March 28, 2013

Sumertime Blues

Here is another excerpt from the fictional short story I am working on.

In my youth, Indiana required every student to pass a class in biology in order to graduate from high school. Since every student had to take the class, the school was faced with a choice.  They could hire several teachers just to teach biology, or they could offer the class as a summer course. My school offered a summer session. It was understood that the summer session was much easier than the winter version. After all, the teachers did not want to be there, the students weren’t interested and it was hot in the un-air-conditioned high school. So in that summer before my freshman year I found myself in a hot classroom learning about biology. Cells and bugs and trees and the human body – we covered it all in six weeks of three hour morning classes. We cut up frogs, captured butterflies and pored over diagrams of genitalia in a twittering, snickering mob.

Leroy Lewis sat behind me. Leroy was short and stocky and had a square head. I say he was short, but he was probably at least as tall as I was, he just seemed shorter because his head was so big. Leroy was square all over. His skull featured a Frankenstein-like forehead, and the shape was not enhanced by his unfashionable crew cut. Leroy's body was wide and square too. He wore a cheap Timex on his thick wrist. 

Leroy was my lab partner. While we were not buddies, I got along with him fine. Along with a bunch of the other guys in the class we sat around at breaks. Leroy joined in the conversation staples of the day -- sports and sex and girls. He was frequently the good-natured butt of  jokes and occasionally gave as good as he got. 

One Wednesday after class, a large group of us was crossing Walser Road in front of the high school. There must have been eight or ten kids in the bunch, including a couple of girls. Everyone was going to head to the pool.  I heard someone yell “Hey, wait up”. I did not slacken my pace, I wanted to get home and change. 

I won’t lie. I did not hear the screech or the bump. I did turn to see Leroy lying on the asphalt, shaking, shaking, shaking like he had been electrocuted. There was a spreading pool of dark red, almost brown blood flowing from his head. There was so much blood.  

Years of Boy Scouts flooded into my consciousness. I ran into the street and assessed the injuries. Head wound – check.  Shock – check. I pulled a clean bandanna from my back pocket and put pressure on the wound.  I told Cathy Posz to run home and call an ambulance.  I checked Leroy’s breathing.   

I did all those things in my dreams in the days and weeks after Leroy died. In reality I stood there like everyone else watching the trickle of blood flow into a larger pool on the hot pavement. I stood there until long after the ambulance arrived and took Leroy away. I was still watching as the firemen used their hoses to wash away the blood and glass. The cops were bored with hearing the same story over and over and did not even interview me.

The calling at the funeral home was quite the event. Just about every kid in school showed up. The popular girls and cool kids all sat on a couch and cried. Lynn Taylor hugged Leroy’s Mom and sobbed. If I had done an informal survey the week proceeding the accident, half of the people at the wake would not have known Leroy at all. They might have only recognized his face, but would have never known his last name.I would bet my future lifetime earnings Lynn Taylor had never spoken to Leroy in his life. If you would have asked me, I would have said he was I guy I knew in school. Thirty-five years later I would say Leroy’s death made me very sad because I learned in those days and hours what hypocrites most people really are.

1 comment:

Jean said...

Funerals are rarely about the dead.
Mostly a public show of propriety.
Have you ever read an obituary that said "he was an asshole... a jerk... a freak"? Seems death = instant sainthood.
Not that your classmate was an asshole, just a quiet young man whose unfortunate death got more attention than his life.
You're right. Hypocrites r us.

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