Skywriting at Night

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Chapter 3

     The next morning Jet looked around his second period English class. Nothing had changed. He sat at the same desk with the same initials still carved into the top. The same teacher stood in front of the same blank faces holding the same book and pushing those same slippery glasses up the bridge of her nose. And the kids surrounding him? Hadn’t changed a bit. Apparently it takes more than one crime to change the world.

      Miss Hellstrom, like most teachers, insisted that her students sit in the seat she’d assigned to them during the first week of the school year. While some teachers arranged them in alphabetical order, and others put the shorter children in the front and the taller ones in back, Miss Hellstrom opted for pure randomness. By having the children draw seat numbers out of a shoe box which she’d covered with aluminum foil to make it look festive, she made the year’s seating arrangement appear to be both fair and arbitrary.

     But fairness depends on your point of view. At twelve years old Jet was already resigned to the fact that you don’t get many choices in life. You live with the family you were born into, you play with the children who live closest to you, and in school you’re surrounded by the kids you are because your teacher cut the slips of paper in different sizes so some heavier ones naturally sink to the bottom of the shoe box. That’s unnatural randomness.

     Thus Jet spent the school year sitting behind Jose Rosenbloom, a gangly Hispanic with a head the size of a basketball which obliterated Jet's view of not only the blackboard, but the entire front of the classroom.  Jose’s mother was forever explaining to him that his head was very much like a Great Dane puppy's oversized paws—given time he would grow into it. This attempted consolation was a mixed blessing at best, for Jose had calculated that he would have to grow to be seven feet tall and weigh over three hundred pounds for his head to be in correct proportion to his body, and the tallest member of his family was his Uncle Maxie who stood five foot ten inches while wearing two-inch heels.

     Jose's real name was Irving Ramirez, but he'd been saddled with the nickname Jose Rosenbloom during the fourth grade and it stuck to him like the smell of dog shit on the bottom of a shoe. During the summer vacation between elementary and junior high school, two boys broke into the school records office to change their history grades. While they were there they changed Sarah Rider's file to show that she was a boy, enrolled Mark Armstrong in Home Economics and made a slight change in Irving's file. During home room on the first day of junior high school, Irving discovered that in the eyes of the school system he had officially become Jose Rosenbloom. That night he went home and, not telling them why, insisted that from then on his family was to call him Jose. Taking the path of least resistance, they did.

     To Jet's left was Hannah Jandolyn Myana, petite though overly well developed for her age. Due to intensely cultivated pretensions as a poetess-to-be, she insisted the teacher and her classmates call her H. Jandolyn. The teacher acquiesced, for having once had a cryptic haiku published in an appropriately obscure literary magazine with a giveaway circulation of 742 copies, she fancied herself quite the versifier. The class, which unanimously held the opinion that a haiku was seventeen syllables in search of coherency, simply called her Hanner.

     Seventh grade was the beginning of Hanner’s "ugly years" as she would later call them. It wasn’t so much that she was ugly, but rather that she was in the throes of an uneven adolescent bloom, her childhood cuteness having faded while her adult features had yet to make the scene. Yet Hanner was so convinced of her ugliness that she combed her hair straight down over her eyes until it touched her nose, never wore her much needed glasses outside the privacy of her bedroom, only spoke when absolutely necessary, and absolutely refused to let her photograph be taken. One day, five years after being seated next to Jet in English class, Hanner would discover a two-page spread in the family photo album of candid shots taken of her during the ugly years. She would remove the photographs and ceremoniously burn them one-by-one with a Bic lighter, leaving a gaping hole in the pictorial family chronicles and a pile of ashes in the bathroom sink.

     On Jet's right sat Jesse Leslie Marion Francis, who besides being the only boy in the school with four girl's names, also held the dubious distinction of having absolutely no neck. None. Neckless, as he had been dubbed since third grade, was a human ball with a head on top.   His mother, who had about as much right giving fashion advice as the Pope did about sex, reasoned that wearing turtlenecks would give her son the illusion of having a neck. Thus Neckless amassed the largest collection of turtleneck shirts and sweaters in the free world. He obediently wore them every day, their high collars covering his mouth and nestling the underside of his nose. The illusion worked well—Neckless appeared to have a normal neck, but no chin or mouth. His voice, muffled through the fabric gag, sounded like a mad bomber trying to disguise his voice over the telephone. If the mad bomber was a soprano.

     Directly behind Jet was the notorious Johnny Kasouska, the school system’s oldest seventh-grader.

     On that first day of school when the seating assignments were made, Jet looked around at what the randomness had wrought. Shrugging his shoulders he said, "That’s life." He would go on to say it many times before the year was out.

* * * * * *


Chapter:  1   2    3   4   5   6   7   8    9   10   11   12   13   14   15   16   17   18
                 19   20    21   22   23   24   25   26   27   28   29   30   31   32   33   34  

  Skywriting at Night - a novel by Mad Dog

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