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Three Checks Walks the Deadman (Part 1)

October 26, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

paddling-in-school

Today features a guest blog by my esteemed brother, who has been mentioned on this blog several times before. Keep in mind that my brother was born in 1971, so this story takes place well into the past. Enjoy!


Rex Ralph Elementary. Sixth grade. I’m a quiet kid, I’m a nervous kid. I know too much about Star Wars. Also, my hands shake. They shake from all this asthma medicine I take. Everyone thinks it’s hilarious. “I have asthma,” I say, like that’ll help. One kid grabs my wrists, holds my hands out all the time, “What are you, nervous or something?” He makes a big scene of it; he’s the same one who waves his peanut-butter sandwich under my nose saying, “Go on. Sneeze!” I told him I was allergic to it. He smells the weakness in me. I’m slowing down the clan. He’s got a natural-selection hard-on for me. Somewhere back in time, his ancestors place boulders on mine and leave them for dead.

But yeah, the hands. The shaking hands. I tell everyone it’s the meds and it is, but it’s also this place, this school, the teachers, the kids, everything. Some people can handle it, some people can handle anything, some people are Han Solo. Me, I’m an Ewok. But not Wicket. I’m the one with the hang-glider that dies.

Our classroom is a pressure cooker of E. Coli, Rotavirus, gummy bears, and craft glue. The hours plow forward through the airless haze made by 60 peanut-butter-stinking mouths. The stultifying minutes are differentiated only by the list of names growing down the side of the blackboard: one name for each person caught talking, caught fidgeting, caught giggling, found passing notes. A name for sneezing, a check next to it for sneezing again. Two checks if it was done for comic effect. Names and checks, names and checks, until someone scores three. When that happens, everything stops and the lights come up on the Thunderdome. Then the three-checker gets up and takes the deadman walk around behind the bookshelves. No waiting. No reprieve.

Back there, the teacher makes him take everything out his back pockets, pens, combs, keys. She makes him bend over and grab his ankles. She says a few words about his crimes so everyone can hear it. She concludes with, “Perhaps in the future you’ll learn not to…” Then, in the manner prescribed by the county, she raises the paddle high in the air. She nods to the Witness, the teacher from next door, her smoking-buddy, her trenchmate, her second. Witness smirks, shrugs, “What are ya gonna do?” They grin, despite themselves. Their eyes twinkle like Japanese businessmen at a live sex-show.

We’re all on the other side of the shelves, breathless, waiting for the “CRACK!”, which comes twice. Some of us giggle. Some of us reach for our inhalers. Then the victim comes back in, usually in tears, though sometimes not. The ones who don’t cry, who swagger in, beaming, immune – they’re a breed apart. Everyone knows this.

When the teacher comes back in, there’s a row of dew on her upper lip, she tucks her hair behind her ear but she can’t hide how good it feels. She puts a girl “in charge” for five. She’s gotta have a smoke.

I know all this because I walked the deadman once.

It was late on a Friday, near Halloween, lots of sugar around and names were going up on the board like a murder of crows. Everyone was frantic, the teacher was in a frenzy, nailing people for reaching too abruptly for a sheet of paper. Everyone screaming, laughing, kids sprinting from seat to seat, teacher bellowing something unintelligible into the gale.

Then someone asked me a question. And just as the class fell silent, I answered, “No, ‘droid’ refers to all robots, not just…” Searchlights locked on my position. I’d transmitted in the clear over radio silence. Teacher had me dead-to-rights. I was supposed to be one of the good ones. I never made a peep. I’d betrayed her. She reached for the chalk and next thing, I was staring down the barrel of three checks. I didn’t even know my name had gone up.

Then the bell rang.

Everyone sat, mouths open, looking at me, looking at her, looking at me again, all thinking the same incredible, impossible, delicious thing: Damian Baldet is gonna walk the deadman. Me: shaky-hands, inhaler-boy, Johnny-weak-link. They were looking at a ghost. I’d never survive it.

But there was something else was remarkable about the situation:

It was Friday. End of day.

True, I had three checks. And everyone knew: Three checks walks the deadman. No waiting. No reprieve.

But:

It was Friday. End of day. The bell had rung!

There was room for a technicality here. It was in her power to be merciful.

Pity tapped on the blackened shell that encased her heart. For a moment, she fought her addiction.

In the end, though, it had been a bitch of a day and pity didn’t stand a chance.

Her expression darkened.

“On Monday morning, Damian will serve his punishment.”


Click here to read Part 2

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