The School on the Fens (6)

By: Robert Waldron
March 16, 2013


HILOBROW is proud to present the sixth installment of Robert Waldron’s novel The School on the Fens. New installments will appear each Saturday for thirty-eight weeks. CLICK HERE to read all installments published thus far.



The first report cards were out, and Ed said he needed advice. I suggested we meet in the assembly hall.

We sat in the first row.

“Tim O’Donnell swears that Mr. Thompson gave him at least a B+ or maybe an A- in English for the first term,” Ed told me. “But his report card registers an F in English.”

Puzzled, I said, “Tim’s quite gifted in English.”

“You know him pretty well, don’t you?”

“I had him as a student in the seventh grade,” I said, “and last year when he was a junior.”

“His grades?”

“High honor grades. He has his heart set on an Ivy League.”

“With an F he can kiss it goodbye. Should I speak to the headmaster about Tim?”

“There’s no love lost between them.”

“Is there a history?” Ed asked.

I nodded. Last year Maria and I had chaperoned the junior prom at the Copley Plaza Hotel. We’d just remarked to ourselves on the junior class’ excellent behavior when a security guard beckoned me. “Sir, one of your students is passed out in the bathroom.” A list of likely candidates raced through my mind.

I was shocked to find Tim O’Donnell sprawled on the white marble floor, his tux streaked in vomit. We managed to get him into a cab to deliver him home where his mother, already alerted by phone, awaited his arrival. His date, Jane Davis, was one of the most popular girls in the junior class. Informed that we had sent Tim home, she sobbed.

“He’s been acting strange all night,” she said, tears mixed with eye-makeup streaking her cheeks, “and drinking and going on about how much he hates proms.”

Her girlfriends had surrounded her to offer solace. “If he hates proms, why did he ask me?”

“It’s not you or the prom,” I said. “He just had too much to drink.”

“I feel so humiliated!” Her friends whisked her off.

On the following Monday when Maria and I informed Farrell about Tim, we heard him mumble, “Typical South Boston punk.”

Later in the day, Tim arrived early to English. Immaculately dressed in a starched white Oxford shirt and ironed jeans, he apologized for his behavior at the prom. I informed him that the headmaster would likely suspend him for three days. He protested that the punishment was unfair, but when I remarked on how unfair it was for Jane Davis, he fell silent.

I said, “You’re wading into dangerous waters, Ed. Farrell doesn’t like Tim.”

“Couldn’t it simply be a computer mistake?” Ed asked.

It was unlikely. The faculty had long suspected that Farrell changed grades, but because his hand-selected people were in charge of records, no one could ever prove it.

“Bill might’ve bubbled in the wrong grade on his IBM sheets,” I said, “it’s happened before.”

“Tim wants no transcript to be sent out until the failure is cleared up, but the early decision transcripts have to be sent soon.”

“You’ll need proof Thompson passed him and then Farrell’s permission to change the grade.”

“Any suggestions?”

“Does Tim have any graded papers or tests from the first term?”

“Mr. Thompson kept them all.”

“Have you checked his file cabinet?”

“I don’t have the key.”

“Speak to our acting head of department, Mrs. Henshaw. Also, ask the registrar, Miss Murkin, for the IBM mark sheets to see what grade was penciled in — or, for that matter, erased.”

“Are you suggesting someone deliberately —”

“Anything is possible, Ed, but the best thing is to find the mark book.”

“Who’d likely have it?”

“His wife.”

He sighed. “I wouldn’t want to trouble her.”

“It may be your only alternative.” Leaving the hall, I reminded Ed about my observing his teaching. He invited me to come the next day.

I could not sleep well that night. Iris had been bugging me to accept the chairmanship, insisting it would be a great way to cap my career. But supporting Ed and Tim would likely mean opposing Farrell — and if that were the case, then goodbye, promotion.


Stay tuned!

ORIGINAL FICTION from HILOBROW: James Parker’s swearing-animal fable The Ballad of Cocky The Fox, later published in limited-edition paperback by HiLoBooks; plus: a newsletter, The Sniffer, by Patrick Cates, and further stories: “The Cockarillion”) | Karinne Keithley Syers’s hollow-earth adventure Linda, later published in limited-edition paperback; plus: ukulele music, and a “Floating Appendix”) | Matthew Battles’s stories “Gita Nova“, “Makes the Man,” “Imago,” “Camera Lucida,” “A Simple Message”, “Children of the Volcano”, “The Gnomon”, “Billable Memories”, “For Provisional Description of Superficial Features”, “The Dogs in the Trees”, “The Sovereignties of Invention”, and “Survivor: The Island of Dr. Moreau”; several of these later appeared in the collection The Sovereignties of Invention, published by Red Lemonade | Robert Waldron’s high-school campus roman à clef The School on the Fens | Peggy Nelson’s “Mood Indigo“, “Top Kill Fail“, and “Mercerism” | Annalee Newitz’s “The Great Oxygen Race” | Flourish Klink’s Star Trek fanfic “Conference Comms” | Charlie Mitchell’s “A Fantasy Land” | Charlie Mitchell’s “Sentinels” | Joshua Glenn’s “The Lawless One”, and the mashup story “Zarathustra vs. Swamp Thing” | Adam McGovern and Paolo Leandri’s Idoru Jones comics | John Holbo’s “Sugarplum Squeampunk” | “Another Corporate Death” (1) and “Another Corporate Death” (2) by Mike Fleisch | Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer and Frank Fiorentino’s graphic novel “The Song of Otto” (excerpt) | John Holbo’s graphic novel On Beyond Zarathustra (excerpt) | “Manoj” and “Josh” by Vijay Balakrishnan | “Verge” by Chris Rossi, and his audio novel Low Priority Hero | EPIC WINS: THE ILIAD (1.408-415) by Flourish Klink | EPIC WINS: THE KALEVALA (3.1-278) by James Parker | EPIC WINS: THE ARGONAUTICA (2.815-834) by Joshua Glenn | EPIC WINS: THE ILIAD by Stephen Burt | EPIC WINS: THE MYTH OF THE ELK by Matthew Battles | EPIC WINS: GOTHAMIAD by Chad Parmenter | TROUBLED SUPERHUMAN CONTEST: Charles Pappas, “The Law” | CATASTROPHE CONTEST: Timothy Raymond, “Hem and the Flood” | TELEPATHY CONTEST: Rachel Ellis Adams, “Fatima, Can You Hear Me?” | OIL SPILL CONTEST: A.E. Smith, “Sound Thinking | LITTLE NEMO CAPTION CONTEST: Joe Lyons, “Necronomicon” | SPOOKY-KOOKY CONTEST: Tucker Cummings, “Well Marbled” | INVENT-A-HERO CONTEST: TG Gibbon, “The Firefly” | FANFICTION CONTEST: Lyette Mercier’s “Sex and the Single Superhero”