BACK to the Main Index
BACK to The Blind Pig
BACK to the Previous Part
A View From the Fence
It's a hell of a yoke to bear.
And I have coped with it by bringing it out of the level of symbol. And into the level of man. To try and see each person involved, not as a symbol or a concept, but as a human being.
And that includes my father.
And it also includes me.
I blink placidly at the old concrete drainage pipe.
* * *
"There's something in there!"
"Something in there! In the pipe!"
"You're screwing me." I wander over to the Ditch, where Kim already is, peering intently into the sewage pipe. I look in. "I don't see anything."
"You're not looking, then. Look! Over there! Under that rock!"
I shake my head. "Nada, Kim. You're imagining stuff." I glance up at the flickering halogen streetlamp above. "It's getting late. I told my folks I'd be back in by 8:30. Can we just go?"
Kim keeps looking.
I start getting antsy. "Kim, my Dad is gonna kill me if I'm not back. I have homework yet to do tonight..."
She waits a moment longer, and then turns away. "Guess you're right." We start climbing back up the defile, and are almost to the edge when Kim whips back around at a faint noise, a muffled scritchy-echoey type thing. "Did you hear that?"
"No." I lie. "Can we..."
But she is back to the grating, straining to see.
"Kim!" I yell, petulantly. I am about to go down there and get her when I hear a sharp intake of breath.
"Christ on a crutch, Jay. It's Martens!"
"'Skippy'?" I inquire, walking idly down to her. "He wasn't in class today." Andrew 'Skippy' Martens misses class a lot. He has to. He's seeing a psychiatrist, rumor has it. Skippy was always a kind of twitchy kid, ever since he moved here in sixth grade. And, of course, a year ago, Skippy called in sick for about a month straight. And when he got back...
"Yes, Skippy, for cryin' out loud." Kim shouts into the tunnel. "Skippy! Is that you!"
Somewhere ahead, there is the feeble twitch of a ruined cord of flesh that might once have been Skippy's signature fluffy tail. "Oh my god." Remarks Kim. And she begins tugging at the grating.
"What the fuck is Martens doing in the drainpipe?"
"Would you shut up and help me with this, Jay?" She continues to tug at the grating. It's jammed in there pretty good, but it's not locked, so she'll probably eventually get it out. I'm not sure why she's bothering.
"You're going _in_ there?"
She stops tugging and rounds on me. "Jay, I think he's hurt!"
"Skippy bit the hell out of Coach Hyerson last week, Kim." I state. "He's not really 'all there' anymore."
She practically growls at me. "Hyerson cornered him in the wood shop with a ball-pean hammer, Jay. He got put on suspension, remember?"
"So?" I remark. "Skippy probably isn't in too much better of a mental state right now."
She stares at me, looking incredulous. "What the hell is your problem, Jay?"
"Nothing! But why are you trying to do this yourself? Go call the police or something."
"All right." She concedes. "I'll call the police. You try and get that grate out."
"I'm not going near him."
Kim yells at me, then. "We don't have time for this!"
"Then Go!" I yell back. Kim looks pissed. She goes. I'm guessing she's going to see if she can find a phone somewhere. Leaving me to watch over Skippy.
There is silence for a time.
"H...hullo?" comes a weak voice from the pipe. It's Skippy.
"Um. Hi, Skippy. It's J.R."
"Get me out of here." The voice is calm, collected, and obviously on the verge of breakdown.
"No can do, Skip. There's a grate in the way on this end."
"That's the way they got me in here in the first place. It's loose. Just pull it." Already, Skip sounds like he's losing his cool.
I go to the grate and give it a half-hearted tug. "Stuck." I say.
Skippy suddenly has a new realization. "Jesus Christ, J.R... I'm bleeding! Goddamn it, I'm bleeding!"
"It's gonna be okay, Skippy. Kim's off calling the police right now."
"You gotta help me, J.R. Fuck... look at this blood..." Skippy is sounding more and more twitchy, and that odd foxy whimper is creeping into his voice. I wince.
"Skippy, there's a goddamn grate here. I can't get in there. Just hang on and wait for the--"
"PULL ON THE GODDAMN GRATE, YOU MOTHERFUCKER! I'm bleeding... oh, Christ..."
For crissakes. If he's gonna be a bastard about it... "Skippy?"
"I'm gonna try to get this grate out, 'kay?"
"Just hurry, alright..." I don't know if it's my imagination, but Skippy is sounding a little weaker. I grit my teeth, grab the old grating with both hands, brace my feet against the embankment, and pull. It resists.
"Pull on it!"
"I'm trying, you little fuck," I gasp, through my exertions. "Keep your pants on."
Skippy complains a little more, but I shut it out. I'm pulling as hard as I can, and the grate is scraping against the concrete, but it's not coming free. I try pulling in jerks. One, two, THREE... One, two, THREE... One, two...
I pick myself up from off the ground. "Skippy? I got the grate out."
"W'nerful. C'dja please, like, help me?" In between dialogue, Skippy's making odd pained little whimpering noises.
"Hold on." I say. And I pick my way into the tunnel.
It's not a pretty sight.
Martens, or at least, that which I _assume_ is Martens, has been shoved rather mercilessly into a small side-alcove of the drainage pipe and has subsequently had several large bits of concrete rubble piled over him, pinning him down by one arm and both legs. Judging by the amount of blood staining the rocks about, this isn't the only thing that they did to him. A faint glimmer of sunlight from the tunnel mouth illuminates one side of Skippy's face, which bears little resemblance to anything I can remember of the geeky little fox-thing that replaced Andrew Martens one year ago.
"Jesus Christ, Skippy," I say, showing a complete lack of tact but a keen grasp of the obvious, "Your fucking face's been ripped off."
Skippy does not respond. His jaws are twitching at the open air, and he's gone all the way over to making weird animal noises. Skippy has gone bye-bye.
"Skippy! Stay with me here, bud. The cops are gonna be here any minute..."
Skippy does not acknowledge me. "Skippy!" I say again, louder this time.
"Skippy! You functioning there, kid? How's the brain?"
"Brain's... um... brain's fine, J.R. Resta me... um. Kinda shitty."
"I imagine. People'll be showing up soon." I say this last with a little bit of worry. Surely, Kim should have been able to find a phone by now... how long has it been? I haven't even been looking at my watch...
"J.R... I'm bleeding here. You gotta help me."
A bit of uncertainty creeps into my voice. "Whad'dya need?"
"Need... you to come in here... stop me from bleeding..."
"Ambulances are on their way, Skip..." I protest...
"You just gotta help me put pressure on it... at least clear the rocks away, or something..."
I don't move a muscle.
"Christ, J.R., get the fuck in here!"
I still don't move.
This is where time slows...
Okay. Everything we know about SCABS indicates that it is an airborne viral agent, right? That's what the people at the CDC say, at least. But let's just look at it, for a second. I mean, this is some sort of weird alien microbe that violates every principle we thought we knew about cellular stability, conservation of mass / energy, RNA / DNA / Protein interactions and... heck, we might as well just re-write the biology textbooks from scratch. And the people at the CDC are telling us that they understand this thing enough to tell us _precisely_ how it spreads? This is millions of years of completely alien evolution, here. It's like freaking Australia must have been to the Brit colonists. Worse. We're not even dealing with common ancestry here. And that stuff they say about _most_ of us being unaffected by the virus is a freaking joke, if you ask me. The Flu is coming up with new strains of itself all the time. Eventually, if we don't wipe it out first, It'll probably come up with a way to mutate the hell out of every man, woman and child on the planet. And yes, it principally may very well be an airborne pathogen. Hell, I'm probably more at risk just by being here in a semi-enclosed space with him. But who's to say that chances of exposure do not become exponentially greater with physical contact? Or worse, what about bodily fluids? People said you couldn't get AIDS from kissing someone, and _then_ they figured out if you had been doing something so insignificant as _flossing_ you were at risk because of the tiny lesions to the gum line. How do I know that I don't have a cut somewhere on my hand that I didn't even notice? That I can't even _see_? This is a really teeny microbe, here... it could get in through cuts I wasn't even aware of. Did I scrape my hand on the grate when I pulled it out? Most likely. What if Skippy loses it again and bites me? Geez, wouldn't have to have a tiny cut there. Big freaking open wounds. Not to mention... all... the... blood... around...
I realize that I have never touched Skippy Martens _once_ since he acquired SCABS one year ago. Not once.
I am _utterly_ paralyzed.
The one thought that keeps running through my head, over and over, on continuous feedback loop is, "Oh, god. I _don't_ want to end up like him."
"JESUS CHRIST, J.R.! HELP ME ST...t...t...."
Skippy's brain goes away again. He begins chewing at himself. It's not pretty.
No word escapes my lips. I can't move. I'm hardly breathing.
Oh, god. I _don't_ want to end up like him.
What would my Dad think...
* * *
"And I think that this community can learn an important lesson from the case of Andrew Martens. All in all, this was an extremely regrettable series of circumstances. First off, it is my opinion... and many others in this room share this opinion, I know... that Andrew Martens was _not_ in good psychological health after his bout with SCABS, and should not have been re-introduced so hastily back into the public school system. The intentions behind this decision were noble, granted, but in practice, it failed utterly. Many of Andrew's classmates have reported him engaging in socially inappropriate behaviors, both in and out of the classroom environment. These included, but were not limited to, indecent public exposure... the soiling of classroom facilities... incompatible social behaviors... and, of course, inappropriate physical behaviors towards his fellow students and the faculty, culminating in his attack on Mr. Hyerson last week. Mister Hyerson cannot be with us to--"
A voice from the seats. A woman stands. She's in her forties, lean and haggard looking, wearing a pair of glasses on a chain around her neck. "My son was _not_ at fault for that, Robert. You know very well that he was acting in self-defense."
The man at the podium makes a calming gesture. "Mrs. Martens. Please. Whether or not your son was provoked to violence is not really the issue here. The _issue_ is how he responded to that hypothetical provocation. Now, Mister Hyerson is a well-loved member of the Physical Education and coaching staff here at the school, and the precise events of the fourteenth have yet to be officially determined. But regardless of that eventual decision, it is important for us to remember that Andrew Martens responded to what _he_ perceived as a threat by lashing out with his teeth and claws against one of our faculty members. Is this sort of behavior a risk that we want to expose our student body to? After all, if one of our students came to school wielding a gun, or a knife, he would be asked to leave, yes?"
A few murmurs of assent from the assembled crowd.
"And yet, through an regrettable oversight on the part of the board, we have allowed a student who posesses not only a set of weapons equally dangerous, judging by the severity of Coach Hyerson's wounds when he was admitted to the Emergency Room on the fourteenth, but also the unbalanced mental state required to use such weapons in harmful, perhaps deadly, assault on what may be, in the future, extremely limited provocation. We _cannot_, in good conscience, as parents and educators, allow this state of affairs to continue. We cannot let _our_ children, the most precious of our commodities, be exposed to this violence. Edgerton is a _safe_ community. We have always prided ourselves on that. Ladies and Gentlemen, I work for the City government. And every day, when I drive into work, I see more and more atrocities that continue to flourish within the city limits that I am unable to correct, regardless of my efforts. And every day, when I drive home to my wife and my loving children, I am reassured that here, at least, in Edgerton, my children will be safe from some of the horrors I've seen in the City. We must keep Edgerton this way. We must keep Edgerton safe!"
The murmurs of assent become louder. Mrs. Martens calls out again. "You're talking about safety in Edgerton, Robert. Tell that to my son. He might _never_ recover from this!"
"Exactly." Says my father. "Exactly, Mrs. Martens. We need to keep Edgerton safe for _everyone._ 'Normal' and 'SCAB' alike. Your son is a tragic example of the decay that is already present in this community. And that is why I, and a number of other concerned parents here, are proposing mandatory home education for those children who are incompatible with the complex social ramifications of the public school system."
"At the Board's expense?" Inquires one of the more pragmatic School Board members.
My father smiles, gently. "No, Gordon. In actuality, to show my goodwill _for_ these victims, I, along with some of the other members of the community with whom I've spoken, am going to be setting up a trust fund _specifically_ dedicated to the home education of these 'special' children."
Mrs. Martens speaks again, utterly livid. "Robert, what you're proposing goes against over a century of civil rights legislation and base morality to boot. My son has the right to go to the public schools and not be _forced_ into becoming a quarantine case."
"I know how this must feel, Mrs. Martens. But I think if you take a moment, step back and take a rational look at this, you'll realize that this is the best solution on all fronts, both for Edgerton High and for your s--"
"I can't believe I'm hearing this!" Mrs. Martens turns to the assembled School Board. "I can't belive that you're letting him say this! I can't believe you're even listening to him!"
"Mrs. Martens," says the pragmatic Board-member who previously spoke, "Could we please try and keep the outbursts to a minimum?"
"I will _not_ keep anything to a minimum! We're re-entering the Dark Ages here! This suggestion deserves the outrage of everyone in this room, but I'm not seeing it! Nothing! From any of you! Don't you realize what this means?"
"I'm sorry you feel this way, Mrs. Martens." Says my father, the peacemaker. "Obviously, there's going to be some dissention, here. Mrs. Martens is vehemently opposed, and, I respect her opinions. But for the rest of you, who are still undecided as to what to believe on the issue of Andrew Martens's mental competency to continue public school, I'd like to ask my son, Jordan, to come up here."
The sick feeling enters my stomach again. My cue. I walk hesitantly up to the front of the auditorium to stand beside my father.
"My son, as most of you know, was one of the first to come across the aftermath of this tragedy. He witnessed Andrew's behavior at the scene of the attack first-hand. Jordan, if you would, tell the committee what you saw on the twenty-second."
I stammer a couple times. "Well. Um. Skippy was... like... trapped under some rocks. And... it... um... looked like he had tried to... um..."
I pause. My father looks at me expectantly, waiting for me to sock it to the viscera, just like he told me I should, when he invited me along to this meeting. Damn it. I don't want to do this. Skippy's mom is staring daggers at me. I can feel her hatred. But nothing, nothing is going to make me screw up...
...in front of Dad.
"He looked like he had tried to chew his own arm off." I hear the slight coughs, the intakes of breath, the mutterings. I think I'm going to throw up. "Maybe to get out from under the rocks, or something. I don't know. All I know is that, by the time the ambulances got there, he had practically chewed it all the way through."
"Like a fox in a trap." Finishes my father, driving the knife home.
I'm going to be sick. It's not just an expression. I can already feel it coming. I stumble away from my father's side and run clumsily up the aisle to the door.
Dad doesn't even follow, doesn't even leave the podium. Not even a check to see what's wrong. The last thing I hear before the auditorium doors slam shut behind me is Dad's mesmerizing voice, saying, "As you can see, the sight of this disturbed my son very profoundly..."
* * *
I realize after a few moments that I've closed my eyes. I'm not exactly sure why. The pictures are all inside my head, now. Looking away can do no good. And I can't forget. I mustn't forget.
Skippy lived. That much is good, at least. Unfortunately, he never was able to really take advantage of the SCABS Home Education Fund that my father and his associates dutifully set up when the Board near-unanimously voted to accept his proposal. Skippy was pretty far gone. Last I hear, his parents were working hard just to get him back to basic human cognitive capabilities. Something about him just snapped that day.
Skippy's mom protested the Board's decision, threatening to take legal action and to bring it all the way to the level of the Supreme Court, if needed, to insure the rights of the other SCAB children of Edgerton to have a government-sponsored public school education. She never made it that far. Every action she took was faced with a curious lack of sympathy wherever she tried to go. Moreover, she was mysteriously and inexplicably fired from her job, and to top it all off, her home was extensively vandalized. Many of the marks of vandalization bore the tell-tale White Circle of the Edgerton branch of the Humans First movement. Whether or not my father was responsible for any of this, or all of this, I do not know and can not say. Yet another one of those things that no-one ever talked about.
I keep thinking about Skippy. I mean, he was pretty rational there, right when he started out. Maybe if I had got to him before he realized how badly he was bleeding... maybe if I had gone right to his side, lain my jacket over him, helped him bind his wounds a little... pulled some of the rocks off him... all just little things, really, nothing more than the professionals would have done in a matter of minutes when they eventually showed up. Maybe, in those few critical moments, what Skip's dangerously fragile sanity needed was to have the absolute and concrete certain-sure knowledge that, yes, there was someone there that cared about him and that things were going to be okay.
In short, maybe if Kim would have been there, things would have turned out differently.
Kim is a whole 'nother can of worms. But we'll get to that. One sin at a time, Jay. One sin at a time.
With one last glance towards the drainage pipe and Rohmer Auditorium silhouetted behind, I climb up the steep rocky slope of the Ditch and out into the sunset Field beyond.