Monday, April 28th, 1980
Across the street from the subdivision in which they lived, the children waited for the school bus. The unfinished subdivision had opened recently and, without roads, sidewalks, or lawns, the almost identical townhouses were marooned in mud and connected by wooden-planks. The clearing, where the children gathered, was uneven and muddy and, like the subdivision itself, had only recently been carved out of the farmer’s fields and light woodlands surrounding Ottawa. A large sign erected by the developers announced in neat black letters that the land would soon be developed. White but for its letters, the sign was wet with dew. A boy threw a rock at it for no other reason, it seemed, than to break the monotony.
Desmond stood near a group of boys, sucking on a cheery Lifesaver, waiting for the candy to be thin enough to break with a push of his tongue through its centre-hole. His chin was low and his gaze was fixed across the street on a one-way sign. To his left, there was a large pile of sod that had been left a week ago. Between its high stacks, a narrow cavern emanated an earthy stench. A scruffy-haired boy moved toward it and passed through Desmond’s gaze. The candy broke and its cracked sharp edges made a tangy sweet pain on his tongue. Desmond smiled, enjoying the pinch.
A tall boy stepped from the group and pointed a finger at the scruffy-haired boy. “I dare you to go in.”
“No way. It smells gross.” The scruffy-haired boy scrunched up his nose. “I dare you to go in.”
“I dared you first.”
“So what, I dared you second.” The scruffy-haired boy leaned forward over his right leg towards the tall boy. With his left hand, he pulled hair out of his eyes and pushed it behind his ear. “If you love grass so much, why don’t you go in?”
“I don’t love grass.” The tall boy leaned forward from his waist, with his hands on his hips and his chin out towards the other. “You’re the one who loves grass.”
An older boy, the same age as the tall one, punched Desmond on the shoulder. “Give me a Lifesaver, Des.”
Desmond’s right hand went into his pocket and he looked up to the older boy’s eyes. “Not a red one, though.”
“Red’s my favourite.”
“I gave you a red yesterday.”
“You didn’t say it was a trade.” Desmond’s hand remained in his pocket. “If you said it was a trade, I’d have to give you a red one today but you didn’t make it a trade so I don’t have to.”
“Doesn’t matter, even if it is.”
The older boy shifted his weight to his right foot, which was a little behind the left. His neck, head, and eyes rolled in the direction of his shifted weight. He put out his left hand and wiggled his fingers, looking away at nothing in particular. “Just give me the pack.” His left toe raised and then dropped to the ground. “I’ll take whatever’s on top.”
“No way.” Desmond stepped back, turned his body away, and looked over his shoulder at the older boy.
“Only if you promise not to take a red one.”
“I promise, I won’t take one.”
“A red one.” Desmond turned more of his back towards the older boy. “Promise you won’t take a red one.”
“Okay. A red one.”
“Say it all.”
The older boy pushed his right shoulder up so it touched where his chin and ear met. He shook his head a little and sighed loudly. “Okay. Okay. I promise I won’t take a red one.”
Desmond faced the older boy and stepped towards him, removing his hand from his pocket. “Remember, you promised.” He placed the little rainbow coloured package in the palm of the older boy’s outstretched hand. The older boy picked at the bunched-up paper at one end and revealed a red candy.
“It’s the first one.”
“Doesn’t matter. You promised.”
The older boy looked at Desmond, shrugged his shoulders, and pulled out the red candy. He took the next candy — a yellow one — and put it into his mouth. The red went back into the space where the yellow had been and the excess packaging was slowly and deliberately folded over. When he was finished, he held the candy out in the palm of his hand. He looked at it, at Desmond, and again at the candy.
Desmond lunged. “Give it back.” The older boy pulled his hand away, closed the candy into a fist, and raised it above his head. With his other hand, he held Desmond back, pushing into the base of his collar bone.
“I promised not to take a red one.” The older boy backed away and Desmond stumbled forward. “I didn’t promise to give them back.”
Desmond lunged again at the older boy’s raised fist. “You have to give it back.” His eyes locked on the hand with the candy. “They’re mine.”
“Sure, they’re yours.” With a sudden movement, the older boy was past Desmond and next to the sod cavern. “I’m not taking them.” He made a quick underhanded motion. “Only I’m not giving them right back to you is all.” He turned, smiled, and made an after-you-motion towards the darkness.
Desmond stood still and looked where the older boy had motioned. The back of his eyes began to burn. His shoulders rolled forward and his chin fell. “You have to give things back.” He looked up at the older boy. “You don’t have to say so.”
“You didn’t make me promise to give it back.” The older boy smiled and gave his shoulders a short deliberate shrug. “All I promised was not to take a red one.”
“Give them back, please.” Desmond motioned, without looking, at the sod. “You have to.”
“I might get them back for you.” The older boy’s hands were on his hips, his face turned away, and he watched Desmond out of the corner of his left eye. “If you promise to give me the red one.”
“No way.” Desmond’s eyes hardened and he raised his chin. “You’re only trying to break your promise.”
“So what?” The older boy shrugged his shoulders. He moved away from the sod and came close to Desmond.
“You’re not getting your Lifesavers back unless you promise to give me a red one.”
“No.” Desmond stepped back with his right foot and transferred his weight to it. He rubbed the small of his back with the top of his wrist and forearm. “No way.”
“You better go get them then.” The older boy smiled over Desmond towards the tall boy. “If someone else goes in there and finds them, it’s finders-keepers.”
“No, it’s not. No, it’s not.” Desmond turned around to face the others and pointed at the sod. “It’s not finders-keepers. They’re my Lifesavers. Everyone saw.”
The tall boy in front of the group cleared his throat dramatically. “I didn’t see anything and I might go in now.” He looked over his left shoulder and smiled at the boys behind him. “If someone dared me.”
“No. They’re mine.”
“Mine what?” The tall boy turned into Desmond’s eyes and took a step towards him. “What am I going to find?” He put a confused look on his face and twisted his head at the end of his neck. “All I’m saying is if I got dared, I’d go in.” He looked up, past Desmond, to the older boy who had taken the candy. “But, if I did find anything, it’d be mine.”
“See Des.” Desmond turned around. The older boy’s face and smile were very close. “If you want those Lifesavers, you better go get them quick before someone else does.”
Desmond looked at the older boy and then at the cavern. “I don’t want to go in there.” He punched the sides of his legs with the butts of his fists.
“It looks like you’re going have to.” The older boy stood up straight. “Unless you promise to give me a red one.”
“So, what are you going to do then?”
Desmond rubbed his forehead with his left hand and his bum with his right and stared at the dirt in front of the older boy’s sneakers. Slowly, his shoulders went up towards his ears and fell abruptly.
The older boy’s eyes rolled and he shook his head. “Hurry up and decide. The bus is going be here soon.”
The tall boy brushed past Desmond and moved towards the sod. “I feel like exploring. Anyone want to dare me?”
“No!” Desmond bolted ahead of him. “I’ll go. I’ll go. I’ll go.” He hesitated at the edge of the cavern and then entered.
“What are you crying for?” The older boy stepped back from the cavern’s entrance, with his hands on his hips. Desmond walked past him.
“I threw up.”
“So what?” The boy flicked his hands out and they slapped back against his thighs. “Why cry about it?”
“I don’t know.” Desmond tasted two different flavours of salt: one from the tears and the other from the snot.
“You’re such a cry-baby.” The older boy crossed his arms. “You cry all the time. About everything.”
“You made me go in there.” Desmond felt his arms hanging at his sides and he turned away from the other boys.
“You didn’t have to go in.” The older boy pointed at the sod with his left hand.
“You threw my Lifesavers in.”
“No, I didn’t, stupid. They’re right here.” The older boy held out his other hand and the little wrapper of candy was in his palm. The tall boy laughed. There were other laughs and Desmond’s face felt hot.
The older boy turned, stepped away from Desmond, sighed loudly, and then turned towards him again. “You’re a baby for throwing up and stupid for falling for it.”
“You made me.”
“I didn’t make you.” The older boy held the candy with his thumb and index finger and moved it back and forth in front of Desmond’s face. “You can’t say I made you, when I never threw the candy in there.”
“Yes, I can.” Desmond’s eyelids fluttered, a tear rolled off his cheek, and he watched it hit the ground.
“No you can’t.” The older boy pointed at himself and slowly turned the point towards Desmond. “You didn’t make me promise the right way. So, it’s your fault.” He poked Desmond’s shoulder forcefully.
“You started it.”
The older boy opened his arms wide, leaning closer into Desmond. “I wouldn’t have started it, if I knew you were stupid enough to fall for it.”
Desmond opened his mouth to speak but his chest heaved and sucked air through the snot in his nose and the saliva in his mouth. “I’m telling, Mom.”
“No, you’re not.”
Desmond hit the ground on his bum and he fell back onto his elbows. His cheeks became wetter. The older boy stood over him and Desmond did not look up.
“Take your stupid Lifesavers.”
Desmond felt a soft bump on his chest and he heard the older boy walk away. He took the candy from his lap, put it in his pocket, and stood up. He did not speak. The boys stopped watching him and started to talk again. Desmond looked at the ground and tried to stop the tears.
The children stood up to sing “O Canada” and then they bowed their heads to say the “R Father.” At the end of the prayer, before the teacher told them to, Desmond moved to the carpet and sat down cross-legged in his favorite spot.
Kindergarten always started the same way each day.
The teacher moved away from her desk and stood beside the big pad of paper she wrote on with markers. The teacher smiled at them. She had a stack of large cards in her hands. She mixed them and Desmond saw coloured pictures of fruits and vegetables.
“Qu’est que c’est?” She held up a card with the picture showing. Hands raised quickly.
“It’s an apple.”
“Claire!” The teacher had an angry face. “Leve ta main, s’il tu plait. Et parle en français.” Her eyes were hard at the girl. The teacher smiled again. “D’accord. Qu’est que c’est?”
Hands went up. The girl’s hands stayed in her lap, on her skirt, in the space between her legs. Her eyes looked at the carpet beyond her feet and her fingers worked at a little piece of thread on her dress. Desmond looked from her to the card the teacher held.
The teacher tilted her head abruptly towards the boy. Her smile was big and bright. “Bien.” The card was placed behind the stack and a banana was revealed. “Qu’est que c’est.”
“Oui. Mais, c’est tres facile.”
Desmond repeated the word quietly to remember it.
Desmond punched the inside of his knee with the butt of his fist and frowned at the picture on the card. He closed his eyes and repeated the French and the English word over and over again inside his head.
“Desmond.” The teacher’s voice was loud and sharp.
He opened his eyes and the teacher was being angry at him. She covered the card with her hand.
“Qu’est que c’est?” Her voice was hard and Desmond felt it.
“I can’t see.”
“En français, Desmond.”
“Pardon, Mademoiselle. Je ne peux pas voir”
“Je ne peux pas le voir.”
Desmond repeated her words quietly.
“Had you been paying attention, Desmond, you would have seen the card and, perhaps, known the answer.” When the teacher spoke English in the French part of the day, it meant she was very angry. “Je suggère que tu paye plus près l’attention et participes plus activement comme les autres étudiants.”
“I closed my eyes because I was …” The teacher was angrier and Desmond shut his mouth quickly. His teeth clicked together.
“Mes yeux est — non, était — ferme parce que.” Desmond stopped. He did not know the words for what he wanted to say and the teacher’s stare made it harder. He looked from her to the carpet and its different coloured threads. There was a long silence.
“Une autre?” The quiet was all around him. “Oui, Claire.” The teacher’s voice was no longer angry.
“Oui. Excellent, Claire.”
Desmond let his head hang and only raised his eyes to see the new cards. He left his eyes open when he repeated the words in his head. He didn’t raise his hand, even when he knew the answer.
A sound like squealing car tires came from the back of Desmond’s throat. He ran around the corner of the portable quickly and the dirt slipped underneath his Battlestar Galactica sneakers. He threw himself up against the aluminum siding of the portable and made a gun out of his hand. He looked to his right and saw two girls walking in his direction. He looked left, peeking around the corner to see if anyone had chased after him.
Something wet, warm, and soft pushed against his right cheek. He smelt girl and realised he was being kissed.
“Gross.” Desmond pulled away from the girl, twisting, and jumping.
“You’re it!” She squealed and pointed a finger at Desmond.
“What are you doing?”
“No, I’m not.”
“Yes, you are.”
“No, I’m not.” Desmond took another step away from the girl. He scrunched up his face in reaction to the warm wet he still felt on his cheek. “Girls don’t play tag.”
The girl who kissed him put her hands on her hips, raised her nose in the air, and smiled. “Today, we do.”
The other girl was quiet.
“Says who?” Desmond pushed his cheek into his raised shoulder and twisted his head to wipe off the remnants of the kiss.
“The other boys.”
“They did not.”
“Did too. They said we could play if one of us would be it.” She stepped back onto her right leg and her hip jutted out. “That’s the rule for joining late. I said I’d be it and so now you’re it.”
“Well, why didn’t you tag her?” Desmond threw his hands in the direction of the other girl. “You were walking right next to her.”
“I wanted to tag you.” She pressed her chin into her left shoulder and smiled.
“You can’t do that.” Desmond scrunched up the left side of his face, stuck out his tongue a little, and shook his head. “You are suppose to tag whoever you can.”
“When you boys play, you pick on one boy all the time.” She made the same face he had made. “I’ve seen you.”
Desmond slapped her shoulder and moved away quickly. The girl flinched but did not move.
He laughed from a safe distance. “You’re it.”
“No, I’m not.” Her eyes were hard. “You’re still it.”
“I tagged you, stupid. Now, you’re it.”
“No, you’re it, stupid.” She leaned forward at her waist and twisted her head on the end of her neck. “We’re playing kissing tag.” She straightened up. “You have to kiss someone to make them it.”
“Kissing tag.” Desmond felt funny in his stomach. “We’re not playing that. That’s stupid.” He swatted the air in front of him. “I tagged you. You’re it.”
“No. I’m not.” She shook her head and made a thin hard smile. “You have to kiss one of us to get not-it.”
“That’s stupid. I’m not playing like that.” Desmond put his hands into his pockets. “I’m playing tag. Normal tag. I’m not kissing you or her.” He motioned with his chin at the other girl standing by quietly.
“You have to.”
The girl’s lips twisted up and her eyes became very hard. She stepped towards him. “You can always kiss one of the boys.”
Desmond rolled his eyes, turned, and ran from the girls around the corner of the portable.
The boys stood together in the sand pit and Desmond jogged to a spot in front of them, leaving a distance between him and them. “Who said the girls could play?”
A couple of the boys giggled, but no one answered.
His head fell to the left and he sighed. “Can’t we play normal tag?” He looked above them to the right.
“They wanted to play. So we let them.” There were more giggles.
“I don’t care if they play but can’t it be normal tag? It won’t be as fun. There are only two girls and, if a boy is it, we’ll have to kiss them and the other boys will stand around until one of the girls gets kissed. It’s happening already.” He opened his arms at the semi-circle of boys. “It won’t be as fun.”
“Des is it. Des is it.”
Desmond looked towards the voice and saw the girls come out from around the portable. “No I’m not.”
“Yes, you are.” The girl’s voice was closer. “Which of the boys are you going to kiss?”
Desmond turned back to the boys. “See, this is stupid.” He raised his left hand toward the boy who had spoke.
“Why don’t you kiss her?” The boy had a hard smile on his face. “She wants you to.”
“So?” Desmond’s hand dropped. “So what?”
“She likes you.”
“No, she doesn’t.” He straightened his back and put his left hand into his pocket. “Besides, nobody likes her. Not even the girls. That’s why she’s trying to play with us.”
“Shut up.” The girl’s voice was close behind him.
Desmond looked over his shoulder in the girl’s direction. “No, you shut up.”
The other boy stepped towards Desmond, leaning forward with his palms up and out. “Are you scared or something?”
“Yeah.” The girl’s voice was now directly behind Desmond. “Are you scared?”
Desmond moved away from the girl’s voice and the eyes of the boys. “I’m not playing anymore.” Dirt and rocks scrapped loudly under his shoes. “I quit.”
“You can’t quit when you’re still it.”
“I can if it’s kissing tag.” Desmond’s other hand went into his pocket. He stared at the grass as he walked. A boy called after him but Desmond continued on. There were laughs and then the sound of running. The game had resumed.
“Très bien, Desmond. Parfait. Tu gagne une prix.”
Desmond stood in front of the class and the teacher looked at him with kind bright eyes. The other kids sat in front of him, cross-legged, in neat rows, watching. Some of them smiled; some of them frowned; most of the faces were blank.
The teacher turned to her left and bent at the waist. She opened one of her desk’s big drawers. When she straightened, he saw she had a small green plastic flower pot. In the pot, there was soil and a small plant growing. “Tu gagne une plante. Parce-que les fruits et les légumes viennent des plantes. Félicitations, Desmond.”
Desmond realised the last card had been shown and he had said all the words correctly. He moved, thinking he should sit, and then he stopped, thinking he should continue to stand.
“Tu peux la prendre avec toi à la fin du jour.” The teacher placed the flower pot by the cup with all of her pens. “Je la garderai ici, sur mon bureau, où tu peux la voir.”
“Très Bien, Desmond.” She motioned with her hand, one finger outstretched. “Asseyez-toi.” He returned to his spot in the neat rows. He watched the plant, as another boy walked to the front of the class.
The girl lead Desmond and two other boys up the grassy hill behind the portable. Up top, there were bushes and, between them and the fence, a hidden spot where they could all fit. She stopped in front of the bushes instead of going right in.
“There’s a new rule.”
The girl turned towards the boys and her floral print skirt moved on her thighs. The three boys formed a little group a pace or two away from her. They looked at each other and giggled.
“Yes. From now on.” Her eyes flickered. She stopped looking at them and instead looked in their direction. “If you want to look. If you want to come in. You have to promise to be my friend.” She looked at the boys again, from one face to another and then back again. Her eyes moved quickly.
Desmond felt something different from the nervousness of wanting to see what she was going to show. He looked to the other boys to see if they felt the same way but neither of them looked at him.
“Promise to be your friend?” It was the boy closest to Desmond and he spoke like the girl was stupid.
Desmond rubbed the hair on the back of his head and looked at the buckle on the girl’s shoe. “What does that mean?”
“If.” Her eyes flickered and she wasn’t looking at them again. “If someone asks you, you have to say you’re my friend. And I can tell the other boys and girls you’re my friends. And you can come here to look.”
“We need to say that you’re our friend.” The other boy — to Desmond’s left — said it so everyone remembered no one liked her.
“But.” The closer boy — to Desmond’s right — looked at Desmond for the first time. “We don’t have to do anything but say you’re our friend.” A smile appeared on his face. “We can still come and look. And, as long as we say you’re our friend, we don’t have to do anything else different.”
“No. You don’t have to do anything else different.”
“But.” Desmond looked from the boy on his right to the boy on the left. “It would be different only to say it — different than if it were real.” The words sounded different than what he had meant to say.
The boy on the left looked at his feet and crossed his arms tightly in front of him. “People would still think we’re her friend.”
The boy on the right nodded and smiled at Desmond. “Just because we say so doesn’t mean we have to be.”
“But.” Desmond wanted to say what he had said again because he had not said it properly. “But.”
“No.” The girl’s voice sounded like the teacher’s and her eyes went hard. “You can’t tell them both things. You have to say we’re friends. You can’t say you’re only saying we’re friends.”
“That’s another rule. That’s different.”
“No, it’s not different. It’s part of the same rule.”
“Why says you?”
“Because it’s mine what you want to see.”
The boy stared at her. Then, his gaze softened and he shrugged his shoulders.
“But.” Desmond wanted to say it again differently but he couldn’t get it out.
“That’s the rule.” The girl’s eyes flickered and Desmond felt like he wasn’t there. “Who’s coming in? Who’s going to be my friend?”
The boy on Desmond’s left shuffled his feet. The boy on Desmond’s right was still.
“Who wants to come in. To see.”
The boy on the left crossed his arms and looked at Desmond. “I’m not doing it, if you two aren’t.”
Desmond frowned and didn’t say anything. He liked what he had seen before but he didn’t like pretending either.
The boy on Desmond’s left looked towards the other boy. “I said, I’m not doing it, if you two aren’t.”
The other boy shrugged his shoulders. “I will.”
The boy on Desmond’s left looked relieved and the girl watched Desmond’s eyes.
“No.” Desmond stepped away from her. “I won’t pretend.” He looked to the boy on his right and then to the boy on his left. They were both looking at him. “Even if you pretend not to know, I’m not pretending.”
The girl looked hurt and then her face went blank. “So what? Who cares if you won’t.” She pointed at the two other boys. “I have them to show anyway.”
The boy who had been on Desmond’s right made an angry face. “Yeah. Who cares what you say?” The other boy said nothing.
Desmond rubbed the top part of his right arm with his palm, slowly, up and down. His eyes started to burn and he frowned to hold back the tears. He heard the wind in the leaves and the insects in the bushes.
Desmond turned and ran down the hill. His knees jarred and it was difficult to keep his balance. He didn’t want to be there to watch them go into the bushes.
The teacher stood at the front of the class, with her fingers interlaced in front of her. “Children, take out your pencils, erasers, and printing notebooks.” She wore a dark sweater over a long dress with flowers on it.
She smiled at Desmond. He liked to practice printing, to practice making the same letter over and over again in neat rows between the lines on the page.
The teacher pointed at a large sheet of paper taped to the black board. “Start with the capital letter A. Do a full line, then switch to B. And so on, until you finish the page.” The paper showed how the children should fill the pages in their books. The teacher’s printing was perfect.
Desmond took out his book and opened it and was excited to see he could start a fresh page. He filled the first line with As and stopped to check what he had done. The first A was good, the next two a little messy, and the last three were almost perfect. He started on the Bs. He liked the bounce of making the two bumps all at once.
A finger appeared near his pencil, surprising him, and he ruined one of his Bs.
“Sorry, Desmond. I didn’t mean to startle you.” The teacher’s voice was quiet and only for Desmond to hear. She put a warm hand on his left shoulder. “Watch to make sure your capital letters go right to the top.” He looked to where she pointed and he saw a space between the line and the top of his A. “Also, make sure the middle of the bumps touch the main line.” He saw a space there, too. “You are doing well, but take your time.” She squeezed his shoulder. “You don’t need to hurry.”
Desmond nodded without looking up and concentrated on making the letters perfect. He wanted to make as many perfect letters as he could before the time was up.
Desmond was half way through a row of Ls when a boy made a funny noise. Another boy, across the room, answered with his own funny noise. There were giggles from around the classroom.
Then, a boy at Desmond’s table tagged another boy who sat next to him. “You’re it.” That boy slapped the boy next to him, who was still trying to print, on the shoulder. “No, you’re it.”
The tagged boy groaned loudly and bolted after the boy who had tagged him. “I’ll get you.” The giggles in the classroom turned into laughter.
Desmond was tagged next but he did not try to tag the boy back. The boy who had tagged Desmond stood watching, breathing heavily, out of arm’s reach. “Come on, Desmond.” The boy motioned towards himself with his arm. “You’re it.”
“No, I’m not.” Desmond shook his head and frowned.
The boy raised his eyebrows and put his hands on his hips. “You have to be it if you’re tagged.”
“What if I don’t want to play?”
“You don’t want to play?” The boy looked surprised. “Why not?”
“I don’t want to.”
“Oh.” The boy raised his chin and lowered it. “You don’t want to start playing being it.” The boy shrugged and sighed. “Fine. I’ll stay it.” He motioned again with his hand towards himself. “Come on, play.”
“If I wanted to play, I’d play by the rules.” Desmond leaned forward and looked up at the boy. “I don’t want to play — that’s all.” He narrowed his eyes and squished up the left side of his face. “Playing tag in class is stupid.”
“No, it isn’t.” The boy frowned and shook his head. “It’s fun.”
“No, it’s stupid.” Desmond looked at his sneakers and then up at the boy. “There isn’t enough room. And.” He looked down and then up again. “You’re only going to get in trouble anyways. So, I don’t want to.”
“So what if it is.” Desmond sat up straight in his chair, pulling his head back and to the left. “You’re still it. I’m not playing.”
The boy made a sound with his mouth, rolled his eyes, and shook his head. He turned away, lunged at another boy who had come close to taunt, and tagged him.
The boy who had been tagged chased a different boy, who escaped around to the other side of a table. When the boy-who-was-it went one way around the table, the chased-boy went the other way. When the boy-who-was-it changed directions, the chased-boy did as well. The distance between them remained the same.
Two of the girls at the table giggled, but the other three were annoyed. The chasing interfered with their printing.
All of a sudden, the boy-who-was-it changed the pattern of his movement and the chased-boy followed the old pattern he had expected, accidentally shortening the distance between them. He reacted awkwardly, stumbled when he tried to go the other way, and was tagged.
“No fair.” The boy pointed at the girl nearest to him. “One of the girls got in the way.”
One of the girls who had been giggling faced the boy and scrunched her nose at him. “Serves you right for playing around us.” She snapped her head away, her hair flicked, and she smiled at her giggling friend.
The boy stuck his tongue out at her.
Another boy approached and he leaned his head towards the boy who was it. “Somebody’s got a girlfriend.”
The girl made a shocked face, her friend giggled, and the accused boy tried to tag his accuser. The tag was easily avoided. The accuser fled and the accused ran hard after him. A chair was knocked over in the pursuit.
Desmond was bored of watching. He got on his hands and knees and crawled under the desk. The carpet had a bad smell and the sun, pouring in through the windows, was blocked by the desk. He slithered out from under the desk, between the legs of his yellow plastic chair, and lay beneath it on his back.
The sun felt good on his face and he liked the strangeness of lying there with the other children running around. Looking at the ceiling, he saw flashes of them, as they ran around above and near him. In the noise and movement, he felt quiet and still.
A girl stood over him, looking down. She moved forward and he was underneath her dress. Her underwear was close-fitting between the shape of her legs and white, with little specks of different colours. The air was soft and yellow-white. He smelt something all the way through him into his stomach and tingles moved everywhere across his skin. The floor thumped, as if from far away.
The teacher’s voice was angry, loud, and hard. “I am very, very disappointed children.” Her arms were folded tightly in front of her. The children were at their desks, with their heads down. “I only stepped out of the room for a minute. No more than a minute. I should be able to leave you alone for a minute.” Her arm moved quickly and she pointed. “Eyes down, Desmond.”
Desmond hid his eyes back under his arm. He smelt pencil and eraser on the top of his desk.
“For fifteen minutes, you’ll keep your heads on your desk and think about what you did wrong today.” Her voice travelled around the room. “And, if I hear any noise — so much as a peep — the fifteen minutes will start again. I want fifteen minutes of complete silence. Not a sound. And there will be no afternoon cookie. For anyone.”
A boy groaned.
“Quiet.” Her voice bounced against the walls. “Be quiet.”
Desmond stopped listening. He blocked out the teacher’s voice by pushing the sides of his arms into his ears. With his head down and his eyes closed, it was easier for him to see what he had seen. By seeing it in his head, he could make the feeling return.