This month, I’ve been participating in a thirty day writing challenge with a friend of mine. The rules, for anyone who wants to take the challenge for any other time, are here. The first day’s challenge was: “Select a book at random in the room. Find a novel or short story, copy down the last sentence and use this line as the first line of your new story.” I had one of my housemates pick a book for me, believing I’d be biased if I picked on my own. She picked The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky. The yield is below.
And once more all the boys joined in his exclamation. They lifted him onto their narrow shoulders, their voices and bodies ragged from disuse. His fist signaled triumph to the waiting masses beyond the walls, where faces turned up in adoration to catch a glimpse of him, to call out his name.
And once more all the boys joined in his ridicule. They laughed at his slack-jawed disbelief, seeing the ruler hit his hand twice more. His skin, almost entirely covered by freckles, didn’t retain a red mark like many of the pasty children around him.
“Patrick! Look at me when I speak to you.”
He tilted his chin, straining. His neck was stiff on cold days. He met Teacher’s eyes, which darted away to stare at his forehead. Patrick hated this trick. It made him need to strain even more to try to meet Teacher’s eyes, but to everyone else it looked like it was he who was avoiding the man’s gaze. It made him look like a chicken. A little girl. Bad enough that he was a cripple.
“Now. I want you to please tell me what it was I was just saying.”
Teacher had stopped asking Patrick direct questions – nine times five, Latin verses – because Patrick would answer them correctly. Now he played this game. There was only one right answer.
“I don’t know, sir.”
“Exactly. I would tell you to go stand in the corner, but, well. Sitting in a corner just isn’t the same thing, I think.” Teacher turned the ruler end over end between his short, stubby fingers, the flat wood seeming incongruous with his fleshy hands. The boys didn’t laugh outright, not with Teacher twirling his weapon lovingly like that – he could snap at any moment – but they exchanged looks and smiles, on the edges of their seats. “Instead, why don’t you just wheel yourself around the room while we continue the lesson?”
Two boys winked at one another. This was what they’d been hoping for.
Patrick allowed his head to fall. The tension in his neck, the ache that went down his twisted back, ebbed. He slowly wheeled back from his desk, a large one that had to be made specially for him. He sometimes wondered whether it was this desk, this bigger, lower and definitely out of place desk, that made Teacher decide to make an enemy out of him. He was a good student, after all. His arithmetic and Bible recitation were both better than any other boy in the class. He remembered the historical dates that Teacher taught the class, banging his ruler on the desk for emphasis when the boys would begin to nod off during particularly hot and mosquito-ridden summer days. It didn’t matter.
His mother had told him that he was different, that God had made him different, and that men who were afraid would always remind him of it. Afraid of what, his mother hadn’t said. Certainly not of him, Patrick was certain.
His wheelchair squeaked as he turned it, that was the thing. That’s why Teacher made him do this, this in particular. The desks were close enough to the walls that he couldn’t turn gradually, so each corner involved the execution of a slow turn with a few back and forths of the old wheels. It was a loud business, the second-hand wheelchair.
Patrick’s mother had sewn a cover for the old padding, but he’d worn a hole in it with his finger so that he could see the old brown stain on the left side of it, which he was certain was blood. A soldier’s blood, from the Great War. A brave man, Patrick could feel it.
And once more all the boys in the back row wedged things into his seat as he turned around the room. They repressed their giggles and took whatever scolding Teacher gave them because he also coughed loudly at every squeak of Patrick’s wheels. His freckled face burned red with embarrassment but he touched the blood stain and tried to remember that he had nothing to fear.
And once more all the boys joined him in his exclamation. They stood in awe of the man with the clean-shaven face and close-cut hair who swept into the schoolroom and took Patrick up in his arms. His hand seemed larger than it had ever been before as he waved a farewell to the saluting, trembling, Teacher.