The School on the Fens (10)

By: Robert Waldron
April 13, 2013


HILOBROW is proud to present the tenth 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.



At the last clanging school bell, Classical swiftly disgorges itself of pupils wildly charging down corridors and stairwells to catch the buses lined along the avenue like a huge yellow caterpillar.

The subsequent quiet was reason enough for my remaining in school to correct papers. After finishing a set of my juniors’ essays on Hamlet’s tragic flaw, which most described as his indecisiveness, I went to the teachers’ lounge for a cup of coffee.

“You’re here late,” I said, surprised to find Ed.

“I think Tim ran into a problem with his father,” Ed said, “over his English grade.”

“Never met his father,” I said, pouring coffee into two mugs. “But his mother’s a gentle soul, from the old sod, as they say.”

“The father’s far from gentle. I spoke with him by phone last night, and he’s furious about Tim’s failure in English, ordering me to do something about it.”

“No luck in tracking down his test papers?”

“I finally opened Mr. Thompson’s cabinet,” Ed said, sipping black coffee, “but it was empty.”

“How about his IBM grade sheets?”

“The registrar can’t locate them.”

“Curious.” The registrar customarily kept the grade sheets until the end of the year.

“I don’t think Tim failed English,” Ed said. “He’s too serious and gifted a student.”

“Yes, he’s very bright.”

“I also checked his transcript,” Ed continued. “Took a whole day to locate it because it had been misfiled. His lowest grade ever in English was a B- he received in the seventh grade.”

“Yes, I gave it to him. He’d been sick and had a bit of trouble catching up.”

“I think Tim’s grade may have been tampered with.”

“You’re pursuing this, aren’t you?”

“Have to. Another thing, Tim came to school with a swollen jaw. His father was angry on the phone, very angry — he might’ve hit Tim.”

“Cover yourself and report it to guidance.”

“I already have.”


“John, I have a favor to ask of you.”

“I don’t like the sound of this.”

“Could you call Mrs. Thompson about her husband’s mark book?”

My first impulse was to urge Ed to drop the whole business, but Tim’s future was at stake, and because I knew what Ivy League college meant to him, I agreed to call Bill’s wife Eileen.

Her grieving had been wrenching. She and Bill had mapped out their retirement: six months living in Boston, six months in Florida to be near their daughter with lots of sun, fishing and loads of time with their grandchildren.

The following day when I arrived at school, Farrell’s voice roared from the sign-in room where he was grilling Mason and Oates of the math department. I stood in the corridor until they left. The latest letter from Badger, our anonymous school critic, had appeared in the teachers’ mailboxes. The Twins (as Mason and Oates are known) hadn’t a clue as to the Badger’s identity.

“Find out or you’ll find yourselves teaching six classes,” Farrrell snarled, “with a homeroom to boot!”

Mason and Oates were called the Twins, not because they looked alike — one was fair, short and thin; the other dark, tall and fat — wherever you found one, you’d find the other. Knowing they were Rell’s spies, the kids had dubbed them Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Out of the mouths of babes! Neither showed up much to teach their classes, but their students possessed enough savoir faire not to complain about covering the curriculum or getting their papers corrected, their cooperative silence rewarded with honor grades.

Just before the big Thanksgiving football game, the Alumni Association would announce their Person-of-the-Year award. As a counter ceremony, the Badger annually conferred its Sycophant-of-the Year award. Last year Mason and Oates won in a tie.

The letter read,

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We have a few tidbits for your holiday ruminations. Yes, we’ve managed to burrow into some interesting places. Advice: keep clear of the gym’s basement where it’s wet and foul, flooding after every rain (thanks to Rell’s contractor friends — lots of money made on that deal!). And the things floating around in the water! Be warned the head is back to changing grades. Keep your mark book close to your vest.

The head’s had his portrait painted (our man of the year, it’s in the bag!). Yes, indeed, indeed. The unveiling for a select few will take place at the Gardner Museum. Fret not: Teachers aren’t invited. Sources say that the alumni coughed up (those vapors from the basement!) $15,000 to remunerate a well-known portrait artist.

The Golden Ass Committee is now taking nominations for a January Presentation. All staff at Classical are eligible: all ass-kissers, bum-lickers, sycophants, toadies, office-lice, suck-ups, weasels, brown-noses, and self-promoters are eligible.

We understand last year’s award incensed the HM so much that he launched an immediate investigation. Where are the strawberries? The steel balls? The palm tree?

But we digress.

This award is open to all regardless of gender, color, race, sexual orientation, ethnic origin, and religious affiliation; no harassment of any person is intended, contemplated, endorsed or envisioned. We simply want to recognize merit, the perfect match of butt and lip.

Happy Thanksgiving,

Was the grade change a reference to Tim O’Donnell? If so, Ed and I had to be careful.


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”