Sunday, April 04, 2010

A Story From An Old Notebook [by Anthony McCarthy]

Note: I don’t believe in predestination but this is something in one of my old notebooks, remembered night when my nieces were talking about a movie they’ve been to see, recently. I’d write it much differently today but... maybe, given the theme, I shouldn’t. You’ll notice I hadn’t settled on a name for the character yet. I think I’d meant it as part of a novella or the such.


grey, smoggy morning wasn’t unusual in a small, one factory town when that factory was a tannery. Every once in a while the stack would emit an evil line of black soot and an invisible vapor of some deadly sweet smelling esters filled the air. “Banana oil” some of the villagers called it. X knew that it wasn’t anything so innocuous. He remembered it from his childhood. It was something he associated with his bus ride into town for school, especially the first year. On this morning the chilly air wasn’t moving much and the low sun hadn’t broken through yet so the poison air hung over the downtown. He grimly thought it was fitting for what he was going to do.

X had driven there early and parked the car in front of the A&P store. He hadn’t been there in more than fifty years, it looked exactly the same as it had. Well, it would. It was exactly the same. Exactly.

He walked down the sidewalk towards the building, where the sub primary class was held. It was never called the kindergarten in his town. That was a rare instance of honesty. This downtown was no garden. He’d grown up away from the village, way out. The difference between the old, abandoned New England farms grown up to woods and here seemed so much more now than when he’d been a boy. He knew that would change in the coming years. The sub primary in the top floor of the Odd Fellow’s building was a sign of that. It had outgrown the one room in the elementary school since the war. The town had grown, now there were double classes for every grade, morning and afternoon sessions for the sub primary class

X walked around the corner, to wait at the side door of the building. He knew the bus would come about seven thirty. He tried not to think about what he was going to do.

The once familiar buildings looked different. The ugly ornate masonry facade on the Thompson building. Smaller than the stodgy, block lettering of the Odd Fellows, the biggest building here. He’d never been sure what the Odd Fellows were. Odd Fellows. Well, there was no one in the world who was odder than he was, than he had ever been.

He’d heard there had been illegal gambling up there before his time, as there was rumored to have been a brothel somewhere near. Come to think of it, he wondered if the room was rented in some shady deal between the Selectmen and the Odd Fellows, bribes paid. It was likely some of the Selectmen belonged to the organization. He’d never considered that possibility before. His mind went to other places in the town that would have been more appropriate. The old town hall had a field that would have been a good playground.

A freight train came through while he waited. It didn’t stop for passengers here anymore, It would carry them to the next town over for a few more years. Then it would only be a freight train. He watched till the blue Boston and Maine caboose went by. The only thing about the train that had any charm about it. Like the downtown, here, it was maintained for nothing so spiritual as beauty.

Finally, there was the sound of the bus as it came down the street, lumbering and shaking like it was made of cardboard. It slowed along the last hundred yards or so and stopped comfortably, though not gracefully in front of the door. X tensed, his breathing became shallower and faster. He told himself, do it now or you’ll have lost your chance. X knew he sat in the next seat from the back of the bus, it was his regular seat. A crowd of other children got off the bus first. X watched, vaguely familiar faces, through the wind shield. And there he was.

His eye fixed on the boy as he got off the bus to the exclusion of all the rest. This was the boy he had come for, a small, skinny, nervous, five years old. A homely, unattractive boy, though not unhealthy. He looked and felt the gun in his pocket against his leg. It was going to be hard, though he’d reasoned out that this was the only way to stop it and he didn’t have much time to do it.

But the boy was smiling today, smiling broadly. He’d never have expected that. He didn’t remember smiling much on the way into school. He knew he hated school, most days, he didn’t have friends, didn’t mix in well. He never would, he was homely and for some reason, no matter how carefully he dressed it all came unraveled. He had expected the boy to look miserable and that he’d be off on his own like he almost always was, but the noisy, excited knot of children he was in the middle of went straight inside the building and the opportunity was lost. The bus doors closed and it went on.

He’d have to wait till he came out to get back on the bus, there was no outdoor recess in this sub primary. He’d get closer to the door so he couldn’t miss him. Then he would shoot himself again. The phrase, “double suicide” went through his mind. The boy was him when he was five.

Read the rest of it.