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The Volvo was out of gas. I couldn’t believe it. I can still hardly believe it. The red light dinged on the dashboard exposing a tiny outline of a gas pump. It looked like a miniature neon sign. “C’mon down to Mobil,” it warned me. I continued humming along to the radio. 98.7 was having a classic rock weekend and “Moondance” oozed out of the speakers. Earlier, the pinky lemon sun sank into the horizon and it felt like one of those Indian summer nights where the air was still hot. Hot like a sauna. My window was open and the balmy breeze blew my hair. Sometimes it blew it right into my mouth and I had to spit it out. I could taste the dry split ends. Time for a haircut.
And then the old gal sputtered, coughed, and halted. She was a rustic cadaver with headlights casting a shimmering glow over the valley. I was on Coldwater and it was 1:00 am. This piece of shit has cost me a bloody fortune. Every time I took her to the dealer he found a mechanical problem between $975 and $1500. I know. Never take it to the dealer, but I didn’t know a good local mechanic.
“Lizzie, do you listen to Car Talk?” My Pops asked me over the telephone. “They might have some ideas. Those guys are terrific.”
Like I was going to listen to a radio show that talked about cars. I’m not a dude.
Anyway, I remembered that the car was not falling to shit; I was just an idiot. I ignored the red neon light twenty minutes ago. I glanced at my IPhone; it was time to call Triple A, but the phone was dead too. Its one red battery bar didn’t faze me either when I left AOC. Great. I felt like Eeyore.
“It could rain today.”
What was next? A rabid coyote?
I was going to have to hike down the canyon in Manolos on a quest for a gas station and carry a little red plastic can back up to fill the old gal’s thirst. Maybe my Nikes were still in the trunk. I wouldn’t make it in those red satin stilts.
I never wore heels, but I was on a date and everyone said you had to wear them. It’s sexy and guys like it. I’d rather rock motorcycle boots then hobble along looking like a fool. It felt like rusty nails were digging in to the tip of my toes. I borrowed the Manolos from my friend Jen, so I didn’t think she would appreciate it if I scaled a mountain in her $1200 shoes. This guy wasn’t even worth it. Another asshole from Tinder. He squashed my one tiny glimmer of hope five minutes in.
“Why are you still single? You’re very pretty. You must be a nightmare.”
Should have swiped nope, again.
I rummaged in the trunk, sifting through an orange Home Depot bucket. A few bottles of Cheer were toppled over onto some Trader Joe’s bags, and thank God, the Nikes rested by the spare tire. Wait, Nike. Shit, there was only one. I sat in the backseat and took off the Manolos. My feet were finally free and I rubbed them to flatten their twisted crimson nubs. I laced up the one Nike and pulled on my navy UCLA sweatshirt. One ratty gym sock from underneath the floor mat was now on the other foot. I smelled like my beagle Howie and looked ridiculous, but I didn’t care. I found a flashlight in my earthquake kit. My Pops gave it to me for Christmas and I threw it in the old gal’s trunk. I had no room in my kitchen pantry, way too many cans of garbanzo beans and bottles of Windex. I never thought I would have to open it, but it came in pretty handy that night.
My Pops always told me to pay attention to the details, to not let the important stuff slip through the cracks.
“You need to be a responsible young lady. You are thirty-two and a full fledged adult.”
But I had a tendency to forget. I couldn’t help it. My house keys, writing a rent check on time, and, well, running out of gas. This wasn’t the first time. I could just see him now clicking his tongue and shaking his head, his hairy grey eyebrows twitching. Last September I puttered along on gas fumes on the 110/101 interchange. I was a sigalert and drivers honked and gave me the finger as I sat stalled in the middle lane.
“Elizabeth Olivia Harrison, really, again.”
I pretty much locked myself out weekly. I learned how to jimmy the front screen by yanking on the wooden frame and sliding it upward. It rumbled and jerked flaking white paint chips into my hair. I wrote countless reminders in blue ink on my palm, but it smudged into a blurry haze. Oh well.
Coldwater’s asphalt was jagged and crumbly. It was steep like Runyon, but not as rocky. My ankles gave a bit when I stumbled on to the uneven pavement. It wasn’t easy with just one sneaker. Cars whizzed past and I watched as their sparkly taillights rounded each corner and disappeared into nothingness. I thought of trying to hitch, but figured with my luck, a kook would kidnap me and drive all the way to Tijuana to sell me as a sex slave. No bueno.
I decided to skip, make light of it, and have fun. This could be a great adventure. Lots of fancy people lived on Coldwater. I heard Tom Hanks had a house up here, and it was Emmy week. Who cares about that old frat guy from Tinder? He had a piece of kale stuck in his front tooth the whole time anyway.
“Well, it’s a marvelous night for a Moondance with the stars up above in your eyes, a fantabulous night to make romance, hmm, hmmm.”
I couldn’t remember the rest of the words and I was singing out of tune. My skipping was pretty bouncy and I was focusing on how high I could jump in the tight leather skirt, but my shoelace caught the tip of a pothole and launched me into the brush. I was now sprawled flat with the flashlight on top of my chest, a perpendicular spotlight shot skyward. I just got hockey-checked by the asphalt. The grass was damp and my left ankle tingled. My lone sock was black and torn. It stank. I was probably lying on top of a steaming pile of shit.
“Good job Lizzie.” I muttered to myself.
I sat up and dusted off the foliage and spiky branches. The foul smell was getting stronger and the reeds rumbled. It wasn’t windy. I shined the flashlight towards the swishing. It sounded like a cat or dog was trying to make its way through. I squinted and it was getting closer rather quickly. The black and white bushy tail poked upright, and its beady eyes glowed. It hissed, stamped, and scratched the dirt, kicking some of it up. I tiptoed away like I was balancing on a tightrope, but it was too late. The skunk’s hiss became shriller and it let loose its gassy venom, spraying the front of my shins. I staggered backwards as the little varmint continued its rampage into the brush. The smell was disgusting, like rotten eggs. Fuck.
How could this much bad juju happen to one person in less then two hours? It wasn’t my turn for bad karma. In fact, yesterday the pregnant psychic at the car wash told me that my aura was pretty high. Good things were coming my way. She was sitting next to me waiting for her Toyota Sienna. Her big belly rested on her thighs like a gigantic beach ball and her Yorkshire Terrier yipped at her feet.
“You have a lot of light in you.”
Really? So then what the hell was all this?
“Lady, hello. Are you ok?”
I was hopping up and down trying to get the skunk stench off by wiping my sweatshirt all over my shins that I hadn’t noticed that a Prius Taxi Cab had pulled up. Its headlights glared and its muted engine purred.
“Oh, hey.” I shielded my eyes from the light to get a better glimpse.
“I’m ok. I ran out of gas and my phone died so I was hiking down to get to the nearest gas station.”
The brilliance was blinding. Was this my kidnapper? Next stop Tijuana?
“C’mon, we’ll give you a ride.” He waved his arms into the light like he was making snow angels against the dark sky.
“I just have to drop this customer off at a party up the street.”
Good, he wasn’t alone. What were the chances that an international Taxicab kidnapping duo drove a hybrid? Minimal, I decided.
“Ok. Thanks so much.”
I limped over clutching my flashlight, purse, and stinky sweatshirt. Wait till they got a whiff of me. I slid into the backseat and clutched the edge of the door.
“Jesus, lady. What happened to you?”
The customer was staring at me, mouth agape, but then he pinched his nose with his thumb and forefinger. He looked kind of familiar with his silly pancake face. His hair was a mass of dirty blonde curls. Puffy and fro-like.
“I apologize. Not only did I go on a bad date, run out of gas, and have my phone die, but Pepe Le Pew just nailed my ankles.”
The driver turned and studied me before pulling his Dodgers cap down low over his eyes. They both erupted into laughter. You know, that bellyache, uncontrollable giggle when you feel like you might pee your pants. I laughed too and gave a small snort.
“Well, that’s crazy. You’re actually foxy underneath that mess. Anyone ever tell you, you look like the girl from Scent of a Women? Whoo-ah.”
Actually, the crazy homeless guy at the Laundromat said it to me all the time. He wore a rainbow Mexican blanket with no shirt and tan chinos and shouted “Whoo-ah” every time I stuck a load in the dryer.
We merged onto Coldwater. The customer pointed at my one sneaker and shook his head. How did I know him? Yoga? . If so, he was pudgy and squat yogi.
“Did you go to UCLA?”
“No, I went to the New School in New York.”
He was younger, I would have guessed mid to late twenties. He dressed sloppily, ripped jeans, lopsided button up, and Chuck Taylors. Ray Ban Wayfarers were clipped to the front of his shirt.
“You know it!”
He was still plugging his nose, but hummed Slow Rider.
“Do you have a cell phone I can borrow? I could call triple A and be out of your hair.”
“I left it at my buddy’s.”
“I only have radio dispatch.” The driver eyed me in the rearview mirror. His forehead was wrinkly with an upside down frown.
Oh, I get it. I didn’t know him. It was Jonah Hill.
That was the problem with living in Los Angeles. Famous people just looked familiar.
We stopped in front of a driveway surrounded by an eight-foot metal fence. It was ornate, with a fleur-de-lis at the apex.
“Well, this is me.” Jonah said. “You should come in and use the phone. Triple A can get you from here.”
He handed the driver a fifty from a crumpled up wad. I lingered clutching my stinky sweatshirt. He poked his head down and smiled.
“Watcha doin? C’mon Whoo-ah.”
I unclicked the belt and stumbled. The shoeless foot was throbbing and the sock was beginning to shred.
“Your friend won’t mind? I mean I’m a total mess.”
“Its cool.” He punched a code into the security box and the gates opened, whining noisily. He motioned for me to follow. The driveway was quite long with tiny candles lining each side.
“Is this a fancy Emmy party?”
“Naw, just a small gathering with friends.”
I could barley squeeze my way through the front door. Loads of fashion bloggers and actresses decked out in spiked Manolo gladiators and Herve Leger dresses huddled about. I bumped into them while they drank Moscow Mules in copper mugs. They leaned sexily and took selfies. Jonah was hi-fiving almost everyone.
“What’s up man! Party!”
It was a beautiful home. Very modern, glass walls, stainless steel with concrete floors. Black and white Mapplethorpe like photos. Guests stared, frowned, or corked their nostrils. I didn’t blame them.
“Whose the chick?”
“Make-A-Wish Foundation? Is she homeless? Jonah, you are too sweet.”
“She’s cool, she just needs to use the phone.”
He was such a nice guy. I needed to re-watch Superbad or maybe Moneyball. A few bloggers scurried, clicking their heels against the concrete and screeching it like nails on a chalkboard. I was sweating and my stomach was doing loops like the Cyclone at Coney Island. I wanted to go home, take a shower, and crawl into bed.
“Phone’s over here.”
We were in the kitchen and Jonah pointed to a cordless on the counter. It was much quieter in here. The caterers were working on stacking small golden bites onto silver platters. It smelled buttery and hot. Man, I was hungry. It had been six hours since I nibbled on a cheese plate at AOC. My mouth watered. The servers and chefs stared . I gave a small wave.
“My main man Jonah!”
“What’s up Franco? Rockin party. My friend needs to use your phone. What’s your name?”
“Lizzie, nice to meet you. Wow, rough night?”
Of course this was James Franco’s house. This night was getting weirder by the minute.
He took two steps sideways and gave me the once over.
“Ha ha. Long story involving running out of gas, falling into a ditch, and pissing off a skunk. Sorry to bother you. Thanks for letting me use your phone.”
“Me casa, su casa.”
He was smoking an electronic cigarette and wearing pajama pants with a Hawaiian shirt. His mirrored aviator sunglasses were pulled halfway down the bridge of his nose.
“Anyone ever tell you that you look like that girl from Scent of a Woman.”
“Totally. I said the same thing.”
I nodded. I was beginning to hate that movie.
“We’re going to get a cocktail. You want one?”
“No, thanks. I appreciate it though”
I cradled the receiver. Jonah and James strolled into the starlet jungle. I turned and the entire kitchen staff was still staring. I twisted so my back was to them and dialed triple A. The counter was lined with quirky do-dads, mostly adorable Limoges boxes. One ornate teakettle, an orange tiger, and a perfectly robust beehive. I didn’t envision James Franco as a collector of expensive junk. They were lined up neatly one after the other, a gigantic mob of them. They didn’t seem to go with the overall modern décor, but I guess it was kitschy. Maybe that was the point?
I picked up the beehive while listening to the Neil Diamond hold music. I ran my fingers along its smooth surface. It had a tiny gold clasp and I mindlessly fiddled with it to see what was inside. Maybe a swarm of adorable bumblebees? It was so delicate and yet difficult to pry open. The honeycomb top jolted off and flicked into my palm while Neil was still blasting in my right ear. I scrambled, placing the top back on by cupping my palms and then gently putting it on the counter. It wobbled a smidgen, but remained intact.
“Yes, I’m at 15308 Coldwater. Fifteen minutes. Thank you.”
I replaced the receiver and took a few steps away. I needed to get out of here.
“Senorita. Puedo audarle?”
The housekeeper tapped my right shoulder. I glanced at the tiny beehive.
“Te ves Terrible. Te estoy vigilando. Comporto o llamo a la policia.”
Her chocolate eyes glossed over and she crossed her arms in front of her chest. She had a unibrow .
I didn’t speak Spanish, but I caught policia.
“Um, no gracias. I’m going to wait outside.” I smiled real toothy and did a curtsy before sprinting out back.
The pool was a bottomless midnight blue. Only a handful of guests were hanging outside lounging on lawn chairs. I glanced at my wristwatch; it was 3:15am and still muggy out. I could feel the frizz puffing my hair into a stout mushroom. The moonlight was brilliant and made the water twinkle like a thousand tiny diamonds. It was relaxing and inviting, hypnotizing even. I shuffled my way around its kidney maze, smelling the pungent chlorine. I inhaled it deep. It smelled fresh and shiny. No more skunk stench. I was concentrating on how many gulps of clean odor I could take in that I didn’t notice the drunken fashion blogger. She staggered in her Manolos and elbowed me in the back, striking me right between the shoulder blades. I splashed head first into the shimmering liquid. It was muted and hushed underwater, calm and serene. I wanted to remain submerged and surrender. Ok, Mercury in Retrograde, you win. I floated to the surface and laid on my back, arms and legs splayed out wide. My pinky toe tingled in that tattered sock. The water was quite lovely and almost made me forget my predicament. I resolved to turn over a new leaf. Detail and precision was my new name. No more Lizzie.
“Hey, are you ok?”
I drifted to the edge. I was sopping wet but at least I didn’t smell like a skunk.
“Yea, icing on the cake.”
A guy in a crisp white button down was dangling a towel over me. The moonlight encircled him in a glittery mist. He had sandy brown hair that hung loose over his cobalt eyes. He winked and flashed perfect movie star teeth. Did I know him? Maybe he went to yoga? Boy, he was handsome.
He offered me the towel and took my hand leading me up the pool’s staircase. His hands were soft but manly. Goosebumps dotted my forearms.
“You’re even pretty wet.”
“Thanks.” My cheeks heated up to a blazing lilac. Maybe the car wash psychic was right?
“What’s your name?”
“Elizabeth.” I said elongating the e.
“Hey, anyone ever tell you that you look like the girl from Scent Of a Women? Whoo-ah!
My mom said it was the right thing to do, to go to Mr. Petrie’s funeral. The whole school would be there and the Somerville fire chief was going to play the bagpipes. He would even wear a bright green tartan kilt. It would be beautiful. Lots of pomp and circumstance.
“Be the bigger person, Jeremy,” she said as she licked her index and middle fingers and pressed down on my cowlick.
“You look very handsome.”
But I didn’t want to be the bigger person. I wanted to stay at home and play Super Mario Brothers. What a waste of a perfectly good Saturday. I had to wear a navy blue sport jacket and a red pin stripe bow tie. It felt like a straightjacket and was cutting off the circulation in my neck.
“Stop fidgeting, young man. Sit still.”
The chapel was pretty full. People were packed in the pews like sardines. If you weren’t wearing slacks your thighs would have stuck to the slippery tan wood and made that funny farting sound. It stank like sardines too. It was muggy and humid. The AC was on the fritz, quieting its usual loud clanking and the scent of BO floated about. The stink also reminded me of Camembert. I hate Camembert. My mom dotted her forehead with a lace hanky. Her ankles were crossed and I could see beads of sweat travel down her calf and disappear into her tan pump.
“J Man, J Man.”
I craned my head to see Henry in the pew behind. Looked like his mom made him come too. He wasn’t wearing a jacket and his necktie was loose and askew. Headmaster Taylor would have said that he looked like a slob. He kind of did, but he probably wasn’t sweating like a pig.
“Can you believe it? Putrid Petrie finally kicked the bucket.” He whispered and clapped me on the back. I laughed, but then cupped my hand over my mouth.
“Jeremy, Henry, have some respect.” Mom scowled and gripped the back of my neck forcing me to face forward. It was a sea of sweaty heads. Some ladies were wearing Easter hats, big brims, straw, with oversized pink plastic flowers. They were fanning themselves with the thin manila program. A black and white photograph of Mr. Petrie waved back and forth.
I’m probably going to hell. I prayed all year for Mr. Petrie to drop dead and then he did, right on the front lawn outside the dinning hall. It was a week ago Thursday and I was enjoying my favorite lunch: chicken patties, rice, and Apple Brown Betty. Everyone rushed out except Allyson Tadros, Henry, and I. We watched from the window, noses pressed up against the glass. A large crowd encircled him. The ambulance’s muffled siren from County Line Road was getting closer. He wasn’t moving an inch.
“Uh oh, Bad News Bears.” Allyson twirled a lock of her blonde hair and Henry widened his eyes through his wire- rimmed glasses.
“Wow. It really worked J Man, sheesh.”
“You can’t mess with that kind of stuff. Its serious business.” Allyson said. She continued to twirl her hair.
“Its just a coincidence.” My fingers curled around the window’s frame and I pressed my face closer into the cool glass. How was this even possible? I never thought it would actually work.
He had it out for me. I almost flunked freshman geometry because of him. I didn’t care that he taught at Abrams Academy for thirty-five years and had tenure. I can picture him now scratching his white beard, decked out in a red polka dot shirt and zigzag tie. He never matched and always smelled of garlic.
“If you can’t master a class as simple as freshman geometry you might as well go fill out the Burger King application now. I expect more from a starting JV lacrosse player.”
I clenched my fists so tight that the knuckles turned to a creamy shade of vanilla. I mean seriously, how important are two sides of an isosceles triangle anyway? The bagpipes blasted out a note although it sounded more like a quack. The fire chief was wearing his tartan green kilt and he had a black furry hat to match. It looked like those tall ones the guards outside of Buckingham palace strap to the bottom of their chin. He marched down the aisle taking one gigantic step and then pausing. He blows so hard that I thought his eyes might pop out of his head. It was only one quack and then it was a pretty smooth “Amazing Grace”. He wasn’t half bad on the pipes. Where was the rest of the fire department? They could only get one stinking guy? Except it was the chief, so I guess that was kind of a big deal. I couldn’t believe that this was actually happening.
The chapel’s gold piped organ joined in and my mom yanked me to standing. I wasn’t paying attention, flipping through the hymnal and now the entire sweaty congregation was on its feet facing the center aisle. Mrs. Oviatt, the middle school music teacher banged away on the keys in the balcony. Her black hair looked like Darth Vader’s helmet and her hands rumbled up and down like a marionette. My belly churned and bile trickled up to my teeth. I wondered if they would figure it out, that this was entirely my fault.
The coffin was a rich shade of mahogany with silver bars lining the sides. Six pallbearers hauled it down the aisle. Mr. D from biology, Headmaster Taylor, Mr. Leamon from AP European History, and Mr. Bresnicky from Latin. I didn’t know the other two guys. I didn’t figure Putrid Petrie had any friends. Five out of the six pallbearers were the same age as my grandparents. Young Mr. D looked like he was carrying the brunt of it. His face was heated and his black hair and beard were soaking wet. I could hear Mr. Bresnicky grunting as they passed our pew. He absolutely smelled like Camembert. Mr. D caught my eye and winked. Everyone loved him. He gave extra help sessions and started an outing club where they taught you to rappel and make a tent out of a sheet of clear plastic and three logs. He didn’t make students cry. They continued lugging the coffin and for a second it looked like Bresnicky was going to drop it. But he jerked the silver bar up and propped it onto his hip.
Petrie was always trying to bust us for not doing our homework. It’s like he was the Gestapo of Mathematics.
“Who can tell me the Transitive Property of Congruence? Anyone, anyone? What’s the Converse of Corresponding Angles Postulate?”
He whacked his ruler on the desk and then wrote on the chalkboard in a messy curlicue scribble. It was impossible to make any sense of it and before you knew it he was erasing and on to the next impossible theorem.
“Time for a pop quiz since you rascals can’t complete assignments.” He smirked as he passed it out strutting his way around the classroom.
The coffin had finally reached the pulpit and we were allowed to sit down again. Two wreaths of white lilies flanked both sides. Ms. Berman-Lytle the Librarian, the Fire Chief, and Mr. Bresnicky sat to the left up front. An American flag decorated the center of the coffin. It was wrinkled and draped almost all the way to the floor. Henry was steadily tapping the back of my seat with his penny loafer.
“Esteemed collogues, students, and alumni. We gather here today to honor a great educator, friend, and loyal veteran: Christopher Alan Petrie.”
Headmaster Taylor gripped the sides of the wooden podium.
I glanced down so my mom couldn’t see me crack a smile. Henry snickered behind me.
“Shhhh.” Mom elbowed me in the gut.
It really did just sound like a loud sneeze. Allyson Tadros had perfected the bullshit sneeze and most grown-ups couldn’t detect it. She did it all the time in Madame Beauvais’ French conversation class. Allyson was at the end of the pew wearing a navy flowered Laura Ashley dress. It looked just like Mom’s bedspread. Petrie had it out for her too. She got mostly A’s and was one of the smartest kids in the freshman class, but Petrie graded on a curve, which took her GPA down to a B+.
“Christopher Alan Petrie taught at Abrams Academy for over thirty-five years. He had some of your parents as students, led the debate team to the state championships a record eleven times, and took his craft very seriously.”
The silver microphone had a bit of an echo and whistled as Headmaster Taylor paused. I mean was anyone buying this garbage? None of the teachers liked him either. Well, except Ms. Berman-Lytle the Librarian. They were an item. Gross. Apparently, he never volunteered for study hall monitor and left the teachers lounge a mess with coffee cups and dirty newspapers.
I decided I wanted Putrid Petrie to meet his maker right after Christmas break. I tried to sit in the back left corner of the classroom and pull my Red Sox cap down low over my eyes, but Petrie had an alphabetical system of grilling students on homework. You never missed a turn. Its not like I didn’t do my homework. I did. Mom even got me a tutor. Mr. Goldstein from across the street helped me every Tuesday and Thursday after lacrosse practice. Mrs. Goldstein made hot chocolate chip cookies and I was allowed to take one as long as it didn’t spoil my appetite. I really tried to study, but it was all a bunch of mumbo jumbo.
“Jeremy Sylvester, pay attention. Are you sleeping back there? Take that baseball cap off and sit up. Given collinear points A, B, C, and D arranged as shown, if AB=CD, then AC=?”
I squinted at the chalkboard and then looked down at my spiral notebook. It looked like hieroglyphics and Petrie was making his way to the back of the classroom, taking his steps like he was doing the grapevine.
“Wrong.” He shook his head and continued to walk, holding the Geometry text open like it was the Holy Bible. “If three sides of one triangle are equal in measure to the corresponding sides of an angle of another triangle, the triangles are?” He was standing right in front of me, my left hand was shaking and my number two pencil rolled off the desk. I could hear the marching band’s muffled practice below. They were playing the theme from “Peanuts.” Everyone was staring at me.
“Um, um… 90 degrees?” “Wrong!”
I felt his hot breath in my right ear; the garlic stench was unbearable as he leaned in.
“If the hypotenuse and a leg of a right triangle are congruent to the hypotenuse and a leg of another right triangle, then the triangles are?”
Tears leaked out and my asthma acted up. I tried to take two deep breaths like Dr. Broffman said, but it didn’t work. I pulled my inhaler out of my pocket and took two puffs. “I, I… don’t.. know.” I wiped my sleeve under my snotty nose. I would never be able to live this down at lacrosse practice.
“That’s what I thought. You are better than this, Jeremy Sylvester. Apply yourself. You can do this.”He snapped the textbook shut and walked back to the front of the classroom.
The Fire Chief and his black furry hat were now at the podium telling some story about how Petrie worked central dispatch for the department. It was the weekend graveyard shift for five long years and they couldn’t have survived without him. I tried to transfer to Mrs. Cade’s Geometry class, but they said it was too late in the school year. I faked sick, skipped class, my mom had a parent teacher conference with Headmaster Taylor, but it never got any better. That’s when I decided to take matters into my own hands.
I imagined every night that something would happen to Putrid Petrie. That he would get hit by a speeding Lamborghini, poisoned by Mrs. Hass’s Taco Tuesdays, trip over a lacrosse stick and get stabbed in the eye like a bloody Cyclops. I know it’s terrible. I told you I was going to hell. I even got a book from the library on Louisiana Voodoo. Allyson, Henry, and I made a burlap cotton gingerbread doll and stuffed so many needles into its tummy that it looked like a pincushion. We attached a black and white photo of Petrie from the yearbook to its head just like the book said and added a few cloves of garlic to the interior. We sewed red geranium petals as an offering to the spirits along with a few spritzes of Mom’s Channel Number 5. We had a tiny ceremony in my back yard by the old tire swing. We all held hands, chanted, spit on the doll, and burned last winter’s geometry final. Hey, I know it sounds crazy, but we were desperate. It was just a bit of silly fun, a way to let out our frustrations. We didn’t really want him dead. At least I didn’t.
I thought I might vomit right there on the chapel’s floor.
Ms. Berman-Lytle was so close to the podium’s mic that she could have almost kissed the metal. She was clutching a crinkled up tissue. Her eyes were bloodshot and puffy like marshmallows. It was still hot and you could hear the quiet hum of those manila programs waving back and forth. I tugged at my collar to try to loosen the bow tie noose. I didn’t know how much longer I could take this. I tried to gulp in more air, but it tasted like a mouthful of Saltines. My mom had a crooked half smile and draped her arm around my shoulder. Like it wasn’t hot enough.
“Its ok to be sad, Jeremy.” She whispered.
Am I sad? I didn’t know what to think. He couldn’t have been all-evil. There must have been some good? Mom said everyone had it buried deep, underneath all the muck and knotted tree branches. You just had to dig a little harder.
“I’d like to thank you all for coming today to honor the memory of Mr. Petrie. He would have been tickled pink that you came to remember him. He wasn’t the most warm and fuzzy guy. We all know that.” Ms. Berman-Lytle dabbed her crumpled tissue. Her mascara was smudged, giving her two black semi circles.
“But he was devoted to this school and he cared for all of you. He believed in tough love because he knew that you are all capable of so much. He wanted to push you to your limits. His expectations for himself were twofold. He was brimming with school pride and never missed an Abrams Aardvark lacrosse game. Not even if it was raining. He was there cheering in his burgundy sweatshirt and taking snapshots with his Nikon. He taught ’til the bitter end because he had such passion. His heart condition did not keep him at bay. He was a fighter just like all of you.”
Petrie did take photos for the yearbook and trudged around the lacrosse field in rain boots and a fisherman’s cap. He clapped and cheered chanting “Aardvarks, Aardvarks.”
I was in the zone when I played, it made me feel free and I forgot about Geometry and the PSAT’s. I loved when the rain leaked into my helmet and mud caked up my cleats.
“Aardvarks, Aardvarks. Go Sylvester! Go!” Petrie was at the sidelines, smiling, and giving me the thumbs up.
Ms. Berman-Lytel’s gaze bore a hole into the center of my forehead. I wasn’t certain if she was looking at me so I twisted around for a second and then glanced back to the front.
“Thank you all for your kind words. I will treasure them always.” She nodded and took her seat.
The sun was setting and an orange pinky glow gushed through the tracery windows. It had cooled down to only a medium hot. Two US Marine Corps officers entered and saluted the coffin, white gloves and all before folding the flag into a perfect equilateral triangle. They bowed and presented it to Ms. Berman-Lytle. A fugitive tear escaped. Damn it Petrie. The officers were next to each other in front of the coffin. The taller one had his left hand behind his back and a shinny brass trumpet in the right. Their pants were crisp and snowy, not a wrinkle in sight. Gold buttons and badges decorated their navy officer’s coats. We all rose and the horn sang out a bluesy Taps. The notes were low and soothing. I could taste the salty teardrops on the tip of my tongue. I took a puff from my inhaler and starred at the huge mahogany coffin. It was simple and shiny and the pinky orange light casted a glittery sheen all over it. The officers saluted again and the fire chief began his decent back down the aisle blasting his bagpipes.
I guess it was kind of beautiful. Rest in peace, Putrid Petrie.
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