HiLobrow is proud to present the thirty-seventh 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.
Delighted that Farrell conceded to hiring Ed for next year, I decided to drop by his apartment to share the good news. Driving around his neighborhood for half an hour, I nearly despaired of finding a parking place when a small van squeezed out of a tight spot, leaving plenty of space for my Nova.
I followed Ronny into a sunny living room.
“Anything wrong?” she asked.
“I’m the bearer of good news for you and Ed.”
Wearing a blue robe and unshaven, Ed appeared in the bedroom doorway.
“Excuse my appearance,” Ed said. I sat in an armchair, Ed on the couch, and Ronny disappeared into the kitchen to make tea.
“How are you?” I asked.
“Got some flu bug I can’t seem to shake.”
“Ed, you’re depressed, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
He shook his head, “I’ve never felt like this before.”
“I have news that just might cheer you up. Farrell has agreed to extend your contract into next year. I know the uncertainty of your teaching status has been an anxiety for you and Ronny.”
“What brought that on?” Ed asked, his eyes wide in disbelief.
“Farrell’s protecting himself.”
“You threatened him?”
“Didn’t have to. He knew he had few options.”
“Did he admit to stealing the stories?“
“It was Jane Davis.”
I had to remind him who she was.
“Revenge?” Ed said.
“Sounds like it to me.”
“Does Tim know about Jane Davis?”
“I’ll make sure he does. And don’t worry about him, he’s already on the mend.”
Ronny appeared with a tray of cups and tea. As she poured for us, Ed relayed the good news about his job. She frowned.
“Honey, do you really want to return to Classical?”
Ed hesitated. Ronny looked at me as if to say, “See, he’s not happy there.”
“I’ve been thinking a lot about teaching,” Ed said after a gulp of tea. “My problems at Classical have all been outside the classroom, but as for teaching there, I do enjoy it.”
“But, honey, you’ve been so depressed about—”
“About Tim? But John says he’s all right, and he’ll know I didn’t release his stories.”
“Who did?” she asked, and I explained what had happened.
“But what about Tim’s assault and pass on Ed?” Ronny asked.
“I can deal with it,” Ed said, quietly.
“I just want you to be happy,” Ronny said. “Whatever your decision is, I’ll support you. But I have to insist on one thing… Tim must be transferred out of your class. Is it possible?”
“It can be arranged,” I said.
Ronny said. “Honey, is it okay with you?”
“It’ll be it easier for the both of us, but I don’t want Tim to think I’m rejecting him or anything like that.”
“Tim will accept the transfer,” I said. “He already knows you’re not pressing charges and that you’ve his best interests at heart. So I gather you’ll stay at Classical?”
Ed reached out for Ronny’s hand, “As long as Ronny doesn’t object.”
Ronny leaned over and kissed Ed on the cheek.
Driving home, I felt quite pleased with myself. I had secured Ed’s job, and that’s the best thing I could have done for him and for the school. Ed’s presence at school was a reminder to many of us about the reason why we had embraced teaching in the first place — and we needed reminding.
A few weeks later Tim returned to school. His boyish face had aged, looking more like a young man in his twenties.
“How’s Mr. Horgan doing?” Tim asked.
“I heard he was absent for a while. Anything to do with me?”
“He admires you, Tim, and when you thought he had released your story, he was crushed. See, he’d never do that to you.”
“When the whole school was laughing at me and my stories — well, I became a lunatic. I want to start over. I’ve been in this school ever since I was twelve, played by the rules and did my work. I earned my grades and rank. Most kids here cheat like hell, but I never did.”
“But you’re not completely pure, are you?”
“Put yourself in my place. All we ever heard from Classical teachers is how wonderful, bright and gifted we are. And then Ivy League. Most of us have Ivy on the brain. If you’re not admitted to a school like Brown or Harvard or Dartmouth, you’re a failure in the eyes of a lot of people around here. So I worked my ass off for six years to win a scholarship. I did what I had to do. That’s what Classical teaches you, success at all cost.”
His voice had a cold hardness I’d never heard before.
“What about being compassionate and caring?”
“At Classical? No one gives a shit about anyone here. The top two ranked students who grew up together no longer speak?”
“They ended their friendship over ranking. It’s what this place does to us.”
“Then we’ve failed because learning should be—”
“Should be joyful. Don’t forget I had you for two years, Mr. Duncan, and I know all your little sermons.”
“Did you get anything out of my class besides my sermons?”
His face relaxed. “Your reverence for books,” he said. “In class you’d casually mention a book that moved you, and I’d take it out of the library. Because of you I read some great books.”
“Well, that’s something. I just hope you—”
“Don’t end up like Farrell.”
“What do you mean?” he said. “He’s the headmaster of America’s first and best school.”
His face contorted into an “I gotcha” look, and I smiled.
“By the way, I had to transfer out of Mr. Horgan’s class.”
“Who’s your teacher now?”
Tim laughed. “Mr. Duncan, I have another surprise for you,” Tim said, his eyes welling. “I’ve been accepted by Dartmouth with a full scholarship.”
“Congratulations, I’m very happy for you.” I shook his hand, and he then pulled me into a hug.
“I knew you’d get in,” I said. “They’re lucky to have someone like you, and I mean it.”
His dream came true, and I wondered if it would live up to his expectations.
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”