A journal of narrative writing.
Page 4

The room was filled with a heavy silence as Jackie left. The hallway was dimly lighted with ocher-colored fluorescents. It was like walking in a dirty aquarium. He sipped some lukewarm water from a fountain. It tasted like green powder floor cleaner.

Jackie considered walking on out the door, skipping the formality of an official expulsion. It wasn't the first time his mouth had got him into trouble. He couldn't figure out whey he kept doing it. Maybe he didn't like school. His mom wanted him to go to college, but it didn't look like that was going to happen. This was his third expulsion, which meant an automatic month, which would end his year.

All because he couldn't keep his mouth shut.

He went into the office and sat in the lobby. When he saw Coach Greegson approach with a little spring in his step, Jackie stood. Coach took his arm and said let's go. Jackie stopped and looked at the fingers gripping his arm, then up at Coach's face. That's when he saw it. Coach was scared of him, not physically, but of that part of him he would never understand or control. Coach let go of his arm.

Mr. Sparkles sat hunched over a legal pad, his suit coat draped over the back of his chair. A thin patch of auburn and gray hair swirled like an ice cream cone over the brown spots on top of his head. One of Jackie's secrets was that he had always liked Mr. Sparkles, despite their disagreements. But he also knew that Coach, despite his almost perfect losing record, had support among a great number of fathers, many of whom had also had losing seasons with him. Coach Greegson had used consistent losing to bond together an entire generation. Mr. Sparks would fight Coach over a good cause. Jackie York was not a good cause.

“Our young friend here called me stupid, Jasper.”

Mr. Sparkles flinched at the use of his first name. He looked at Jackie. “Is that true?”

“Not directly, sir.”

“Son, son.”

Coach Greegson gave Jackie another of his metallic smiles and said, “That's not all. He smells like smoke.”

“What?” Jackie's mind raced. He didn't smoke, and it didn't matter if he did. Central High had a smoking area—the local tobacco industry saw to that. Then he remembered—the barrel, the smoldering Frank Yerby.

“Am I in trouble for smelling like smoke?”

“You may be facing arrest,” Coach said.

“For what, pray tell?”

“Oh, smart ass, you know what for.”

Jackie looked at Mr. Sparks. “Yes, sir, I called him stupid.”

Coach ignored Jackie. “Have you found out who tried to burn the shop building down, Jasper?”

“We're not even sure that what's happened,” Mr. Sparkles said. “A barrel near the shop building was set on fire and turned over. It could have been anyone, kids playing, bums.”

“Could have been attempted arson on the part of our little communist here, too.”

“Holy mackerel,” Jackie said.

Mr. Sparkles swallowed. “Did you try to burn the shop building down, Jackie?”

“You don't expect him to admit that, do you?”

“No, I did not,” Jackie said. “I would have started a fire in Coach Bullwinkle's office instead.”

“That's not very helpful, son,” Mr. Sparkles said.

“What is going to help this situation, sir?”

Jackie walked toward the door. Coach Greegson stepped into his path, blocking the door.

Jackie looked at Mr. Sparkles. “If you're not going to call the cops I'd suggest you tell J. Edgar here to get out of my way.”

“Get out of the way, Frank,” Mr. Sparkles said. “You're expelled for the year, son.”

Jackie walked on and didn't look back. He could have caught the cross-town bus but he felt like he would go crazy locked in a dusty container for an hour. He'd rather walk the three miles.

The day was warming up. The dogwoods would soon blossom and crocuses had begun to color the lawns of the little white houses. The farther from the school he got the more alive he felt. He had a book in his bag, another stack at home, and a library card.

The weekend job could turn into a full-time job. He could get his diploma next year at the community college and get into one of the state schools, if he saved his money.

By the time he got to Gary's he felt pretty good, except when he thought of having to tell his mother. She'd never get to attend one of her children's high school graduations.

Gary's door was open behind the screen. Jackie expected him to be at the courthouse. He tapped on the door and walked in. Gary was slumped on the sofa.

“How did it go?” Jackie asked.

“Seven to ten years,” he said.

“Holy shit,” Jackie said. “What a day.” He put A Love Supreme on the stereo. Coach will be happy, he thought.

It took him a minute to respond, then Gary said, “What's up with you?”

“I got kicked out of school.”


That was all they said about it. They talked about other things, walked to the store for beer, flipped the arm back on the stereo and listened to the same album over and over.

At four o'clock the traffic from the mills changing shift filled the street outside and through the window they watched the cars stop and start, driver's honk horns and shake fists. Near sundown the neighborhood kids started a game of kick-the-can in the building's parking lot. A mother leaned out of a window across the courtyard and warned them to stay out of the street.

At eight, Gary leaned his head on the sofa arm and fell asleep. Jackie lifted his legs onto the sofa, covered him with a sheet from the bedroom, and locked the back door behind him.

Downtown, the pool hall was full. A few cars full of students from Central cruised past, turned around at the branch bank, and cruised back by. A couple of students from the football team threw their hands up at Jackie, but most ignored him.

When he got to his block, Jackie climbed onto the bank by the street, where he could see his house, and watched cars whoosh past. They ground was dew wet, the night breeze carried a chill that reminded him of how early in the year it was.

When the lights went off in his house, he slipped down the slope and walked home. There was a plate of chicken and potatoes and green beans covered with an old bread bag on the table. He put it into the refrigerator.

“Jackie, is that you?” his mom called from her sofa bed in the living room.

“Yeah, mom.”

“There's food there.”

“I'm not hungry.”

“What's wrong?”

He leaned against the wobbly Formica kitchen table, his fingers curled around the metal rim along the edge. “We'll talk tomorrow, Mom. Wake me when you get up.”

“What is it, Jackie?”

“Mom,” he said, “why did you burn your books?”

“I don't know. Why does anybody do the things they do?”

“Night, Mom,” he said to the dark behind the kitchen wall.

“Night, son.”