Lori’s arm is my zone of comfort, the respite from madness, and the madness prevails. Mrs. Gray wails from her stage, open notes, spittle flying, a phonograph tearing through the grooves, skreeeeech! Jesus Christ! I hate when her shaky, old lady hands mishandle that tone arm. Another arm, but no respite. I lay face down on Lori’s tender arm, it’s a small arm, soft, smooth, and warm, likely perfectly edible. I try not to eat her, she’d be gone in a flash, she’s only a morsel, a bite-sized thing.
She talks to me as I keep her little arm captive, though, she seems not to be concerned at all with that, and each day she sits sideways so that I may capture it. Indeed, its offered to me, not something I have to hunt, not something that I have to design a trap for.
“Do you know Berger? I like him, he’s a nice guy,” Lori says, extending her feet and sort of flutter-kicking her silver shoes. “He bought me a drink the other night.”
I know Berger, hate him, but I stay quiet.
I move my forehead up and allow my lips to brush the downy softness of Lori’s skin, she pretends not to notice me wrapping my lips around her, sort of pretends not to notice me fitting her limb between my teeth, which I do very gently.
I move my forehead up and allow my lips to brush the downy softness of Lori’s skin, she pretends not to notice me wrapping my lips around her, sort of pretends not to notice me fitting her limb between my teeth, which I do very gently.
“Berger and Allen were at the Millhouse, we were all there, I was there with Chrissy, you know Chrissy?” she asks and pauses for my response. “Chrissy Jackson?”
I let go of her arm with my mouth and say softly, “No.”
I’m lying, I know who she means. I’ve just never had the opportunity to talk to Chrissy. She’s not a friend of mine. Of course, there was that one time I was being pushed to dance with her, was told she wanted to dance with me. Of course, Chrissy had never suggested such a thing, and I knew that, so I didn’t approach her. I’m too smart for that. The chickens had just thought it would be funny to see me fail, or maybe thought because we were both tall we’d look funny together.
And then the bells ring and we are back out in the shit storm, highways of bodies illicitly rubbing against one another, hauling their bags and boxes. When you see someone you recognize you jut your chin out at them, raise your eyebrows. We’re really good at eyebrow expression. We practice a variety of eyebrow lifts and jostles, combined with the other eyebrow, or singularly with a scalp shift. Fusco is able to make his huge head of hair wave like he were riding in a convertible just through advanced use of his scalp muscles. He does this trick where things he strategically hides in his hair fall out. He has that fetching gap in his teeth too. I am sure someone thinks that gap is sexy. I keep telling him the girls love it, but he won’t smile.
Denni Nagy is going to ask me for my jacket, she’s coming now, I see her. Swinging herself along the polished floor, somehow like a gazelle, so slender and ungainly lanky. Still, I don’t think about her much.
“Can I wear your jacket?” she says with a soft smile and a tilt of her head. The top of her nose is flat and wide, her big blue eyes are well spaced.
“OK,” I say, slipping out of it, as if we don’t go through this routine every day.
It’s a Portuguese army camouflage thing I found it under the hood of a VW while I was being disappointed about there not being a spare tire.
The jacket looks ridiculous on Denni, baggy, drooping well down to her knees, sleeves having to be bunched up so her small pale hands can stick out. She inhales deeply as though she’s wrapped herself in a garland of roses.
“Thanks!” she says.
“Sure,” I wave.
And she leaves me on her long feet. I imagine her heels up near her knees, her knees up by her hips, like a blue-eyed ungulate.
I sit over a half pint of milk and a peanut butter flavored thing with chocolate.
“I had three numbers, if I’d had one more I woulda had the ten thou,” Bianco says.
I’d missed most of the story already, so I didn’t bother to ask.
“What numbers was ya play-in’,” Simkowitz says.
“Parents birth years, house number, my age, my sister’s age, and the floater, the last number I always pick something different, but I mix em up,” Bianco says with a sly look.
“That’s a good system,” Simkowitz says.
I look from face to face. Simkowitz still doesn’t seem to realize that I have been deliberately hacking his shins with a hockey stick during field sport, including yesterday. Punishment for this infraction, still considered “accidental”, is in the simple removal from participation range, and that’s fine by me.
I find Simkowitz’s treatment of every sports opportunity as if he were some kind of athletic star deserving of our admiration, abhorrent. I’m not sure why he can’t see he’s just a tragically manipulated monkey boy, embarrassing himself. Whenever he has the ball his joy disgusts me. I hate his big, flat, pale face with freckles, his reddish clown-hair, his sports prowess, son of the coach. A real jackass in other words. His love of balls, leading him through this miasma of shaming. But none of this is something he needs to know.
“If you get five of the six numbers it’s fifty thou!” Simkowitz licks his lips.
“That’s a lot of bread,” Bianco says with a nod.
“Whad’d you do with it?” Simkowitz wants to know.
“I’d get a business going, training dogs, rotties,” Bianco says, “s’good money in them dogs.”
“Rotties are pussies, you should work on mastifs,” Fusco pipes up.
“How much ya need to get that going?” Simkowitz asks.
“Well I wanna build a world class kennel, you know, state-of-the-art,” Bianco says his hands palm up. But his eyes are trained on Fusco.
“What’s state-of-the-art for a dog kennel?” I wonder.
“Saw this thing where they compared the dogs, you know, rotties versus mastifs versus dobermans vs shepards . . . ” Fusco wants to argue about this.
God, it was starting all over again and it was only mid-week. The same swirling, cold bunko, the same desperate voices, the same insipid comments, as meaningless as buzzing flies on a summer window. Simkowitz, Bianco, Fusco, even Denni day in and day out, talking about whatever complicated organ and flower shop plots, or jai alai games they’d heard about, and, of course, the endless television commercials with people squeezing toilet paper like boobs and discussing Corinthian leather like it were love itself, a world of remarkable behaviors that would be recited and repeated with compulsive, monkey-see-monkey-do dementia. At any given time, the girls bent over, shuddering on their haunches as the boys attempt to mate them like randy roosters, and the overseers batting them off with rolled-up newspapers. The smart ones, the gays, meet up under the rarely patrolled stairwells, where the stink of human must terrifies the authorities.
There’s the bell and we’re up moving through the hallways again, our shoes feel like lead, our eyes seeking our familiars, our mumbles directed toward the floor with Islamic penitence. The voices over the intercom intermittently reciting the pledge of allegiance mixed with patriotic marching songs from huge brass ensembles. There is a stench in the hallway and it’s something like the sharp stench of Cladosporium—good name for a team. Meanwhile the girls have differentiated between plain ponytails and actual braids. One is for children, don’t screw up which one, they’ll hiss at you.
Finally, it’s time for Lori’s arm. I lean over and she deftly slides it under my head. It is the most delicious, beautiful moment of my day, her tenderness, her simple care. I fondle her arm as though it were something I’ve paid for, something costing hundreds of dollars an hour to be with. Xerxes himself had no greater pleasures.
“Do you know Bourassa? We was out at Tiogue Tavern. Bourassa bought me a drink, he’s nice,” Lori said, her beautiful fluffy hair about her shoulders, her big brown eyes gleaming wetly. Her feet extended and flutter kicking, this time in shining black flats. I can see the tops of her feet encased in some kind of darker sheer nylon that was not much of a match for her paleness.
I know Bourassa and I hate him. I hate his desire to see others in agony. I have seen him deliberately crash into people with the sole purpose of rending from their arms anything they might be carrying, stacks of paper, or collections of books or pamphlets, elements of projects under construction. He’ll drop his level like a wrestler going for a single-leg and shoulder his way into people to dislodge their encumbrance. He keeps running and laughing as his cronies kick the materials around the hallway. I am ashamed that I’ve never stood up to him. I’ve never cornered that asshole. I’ve never put him in his place. The fucking Tebrows are supposed to do it, but they usually select easier jobs.
“Uh huh,” I say, pressing my mouth against the soft skin on the inside of her arm.
“Bourassa’s wicked cool,” Lori smiles, rotating her arm in any direction I like, palm up, palm down, on the side. she allows me to explore it, suck it, lap at it. My heart rate decreases, and I feel a swooning sensation. I could sleep. I could escape for hours. But I won’t be allowed that. Lori’s arm is something I’m only allowed for about forty-five minutes. And next to the usual dumping of girl groceries out of girl grocery bags and the officials having to rush about putting the groceries back into their bags, no one takes much notice of my delicate affection for Lori’s slender limb.
I know the ulna, the radius, the tri-quetrum. I’ve massaged the brachioradialis and palmaris longus gently with my mouth, and have had delicious knowledge of the joint spaces of her lovely little hand. I’ve kissed the carpals, metacarpals and flexor tendons. And, of course, I feel her pulse with my lips. She is a memorized specimen. I have her arm in my mind’s eye. I am in junky-love with her arm.
It’s morning again and I’m seated across from Fusco, Simkowitz and Bianco, today, also, Badessa. They discuss a run-in with one of the Tebrows who threatened to beat them with a two-by. No two-bys are allowed, but some of the Tebrows get excited.
“What an asshole,” Badessa commiserates.
“All Tebrows are assholes.” Bianco says.
Of course, all our eyes flit about the corral, picking out the dark uniformed, pole-up-the-ass Tebrows, clearly giving off that idiotic stature. Their wrinkled together brows, their marching about whenever there is anything like an excitement in the room, as if they need to be there, lording over it, protecting us from ourselves, utterly ridiculous.
Fusco begins pounding on some kind of plastic wrapped cupcake and adds some milk to the mass. I would have been happy to have that cupcake, but, I suppose Fusco deserves to do what he wishes with it.
Denni sidles up to me with a smile I slip out of the jacket and she embraces it, wiggling into it like it were engulfing her, some kind of camouflage giant amoeba from an old black and white monster movie. She briefly disappears into it, and then pops her head back out.
“Mmmm,” she says, “thanks.”
“Don’t mention it,” I wave. Each time she returns it I go through the many military pockets, deep pockets, wide pockets, but there’s never anything in it for me, not a dime, not a note, nothing.
“The goddamned Tebrows” Badessa continues.
“What color is black people jizz?” Fusco asks with his usual lack of attention to subject.
“What color would it be?” I wonder.
“Doan know, but I was talkin’ ta Plante and he said black people got black jizz,” he squeezes the mess on the table in front of him into a pile.
“Thas ridiculous,” I snort.
“How ya know?” Fusco does some eyebrows, shakes his big hair a few times.
“Cause Plante’s an idiot, you don’t believe nuthin’ comes outta him,” I say a little more sternly than I mean to.
“Pizza for lunch today!” Bianco says with exaggerated excitement as he sees the glum-faced food service staff, all brown-skinned people, rolling in and then ripping open the boxes, pulling out the plastic wrapped sheets.
The bell rings and we all rush out to the hall and drag our feet, making eyebrows at our acquaintances as they pass. I do this chin jutting thing with a series of eyebrow lifts and a fancy scalp shake, almost belly dancer level of control, very distinctive, but it won’t be long before someone adds another wrinkle to it, complicates it, bastardizes it even. The pledge of allegiance is rumbling over the speakers:
“I swear my allegiance to the symbols of authority guiding me in my daily path, and if need be, I will protect those symbols with my life, . . . so help me until Jesus returns, Amen.”
Then the usual marching band music repeats the familiar rousing tunes. God I hate those tunes.
The Tebrows police us, swat us with rolled newspapers, without notice, a smooth-skinned petite chick named Dana swishes into my path, smiling at me.
“Where you goin’, Ted?” she sort of puts her hands on my shoulders, blocking me out, dropping her hips to keep me from coming forward, I move forward anyway of course, she’s only tiny. She smiles playfully up at me. Her braid dancing over her shoulder as she checks behind her as I push.
“Computers,” I chuckle.
“Oooh, you don’t wanna maybe go under the stairwell with me, just for a minute? Please?” she sways her hips back and forth, doing a bit of fancy footwork in her flats as she slides backwards against my weighty progress.
I do. I do want to go under the stairwell with her, but, the nerves are jittery and I glance around at the rolled newspapers swatting down on various chickens.
We are under the stairwell and she jams my hand into the back of her slacks. I grab up a handful of the most wonderful meaty, warm, softness and her lips connect to mine. Dana!
“You like that?” she asks breathlessly, pressing her whole little body up against my bulk. She smells good.
“Uh huh,” I manage to get out, I engage my other hand too, get that down behind her into her slacks, now seemingly a bit looser. I grab up her other butt cheek and squeeze it hungrily.
“Oooh!” she says with a smile and presses tiny pursed-lip kisses around my mouth. She bends her knee and lifts a foot. Her big brown eyes are closed. She looks like she rehearsed this.
“You like this?” I ask her.
“Uh huh.” gasp, “What do you like?”
“What do you like?”
“I asked you!”
“I like you.”
“I like you, too.” Her breath hits me, it’s sweet.
When did this happen? We gotta go. It’s already time we’ll be late, the bells will ring and the Tebrows will be punishing the stragglers. We climb over the gays, whose groceries are all over the place, and make our way out into the light again. Her hand finds mine and she squeezes it fast, blows me a kiss and runs under the gauntlet of rolled newspapers the other direction. I sniff at the air, maybe the stench is actually Alternaria. Under the stairwell though, it’s sharply something more bodily, sweat and tears.
I get in just under the bell and sit at the computers. Ranks and ranks of them all blank, all blinking that cursor. Demanding. I fumble around, check my pockets, look in my sack, look in the wooden drawers near the machines and I find a cassette tape. I jam that into the tape deck and hit play just as one of the Tebrows cruises by behind me with a sneer.
Sweet Dana! How did I suddenly become her favorite?
My hands shake. My privates are asunder. And then it’s the actual Commander Tebrow on the intercom.
“Ladies and gentlemen, it has come to my attention that some of you have not taken spirit week with the right spirit. The intention of spirit week is to raise everyone’s spirits, everyone! So please in future have more spirit, tomorrow will be nosegay day, please show your spirit by wearing a nosegay. Thank you.”
“Gay nose, what the hell?” I hear DiMeo mutter.
“Nosegay,” I correct.
“Fuck off, Ted, you ain’t got no spirit.” And he’s right. Ain’t got none at all.
I watch the clock and after another shift in the hall, I’ve Lori’s arm. I nuzzle the crotch of the elbow, press my schnoz into her flexor carpi radialis. I run my lips up and down the smooth pale inside of her forearm. I sigh deeply. My heartrate slows my eyelids begin to slip down.
“Do you know Bellville? Bellville is the best! We were out at Expressions last night and he bought me a drink,” Lori says sweetly.
“Mmmm,” I murmur. I do know Bellville, he’s a goddamned asshole, one of those kids grew up stuffing fireworks into little animals and gleefully watching them explode. No matter, it doesn’t matter I have her arm. Her arm is mine! Dana! What about her? Dana!
“Do you know Dana?” I say to Lori, lifting my head slightly.
“What?” she asks with a smile as if talking to a very little boy.
She isn’t used to me asking her anything, she has her feet extended and is doing flutter kicks in these cute sparkle sandals that slap her heels as she wiggles her feet.
“Never mind.” I go back to enjoying her tender arm, distinguishing the delicate little muscles with my teeth and tongue. My gorilla grooming, meditative state coming on.
Mrs. Gray is mincing about with her hands over her head.
“Double double toil and trouble . . . ” she’s saying, “fi-uh burn and cauldron bubble!”
I slip my coat off as I see the gazelle approaching. She coos, loving it as I hold the jacket open for her to slip her little stick arms into, pat her on the back and she goes off on her way smiling over her shoulder at me, wrapped up two or three times in Portuguese camouflage.
Badessa and Fusco sit opposite me, Bianco on my left. Fusco keeps squeezing to death the remains of a pastry created to have endless shelf-life. Now it’s just a gray mash that oozes between his fingers like a very charcoal laden clay. He tries to make “brass” knuckles out of it.
“Looks like shit,” Badessa says, chuckling at Fusco.
“Feels like shit, too!” Fusco guffaws.
“Do you guys know Dana?” I ask.
“Dana, you mean Dana Lemoi?” Bianco wiggles an eyebrow.
“Lemoi!” I nod, no eyebrow action, this doesn’t call for it.
“Slut,” Simkowitz says.
“Probably,” Bianco adds.
“I thought she was a guy, no tits,” Fusco grins.
I hadn’t noticed this, I was busy squeezing her bum, which felt great.
“She was kissing on me yesterday, under the stairwell.”
“Ah!” Simkowitz, Bianco, and Badessa together, lots of eyebrow activity.
“Which stairwell? Foster’s stairwell?” So named as the Tebrows pulled Foster out from under a pig pile of orgiastic gay humanity there last year, nearly dead, had to be revived with some kind of African tea mixture the goddamned psychopath nurse applied.
“Na, not Foster’s, across from that,” I say. “The parallel hall.”
You’d think the place was an underground temple with three thousand, mostly unexplored rooms, but honestly, I only go the places I have to.
“She hasn’t got tits and has a boy’s name,” Fusco continues, giggling.
“Yes, that one,” I nod.
There, a couple years back, a senior fellow named Laframbois leaped to his broken-necked temporary paralysis down the two story drop. He landed on some gays. He was in the hospital for ages and never talked to anyone again, moved on. He figured something out that the rest of us hadn’t grasped yet. In his note, he had said something about there being no real hope. He had dismissed everything: Gods, boobs, sports, cocks, balls, grass, books, computers, pizza lunches, girls’ wonderful bums, everything! But, I thought, it wasn’t his fault he didn’t care about any of it. I mean, maybe he was just born like that, didn’t have the right gene, didn’t play the lottery. I felt badly about Laframbois. It was funny how people could get funny, and then soon enough, they became something you couldn’t get at all, pushed out of range of our getting. The zeitgeist being that he was stoned, or crazy, or both. How far off was that? How far did Laframbois stray from our path?
“Crazy,” Fusco nods, clearly on the same thought paths.
“Yeah, nuts,” Badessa adds as they search their minds for Laframbois knowledge.
“So you had Lemoi under Laframbois’s stairwell?” Simkowitz wants to know.
“Yeah, thirty forty seconds or so,” I do some eyebrow pumps.
The boys look at one another.
“Laframbois was fucked up,” Fusco says, punching his mound of shit.
“Right, so anyway, you guys are just living it up, huh?”
“I will, soon as I hit the mega-bucks!” Badessa grins.
“Which is never,” I add fiercely.
“Fuck you, Ted, you don’t know, you never know!”
“You doan know!”
“I fuggin’ know already, you ain’t gonna win!”
“You doan even play, you cain’t win!”
“So that’s what you guys are all lookin’ forward ta? Winning the fuggin’ lottery? Is that all ya got?” I throw some spittle their way. A pimply-faced Tebrow is making his way over to us, a stern look across his brow.
The bell rings, and we rush to the doors.
“It’s a lot of money, Ted, serious.” Bianco points out.
“Jess get a ticket,” Simkowitz adds, “I’ll pick one up for ya, what numbers ya like?”
The announcements come on and the pledge and the music. I smell the mold, the sharp smell of the Aspergillus, or whatever the hell it is, living in the vents, in the lockers, in the food service.
Then Dana is in front of me in a bright skirt. I do a thing with my eyebrows, and chin. She grabs my hand with a bright-eyed smile. Leads me straight to Laframbois’s stairwell, we push the clutter out of the way, the broken seats, the tables stacked against he wall, we step over a couple of gays doing something, I try to get a closer look at, but Dana!
She pulls up her skirt and I put one hand on each side of her terrific bum and pull her to me. She goes up on tip-toe and I bend down to her lips.
“What do you want?” she whispers to me.
I have no idea. I want more of her, all of her.
“You,” I gasp.
I want to be away from this place, these bosses, the Tebrows pushing us around. I want to . . .
“You want some of this?” she shakes her top up to her neck, and flutters her eye lashes, and I’m looking at her pert, little, pink-tipped boobs. I gasp as I force her to back bend and bury my face into the pale skin between her tender girly lumps, she pushes her arms together to make them seem a bit bigger and softer. I slurp them up. They are wonderful, she’s wonderful. I think she might have a fever.
“More,” is all I get out.
I slump to my knees in front of her and she chuckles, rubbing her beautiful tummy and tiny breasts in my face, pulling her sweater up over her face.
“I’m all yours,” she says through the knit.
And then the warning bell rings.
“Fuck!” I jump to my feet like a sumo and she starts to giggle.
She drops her sweater over herself and kisses at me, missing as I drag her out from under the stairwell. The bodies of boys, and a few girls this time, all over the place trying to get their items bagged.
Suddenly a Tebrow right in front of us, a long swing of the rolled newspaper, I duck, it’s well over Dana’s head, and I trip, and I crash my head against the safety bar on the emergency exit door under the stairwell, it bursts open. Ow! Cold air blasts us along with supernova bright sunlight. The naked kids scream as the gust whips them savagely. They grab at their clothes. I’ve never seen plebs move so fast.
“Shut that door, young man!” the Tebrow’s voice booms. Despite saying “young man” to me, I know this Tebrow and he’s my age. Only a junior league Tebrow. It makes me chuckle and the Tebrows hate that. The rolled newspaper is raised, but the bodies, all out of their grocery bags, are rolling all about the stinking floor, squirming and trying to jab cold groceries back into underwear.
The sunlight is blinding and the cold prohibitive. I drag Dana, she just laughing, back inside the door. It slams shut behind us, and it now seems to my sunlight constricted pupils like nighttime just descended in one fell swoop. Dana manages finally to land a kiss on my chin.
“Gotta go!” she flees me, disappears down the corridor like a bunny zig-zagging away from the hounds. Her skirt flashing paleness underneath. Dana!
By the time I get to the square dancing, I’m carrying an official reprimand, a slip that tells me I’ll have to be in rubber-room tomorrow. Detention. The humorless vice-chancellor with a stack of tickets had sniffed haughtily at me.
“Crime?” he said with tremendous boredom.
“Under the stairwell with another pleb, late for assignment,” squawked the Tebrow his badge polished up brightly.
“Where’s the other pleb? I’ve never seen this pleb before,” the vice-chancellor said, “where’s he been all this time?”
“Never caused no trouble before, sir.” the Tebrow said.
“Who was your partner, pleb?” the VC squinted at me, the first time he actually put his eyes on me.
“Partner?” I shrugged, cool con, “didn’t you all see all those partners? They were all over the floor.”
The gays behind me started chuckling. A kind of light switched on inside this new corridor of unknown possibilities. I had been totally unaware of it. They came here every day for this treatment, I had always thought like junkies. Why would they do that? . . . But they’re not junkies, they’re living.
“Shut up!” another Tebrow squawked at the laughter, feeling her power slipping, she lifted her rolled newspaper baton. “It’s people like you—”
“That’s fine, officer,” the VC suddenly seeming cheeky, but it’d be a mistake to underestimate him. He could smile at you and turn on you in a flash like an unpredictable junkyard dog, developing rabid froth faster than you could blink. “Give me your arrest booklets.”
The Tebrows scrambled forward for the arrest stamps, wave their neatly folded arrest booklets at the VC.
“Do you see how many I’ve got, sir? I’ve got enough for a stripe!” the girl Tebrow all aflutter, all her authoritative sham dropped off and the little girl she actually was, so eager for the praise, boiling out. Double double toil and trouble . . .
“Oh you’re just getting started, the fellow Tebrow turned to her haughtily,” and then rapidly to the VC who was pulling the stamping pad out of the cabinet behind him, “we get the blue stamps this time, don’t we, sir? This was a multiple co-op arrest!”
The girl Tebrow was bouncing on her boot polished toes she was so happy.
“Yes, yes you do,” the VC said with a kind of affectionate gift-giving air as the Tebrow reminds him that the green stamp won’t do this time, he put it back and reached for the blue ink-pad.
My eyes left the scene and I looked at the gays and other miscreants a little differently now, now that I was one of them. There was some new chin jutting and eyebrow activity to share.
When we are practicing our allemande left I have to do so with one of the junior Tebrows. There’s no actual girl left for me, being late and all. During the hexitation, she won’t even put down her rolled newspaper. Twice she has to leave our dance to swat at some of the chickens mounting one another on the other side of the floor, this breaks up their square. After the swatting, they vibrate insensibly, staring into space with the aftereffects of their encounter. Dana!
The following day I report to in-house detention. During this special form of low-level punishment we are forced to watch films of proper interactions between plebs of both genders, and of course, how to properly kowtow to the authorities. There is a hilarious sequence of a fellow, some fancy rich-type, asking one of his employees to secretly examine his wife when she undresses. All to satisfy some bet that the guy is married to the most beautiful woman in the world. Course, the end result of this bargain and subsequent earth- shattering viewing of the woman’s goods—depicted with golden sunlight blasting through a magnifying lens—is totally weird. At first the woman seems innocent, but then she wants the employee guy, who just saw her for the first time, to actually kill her husband. Who would behave like that? What has her desire to see her husband killed to do with nudity? Madness.
The films are old and cheap. The actors are attractive but clumsy. Episodes of a girl and a boy in their spirited class uniforms imply a kind of sexual contact between them, but of course, not even for the film were they to actually rub one another, or squeeze one another’s wonderful meaty parts. So they act the way someone might imagine it to feel, the girl leaning her head back and angling her hips forward like two feet away from the guy’s hands. It looks like a strange European dance. I keep expecting them to Flamenco-slap each other. Gay encounters aren’t mentioned—don’t even exist. Dana!
Finally, I reach Lori’s arm, it feels like a week since I’ve been able to dock my sorry head against it, to kiss it, to savor it. Lori wears a set of bangles today, gold and jangling.
“I missed you yesterday!” Lori says tenderly.
“Oh, I missed you so much,” I reply, accepting her wonderful arm.
“You know Bellville and Bourassa? We were all out at the Mapleroot Inn, they bought me drinks, but then, they got into a huge fight!” Lori says with glee, her feet extended and waving about.
“Mmmm,” I mumble into her skin. She’s wearing a sweet perfume today, something citrus-like.
“Bellville’s kinda big, and mean, I mean, he’s a great guy to me, but he threw Bourassa onto a table, Bourassa pulled out a knife, and then the bouncers came, it was wild!” Lori smiles down at me. And after a pause, “Why don’t you come out sometime?”
I kind of wish Bellville and Bourassa could have killed each other, that would have been a most satisfying outcome.
Suddenly an announcement comes over the intercom in the middle of Mrs. Gray’s Henry the Fifth speech about the breech, dear friends, and going into it one more time.
It is the officer Tebrow the head of the Tebrows, the discipline chief responsible for all the rolled newspaper swatting and moral subjugation.
“It has just—is this thing on? . . . It has just come to my attention that certain of the plebeian body have chosen to disregard certain of rules established, . . . established for the sake of all our good. You want to suffer, fine, do it on your own time, but from now on there will be serious consequences for doing it on our time. . . . “
He begins enumerating the infractions that will no longer be tolerably dealt with, no mashing of foodstuffs, no more sandals, no more enjoyment of naked arms. . . . I look up and eyes are on me. Lori looks at me in a kind of horror mixed with shame and retreats her arm, I release her arm, it leaves me. My head hits the cold desk top. My lips kiss nothing, trace no more warm muscles, no more citrus smelling skin. Her feet which until now had been flutter kicking, hit the floor and she twists in her seat, facing away from me. I can see her shoulders shaking softly, she’s sobbing! . . . no putting of arms around shoulders. . . .
The chickens are clucking in their seats, bopping their heads around, pointing their beaks at one another.
” . . . each of these infractions is now punishable by our strongest class of retribution. . . .”
There’s a rumble outside the door, and something that sounds like a chair being thrown against a wall.
We see several Tebrows running past our window.
“Those didn’t look like rolled newspaper batons,” someone mutters.
There’s a scream, followed by more screams and the same Tebrows run back past our windows, now unarmed.
“Please remain calm, we will have this disorder under control shortly.” Then there’s the unmistakable sound of the room door lock engaging, Click! And then martial music begins hammering in the speakers.
“Oh, for Christ’s sake,” I hiss.
I sit watching Lori’s little shoulders shudder. I press myself to a seated upright position. I look around at the chickens. They stare back at me. Something is expected of me. I look toward Mrs. Gray, but her eyes are down, she sits in her chair one hand on her book, the other dangling near her hip. It crosses my mind that someone is married to her, and I’m gently boggled by it. It looks as though Mrs. Gray’s been shut off, unplugged, batteries dead.
“There’s a fire,” I say, sniffing.
“If they was a fi-uh they’d be an alahm,” Mrs. Gray suddenly pipes up, her awful rural accent suddenly unaffected.
Now we could all smell it, it’s clearly a fire.
The intercom crackles back to life, “Plebs, please remain calm,” it’s the VC this time. “A small combustion has occurred due to an accidental misuse of . . . uh. . .” there’s a sound, something falling off a shelf, a scuffle maybe, “A small fire has occurred as a result of, . . .” then with a hand over the microphone, “what should I tell them? . . . I’m not saying that!”
The intercom crackles off again. Martial music comes back, some more Tebrows a bigger batch of them this time go trotting past the window.
“Oh, come on!” I stand up—surprised looks—I walk to and pull at the door, the lock keeping it shut. I turn around and look at all the chickens and the defunct Mrs. Gray.
“Please,” Mrs. Gray says to me. I can’t tell how old the lady is, could be thirty could be sixty.
“Well, we could go out the windows,” I jut my chin toward them with some eyebrow action. They’re big windows.
Suddenly the door opens with a click.
“Oh my god,” Mrs. Gray says, her eyes big, “please, Ted, don’t do anything.”
But she triggered the door open at her desk anyway, clearly hoping I’d just go away.
“Just doan break the winders,” she says nervously.
I grab the door as fast as possible and shove a desk up against it. The chickens gather around me clucking wildly. Lori squirms under my arm, holding it around her petite shoulders. Infraction!
“OK! Let’s go!”
We stampede down the hallway without looking back, the fuming stench hitting our noses, some of the chickens start gagging. We immediately come up against several Tebrows who after shouting the usual warnings back out of our way.
Another announcement: “Plebeians please do not panic, we have the situation fully under control.”
I take a risk, looking back, and see . . . nothing. I expected a raging fire, a mob battling with the Tebrows, the gays maybe rising up, throwing the furniture out the windows, but there’s nothing—well, almost nothing.
Far down the hall someone has a fire extinguisher and is lazily coating what looks to be the remains of a microwave oven with white CO2 spray. There are a few extra extinguishers lined up against the wall, the ones that were brought by the Tebrows earlier. The chickens look at me as I gawk. Lori hugs close to me.
“What should we do?” she looks up at me.
I’m the momma hen.
“They had fire extinguishers,” I chuckle to myself. “I thought it was, I dunno, weapons.”
“Maybe,” Lori looks up at me again, “maybe that’s just what they want you to think.”
I take a deep breath.
“Follow me!” I rally and we run down the main hallway crashing the bars on the front doors, and before we know it we are out in the cold, standing together in a small chicken mob by the buses, and staff cars. Some of the brown-faced lunch staff look over at us quizzically through their cigarette smoke break, wrapped in heavy, colorful duffel coats.
“We’re out!” Lori says with excitement as her teeth begin chattering. I rub her back through her flimsy blouse.
The chickens all stand closely together their frozen feet in the snow, they bob their heads, pointing their beaks every which way, clucking madly.
The front door of the building opens and the VC steps out and waves to us to come back.
“Should we go back?” one of the chickens asks me, chattering. The fickle little shit.
“If ya want, I guess,” I shrug.
First two, then three, then all of the chickens run back into the building and it’s just me standing with Lori under my arm shivering.
“C’mon, you kids are gonna freeze out here,” the VC calls over to us.
Lori aims her big brown eyes up at me, “I’ll go if you go.”
I pull her tight. The VC waves at us again, he seems to be laughing.
“You wanna go back?” she nods at me, then makes that reasonable eyebrow expression, “lets go back.”
I look up into the deep blue sky, so cold and so full of nothing.
As I sit in rubber-room for the second time in two weeks watching the films, I realize that Dana, seated behind me, has been working her toes onto my seat, under my butt. As I reach down to meet her feet—she slumping way down to afford me this contact—I smile softly to myself. Her perfect little phalanges meeting the cuneiforms, her petite talus and navicular on either side of me, hidden by my Portuguese camouflage jacket (Denni would have to do without on a punishment day) were perfect.