The School on the Fens (24)

By: Robert Waldron
July 20, 2013


HILOBROW is proud to present the twenty-fourth 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 scheduled a faculty senate meeting to discuss Nexus as well as the headmaster’s tirade about Badger’s letter. I posted the time and the agenda on the teachers’ bulletin board outside the headmaster’s suite.

My class and I were discussing Hawthorn’s “The Minister’s Black Veil” when the headmaster’s angry voice boomed from the PA, ordering me to report to his office. My students looked at me with sympathy. One of the Twins, Mr. Oates, quickly appeared to relieve me, a sarcastic smile slashed across his red, beefy face.

Farrell met me at the door of his suite, looking grim. My stomach tightened.

“Take a seat, Mr. Duncan.”

He remained standing behind his desk, “I see you’ve posted the agenda for your senate meeting.”

“The faculty should know that the Pilot School will be brought before them again.”

“I need time to convince the faculty that Nexus is good for the school.”

“Our union members need to know that this proposal is harmful to them.”

“It won’t harm anyone. Nexus teachers will have fewer and smaller classes, and it would be foolish to refuse.”

“But there is the small, fine print.”


“Let’s say a teacher fails to meet your program’s expectations. Perhaps his standards are too high, perhaps his teaching style is too traditional, perhaps he’s too strict — and he’s asked to leave the program. Can you guarantee he’ll still have a teaching position here at Classical?”

He was silent, and I knew instantly what he was up to. If teachers waived their union rights by volunteering to enter Nexus, he could transfer out of Classical at will teachers who for years have been on his hit list. It was the next best thing to the power of hiring and firing, which Farrell had always craved.

“Down the road we’ll work that out.”

“No, we won’t work it out. I’ll inform the teachers that they jeopardize their positions at Classical if they volunteer for Nexus.”

Few teachers wanted to teach in the other Boston high schools.

He sat down and leaned over his desk toward me.

“You know the English department’s chairmanship is still available,” he said. “Your life could be very comfortable here, and besides the salary increase, you’ll have plenty of overtime as the director of the English component of this program. There’s also summer school. We’re talking about at least ten thousand dollars beyond your base salary.”

I gazed out the window at another gray December day and looked back at Farrell. I remembered he had already offered the position to Joceyln and that I’d never see a dime of salary increase.

“Sorry, but my first duty is to protect our union members.”

“For once think of the institution and not your goddamn union contract.”

“I’ll do everything in my power to preserve Classical’s standards.”

“How are we to reduce the minority attrition? Provide that solution, and I’ll scrap the whole Nexus program.”

“The city has to concentrate on early education.”

“Minorities don’t want to hear that; they want their kids to graduate from Classical.”

“Pass no matter what their performance?”

“It’s the only way.”

“It’s absurd to throw out our grading system, and the faculty has a right to know that if they enter the Nexus program, they’re at the mercy of your administration.”

He glared at me, “Get the fuck out of here!”

I stood, looking down at him.

“By the way this thing between you and Tim — either you change Tim’s grade back to what it should be, or I’ll go public with it.”

He smiled an evil smile, “You won’t it because it would destroy Tim. If I go down, I take the kid with me. He’ll never safely walk South Boston’s mean streets. You want him beaten to death like that other Southie kid?”

“You’re a sick bastard!”

I heard a wild jangling of keys as I slammed the door behind me.


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”