HiLobrow is proud to present the twelfth installment of Robert Waldron’s novel The School on the Fens. New installments will appear each Saturday for thirty-eight weeks. CLICK HERE to read all installments published thus far.
With its window shades pulled down, the Thompson home looked sad and somber. Iris and I had enjoyed many happy evenings here with Bill and Eileen. A beautiful Colonial home graced with spacious rooms and high ceilings, ideal for entertaining. Bill boasted that they did not build houses like his anymore, so substantially solid that if you sneezed, you were not heard from cellar to attic as in the “new and better” homes now being constructed in Boston.
After the third ring, Eileen opened the door.
“John, what a pleasant surprise!” she said, pecking me on the cheek. She had short hair, a slim figure, and hazel eyes framed by fans of crow’s feet.
Boxes were strewn everywhere and much of the furniture was draped in sheets.
“Excuse the mess. I’m moving to Florida to be near my oldest daughter Janet.”
“A drastic move, isn’t it?” I said, sorry to lose her to such distance.
“Too many memories here,” she said, leading me into the kitchen. “I see Bill everywhere, and if I don’t move on, I’ll be mourning for the rest of my life.”
While she made sandwiches and brewed fresh coffee, we reminisced about Bill and the good times. We recalled the night we had seen Vanessa Redgrave in Chekhov’s The Three Sisters at the American Repertory Theater. After the play, under autumn trees, we sauntered our way down Brattle Street in a Chekhovian melancholy to the Harvest. Our dessert just arrived when Miss Redgrave and her escort entered the dining room to sit down at the table right next to us.
Eileen carried a tray into the den, and we sat down.
“Eileen, I hope you don’t mind,” I said, “but I have to discuss Bill’s mark book with you.”
“Funny you mention it,” she said, “Miss Murkin telephoned me about it, but I haven’t a clue where it is. Bill submitted his grades before his accident. Why the fuss?”
I explained Tim’s dilemma. Our eyes connected, and I knew something troubled her.
“For over a month before Bill’s death, we hadn’t a full night’s sleep because of those phone calls.”
Tears welled in her eyes.
“I’m convinced it’s got something to do with —”
Her hands were trembling so much so she had to set her coffee cup down.
“I haven’t told anyone, John, but —”
“What is it, Eileen?”
Taking a deep breath, she said, “Bill walked in on Farrell and Tim having sex. I tried to get Bill to report it to the school committee, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it.”
Tears gushed from her eyes, and I handed her my handkerchief.
“Eileen, this should have been reported,” I said, trying hard to banish from my mind’s eye the image of Tim and Farrell having sex.
“I argued for weeks with Bill, but he said it came down to his word against theirs. See, it was consensual — and if he said anything, they both said they’d deny it.” With an unsteady hand, she poured coffee into my cup.
“Bill should’ve retired,” she said. “If he had, he’d be alive today. He hated confrontation, and he would pay the price later with his ulcers and blood pressure. God, he was too good for that goddamn school.”
She raised her hands to her face and sobbed.
“I urged him to report it,” she continued, “but he insisted that it would be a waste of time. Or Farrell would somehow twist everything around, and Bill would become the victim. And he was a victim, wasn’t he?”
“John, when I tell people about what an awful place Classical is, they don’t believe me.”
“It’s hard for people to face reality.”
“Timothy has the upper hand, doesn’t he? I mean he’s a minor, and he could get Farrell into a lot of trouble.”
“Tim and Farrell, my God, I can’t believe it. You think you know someone but —”
I had never thought Farrell was gay, nor Tim for that matter. Farrrell had a girlfriend for years. As for Tim: his drunken escapade at the prom last year now began to make sense, as well as his recent cryptic remarks about himself.
“Someone must stop Farrell,” Eileen said. “He shouldn’t be around young people.”
I thought it was unlikely. Farrell would flourish, remain unchallenged and retire someday to a loud chorus of praise. At his death he will be eulogized as one of Classical’s greatest headmasters, and after an appropriate period of time, I wouldn’t be surprised to see his surname emblazoned upon the auditorium frieze, entering forever the pantheon of Classical High mythology.
I drove home and rushed to the bathroom to puke.
ORIGINAL FICTION from HILOBROW: James Parker’s swearing-animal fable The Ballad of Cocky The Fox, later published in limited-edition paperback by HiLoBooks; plus: a newsletter, The Sniffer, by Patrick Cates, and further stories: “The Cockarillion”) | Karinne Keithley Syers’s hollow-earth adventure Linda, later published in limited-edition paperback; plus: ukulele music, and a “Floating Appendix”) | Matthew Battles’s stories “Gita Nova“, “Makes the Man,” “Imago,” “Camera Lucida,” “A Simple Message”, “Children of the Volcano”, “The Gnomon”, “Billable Memories”, “For Provisional Description of Superficial Features”, “The Dogs in the Trees”, “The Sovereignties of Invention”, and “Survivor: The Island of Dr. Moreau”; several of these later appeared in the collection The Sovereignties of Invention, published by Red Lemonade | Robert Waldron’s high-school campus roman à clef The School on the Fens | Peggy Nelson’s “Mood Indigo“, “Top Kill Fail“, and “Mercerism” | Annalee Newitz’s “The Great Oxygen Race” | Joshua Glenn’s “The Lawless One”, and the mashup story “Zarathustra vs. Swamp Thing” | Adam McGovern and Paolo Leandri’s Idoru Jones comics | John Holbo’s “Sugarplum Squeampunk” | “Another Corporate Death” (1) and “Another Corporate Death” (2) by Mike Fleisch | Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer and Frank Fiorentino’s graphic novel “The Song of Otto” (excerpt) | “Manoj” and “Josh” by Vijay Balakrishnan | “Verge” by Chris Rossi, and his audio novel Low Priority Hero | EPIC WINS: THE ILIAD (1.408-415) by Flourish Klink | EPIC WINS: THE KALEVALA (3.1-278) by James Parker | EPIC WINS: THE ARGONAUTICA (2.815-834) by Joshua Glenn | EPIC WINS: THE ILIAD by Stephen Burt | EPIC WINS: THE MYTH OF THE ELK by Matthew Battles | EPIC WINS: GOTHAMIAD by Chad Parmenter | TROUBLED SUPERHUMAN CONTEST: Charles Pappas, “The Law” | CATASTROPHE CONTEST: Timothy Raymond, “Hem and the Flood” | TELEPATHY CONTEST: Rachel Ellis Adams, “Fatima, Can You Hear Me?” | OIL SPILL CONTEST: A.E. Smith, “Sound Thinking | LITTLE NEMO CAPTION CONTEST: Joe Lyons, “Necronomicon” | SPOOKY-KOOKY CONTEST: Tucker Cummings, “Well Marbled” | INVENT-A-HERO CONTEST: TG Gibbon, “The Firefly” | FANFICTION CONTEST: Lyette Mercier’s “Sex and the Single Superhero”