HiLobrow is proud to present the thirty-fourth 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.
Because of a car accident on the Jamaica Way, I arrived late on the first school day of the New Year. I was surprised to find my usually quiet homeroom kids milling about and talking. I got them into their seats and began to call the roster. When I said “O’Donnell,” the class laughed.
“Is Tim here?” I said, wondering what was up.
“He was,” said Brigit Sweeney, giggling.
Winnie Chan handed me some stapled papers. “Mr. Duncan, you’d better read this.”
It was Tim’s story “Betrayal.”
“How many of you have copies of this,” I asked.
Every hand went up.
“We found it on our desks,” Winnie said, “when we came in this morning. The whole senior class has it.”
Ed appeared in my doorway, beckoning me into the corridor. His cheek was bruised.
“Tim’s stories are throughout the school,” Ed said, “He came after me, I had to call a security guard, and he’s been sent home.”
“He thinks you did it?”
“Yes. Farrell’s behind this, I’m sure of it.” Ed stared at the floor, his face as pale as ivory.
“I must tell you —” He took a deep breath and leaned back against a locker.
“Tim made a pass at me.”
“At the Christmas party… it’s all such a mess.”
I finally told him about Thompson’s walking in on Farrell and Tim and also related what I had heard on the night of the Christmas party.
“I feel like a complete fool,” Ed said angrily. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I was trying to protect you,” I said.
“From the sordidness of all this and I —”
“Say no more,” he said, unloosening his tie.
“How many others know about Farrell and Tim?”
“You, me, Iris and Mrs. Thompson.”
Ed paced the width of the hallway.
“Farrell and Tim. I’m such a dunce… I suspected something the night of Jim’s party, but I dismissed it as absurd… Tim and Farrell, it’s incredible, just incredible.”
He walked away with his head down. When the bell rang to mark the end of homeroom, my students spilled into the corridor, gossiping about Tim.
In all my classes students asked me if I had read Tim’s stories. I evaded answering them. One student boldly asked my opinion about homosexuality: Was it moral or immoral? I replied that my philosophy was “live and let live.” My comment sounded so hollow I amplified it by identifying a number of painters, poets, novelists, playwrights, and composers who were gay. I mentioned that Shakespeare dedicated his sonnets to a young man he loved; they were shocked.
Linda White raised her hand. “Mr. Duncan, you mean to say I’ve been reading a gay writer for the last six years?”
“You have a problem with it?”
She suddenly smiled as if she enjoyed the idea, “No, but my parents would.”
The class laughed.
Sean Burns was a teacher’s dream, enlivening a class by his quick wit and honesty. “Yes, Sean?”
“Classical should add some gay books to the curriculum.”
“It would help us understand how gays are different than us.”
“From us,” I said.
He smiled, “OK, from us.”
“A noble goal, but all books have to be approved by the school committee so I’m not sure if —”
“The school committee?” Sean said, smirking. “Then forget it.”
The class laughed. Smart kids.
I then pointed out that in a school as large as ours, we probably had several hundred gay students, both male and female.
Linda’s hand went up again, “There couldn’t be that many, Mr. Duncan.”
“Well, we’d know if there were.”
Sean broke our hand-raising rule, “Did you know Tim O’Donnell was gay?”
Linda said. “It’s probably a mistake.”
“Say it’s true,” Sean persisted. “Do you still like him?”
“Are you kidding?” Linda said. “I don’t care whether he’s straight or gay, I love Tim.”
I couldn’t have been prouder of these two kids, but as I scanned the room, I saw faces registering other feelings: indifference, perplexity and to my dismay, disgust.
Tim had a difficult road ahead of him.
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”