“What? Where am I now?”
“You’re back in the science room, Jacob,” Tyson said, taking the helmet off Jacob. “I think we have enough. Thanks for your help.”
“How was it, dude?” Rock asked, apparently back from the principal’s office, since an unspecified amount of time had elapsed.
“Well, the last one was a little religiousy for my taste.”
“You were in a church, Jacob,” Tyson reminded him.
“But other than that…meh. Where’s Joan?”
“From the last one. Where is she?”
“Are you asking about Joan of Arc?” Tyson asked incredulously. “She’s in France. And, like, six hundred years ago.”
“She didn’t come back with me?”
“What…no. Did you really think we were going to bring back a major historical figure into our time? I explained pretty clearly the purpose of our project. In case you’ve forgotten, it’s pretty much the complete opposite of that.”
“But I love her.”
“How? You didn’t even meet her. You just saw her having a vision.”
“When the heart knows, the heart knows.”
“She’s hot, isn’t she?” Rock said.
“It’s not that. It’s, I don’t know, inner beauty, blah, blah, blah, great personality, or something.” Jacob dropped his head. “Yeah, she’s hot.”
“Anyway, you two get going,” Tyson said. “I’m going to finish gathering and editing the data. Thanks for your help.”
“But what are we going to do about Joan?”
“But she’s the only woman I’ll ever love.”
“See, that’s why everyone thinks kids are stupid. Because we are,” Tyson said, turning away from Jacob and back toward his science crap.
Rock put his arm around Jacob. “Come on, buddy. Don’t fixate on women in the past who are completely unattainable for you. Let’s get you back to obsessing over current day women you’ll never be with, like a normal, healthy teenager.”
“Damn it, Tyson, where am I now?”
“Watch it, Jacob. You’re in a church.”
“Uh…amen. Damn it, Tyson, why am I in a church?”
Tyson sighed. “You’re going to meet Joan of Arc, okay?”
“Because…do I seriously have to explain the concept to you again? She’s one of history’s greatest personalities.”
Jacob winced. “I don’t know. I kind of hate people with personalities. I think people should go through life acting as much like an automaton as possible.”
“We all do, but unfortunately, that’s not the case, so get going.”
“Right. Where do I find this Arc Lady?”
“Over there,” Tyson said.
“Over where? Without you here to gesture to me, that phrase is meaningless. You could literally be talking about any place that isn’t here.”
“By the group of people,” Tyson said. Jacob looked over to a group of people staring at some sort of commotion, which he really should have noticed earlier and assumed Tyson was talking about when he said, ‘over there’, but whatever. He approached and caught a glimpse of a woman’s face as her head convulsed to the floor and back up out of sight.
“What’s this? I think there are women wrestling in the church, Tyson. I don’t know what’s going on here, but I like it.”
“No, Jacob. That’s Joan. She’s having a vision.”
“Visions make you wrestle?”
“No. She’s the only one if you would actually take the time to look.”
“Oh. Yeah. Well, sorry, there are a bunch of unwashed French people in front of me.”
“You can just say French people. And she’s seizing. She’s having the first of her visions that would lead her to take on the English.”
Jacob watched. The woman, Joan as we now know, I guess, stopped seizing and laid unconscious on the floor. The people stood around dumbfounded, but nobody moved to help, probably because it was the Middle Ages and they had no idea what was going on. They probably thought she was possessed or something. People were dumb back then. I mean, they still are, but in different ways. Well, the same ways, but they manifest differently. Oh, she regained consciousness and sat up, by the way.
“Are you alright?” asked on of the concerned bystanders, kneeling down next to her. The girl started crying. She tried to speak but was crying so hard it was impossible to understand her.
“What’s she saying?”
“I think she wants us to fight the English,” the man said. “She’s crying too hard to express her thoughts coherently, but I think we should trust her. She seems passionate.”
“Okay, Rock, so we’re here to talk about your grades,” Principal Schwartz said, summarizing by stating something they both already knew.
“Are they bad?” Rock asked, oblivious to the fact that having to ask how his grades were should have tipped him off to the fact that they weren’t great.
“They’re not great,” Principal Schwartz said, uncreatively using the same phrasing. “They’re pretty much non-existent.”
“If they don’t exist, how can they be bad?” Rock asked existentially.
“Because they’re mostly zero. It says here you haven’t turned in an assignment since April.”
“Right. I couldn’t do anything because I was waiting for the cable guy to show up.”
“Of last year.”
“It’s Comcast. They give a large window.”
Principal Schwartz sighed. “Rock, you know I don’t like doing this. I would prefer to never have to interact with any of you if I had my preference. But I have to at least look like I care, so what’s going on?”
“What do you mean?”
“According to the principal handbook thingy, when a student struggles in school, there’s often something else going on.”
Rock leaned in to Principal Schwartz. “I think I’m depressed. Suicidal, in fact.”
“Yeah, I’m not really the one to talk to about that. I’m not trying to be a hero, or even a half decent human being. Also, I’m pretty sure you’re not.”
“What? Did you just presume to tell me how I feel?”
“Yes. Because you aren’t. Students usually drop their grades when they start to struggle like that. Your grades have sucked from the beginning. Besides, I know suicidal people. Jeremy Stone. Now that kid legitimately might kill himself. Him, I should probably do something about.”
“Hell no. That’s a whole thing, and I’d risk some confidentiality bullshit by telling anyone.”
“You told me.”
“I meant tell someone who cares, like his parents.”
“Oh. Anyway, so I’m not getting an A?”
“I thought that, if you threatened to kill yourself, you automatically go all As.”
“No, Rock, that’s a myth.”
“And it’s not even the right myth. The myth is that if your roommate actually kills himself, you get automatic As.”
“Cool,” Rock said, getting him up to leave. “So…do you know if Jeremy’s looking for a new place to stay?”
Rock winked at Principal Schwartz. “I’ll give him a call.”
“Woah. Where am I now?” Jacob asked.
“The Alamo,” Tyson responded.
“What? You have to get me out of here,” Jacob said. “Men aren’t welcome here.”
“What? No, Jacob, you’re thinking of…just forget it. Anyway, try to find Santa Anna.”
Jacob approached two fighters wearing Mexican uniforms. “Excuse me, I’m looking for Santa Anna. Do you know where it is?”
“You mean he?”
“Santa Anna’s a dude? Huh. Sounds more like a place. Anyway, sure, I guess so, why not?”
“Nobody can see the general without an appointment. Who are you?”
“I’m some guy, I guess. I don’t know. Everybody else just lets me do whatever I want,” Jacob said. “Who are you?”
“My name is Jose Vazques de Veracruz y Severino de Lebron.”
“Cool. I’ll just call you Jose. What’s your buddy’s name?”
“Jose Muertes de la Paz Garcia.”
“I’ll call him Jose two.”
“I think you’re going to quickly regret this naming system,” Tyson said through the headset as two other officers approached him.
“Fine. Jose Dos.”
“That wasn’t my point. Shit, Jacob, pay attention.”
“I said, what is your business here?” one of the approaching officers asked Jacob, apparently for the second time.
“I’m looking for Santa Anna, I guess,” Jacob said. “I don’t really know. I was just told to say that, because it seems to be what you do when you’re a time traveler in a Mexican military camp outside the Alamo.”
“Well, why didn’t you just say so? Follow me,” one of the officers, who we’ll call Miguel, said. Jacob followed Miguel until Miguel stopped and gestured to a bench.
“Sit here and wait. I’ll let the general know you’re here,” Miguel said. He entered the tent and came back out. “The general will be out in a moment.”
“Cool, cool. So…how’s everything going with you?”
The officer let out a deep sigh. “Oh, you know. My wife and I are having problems with our first child. She cries all the time. She keeps doing it, even when I hit her.”
“Um, what? You mean when you don’t hit her, right? Which is never. Or always. You’re always not hitting her, right?”
The officer laughed. “Of course I hit the kid. It’s the mid-1800s. The problem is the wife. I’m away on duty, and so she’s left alone with the child, and you know how women are. As weak intellectually as they are physically.”
Jacob laughed nervously. “Yep. That sure is correct. Women are physically weaker than us, and so that means they’re bad thinking for some reason. Where’s this general?”
“The kid is old enough to know better, though. She’s about to turn two, and still she cries.”
“Jesus Christ, Tyson, what the hell?” Jacob said. “What have you gotten me in to?”
“What? It’s the past. What did you expect?”
“I don’t know. I thought these were Mexicans.”
“They are? So what?”
“So, they’re a minority. They aren’t supposed to be sexist, they’re supposed to have solidarity with other oppressed groups.”
“Take a look around, Jacob. I don’t think they’re exactly a minority”
“Whatever. At least I know that, with all the racial injustice in the American criminal justice system, the victims of those injustices would never commit the same error.”
Santa Anna exited his tent and turned to Jacob. “Kill the gringo.”
“What’s that?” Tyson said, referring to the buzzing sound that was clearly a cell phone vibrating on a desk, as anybody should have immediately recognized in this day and age. He wasn’t even a particularly stupid smart guy, he was just so wrapped up in Jacob’s time travel adventures that he was a little detached from reality.
“Jacob’s phone,” Rock said, restating what I’d just taken a paragraph to explain. Dick. “It’s Principal Schwartz. You want me to answer it?”
“What? No. This is important. We can’t let the real world distract us from our work. No cell phones.”
“Yeah. Take that real world! In name of science,” Rock bellowed, chucking Jacob’s phone out the window in a dramatic gesture. “You can’t distract us from our work!”
Tyson stared at Rock. “You know you could have just turned the phone off, right?”
“It’s the principle. I was trying to make a point.”
“To the world.”
“The world has no idea that you threw the phone out the window. It achieved the exact same effect as if you’d just turned it off. The message is the same either way.”
“Not to Jacob.”
“Oh, yeah. He’s going to be pissed.” The two looked at each other, then started to laugh. They were interrupted by a knock on the door.
“It’s Principal Schwartz. Can I come in?”
“Shit. Distract him,” Tyson said, gesturing to Rock in some unspecified way.
“We’re not exactly supposed to be doing this.”
Rock laughed. “Tyson, you aren’t a rebel. You’re doing nerd stuff. Not smoking dope, because that’s definitely still what we call it.”
“Are you serious? We’re sending a kid back in time on an untested, unapproved time machine. You know how much trouble we could be in if we got caught?”
“What do they care?”
“Liability, Rock. If something happens to Jacob, the school would get sued into oblivion. Oh, also they might care about the welfare of their students or some crap like that, but mainly it’s the liability.”
“Why would the school get sued?”
“Seriously? I don’t have time to explain the entire theory of common law torts to you. Just distract him.”
Rock went and opened the door, greeting Principal Schwartz with a big phony smile.
“What are you doing in here?” Principal Schwartz asked.
“Oh, just science stuff.”
“That doesn’t make sense. Are you smoking pot?”
“Can the school get sued if I am?”
“Huh? I, uh, don’t think so?”
“Then I sure am.”
“Well, don’t. Anyway, have you seen Jacob? I need to talk to him about something.”
“Do you know how unethical it would be for me to discuss a student’s private academic records with another student?”
“Yeah. It’s his Art History grade. Do you know where I could find him?”
“No. See, the funny thing about people who aren’t me is that I don’t really care about them.”
Principal Schwartz sighed. “Oh well. Actually, you come with me. You’ll work just as well.”
“You want to talk to me about Jacob’s grade?”
“No. I want to talk to you about some of your grades.”
“All of them.”
“Because it’s my job.”
“Seriously?” Rock asked, disappointed. “You’re actually going to do that. I hate it when people do their jobs. I prefer when people half-ass it and let me slip through the cracks.”
“I tried, but at some point I have to draw a line. There’s a bare minimum amount of work I have to do.”
“Because if I don’t, somebody hire up than me will take notice, then they’ll expect me to do more work. I need to keep up the bare minimum appearances to slip under the radar. Come on.”
“No, I get what we’re doing. I just don’t get the why,” Jacob said to Tyson after a bunch of boring stuff that isn’t worth writing about happened. What they were doing was going back in time to gather footage, so Tyson could win some science award, by the way. I couldn’t be bothered to know what the award was, because it’s some nerdy bullshit I don’t care about. Maybe Jacob knows.
Tyson sighed. “Look, can I level with you? I always thought that, by this point in my life, I’d have amounted to something.”
“You’re still in high school.”
“And all across the country, high school kids are doing amazing things. Well, most of what they are doing is self-indulgent, whiny bullshit that they keep doing because the adults in their lives keep kissing their asses for it, but the point is they are getting recognition. Maybe if I win this award, it’ll justify my existence.”
“What award?” Jacob asked, staring blankly at Tyson, which indicates that he’s probably also not the one to ask about it. Apparently, none of us were paying attention during the backstory.
“Just…never mind. The point is that I just wanted to accomplish something that people will recognize. I just wanted to do something important.”
Jacob laughed and patted Tyson on the shoulder. “Tyson, don’t be ridiculous. Nobody ever amounts to anything. Take the most successful person you know. In one hundred years, they’ll be dead and forgotten, same as you.”
“I guess you’re right. Let’s forget this whole thing.”
“Woah. I didn’t say all that. I still want to go back and fuck some history up.”
“We’re not actually messing anything up. I just want you to go back, find the relevant historical figures, and interview them so we can get the footage.”
“How won’t interviewing them fuck up history?”
“Same way they’ll understand you and you’ll understand them. They’ll just think you’re someone from their time and culture.”
“Sure. Why not? First up, Robin Hood.”
Jacob looked around in the middle of the field with a small battle going on. Two men stared at each other with swords. They locked eyes. One of them nodded at the other.
They both dropped their weapons and fell to the ground. “I’d rather be down here arm wrestling with you than out there pike fighting with them.”
“Arm wrestling? I was hoping for paper, rock, scissors, or whatever we call it now. I’d almost rather be out there fighting with the rest of them.”
“Only almost though, right?”
The other soldier looked up as somebody stuck a knife in someone else’s eye. The stabbed person fell to the ground screaming, desperately clawing at their face. They grabbed the knife and managed to pull it out, but the eye came with it. The man vomited from the pain before an enemy soldier stabbed him through the back of the skull.
“Yep. Almost. Let’s do this.”
They proceeded to arm wrestle. “Alright, you win. I guess I’ll drop down and pretend to be dead. You best be getting back to the battle, you big, bad conquerer you.”
The victorious soldier looked around at the battle, before looking back to the losing soldier. “Sure you don’t want to go two out of three?”
“Not sure it matters much. Looks like we’re winding down here. Here comes Robin now.”
“L’il Jon, what are you doing on the ground?” Robin Hood said. “Get up from there.”
“Apologies, dear Robin, I was simply resolving the dispute with the honorable sir knight from the other side in a manner most peaceful.”
“L’il Jon, whyest dost thou talk like a twat?”
“Because, dear and honorable Robin…”
“No, seriously, knock that shit off. Who’s this guy?”
The other knight kneeled before Robin. “Your prisoner, sir.”
Robin stabbed the guy in the throat. Blood started to come out, but just a trickle as the blade was dull and rusty. Robin stuck his fingers in the guy’s eye to push his head back, pulled his knife out, and tried again. It went in deeper, but not fully, and the guy fell to the ground, gurgling on his own blood. Robin jumped on top of him and put his full body weight onto the knife until it went into the guy’s throat. Blood spurted out and the guy twisted around, choking on his blood for about thirty seconds before dying.
“Holy fucking shit, dude,” Jacob said.
“I know, right. History was brutal,” Tyson said through the head set.
Robin turned to Jacob. “I know, I probably should have tortured him first, but after a successful battle, I was feeling generous. Never fear, however. He was a Scot, and so at some point we will have the opportunity to slaughter his entire family, the subhuman scum they are.”
“Dude. Super racist.”
“What is racist?”
“Never mind. Are you Robin Hood?”
“I am indeed. I rob from the rich and give to the poor. After taking my cut. Which is 90%. Also, the poor person is my bartender.”
“You see that, Tyson?” Jacob said into his headset. “The real Robin Hood was an alcoholic racist.”
“Yeah. If we’re going through history, you’re probably going to find that’s a pretty common theme.”
William stepped out of the passenger side of Hugh’s car and the two of them made their way up the walk and into the Stingers’ house, where a number of mourners had already gathered. Through the crowd, they saw Lester standing alone in a corner and they walked over to join him.
“Hey, guys. Thanks for coming,” Lester said, greeting them both with a hug.
“Of course. We’ll always be here for you. You know that,” Hugh said.
“Thanks. Hey, William, can you grab us a round of beers?” Lester asked, nodding toward the refrigerator. William turned, grabbed three beers, handed them around, and he and Hugh sat down on the couch on either side of Lester.
“So, how you holding up, buddy?” William asked, looking at Lester.
“As well as can be expected, I suppose,” Lester said with a shrug and a smirk. He shook his head and took a sip from his bottle. “It helps that we knew it was coming.”
“I would think so. I mean, I guess. I don’t know,” William said. He took a breath and looked around the room. “Where’s Barry?”
“Mingling. He’s better at that crap than I am. I don’t even know half these people, so he’s taking care of all that social shit,” Lester said. “And I’m sitting here drinking. So we’re both doing what we’re good at.”
“That’s good. You have enough to deal with. You shouldn’t have to worry about impressing these bunch of assholes,” William said.
“Come on now, William,” Hugh said. “They’re just trying to offer their sympathies to the Stingers.”
“I know. Bunch of cunts,” William said under his breath. He took a sip of his beer and patted Lester on the back. “Your mom was a hell of a woman.”
“She was. Tough as nails. Raised two kids by herself while working full time, and never complained. Not even once she got cancer.” Lester took a sip of his beer and nodded slowly as he swallowed. “Never made excuses either, you know? A lot of people want a simple solution, or a scapegoat. To be able to blame all their problems on society, or on one group of people or another. Mum always used to talk about how ridiculous this was, given that we all know it’s the Jews who are to blame.”
William and Hugh chuckled nervously. “That’s right,” William said, wincing. “Your mum was such a sweet lady. I always forget that she was also a horrible racist.”
“Yeah, you know, she seemed like a sweet old lady, but underneath that was a lot of anger at the way her life turned out.”
“But under that anger was a heart of gold, right?” Hugh said with an awkward laugh. Lester nodded contemplatively.
“Sure, sure. But underneath the heart of gold was more anger.” Lester took a sip of his beer and thought for a moment. “But under that, she really did love me and my brother more than anything. What can I say? The woman had a lot of layers.”
“Were most of them anger?” William asked.
“No, no. A lot of them were, sure. But there was also a good deal of hatred and resentment thrown in there.”
“That’s good,” Hugh said absentmindedly, pulling out his phone and checking it.
“What’s up?” William asked.
“It’s Amy. She and the kids will be here shortly.”
“Oh, they don’t have to do that,” Lester said.
“Yes, they do. They want to. You know how they feel about you, Lester,” Hugh said, putting his arm around Lester. “You and Barry are like family to us.”
“What took them so long?” William asked, looking past Lester at Hugh. “They were almost ready when we left the house, and that was some time ago.”
Hugh shrugged. “Apparently something with Gemma and her boyfriend. I didn’t get the details, but Amy and her had a bit of a dustup, I guess.”
“Gemma’s got a boyfriend now?” Lester asked. “I didn’t hear anything about this. When did this happen?”
“About a week ago. Hence why I haven’t said anything,” Hugh said. He sighed. “Amy isn’t thrilled about it, and I’m kind of hoping it will pass, but you know how kids are at that age.”
“Well, they’ve been dating a week, so they think they’re in love and want to spend every moment together.”
“So, what’s Amy’s problem with it?” William asked.
“I don’t know. She says she doesn’t trust the boy. I don’t like him either, but I don’t think I’d like anyone my little girl is dating. Objectively, he seems as alright as any other thirteen-year old.” Hugh took a sip of his beer, hesitated for a moment, and took another sip. “Frankly, though I think she won’t say it to spare my feelings, I think Amy’s afraid of Gemma becoming sexually active.”
“Your little girl is growing up,” Lester said, smiling, shaking his head, and shrugging. “Did you think she’d stay young forever?”
“No. To be honest, I’m not sure I really want to think about it though.”
“I can see that,” Lester said.
“She should try anal,” William added.
“William!” Hugh said harshly while Lester looked at William with wide eyes, raised eyebrows and an amused look on his face.
“She just turned thirteen.”
“So?” William said. “It will be good practice. Plus, it’ll make her the most popular girl in school.”
Hugh took a deep breath and started to say something, but was stopped upon seeing his family walk in. He got up and went to greet them, and Lester turned to William.
“Yes, Lester? What is it?”
“Has anyone ever told you you’re an asshole?”
“No, no. Just my dad, my mum every day of my life growing up, every girlfriend I’ve ever had.” William shrugged as he took another sip of his beer. “And pretty much everyone I’ve ever met at one point or another.”
“Ugh, it’s in a church?” William said as they pulled up, his face distorted in disgust. “Why’d it have to be in a church?”
“Because it’s a funeral?” Lester said, getting out of the car that Hugh was driving. The three of them had ridden to the church together, with Hugh’s family going separately, and Barry arriving earlier, since he was to give the eulogy. “Besides, you know how religious mum could be.”
“Yeah, William’s mum too. Why do you think he hates religion so much?” Hugh said.
“I always assumed it was for the same reason he used to leave multiple choice tests blank instead of guessing,” Lester said.
“It’s not that. I just don’t see why I constantly have to have religion shoved down my throat,” William said.
“You mean by going to a church once or twice a year when someone dies or gets married?”
“William, don’t start,” Hugh warned. “Now isn’t the time to revisit the issues you have with your mother.”
“I told you it isn’t that,” William protested. “I just don’t like churches. That’s all. They’re oppression palaces.”
“Right. Never mind the soup kitchens and homeless shelters they fund, house and staff,” Lester said, rolling his eyes.
“I know. Fuck that shit,” William said, looking at the large building in front of him with trepidation. “Bunch of cunts.”
“Anyway, shall we, gentleman?” Lester said. The three of them entered the church and made their way to their seats, with Lester stopping a couple of times to shake hands or hug another attendee. They sat down and waited until the service began.
The service went smoothly until it was time for Barry to give his eulogy. He approached the pulpit, took a deep breath, and began. “Thank you all for coming today. It’s fitting that we are saying farewell to my mother in this church. She loved this church, and she loved the people, and I know that a great many of you today were friends with my mother due to your mutual involvement in this church, and for that I thank you. For your friendship to my mother, for your support during her illness, and for your support today.”
Barry smiled sadly and cleared his throat. “What to say about my mother? She wasn’t a fancy woman, or a glamourous woman. She was never rich, at least not materially. She had her faults, as do we all, but at the end of the day, she was a good woman. A solid woman. She raised two boys by herself, while also working full time to make sure there was always food on the table. And I think that’s the best thing that can be said for her. No matter the situation, she did what she was supposed to.”
Barry paused, took a sip of water, and continued. “Even though life was never good to her, she never complained. Never took the easy way out. After my dad left, it would have been easy for her to fall into despair. But she had two young boys, and it was her duty to take care of them, so that’s what she did. She toughened up and went out and took the first job she could find. She had no skills and no experience, and the pay was minimum, but she not only went to work each day, she came home, took care of her kids, and found time to help at the church on weekends.”
Barry sniffled, and wiped a tear from his eye, his voice beginning to crack as he continued. “And she was like that right up until the end. I remember when she was first diagnosed with cancer. We were sitting around that night. All of us were in shock, so to speak, and she leaned over to me. You know what she said? She asked if I was alright. She had just been given a death sentence, and she was more concerned about how I was taking the news than herself.”
Barry sobbed a little, and excused himself for a moment. Drawing himself back up to the pulpit, he continued. “And that is the best way to summarize her life. No matter how poorly fate treated her, no matter how hard things got, no matter how much pain she was in, she always thought of others first. She could be a hard woman, a tough woman, but that was because that was what she needed to be. She was not a remarkable woman, but she was the woman she needed to be. She was your friend. And she was my mother. Thank you.”
“Another round, Dave,” William said as the barkeep came to clear their glasses.
“Sure thing, William,” said Tommy, picking up the empty pint glasses on the table. “You guys seem to have quite the party going on tonight. What are you celebrating, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“My mother’s death,” Lester said solemnly. Tommy’s face fell, and Lester started laughing along with the rest of the table. “I’m just fucking with you. We did just come from her funeral though.”
“Oh, so she is dead, then?”
“I certainly hope so, or we just made a massive mistake,” Lester said. “No, seriously though, she’s really fucking dead. We checked like, I don’t know, three times, maybe.”
“Well, I’m terribly sorry for your loss,” Tommy said, nodding his head solemnly. “I’ll get those drinks right out to you.”
Tommy took off, and Hugh turned to Barry. “So, now that your mum’s gone, have you decided what to do with her house?”
Barry shook his head. “No, though it’s funny you mention that. Lester, you know the Bensons, right?”
“Sure, the family from next door,” Lester said, shrugging. “What of them?”
“Well, they were at the house today, before mum’s funeral.”
“I know. I saw them. I remember avoiding talking to them. What’s your point?” Lester asked as Tommy returned with a round of beers.
“Here you go, gentlemen,” Tommy said, distributing the beverages. “This round’s on the house.”
“Oh, thank you so much, Tommy. You didn’t need to do that,” Barry said.
“It’s the least I could do.”
“Why are you calling him Tommy?” asked William.
“Because that’s his name.”
“No. His name’s Dave.”
“My name’s Tommy,” said Tommy.
“Shut up, Dave,” William said.
“Anyway, thanks again, Tommy,” Barry said. Tommy smiled and walked away, and Barry continued, “So, the Bensons were there, ostensibly to pay their respects.”
“That is typically why people go to funerals from what I understand,” Lester said.
“I said ostensibly. They asked in passing, I think they were trying to be coy about it, but they asked what we were planning to do with the house. They even offered to help us out, if we needed some assistance in keeping it.”
“That’s oddly nice of them,” Lester said, holding his beer to his mouth. “What’s their angle?”
“I think it’s that the Talbots on the other side want to buy the house for their mother to move into. Well, one of their mothers, anyway.”
“So, you know how those two families get along.”
“No, I don’t,” Lester said, casually shaking his head. “I go out of my way to avoid knowing anything about any of our neighbors. You know that.”
“Right,” Barry said. “Basically, I think the Bensons are offering to help us out because they want to make sure that the Talbots can’t buy our house.”
“Ah, it’s nice to see that neighborly kindness is still in vogue,” William said, smiling as he took a sip of his beer. “It’s always nice to see neighbors coming together in difficult times to screw over other neighbors.”
“So, did you tell them to fuck on off?” Lester asked.
“Yeah, pretty much. I didn’t quite put it that way…”
“But I told them that mum had owned the house outright, and that she left it to us in her will.”
“You guys are going to stay there, then?” Hugh asked.
“Don’t know. The funeral was just today. We haven’t gotten that far,” Barry said, taking a sip of his beer. He thought for a second, looking into his drink. “I don’t know if it’s more respectful to her to stay there, or to leave and move someplace else. We have a lot of memories in that house.”
“I don’t think your mum cares too much, one way or the other,” William said. “On account of being dead and all.”
“William,” Hugh said, slapping his friend as he scolded him.
“No, I suppose he’s right. Even if she were here right now, I don’t think she’d care one way or the other. Still, I feel that we ought to do something, you know? Something to honor her memory.”
“Like what?” Hugh asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe we should get the team together and volunteer. Like at a cancer ward for children or something,” Barry said.
“Where did you get such a stupid idea?” William asked. “Did you just combine the fact that your mom had both kids and cancer and roll with that?”
“No,” Barry said defensively. He took a sip and shrugged. “Yes. What of it?”
“It’s a terrible idea. We’ll catch their cancer.”
“I don’t think that’s how cancer works,” Hugh said. “It isn’t contagious.”
“Oh yeah? If it’s not contagious, then how did all those kids catch cancer in the first place?”
“Smoking, probably,” Lester suggested.
“Anyway, we get the point, William. If you don’t want to volunteer with us, just say so,” Barry said.
“I don’t want to volunteer. And neither do you,” William said. “The only reason you’re suggesting it is because you’re six beers in. As soon as you sober up, you’ll realize what a stupid idea it is. It will be terrible depressing and require more initiative and effort than you have. I just don’t see any way you think hanging around with dying kids could be fun. This is all just drunk talk.”
Barry took another sip and pondered William’s comments for a moment. “So? You’re probably right. I’m never actually going to do any of this, but so what? At least I’m talking about it. And it makes me feel better about myself, and my dead fucking mum, so where’s the harm? Besides, drunkenly talking about improving the world is easier than actually doing anything about it.”
“Yeah, that seems to be the attitude of most people,” William said, pushing his seat back and standing up. “I’m going to get another round. Who else wants one?”
Part 3- https://stantonsislandblog.wordpress.com/2018/03/30/whaling-part-3/
“This sure is food. We sure are getting food and in a lunch line, because that’s what high school kids do to lead into a story,” Lucy said, scooping a big ole helping of high school glop food onto her tray. “Let’s go to the cafeteria and eat it.”
“Boy, it sure will be nice to eat without certain creepers leering at us the whole time, judging us for our eating habits,” Beth said, introducing the topic of conversation.
“Yeah, what a fat creep,” Lucy said. “I bet Dan’s home now, eating Cheetos and crying himself to sleep. How hilarious.”
“You sure about that, Lucy?” Carrie said, because she was also there. “I seem to recall you voting against the suspension.”
Lucy shrugged. “I did, because I didn’t think the offense warranted it, but it doesn’t mean I’m not glad it happened. I don’t like the guy. I just think it was overreach.”
“Mm-hmm,” Carrie said, glaring at Lucy.
“I was wrong, obviously. If anything, he should have been treated more harshly. I just didn’t realize how much I was being victimized. He should have been expelled. Actually, he should have been raped by a rhinoceros repeatedly, then flayed alive. That’s how much I think he should have been punished. The kid looked like a rapist.”
Carrie smiled, apparently placated. “And what, pray tell, does a rapist look like?”
“Why are you talking like an 1800s rich guy villain? And I don’t know. I assume a Russian guy in a jumpsuit.”
“Because if I say black, everyone will lose their shit.”
“Of course, they would. It would be extremely racist.”
“Which is why I said Russian. I’m basically paraphrasing something my grandfather said but substituting Russian for black. No one cares if you’re racist against Russians.”
“Wow. You’re grandfather’s a racist.”
“I know, but he’s old.”
“That doesn’t make it alright. You can’t use old age as an excuse,” Carrie said. “When you hear an old person say something wrong like that, you need to correct them because as a young person, you have all the answers.”
Lucy shrugged. “Why bother? He’ll be dead in a few years anyway.”
“Where’s your grandfather live?” Beth asked. “Does he live down on Cedar Creek?”
“Yeah, like three houses down from that insane woman,” Lucy said. “At least I assume she’s insane because she’s super nice and super friendly, and sane people aren’t friendly. Sane people are bitter husks of humanity who are completely jaded by their 21st birthday, which is convenient since that’s when you can start drinking like a normal person.”
“Hey, ladies. How’s it going?” Juan Conner said, coming up to the table where they were sitting.
Carrie looked up and smiled. “Hey, Juan.”
“You look beautiful today. Mind if I sit?”
“Not at all. And thank you.”
“Anyway, I think it’s really cool what you’re doing with the whole bullying thing. Getting rid of fat losers like Dan.”
“I didn’t quite catch the whole story, but I’m sure he deserved it. Trying to hit on someone as beautiful as you folks. What was he thinking?”
“Well, we do what we can to try to make the school a safer place for people like us,” Beth said.
“Oh, hi Beth. Anyway, Carrie, we have a game Saturday. Afterwards, some of the guys are having a party. I was wondering if you’d be interested.”
Part 6- https://stantonsislandblog.wordpress.com/2018/01/26/the-football-match-part-6/
“Where the hell is Barry?” William asked, looking at Lester. Lester shrugged.
“Don’t know. He’s supposed to be coming right after he finishes taking care of mum. I don’t know what’s holding him.”
“Hmm. Anyway, you were saying?” William asked, looking at Hugh.
“Right. I can’t figure out what to do about George,” Hugh said, shaking his head. “I know I need to punish him, but how?”
“Remind us what he did again. Because I’m really not seeing the problem,” William said.
“There’s this kid at his school who has really bad hygiene. As in, he’s known for not showering,” Hugh said. “Anyway, apparently, as a result, George and some of his friends have been picking on him.”
“Kind of sounds like the kid deserved it,” Lester said.
“That’s not the point,” Hugh said. “You can’t single somebody out like that. It’s bullying.”
“And what about the kid not showering?” William asked. “It sounds less like they were bullying him and more like they were teaching him not to be a disgusting dumb fuck. Really, they were helping the kid out, when you think about it.”
“Regardless, things came to a head this past week. A couple of kids, led by George, apparently, cornered this kid before school and threw a bucket of water on him. Soapy water, if I understand it correctly.”
There were a few seconds of silence. William burst out laughing. “That’s hilarious,” he said.
“It’s not funny, William.”
“Yes, it is,” William continued. Lester nodded. “It is.”
“Anyway, he and his buddies had to stay after school the rest of last week, but that sounds like that’s it from the school. Since he’s never really been in trouble before, they’ve pretty much left it up to us to figure out how to deal with him from here.”
William looked at Lester, then back to Hugh. “Buy him a candy?”
“Damn it, William, don’t be daft,” Lester scolded. “Kids these days aren’t into candy. You’d have to buy him at least a video game if you really wanted to reward him.”
“I don’t want to reward him, you guys. I want to punish him.”
There was another pause as Lester and William looked at each other. “Why?”
“Because, the school takes bullying very seriously. I need to send the message that this isn’t appropriate.”
“I don’t know that this falls into the category of bullying,” Lester said. “It strikes me more as throwing water on some stinkpot. Besides, it sounds like the kid’s showing some pretty great leadership. He saw a problem in his school, and he took steps to fix it.”
“Call it what you will. The school calls it bullying and they take it seriously.” Hugh looked at the ground and shook his head. “I don’t know what it is with kids today. This never would have happened back when we were in school.”
William shrugged and shook his head slowly. “Nah. Never would have happened in the past. I mean, we might have held him down and used the soap to beat him, but we never would have done something so lame as tossing water on the lad.”
“No, William’s right. Kids today are pussies,” Lester agreed. “Besides, where was school administration in all this?”
“What do you mean?” Hugh asked. “They were inside the building. George and his mates caught the lad when no one was around.”
“No, I mean before this. The kid didn’t start stinking overnight. Shouldn’t they have done something about the kid’s hygiene?”
“Yeah, apparently they did,” Hugh said, leaning over in an attempt to touch his toes. “But the parents said they didn’t want to repress his expression of his individuality, or some other nonsense. And once the parents are involved in dealing with the kid, the school really can’t do anything about it.”
“No. They can, they just choose not to because they don’t want to deal with that shit. You have parents who are letting their kid walk around like a walking biohazard to promote ‘self-actualization’ for Christ’s sake. Would you want to deal with that?” Hugh asked. “Which I understand, from the school’s perspective, being in school administration myself.”
“Alright, first off, you’re a janitor. I wouldn’t go around calling that school administration, unless there is some puke that requires oversight,” William said, wagging his finger at Hugh before turning to Lester. “And second, where the fuck is Barry? He was supposed to be here almost twenty minutes ago.”
“You want me to call him?” Lester asked.
“Yes, call him,” William said, waving Lester over in the direction of his phone. William continued to stretch and turned back to Hugh. “So much for kids being our most important investment, huh?”
“Yeah, I always thought that was a bad strategy. The return just isn’t good enough, and the risk is too high.”
“So what are you going to do about George?”
“I don’t know. Just because this kid’s parents are inattentive wankers doesn’t mean I can be. George need to learn that two wrongs don’t make a right. It’ll keep him out of trouble later in life.”
“Absolutely. You have to punish your children,” William said. “Personally, I recommend hitting. Hitting and withholding affection.”
“Preferably without telling them why. Let them figure it out on their own. That’s the way my daddy raised me.”
“That explains a lot. Um, just, you know, stay away from my kids, William,” Hugh said, looking up at Lester, who was now off the phone and staring at the ground. “So, what’s up, Lester? Is he coming?”
“No. Um, no,” he said, turning to William and Hugh. “Um, guys, it’s mum. She’s dead.”
“Come in,” the voice called from inside Headmaster Davis’ office in response to Hugh’s knock. Hugh opened the door, slipped in, and quietly shut the door behind him. Headmaster Davis looked up.
“Ah, Amos, have a seat. Did you punish that little ratfuck son of yours yet?”
“Uh, no, sir, and his name is George.”
“I don’t care what its name is,” Headmaster Davis said, waving his hand dismissively. “I hate children. You know that, Amos. They’re like little people, and I hate people. Therefore, I hate children. See the logic in that, Amos?”
“I suppose, sir.”
“Just a bunch of little pains in the ass. And the parents are worse. All thinking their little fuck shits sunshine and farts rainbows. Cunts, all of them.”
“And they’re always screaming, and snotting, and dirty. Always bawling their fucking brains out, like they’re the only one for whom life sucks. I remember when my oldest, Beth, or is it Becca, or Betha? Anyway, when she was a kid, she used to bawl all the fucking night long. Kept my wife up all night, which of course turned her into a bitch. A bitch who didn’t want none. That’s why she’s my ex-wife now.”
“Can’t imagine that’s the only reason,” Hugh said quietly.
“Yeah, it got real bad, until I figured out how to keep her down for the night. Little something extra on the tip of the bottle. You know what I’m talking about, eh, Amos?” Headmaster Davis said with a laugh.
“I do, sir. Little scotch in the bottle, help the kid sleep,” Hugh said with a smirk.
“Scotch? No. Fuck that shit,” Headmaster Davis said. “Like I’m going to waste my good scotch on some little cunt who can’t tell the difference. No. You ever hear of Rohypnol?”
“You roofied your baby, sir?”
“Sure as hell did, and let me tell you. It worked like a goddamn charm. Little fucker slept for eighteen hours straight on that shit.” Headmaster Davis paused for a second, then slammed the desk. “Bill. That was its name. Could have sworn it was a girl, though. Anyway, you know who had the right idea, Amos?”
“Please don’t say Hitler,” Hugh said under his breath.
“My father. Never gave a rat’s ass about me or my brothers. I could cry and cry, and no response whatsoever from him. Taught me to be a man. Also, gave me this limp, since I had to walk myself to the hospital after I broke my leg. Still, great man. Anyway, you know what the point of this story is, Amos?”
“That your father is in hell?”
“No. Well, yeah, probably, but that isn’t the point.”
“Then what is it, sir?”
“I honestly have no idea, but I’ve already had like five scotches, so I was hoping you’d be able to tie it to something relevant. Make it look like I know what I’m doing, instead of just pulling things out of my ass all the time.” Headmaster Davis looked across the desk at Hugh and leaned back. “So, what did you want to talk to me about, Amos?”
“Well, sir, I was hoping I could get the end of the week off,” Hugh said hestitantly.
“Sure. I’ll just make the kids mop up their own puke this week.”
Headmaster Davis began laughing deeply and shaking his head. “Jesus Christ. No, Amos, of course not. If I could do that, don’t you think I’d be doing it already? But these child labor shitheads won’t let us do that, or whip them, or force them to work in coal mines, or anyplace else for that matter. I’m telling you, Amos, these kids are completely worthless. I don’t even know why they bother to come to school. Anyway, what do you need the time off for?”
“To attend a funeral.”
Headmaster Davis’ face grew serious, and he leaned forward onto his desk. He looked across the desk at Hugh. “Is it a relative of yours?”
“Well, no, sir.”
“Someone particularly close to you? Like a friend or something?”
“No, sir. It’s the mother of two of my closest friends.”
“Oh, thank God,” Headmaster Davis said, letting out a huge sigh of relief before he began laughing again. “For a second there, I thought this was going to be serious.”
“You were all ‘I need to go to a funeral’. And I was all like ‘shit, somebody died. Now I have to act all sensitive and caring about this putz’s stupid emotions.’ I’m not very good at the whole emotional thing, you understand, Amos? Even when we were getting divorced, my own lawyer said I was a prick. But what was I supposed to do? She kept plopping out kids I didn’t want.”
“Back to my request, sir.”
“We even had one die, I think. Actually, that was when things started to go sour. We were at the funeral, and she was all crying, and I’d had one too many, perhaps. Anyway, I was like ‘What are you going on about, woman? You can always poop out another, since you seem so good at it.’ She, uh, didn’t appreciate that, I guess. Anyway, things were already going downhill, on account of the kids she wouldn’t stop having, you see?”
“So, about my request?”
“Ah, yes. Of course you can have the time off, Amos. You know, I always like it when I hear that other people died. It makes me feel better about myself. Like, I might be a loser, but at least I’m winning at staying alive.”
William walked in past the receptionist with a takeaway basket of fish and chips, approached his cubicle, and dropped the basket on the table. He picked up a few chips and started to eat, when he was approached by Michelle, the receptionist.
“Why do you look so miserable today?”
“I don’t,” William responded. “This is just my face.”
“Little different from your usual fare, isn’t it?” she asked, nodding toward William’s lunch.
“How do you mean?”
“It seems you usually just have a piece of fruit or something like that.”
“Yeah, well, piss off,” William said. “I’m having a bad day.”
Michelle sat down across from him. “Do you want to talk about it?” she asked in her French accent.
“No. I want to sit here and eat too much unhealthy food,” William said, putting another chip into his mouth.
“I’m not sure that’s going to make you feel any better,” Michelle said.
“That’s where you’re wrong. It will make me feel better in the short term, while I’m still eating. Sure, after that I’ll feel like crap, but until then, I have my good friend food to comfort me,” William said, smiling as he stuck another chip in his mouth. “Since, you know, we aren’t allowed to drink at work.”
“But, at the end of the day, you still end up feeling worse.”
“Right, but by then I’ll be able to drink, or find some other short term pick me up, like eating more junk. You see, that’s the way normal people function. We do something that makes us feel good in the short term, but feel worse long term. Then, because we’re feeling worse for it, we find something else that will make us feel good immediately despite the negative long term consequences, and the cycle repeats. And repeats, and so on.”
Michelle leaned forward and rested her chin on her fist. “That sounds like a miserable way to go through life.”
“Yeah, well, living is a miserable way to go through life,” William said, picking up his fork and breaking off the first piece of his fish. “Besides, I’ll break the cycle eventually.”
“Really? And when and how do you plan to do that?”
William shrugged. “I don’t know. By dying?” He put the fish in his mouth, chewed and swallowed. “Did you want something, or did you just come over here to hassle me about my eating habits?”
“Oh, right. I almost forgot,” Michelle said, sitting up in her chair. “The board is coming in today.”
“So? How’s that affect me? I’ll just keep my head down more than usual.”
“Which would normally work, except they want to hear from a salesman, and Norman wants you to do it.” Michelle looked across the desk and winced at William. “Sorry.”
“NO! No, no, no, no. Oh, fuck me,” William said, throwing his fork down, leaning back in his chair and hiding his face in his hands. “I hate the fucking board. They’re a bunch of sanctimonious cunts who sit around arguing about semantics and technicalities because in their warped minds being smart excuses the fact that they never actually accomplish anything.”
“True,” Michelle said, nodding sympathetically. “Though in their defense, what you just said basically describes the entire internet as well.”
“Not YouTube,” William said with a scowl on his face. “YouTube’s all about making racial slurs on videos of cats.”
“Well, like it or not, this afternoon you’re speaking to the board. Unless you’d like me to get you more fried food so you can try to eat yourself to death before then.”
“No,” Michelle said bluntly as she stood up from her seat. She started to walk past William’s desk, but paused. “You know, when I’m having a difficult day, I meditate. You should try it sometime. It really helps.”
“Thanks. Maybe I will.”
“Like try it now. Because I don’t think your day is about to get any better.”
“What do you mean…oh, fuck,” William said as he swiveled in his chair to face Michelle and saw Norman standing over him. He put on his biggest, phoniest smile. “Hi, Norman. And what can I do for you, today?”
Norman took a deep breath as he walked across William’s desk and sat down across from him. “Michelle told you about the board?”
“She did,” William said unnaturally joyfully, still with his fake smile and with a phony nod to boot.
“You can cut the crap, William. I know you don’t want to do it.”
“Then why are you making me? Is it because you hate me?”
“Partially,” Norman said, smiling with a nod. “No, of course not. And I hate to put you in this position, but you’ve been doing a good job lately, and have been here for a long while.”
“Don’t remind me.”
“So you’re one of my veteran guys, and an example of how this office is moving in the right direction. I need to make a good impression, and you seem like the best guy to put front and center for that,” Norman said. “Besides, it’s not something to worry about. They’ll just ask you some questions, and answer them the best you can. In a way that makes you and I look good, of course.”
Norman took a deep breath. “Normally I’d say yes, but things have been going well lately. I never thought I’d say this, but I think you can just go ahead and answer honestly.”
“Will do, bossman.”
“Good. See you in about an hour,” Norman said.
William looked across the desk and stared at Norman as he continued to sit there. He smiled and nodded, but Norman didn’t budge. “What is going on here?” William asked. “You’ve finished speaking, but you’re still sitting there. It’s customary to leave when you’re done our conversation. Have you forgotten how to leave?”
“I heard about Mrs. Stinger,” Norman said solemnly.
“Oh, fuck me,” William said.
“I just wanted to express my condolences, and let you know if there’s anything you need, just let me know.”
“Jesus Christ, she’s not my fucking mother,” William said, shaking his head. “Though, if I could take Friday off for the funeral, that would be great.”
Norman nodded slowly as he stood up. “Of course. Anything you need. If there’s nothing else, I’ll call you in when we’re ready for you.”