The School on the Fens (21)
June 29, 2013
HILOBROW is proud to present the twenty-first 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 next day I decided to begin my exercise program by walking around the Jamaica Pond, its perimeter slightly more than a mile. I enjoyed the blue sky, the sunlight glittering on the water, even the ducks searching for food along the water’s edge.
Beginning my second circling of the pond, I noticed a woman waving to me. I stopped to let her catch up. I was surprised that it was Peggy Flynn. Wearing blue jogging sweats with her red hair pulled back, she looked the picture of health, not a wrinkle to be seen.
We embraced and sought a bench to sit and talk. After she had left the School Committee, she returned to law school to finish her degree and now had her own private practice. She had just opened a second law office in Jamaica Plain.
Because I had always been curious, I couldn’t resist asking her the reason why she gave Farrell her vote for the headmaster’s position.
She looked startled, her eyes then taking on far-away look. A deep breath indicated that she had something difficult to say.
“Believe me I didn’t want to,” she said, “but the bastard blackmailed me.”
Penny’s nephew was a senior at Classical. Farrell caught him and an underclassman having sex in the boys’ locker room. Farrell informed Peggy, assuring her that no one need know if she cast her vote for him.
“My nephew had already been accepted at Yale, and if word got out about him and a younger boy, he would’ve lost his seat. At the time, I didn’t know what to do. My sister kind of figured out Tommy was gay, but sex with a freshman, well it didn’t go over with either of us. Only after he graduated did we confront Tommy. He said Farrell was always lurking around the locker rooms. But here’s the twist, Tommy hadn’t had sex with a younger kid as I was told — but with another senior, the son of a prominent Boston politician. So it’s unlikely Farrell would’ve snitched on either of them, but I couldn’t take a chance on Tommy’s future and threw Farrell my vote.”
I was surprised and yet not surprised.
“What’s your nephew doing now?”
“He and his partner own a restaurant in Providence.”
“Believe it or not, yes, and they’re happy. He did better than I.”
“You didn’t hear? I’m divorced.”
“But I’m now dating a very nice man… maybe it’ll work out, I hope so.”
About to leave, she smiled, “Tommy saw Farrell coming out of a gay bath house in Providence. Imagine, he’s gay himself. A strange guy… but I have to admit that he worked his ass off for my reelection, and a lot of my supporters got to like him.”
“You’re taking blackmail rather lightly, aren’t you?”
She cynically laughed, “In politics you get used to such things. Farrell had an ace in the hole, used it and won.”
“But it’s unethical.”
She threw me a look similar to Iris’s, as if to say, “Grow up!”
“I know, and if there’s ever a chance for revenge, I’ll grab it.”
“Are you out of politics for good?”
“Think so… after a while all the posturing becomes tiresome.”
We embraced, and she returned to her jogging, yelling back “If you ever need a lawyer, call me.”
Hating to admit it to myself, I was impressed by Farrell’s boldness. Not the sharpest pencil in the box, he still managed to write his own ticket.
On Monday, I arrived early to homeroom to prepare a test on Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons. Tim was already in his seat reading.
“You’re early, Tim.”
“Need to talk to you before the others arrive,” he said, closing his book.
I pulled up the shades, opened the windows a crack to release some of the stifling radiator heat and returned to my desk.
“Mr. Duncan, have you written my recommendation?”
“I’m in the process of doing it.”
“Well, you might reconsider after you hear what I have to say.” He was biting his fingernails.
“OK, hit me with it.”
He slowly turned red, nervously fidgeting with his pencil until it snapped in two.
“Tim, say what you have to say.”
He abruptly stood and fled the room.
Apprehensive, I went to find him. The corridor was empty, the boys’ bathroom empty. I checked a few of the other classrooms but no sign of Tim. On my way back to my room, I decided to check a teachers’ lounge at the end of the corridor, one rarely used because it was too near the noisy gym.
Opening the door, I heard Tim’s sobs. Seeing me, he quickly knuckled away tears.
“What is it, Tim?”
He stared at and finally said, “I’m gay. There, I’ve said it.”
I sat down across from him.
“Have you told anyone?”
He smirked, “If I told anyone, I’d be ruined and could kiss Ivy League goodbye forever. Colleges don’t want gay kids. And if students knew, I’d be the butt of endless jokes and harassment. The worst thing to be is fag.”
“Your mother know?”
“We’re Catholic so I can’t tell her.”
“I’ve something else to tell you.”
“Nothing you say will shock me.”
“Spill it, and let’s see.”
He lowered his eyes, “I’ve had sex with the headmaster.”
“I know about it,” I said gently, “Mrs. Thompson told me what her husband had seen. Why, Tim?”
He took a deep breath, “It was late, and I was working out in the weight room. Everyone had gone home. I was undressing to take a shower when I looked up and saw Farrell. One thing led to another, and then Mr. Thompson walked in and caught us.”
“He had no right to put a hand on you.”
Staring at the floor, he said, “I can’t believe I did it. When it was all over, I felt dirty and told him to leave me alone.”
“Did he?” I said.
He raised his eyes to mine, “No! He’s obsessed with me. I’ve repeatedly refused his advances, but he doesn’t let up. He calls my home, and I’ve seen him driving around my neighborhood. I can’t prove it, but he’s behind my failing English.”
He stood up and began to pace. “I don’t know what to do.”
“Report him to the proper authorities.”
“For what?” he barked. “He didn’t force me to have sex, and if it gets out, then my chance for a scholarship is finished.”
“Wish I could help you.”
“You can, Mr. Duncan.”
“Tell Farrell you know everything, and you’ll go public if he doesn’t change my grade.”
“You could do that yourself.”
“He knows I’d never go public.”
“He knows I’m ashamed of being gay.”
“I hate it.”
“You need to come to terms with—”
“I need to get my grade changed!”
His face was red, his eyes spilling tears.
“Please, Mr. Duncan, you’ve got to help me.”
“You really think my threatening him will work?”
“He’d be terrified of the publicity.”
“What if he calls my bluff?”
A knowing look enlivened his eyes, “No, he couldn’t face the publicity. In the media you’re guilty until proven innocent, and even then you still live under a dark cloud.”
I think, this kid has thought it all through.
“OK, I’ll speak with him, but there are no guarantees. Farrell is a powerful man in this city and not easily intimidated. Matter of fact I’ve already told him I know about him and you.”
Tim became still. “How’d he react?”
“Threw me out of his office.”
“Please try again,” he pleaded.
“Tim, there are so many fine colleges who’d admit you.”
“I want Ivy. It’s the only thing that’s kept me going.”
A dream is a dream, and I had no right to interfere.
“You should tell your parents.”
Refusing to make eye contact, he looked out the window at the sky, “My dad would disown me or beat me to a pulp. Mom would come around to accepting it, but maybe not.”
“You have to accept it.”
“I’m used to living a double life, at home, at school, everywhere… but it would be a relief to be myself.”
“I’ve read your short story ‘Betrayal’,” I said. “Mr. Horgan was so anxious about you, he had me read it. The story is true, isn’t it?”
“Did you love your friend?”
“Can’t talk about William, Mr. Duncan, not yet.”
He turned toward me and our eyes connected.
“Tim, you wouldn’t take your—”
“I’ve thought of it, but I couldn’t do it to my mother.”
“What do you think of me now, Mr Duncan?”
“Still think you’re a fine young man.”
He moved to the sink, splashing cold water on his face, drying it with a paper towel. He suddenly looked older.
“You should tell Mr. Horgan everything you’ve told me,” I said.
“I will. Believe me, Mr. Duncan, this confession wasn’t easy, but I needed you to know the truth.”
“I respect you.” He paused, lost in thought. Then he said, “If only my father were like you, but it wasn’t in the cards.”
I was speechless.
“Just curious,” he said, “what would you do if you had a kid like me?”
“Do? I’d love him. Parental love is—”
“Unconditional,” he said, sounding unconvinced. “I remember your lecture on agape.”
Last year when we had read Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, I explained that Mrs. Wingfield’s love for her children Laura and Tom was known as agape, unconditional love. Tim argued in an essay that all love, even parental love, demands something in return, “or else it floats off into space like a balloon.” I remembered writing my rejoinder, “Unconditional love doesn’t obey rules.”
“Having a gay son wouldn’t bother you?”
I shook my head.
“But you’d think you did something wrong in raising your kid, right?”
“Tim, I don’t know why anyone is gay. I do know you’re a good person, and your goodness is all bound up with what you are, which includes your sexuality. For something deeper, you’ll have to find a wiser man than I am.”
The bell for homeroom rang. As we were leaving, Tim said, “Thanks, Mr. Duncan — you always come through for me.”
It was brave of Tim to tell the truth, and I wondered if I could muster the courage to face Farrell and demand that Tim’s grade be changed — or else. Hadn’t a clue as to what the “else” would be.
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”