The Blue Hour is delighted to bring you a short story in six parts by author Lucien Brodeur. This is part four. Check back tomorrow for the next installment!
Outside of Mr. Lee’s classroom was a cracked blacktop where the kids played during recess, and just beyond it was the rest of the schoolyard, a small plain of dirt next to the neighboring street. Most of the fifth graders stayed on the blacktop during recess. The boys wandered in packs telling jokes and exchanging baseball cards, while the girls shared secrets and whispered gossip. As of late Jules had preferred staying off the blacktop and further away from the school building, alone. He had taken to playing marbles, a game one could play on his own.
It had been a few weeks since his visit to green lake, and in the interval Jules had done much thinking; he had wondered about the state of his mind. What he knew about the world told him that the nocturnal journey could not have actually occurred, that it must have been a fantasy, some imagining of what he wished could exist, but he could not evade the realness of the place in his memory. Even when he was back under his Star Wars sheets that night, dry as a bone, he could still smell salmon eggs and the innards of gutted fish.
Since then green lake had not returned to his ceiling. At night when he tried to will schools of rattlesnakes or Chuck Butler’s grinning face from his mind, the ceiling looked only like a ceiling, just brushed plaster upon which some fluorescent light fell.
He tried to forget about green lake, to make the best of living on Edmands Drive and going to Lincoln Park Elementary School. Things were changing a bit. Mrs. Pena was impressed when Jules read full sentences from “The Pit and the Pendulum” without any problem; Chuck Butler eased off, though Jules always felt his looming presence; most importantly, the week before, Mary Ann Michaelson had smiled at him in the cafeteria.
On this wintry day Jules, attired in Wrangler jeans and a grey Members Only jacket, kneeled in a patch of dirt near the tetherball pole. The frigid desert wind turned the tips of his ears red. He was shooting a turtle at a naked lady—a green-and-orange striped marble at a clear one. The name for the latter marble made him think of the girl from the lake, although she had not been naked.
As Jules played marbles, a shadow with long limbs and hair poking out like straw from its head drifted in his direction. With it came shorter versions of the lead shadow. Jules kept playing, hoping the mob would pass.
“Julia, how you been?” It was a playful voice.
Wearing a denim jacket and a pair of yellow-framed sunglasses, Chuck Butler stood grinning before Jules. He folded his arms and kicked a turquoise Adidas at the dried dirt. Some of the boys from Mr. Lee’s class, blank-looking children interested in a fight, hung around him.
Jules stood up, rubbed his hands, and put them in the pockets of his ratty Members Only jacket. The desert wind and the brightness of the cold winter sun made him squint.
The shadows of the two boys showed the inequity of a possible fight. Chuck’s was stout with the musculature of his arms evident in its shape. Jules’ was wispy, appearing as if it might disappear in the dirt. But Jules’ shadow did not back away from the more substantive one.
“My name is Jules, you creep,” he said.
An oooing came from the boys gathered around Chuck Butler. When the others on the blacktop heard the noise their heads pricked up, and they moved in packs to where Jules and Chuck stood by the tetherball post.
“Julie, I was telling the boys here how I know you’re not a complete faggot,” Chuck said.
A chuckling came from the crowd.
“I told them about the little holes,” he said.
As Butler spoke the grin lost its playfulness. Jules did not understand the comment about the little holes, but knew that if the verbal confrontation continued it would become physical, so he tried to diffuse it. He kneeled down in the dirt again, pretending to go back to his game of marbles, pretending that the entire class had not come over to watch a showdown.
“I don’t what you’re talking about,” Jules said, picking up the naked lady.
“Remember that time you had me over to your house and you showed me the Playboy in your closet?” But Chuck had never been to Jules’ house, and Jules didn’t have a Playboy. He had only seen one once in his father’s closet. He began to tremble.
“Remember,” Chuck continued, “how you poked little holes in the centerfold so you could hump it?”
The question made the crowd raucous. Glaring at Chuck, Jules’ face drained of color and his body tensed.
He leapt from the ground thrusting a fist at Chuck’s face, and when it connected with the other boy’s nose there was a crunching sound. Blood spouted down in a vermilion stream, dripping into the dirt.
Before Jules knew it Chuck, face streaked with blood, was on him pinning his chest with his knees, releasing punch after punch, connecting first with one cheek and then the other, landing blows around his eyes, and striking with ferocity the lower part of Jules’ face. When his bottom lip split open, Jules could taste the blood in his mouth.
The bell indicating the end of recess rang causing the boys and girls to hurry inside like scared sheep. Chuck Butler stood up, hawked a bloody loogie, and spat it on the beaten boy. Tilting his head back and pinching his nose, he strode toward the school where he would go directly to the Nurse’s Office.
Smeared with blood and snot and tears, Jules wobbled to his feet, wiping his face with the sleeves of his Members Only jacket; they become discolored like when red-yellow ooze mars the patch of a Band Aid. He staggered toward the cinder block building but then stopped. Through the classroom window he saw Mary Ann Michaelson’s face, drawn in sadness or concern. When she saw him, Jules turned away from the building. Still wiping blood from his face, he exited the school’s premises and trudged up Edmands Drive.
Part five will follow tomorrow, Friday 20th September.
Lucien Brodeur is a high school English teacher who lives with his family outside of Boston. His short stories have appeared in Mirror Dance, Eunoia Review, and the Four Cornered Universe.