I contemplated the gymnasium floor. I was looking for the right space to set up the photographic studio and that unheard solitude of sand sifting took me to the red outlined rectangle that floated the pool of light beneath the basketball hoop.
From this spot the flow of traffic would be an easily flow to and from the hallway, I thought. I pictured the children arriving Home Side and immediately leaving Visitor Side as I carried the equipment until I was zeroed in beneath the chipped metal basketball hoop. But that singing note I heard left a burning that I felt on the top of my head and it caused me to move to one side as if I was under the intense scrutiny of an electro microscope.

I let each box fall to thunderous claps. Around the horseshoe shape the echoes recoiled from the glossy cinderblock walls like a rattled-disturbed water. The cage of flat aluminum lights high above the gymnasium floor were turning from green to a blue-white as they warmed up for the day. It’s weak light seemed to ignite the rote tango of my studio set up.

I pulled out the heavy wooden tripod from Army, parted its legs to a life-sized capital “A” and locked the castors. Without trepidation I opened the Camera Box and took the stout Z3 from a snug, dark foam cradle. A clement dribble of students began to stir when a low buzz grumbled from the two old box speakers on either side of the gym. I could hear them muffled through the elongated door windows. I lifted the heavy camera to the tripod as the doors jangled open. Tightened the camera to the head of the tripod while an anxious estuary of fifth grade class fanned across the varnished blonde wood bleachers. Their energy carried like rainbow-oil and I, Carpenter fool, was bent over the old wooden boxes, a castaway ship hundreds of miles inland from the sea, a madman submerged in the mechanics of resurrecting a visionary arc-like studio.

Slowly the small coagulating groups of students funneled into a causeway that divided the accordion bleachers. I was taking the camera into the hollow of my chest and turned it from where it had already been tight to assure a firm seat and met the eyes of one student in particular. She was a pixie-haired young lady who had just been eddied by a boy’s searing weave and it stopped her dead in her tacks. Upon finding the studio and myself she slapped her hands to her mouth, her eyes widened and, quite stiffly, she gave a steep lean forward. There was no bend to her knees, her body turned into an insect and she was about to collapse. But before the fall she took off in a slingshot-angle that I thought would definitely spill her to the floor. However as the reckless few risk their lives they never really do fall and make you love them for it. With her fingers still holding onto her mouth she zigzagged the remainder of her class until they all surrounded the doorway and disappeared as if down a bathtub drain.

The simple punctuation of the doors chomping shut behind them took me straight to the light stands. I held each one upside-down sliding their necks open in three thin celery sections. I cinched the tension screws to desired height and spread their thin flat legs open so together their wavering was like the tall dried blackberry arches of that morning. So the dull shine of the two egg-shaped aluminum cups that topped the stands were appropriate, something delicate and close to hovering, they were like praying mantises. To each other they were praying so lovely that when I brought out a collapsed box of hairnets and spread one open onto my fingertips it was a paper lung over the face of the mantis. Hairnets diffused the harsh flash; I used one for the main-light and overlapped two for the fill-light.

The aluminum cup of the main light I raised to my empty belly and cinched it there, four-feet from the ground. I placed the stand to the front-side of where my worktable would go. The fill-lamp, at three-feet high, stood left of the camera. After that the backlight lamp was lifted to just over my head, about six-feet and Hollywood-style-haloed the subject from behind. The effect of the lighting apparatus softened the toughest bully into an angelic choirboy; its membranous web transformed the brightest young braces-speckled lady into a starlet of desire. It just made the teachers look old, shining miserably off bald spots and haloed harshly in thinning white hair. I knew enough to unplug the backlight and had to painfully disperse meaningless jovial conversation to distract them from the mechanical illusion.

The final light sat on the floor behind the sitting box. This light angled up to the backdrop and away from the student. It had a filter jig that when cellophane gels were slid into place over the lamp, magically the background changed color. Ruby Red, Robin’s Egg Blue, Meadow Green and Autumn Ocher, at a minimal extra cost could be added to each package. Without them the background remained its neutral brooding gray, which was how I liked it the best. It was natural; it was the way I had painted it. I remembered that morning. I recalled that arcing photograph and as I was grabbing up coils of wire from Army, a vivacious ebb of fifth grade phys-ed class spouted wild from the locker room tunnel. It seemed natural. And they quickly swarmed the hardwood floors while I let out a lifeline from each light and plugged them into the top of the power pack. It’s vibrating was the heart of the studio. I felt its hum while gym class, convulsed at half-court and students tumbled into beating hearts of an awkward and fitful love. A whistle signaled them to split opposing lines. In maladroit formulation they were divided girls against the boys. And then balls were let into the arena so that the second double-chirp ricocheted a scandalous game of dodgeball.

Sneaker stomps and whips of pelting aims were indiscernible form the horrified screams and the joyous call of the game. And the photographic equipment stood above the empty box shells, hollow like holes in the floor that I suddenly felt an imperative need to close up. The few that might fall into them were as good little coal miners asphyxiating a choke white.

Closed up, Camera Box doubled as a seat for the students. I centered it in front of the background lamp where the backdrop would be erected. Light Box cartwheeled onto its tall end and would serve as a worktable for stamping, filling out slate sheets, number-inking and the collection of elastic-banded yellow package cards. The makeshift table stood waist-high beside the camera with just enough room to maneuver around and knocked sometimes like a buoy.

Now we all assumed a tall stature, the thin standing lights circled me like complacent children, aimlessly looking this way and that. I slid out the backdrop from the hollow bone of Bazooka and unlocked the screen’s end to allow it to take a heavy swing. It clicked solidly into place as a life-sized lowercase “t”. The backdrop’s three splayed legs placed it behind the sitting box and background lamp by a foot and a half. The backdrop rolled out upwardly in its perfect sea storm and made everything believable. Clipping its thin metal handle to the top of the steel pole restored confidence. We were masted and floating away into that storm as the din of the gymnasium surged and a ball zoomed past almost taking out the fill lamp followed by two double chirps of the whistle.


I was lucky enough to have time to visit the boy’s room and get a drink of water and found myself staring into the patina of the short fountain. When I arrived back at the gymnasium the studio stood alone and solemn in its grays. From leaving such a maddening chaos my return was also as sullen and formless until I was taken by the gymnasium floor. It’s miraculous polish, it was as if without my knowing a bold water had seeped under the flat soles of my shoes and quick-froze into a thin sheet of ice. The rack lights glaring now from the cages above vacillated not on the wood itself but beneath the shiny surface so that they were like schools of fish snapping directions. And beneath the charge and angle the tableau filled further. The topographical map of basketball courts vaulted in deft red outlines, disappearing and reconfiguring beneath the glinting sardines. The trajectories were unknown while all lead to the very center of the gymnasium. Here there was a circle and in the circle was a portrait of an Indian Chief. The Chief’s feathers sprouted the circumference of his circle, all painted flat and geometric like a child’s paint-by-numbers. Everything was outlined in foreverlasting black. The circle was also outlined in black and then traced again in a racing line of blood red. The chisel-angled face of the Chief was executed in dour gradations of peach, lime-white and cerise with the ground of the wood floor wearing through in certain spots. The Chief remained in an always-turned-away pose so that moving from side to side you were never able to look him straight in the eye. Something about this was sad and yet the appearance remained satisfying like a quenched thirst from a squeezed and iced puckering citrus.

In my lifted spirits I noticed a basketball then. In the polish of the gymnasium floor its reflection could have been simply recited as “8”, or half a good luck clover, blossoming from the arc of the three-pointer-line. It was so curious that when I approached, it was in the heedfulness of riverwalking. And though a real athlete would have plucked it firm from the ground and slapped it palm to palm, in my fingertips I lifted gingerly as if it were not an athletic thing at all but more an ephemeral discovery.

Due to the ball’s utter lack of texture there was prudence in my handling and a dangling concern with which only a conservator or surgeon might use. Its surface was bald, toothless in my cradle and as I rotated the worn-away rubber in my hands even the discerning black lines describing its turns, they were not only missing their ebony inlay but could be barely felt by my sensitive touch. They were erased seamlessly like memory, I was holding a memoryless brain and I knew the slightest handling would burst it to nothing, and what would come out might be an energy in a golden powdery explosion I would not be able to recapture. I had strayed too far from my camera.

I let the ball fall then. I heard the explosion pitched as a breath above my head like the left over jubilant laughter of the children’s dodgeball. The ball leaped up opposite spinning and I lightly dragged it to stop in my fingertips. I spun the smooth of its skin in both my hands to make sure I hadn’t harmed it. And when I bounced the ball again I only did so hesitatingly and the delayed claps pressed off the glossy walls. I dropped it once more, and then again, until my convoluted and small sluggish victories transmogrified into a slow-motion dribble. It meandered me down center court where I began a galloping trot. I dribbled the ball best I could though my final two extra-long strides ended abruptly as, without too much grace, I took a shot at the opposing basket followed by a short side-hop. The ball domed through the lemon-lime gymnasium in a perfect rising line and, dipping as gracefully as an egret, it approached the backboard. But then it slumped too eagerly and to my disappointment slapped six-feet in front of the basket. The ball bounced up, grazed the bottom of the net and then bluntly nodded against the red foam padding.

Right then a mean, low-pitched grumble urged out from the school’s old box speakers and I jogged my way to the basketball. I plucked it from the floor and continued a quickened dribble until I was zeroed-in once again beneath the scrutiny of the basketball hoop. Here I turned and, with very professional-looking athleticism I hooked the ball around one-handed. The basketball skimmed tight the backboard and shot up fifteen-feet as I spun in the air. It continued straight back down as I landed on one foot and slipped on the highly polished floor. When I whipped square onto my back a noise that was not my own shot from the depths of my lungs and the ball, completely missing the basket, thumped my chest, bounced to the bleachers and then rolled a speedy double in the wax shine of the floor. On my back I followed the ball until it reached a definite rest then I panned my head upwards. Slowly all the florescent bulbs imbedded in the armature of heaven above rushed a wipe of lazy dizziness that sat me up in a panic. I had a moment where my blinding silenced everything to blankness, a simple skip of relief in the world. And when the room took form I found a line of first grade students straightening along-side the photography studio.

“May I take your order,” I said from the floor. Without hesitation I teetered up and stuttered across the gymnasium. At closer range the line stood a collective icy concern that only chilled by my panning them over. They chilled more as I reached the line and edged to the camera, leaned on its flat top and swiveled it from its lock.

“So, who’s getting a few pictures taken?” I asked and clapped my hands together. Then I nervously friction-warmed them as praying hands. Still there was not a word.

“Well, then—who’s not getting a picture taken,” I said but the vast silence welled up like the belly of a sea. And the intensity raised the tremolo of whiteness to that one sustained accordion note again.

“OK, then,” I tried, “Well, who’s going to take my picture?”
It was hard to hear her through the white static in my head as a young girl had cued out from the line and then slid back in and I had to ask once more.

“You’re taking the pictures,” she said, tucked behind the first boy in line and her almost pure white hair sprang back and forth in agile pigtail swings.

“Who said?” I asked and curled my wrists onto my hips; a pose I was surprised I had done but felt appropriate.

“I don’t know. You’re the photographer,” the white-haired girl replied. The young boy at the head of the line who was wearing a sky-blue suit jacket and had the exact remarkable white hair, quickly huddled back to the girl and squeezed a secret laugh into her ear. This sprouted a chain-reaction and the relief of laughter, small as it was, parted the dense troubled cloud into a cooing that warmed us all.

“Oh, right you are. I’m so very sorry. Step in to my office and let me have a look—Madam?” I reached out to take the young lady’s order card but she did not let go and I totted her small and weary march to the front of the line. After a small tug she finally did let go and I looked over the yellow card. Student: Lucinda Brighten, Package: Two with Wallets, Background Color: Robin’s Egg Blue.

“Please do sit and make yourself as much at home as you possibly can, Lucinda Brighten,” I said to her, “Except that there’s not much in the refrigerator, as you could imagine. Unless you like the kinds of foods that are blue and fuzzy.”

Once Lucinda seated herself on the box she was no longer smiling. I kneeled down in front of her so I could arrange her feet a little the right of the box. We were the same height but the smile did not come back and Lucinda’s eyes never blinked but smoothly followed me like glass marbles. I adjusted her flyaway bangs as if I were waving cigarette smoke from two thick red elastic bands and then secretly slipped the blue filter into the frame of the background lamp. Backtracking to the table I stamped her card 00000001 and within one motion rifled the card into the back of the camera. I leaned to viewfinder and framed the fountain of angel hair, pulled the focus sharp by her white blue marble eyes and lifted my head towards her.

“Let’s have a smile,” I said quietly as if her smoke of hair would start to erase her from the seat and vanish into the backdrop. I took one photograph and then another. Two was an example for the others, saying simply that this was how it worked. That it might be fun and magical. But in the double-folds of the afterimage it wasn’t so easy. And in my blinks the flash emitted such a rise that its sudden transparent visage was a fleeting foretaste of a cold plunge. But it did disappear. I hoped it would come back. Such emblems were no great calamities but I was adding them up, each small epiphany.

After the charge subsided, Lucinda stood. And when she did it was as if she had stepped outside for a breath of fresh air, she left the opposite side of the studio and exited the gymnasium. There was some slight element of joyness in her washed out diffidence. In the hallway their teacher who had just arrived a moment before was standing aloof reading a paperback novel. I recognized her from years before, her strait-cut hair wasn’t at all unpleasant but she always stood off and took the children when they were finished as if one more photograph would be too wasteful of her time. I made a note to not ask the teacher for her portrait. Lucinda smiled at her the very same way she had done in the photograph, forced into the memory of smiles. But it transformed the teacher. She bent down to Lucinda and her mouth softened while leading her across the hallway. Lucinda sat against the green tiled wall and the teacher, as if the smile never happened at all, went back to leaning and reading her paperback in the doorway.

The young boy wearing the sky blue suit jacket and who also had the same fine white hair jotted into the studio and sat down. I kneeled in front of him the same as I had done with Lucinda except I did so a little more stiffly. I studied the boy’s eyes with playful scrutiny and he reared back a dubious façade as I took the yellow card from his small damp hand; Student; Richard Brighten, Package; Two with Wallets, Background Color; Robin’s Egg Blue, same as Lucinda’s.

“I really don’t want to look immature,” the boy said. His statement was curt but unending, “I’ve seen a lot of portraits and that’s what I dread most of all.”

“Why, I’ve seen you smile before, Richard Brighten, and, heavens, you look the farthest thing from immature.”

“We’re twins. And I don’t look a bit like her,” he said pitiless.

“Well, Richard, she’s a lovely looking young lady and you do have the same extraordinary hair.”

“Richard Batman. I’d prefer you call me, Richard Batman,” the boy crossed his arms and tightly they forced up the sky blue suit jacket. Then he lowered his jaw to me. It seemed to ready me for the whistling tune that he then procured.

“Richard Batman,” I mused aloud. I rolled my head up into the white metal canisters and the greenish heaven lights whirled a little, “Yes, I like that—it has a certain—panache, to it. Don’t you agree?”

“I just don’t find it funny,” Richard had stopped his undecipherable whistle only long enough to say. The lowering of his jaw and then the dissident tune began right where he left off, a flutter known only to old men and sad cowboys. Or maybe young brooding superheroes, I thought and touched my breast pocket.

“It’s just a photograph, dear Batman,” I lowered my jaw at Richard the same way he had done to me, so that we understood a certain language though I did not attempt the lonely whistle. I did not have the heart.

“Richard Batman—And it’s more than that. Well, it’s nothing against you at all or anything like that. I actually like this. I have a friend who’s a photographer. I like her too. Well, she’s really my mother’s friend and I won’t call her by her name. The thing is, I just don’t see the funniness in the world.”

“Well, Mr. Batman—Richard Batman, would you mind if I try to make you smile?”

“I guess OK—as long as it makes me look natural. Our mother says we should look natural.”

“That is exactly what I’m here for. Lucinda and I, we just had a very good session a moment ago. And she did give us a lovely smile—very natural. So I’m certain we’ll make you look natural. As the trees and the fields are natural.”
“Well, not that serious,” Richard said. He rolled his small eyes which leaned him to the side a little too much, “More, human-like,” he said, “And I don’t want to look like a dumb old tree either.” The jaw went even lower that it had before. No whistle this time.

I turned briskly to the camera. My pursed lips that Richard’s comment gave me led me there. I pulled the focus sharp into the sun-skimmed wheat of Richard’s white eyelashes with my pointed lips. And he did look sadly mature, I thought. Somehow at seven the dark acorns of his eyes acquired too much. They were the same smooth moving eyes as Lucinda’s except that the weight they carried forlornly wavered his peanut shaped head buoyant. Richard’s eyes were indifferent in that they never expired their vastness and this in turn burdened his posture. He seemed dragged to the earth and I patted the dark camera in empathy. Then I noticed how the pretty blue fabric of the boy’s suit jacket lay flat and maybe a little too big for him. And leaning off the side of the camera I saw that his small plaid slacks were skinned white to one knee.

“Say pickles,” I said, lifting my head alongside the camera lens.

“That’s not at all funny,” Richard Batman said rising up slowly. His eyes raised slowly too and while tilting to the other side like a newborn calf he added, “Nope. Why don’t you say—” Richard paused here and squinted hard just one eye, “say, potato bugs. I think that’s funnier.”

“Ok then. Sit up nice and straight,” I asked politely and Richard brought himself to center from the tilt though he stiffened like a cold cat, “OK, Richard Batman, now, say—orangutan.”

The young boy’s smile grew ecstatic. Richard Brighton in the blue suit jacket, as if the pressure had fallen from his eyes and drained into his two little feet, appeared to grow an inch and a half.
From the camera flash a flat powder pulsed against the boy’s pale greenish skin and the repeat of the afterimage folded softly away like tissue paper. I took another photograph straightaway because it was all about trust and the second portrait always relaxed into a more natural pose. However in the quick stabbing light the studio appeared to rise. It stood up quickly, a smolder of shredded scrim that then quickly evaporated and, because there were no reasons left, I said, “All done—”

“Thank you very much,” Richard replied and after he stood from the sitting box he added, “You should use, “orangutan,” from now on. Because I love orangutans more than anything in the world. But if you want to use, “potato bugs,” that’s OK too. I won’t mind,” Richard straightened the lapel of his sky blue suit jacket by two violent tugs and pulled himself out the opposite side of the studio.

“Thank you,” I called after him, the dizzy of whitness resonating in my empty stomach, “I will take that into serious consideration—”

The teacher pried from her paperback and sat Richard Brighton against the wall next to his sister Lucinda Brighton. The two white heads were smoldering campfire clouds from the patina of the hallway tiles. Richard put his arm around Lucinda and pointed his forehead into her ear. He squeezed Lucinda hard and then scooted himself down the hallway in exactly four spots. He looked off as he did because it was his duty and it would always be. He understood this and I understood this by witnessing his very nonchalant engagement of whatever had been down the hallway and had squinted his eyes so much.
The next boy rushed in from the front of the line. As soon as he sat down on the box he shot off an overzealous, “Potato bugs,” and immediately whirled back to his classmates who gathered in the ecstasy of laughter.


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