A Good, Quiet Boy

Bell went for third period. I was chewing a Nature Valley bar out my locker.  I was on another dumb diet: fruit juice, salad, healthy snacks, constant hunger.  I scarfed down the stale bar despite my thirst, the cry of "Pork Chop!" behind my back, the stench of bleach rising from the floor.  I got hit by a blast of body spray through the locker vents.

Jesus, will it ever end?


I saw Greg coming from the bottom of the corridor, forced to an edge by the tide of kids.  I waved.  He didn't notice.  I turned my head inside the dark metal haven and felt for my hidden stuff.  The spine of my therapy notebook.  The edge of a letter my brother sent from Mosul, where he signed off with, “I love you.”  The rim of an extra-safe Durex, folded in an envelope, double-hidden inside a sports sock.  I was terrified my locker would get random-searched, and someone would see them.  It would be safer to stow TNT in there.


Greg had this condition, spondylising something-osis: he walked on tiptoes with a curved back.  You could always pick him out.  I finished off my snack and locked up.  Spanish was next, which meant no hay prisa.  Four more periods to go.  Greg took his time.  Kids crowded towards the gymnasium for whatever practice, and he walked slowly against them, his shoulder hitting against the cinder-block wall.


Gail walked past in her little group, talking broadcast level about a party.  Someone’s parents—out of town.  Their house—extraordinary.  So much better than last weekend.  I wondered what it would be like: a party outside of your kin.  Beer— not birthday cake.  Holding a girl's hand, instead of your Mom's during grace.  They all passed Greg.  His face was screwed up, concentrating.


Danny Paulk slammed Hunter into a nearby door so hard plaster came off around the doorframe.  Hunter laughed and kicked Danny in the knee.  A sophomore in a track jersey yelled that it wasn’t cool, you could damage his patella.  Somewhere someone shouted.  I was looking back towards Greg.  His face was concrete gray.


“You doin' okay?” I asked over the heads of the passing cattle.


He didn’t answer, kept on going, wobbling between the other kids.  His hand was clamped up tight in his armpit, under his jacket.  His feet dragged step by step.  There was a high snap, another yell along the corridor.  Greg reached me, finally, and grimaced.


He pulled his hand from his jacket and offered it.  An angry hole was punched clear through.  His finger was half-gone, peppered with black.  It pulsed blood down his palm, into the cuff of his denim jacket.  Someone screamed outside.  I opened my mouth.


“We gotta go,” he said.  “Jacob has a gun.”