the writing disorder


lorraine comanor

New Fiction


by Lorraine Comanor

       Niki was on her knees, a bulb in her left hand, a trowel poised to attack the earth in her right, when the study phone rang. Damn. She pitched forward on all fours and considered not answering. It was a perfect mid-October afternoon for gardening. The air smelled of that “mellow fruitfulness” Alastair often mentioned. Some poet he liked to quote. One of the Romantics he’d tried to introduce her to along with his beloved theologians — St. Augustine, somebody Lewis and a de Chard — something or rather, but she’d found them dull company. After a couple of attempts, Alastair hadn’t pressed further, resigned to leave her with Better Homes and Gardens. The garden at least was common ground; although Alastair spent no time in its creation or up-keep, he did admire her efforts.
       The bed she was presently preparing was in anticipation of his birthday. Up to now, she had limited her gardening to hybrid tea roses and a few English legends, but when Alastair had commented that it would be nice to have flowers three seasons of the year, she’d sent away for some hyacinth bulbs. With his simple English tastes, he was a fairly easy man to keep happy, provided the Church and school ran well and he had some uninterrupted time in his study. Of course, there were occasional issues with Jonathan’s behavior in his sixth grade classroom — (Thank God, Alex, his nine year old brother, managed to keep his nose clean) — and also with her lack of frugality, so this simple birthday present should meet with his approval, especially when an expensive kitchen remodel loomed ahead.
       The rest of the bulbs needed planting and watering before she left to pick up the boys from school, but on the eighth ring, she dropped the trowel alongside the unfinished bed and headed towards the house. From the pocket of Alastair’s worn windbreaker which she had draped over her shoulders, an old Lenten card fell to the ground. Busy with horse shows, she hadn’t helped much with church decoration during the previous Lent — another bone of contention between them. But if this bed turned out well, she might just make a lovely, albeit small, contribution to the next Easter season. The phone was still ringing as she pushed open the door leading from the garden to Alastair’s study. She ran to the desk, not taking the time to remove her garden crocs, which deposited a few clumps of dirt on the cream-colored center of the Tabriz rug.
       “Mrs. Bainbridge.” Niki recognized the voice immediately: Wyona Matthews was Alastair’s assistant principal at St. Tim’s, a pinched-faced spider of a woman with black hair pulled back into an old-fashioned chignon. Unlike her predecessor who’d had sons of her own and something of a “boys will be boys” attitude, Wyona was unwilling to let even the slightest infraction pass. She had already initiated several calls about Jonathan.
       “Why’d you hire that woman?” Niki had asked Alastair some months before following an unpleasant conference — Jonathan had managed to collect five demerits in one marking period. “She loves to be bitchy.”
       “She takes care of day-to-day tasks I don’t have time for,” Alastair had replied in his crispest British diction. “And you can hardly blame her for Jonathan’s behavior.”
       “Couldn’t you find someone who was efficient and pleasant, too?”
       Unpleasantness, Alastair responded, wasn’t grounds for firing. Her harsh judgment of Wyona showed an unwillingness to acknowledge her son’s — not their son’s, she’d noted – contribution to the problem.
       “Yes,” Niki answered the voice on the phone, while standing on one leg to remove her garden shoe. A small clod of earth looked like a dog turd on the rug. She had no intention of acknowledging the caller’s identity.
       “Wyona Matthews.” After a short silence, “Sorry to disturb you, but there’s been another incident with Jonathan.”
       “Oh,” Niki said, wondering why Wyona had not called Alastair first. Alastair should be back by now from the off-site meeting of the Council of Episcopal Schools. It was one of those rare days when the bishop was presiding at morning chapel and she knew he wanted to catch him before he left.
       She listened as Wyona recounted what had happened after Jonathan acquired a bathroom pass.
       “Is he all right?’ she asked. “How long before you found him?”
       “He’s perfectly fine. Mr. Andrews heard the banging and got him out.”
       “But how long was he stuck for?”
       “Not that long.”
       “When did all this happen?”
       “This morning.”
       “And you’re just calling me now?” She needed to hide her irritation. Wyona could make Jonathan’s life miserable. Her watch indicated 2:25. Another thirty-five minutes before she was supposed to pick up the boys. It would have been so much easier if they stayed for after-school sports, but there was no elementary school tennis for Alex and, although the track coach really wanted Jonathan on the team, Jonathan said he’d rather be a mediocre swimmer than a track star; he wasn’t spending a minute more at St. Tim’s than he had to.
       “There was another incident this morning that required my attention.”
       “I don’t see the need to contact the police,” Niki said after Wyona went on for a few more minutes. She was curious about the other incident, but decided not to ask. “Sounds like a bad prank. Have you talked to Alastair?” Alastair would have handled everything without getting the police involved.
       “The head had enough on his hands today. Besides, St. Tim’s is a closed campus. If there’s any question of trespassing on school grounds, the law has to be involved.”
       “You’re not going to let the police interrogate a kid without a parent present. Not my kid, anyway.”
       “It’ll just be a short interview. They’re en route as we speak.”
       “Where’s Jonathan now?”
       “Sitting outside my office.”
       “I’m on my way. No one’s to question him until I’m there.”
       Niki hung up. Damn Jonathan and his continual scrapes. In first grade, he’d been overheard referring to the teacher as an idiot after she made the class estimate the number of ice cubes their freezer produced overnight. The second-grade teacher had asked her class to edit anonymously each other’s stories. Jonathan, who’d had a tiff with one little girl, wrote “This story sucks.” Recognizing his handwriting, the teacher had called home. Niki had wanted to ask if the story really did suck, but she’d held her tongue. No use sparring with a teacher who assigned editing to a bunch of seven-year-olds. She’d expected Alastair, a big Monty Python and Fawlty Towers fan, to laugh over the episode, but to her amazement, he hadn’t found it funny.
       Unfortunately, in addition to his frequent tardiness, there were other incidents she couldn’t brush off so easily: pushing a younger kid in the playground, tying a cat to the swing, drumming — his latest passion — in religion. Plus occasional use of bad language. And now this.
       At Jonathan’s last appointment, Dr. Tuttle, their pediatrician, had advised some counseling. PK’s (preacher’s kids, as he referred to them) often acted out when they felt too much was expected of them. Making it as a principal’s son was like climbing a steep mountain; fitting in as a priest’s and principal’s son was akin to tackling Mt. Everest.
       “He really doesn’t belong in a school that expects kids to sit at their desks with their hands folded,” Niki told Alastair after the appointment. But Alastair had resisted the idea of either a school change or a counselor. How would it look for a minister, a counselor by profession, if he sent his own child to therapy or to another school? She hadn’t pressed the issue further.
       There were times she could strangle Jonathan. Still, he was just a kid, and the police could be cagy in their questioning — forcing a person to admit to something he didn’t do. An eleven-year-old, even a smart one, would be no match for them.
       She looked at her hands. Despite her gardening gloves, her nails were a disgrace. French nails weren’t practical for a gardener or for someone who planned to spend more time in the kitchen; they didn’t last the three weeks between manicure appointments, but they seemed a small compensation for her current stresses. And Alastair was proud of her appearance, even if he usually didn’t comment on it. In the hall mirror she inspected herself: hair in shambles, brown spots near her jaw line. Another IPL treatment might have to wait until after the kitchen remodel.
       Below, on the table, sat the accumulation of three days’ mail — a sore point with Alastair and a detraction from the beautiful Clodion vase her parents had given them last Christmas. The previous Christmas, a French carriage clock had arrived. The home she grew up in had been filled with such art. While Alastair appreciated the vase, there was a puritanical side to him that kept him from enjoying ownership of an objet d’art, especially one he had not purchased himself. She ran her fingers over its hard-paste Sèvres porcelain and gilt bronze, bringing them to rest on the face of the stag who stood beside two does. Jonathan was like a stag, the way he ran. She looked at the mail again, afraid to check for bills. She’d stuff it in a grocery bag later. She couldn’t be seen at school without a shower.

       Jonathan was indeed sitting on the bench outside Wyona’s office. He had a few Pokemon cards in his lap and was picking at a hangnail. In a few minutes the bell would ring, and the hall would be flooded with kids. They needed to get out of the traffic pattern, not have everyone see the two of them going into the assistant principal’s office. At least it was on the other side of the building from Alastair’s, so she might avoid running into him until she’d gotten the whole story.
       “Are you okay?” she asked, putting a hand on Jonathan’s shoulder. The back of his shirt had come out of his pants and his belt was missing.
       “Shitty day.”
       “Language. Tell me what happened before we have to go in.” She rummaged in her purse for a comb for Jonathan’s hair, then thought better of it. He’d just been through an ordeal and should look the part.
       At that moment, Wyona opened her door, stuck her head into the hall like a turtle, and nodded at Niki.
       “Officer Kramer is already here.” The assistant principal glanced at her watch, as if to note the time Niki had taken to arrive. “We’ve been down to the locker room while we were waiting.”
       “Why don’t you tell us what happened, Jonathan,” Officer Kramer began once Niki and Jonathan were seated across from Wyona’s desk. Her billy club extended the full length of her thigh and her gun was prominently displayed in the holster on her left hip. She looked prepared to take on a group of terrorists. Jonathan’s take-offs on adults were usually not flattering — more than once she had heard him refer to Wyona as “The Hydra” — and a stocky, bleached- blonde dyke would be no exception. Last week he had done an impersonation of their stuttering rector giving kids detention for passing notes in chapel. It was so spot-on, she had doubled up laughing. Even Alastair had started to chuckle before he caught himself and said, “That’s quite enough, Jonathan.” A cop skit would definitely need some editing before tonight’s dinnertime performance.
       “I got a pass in homeroom to go to the bathroom. The one in the hall was locked, so I went down to the gym.”
       It was odd that he’d asked for a pass right at the beginning of school. Still, his demeanor gave Niki confidence. Despite his difficulties, Jonathan was usually unflappable. His nails, bitten to the quick, however, belied his composure. That bitter-tasting stuff you painted on them might help him kick the habit. His fourth finger was tapping out some rhythm on the arm of the chair.
       For months Alastair had been urging Jonathan to take up the piano or clarinet, but to his dismay, her parents had given him a coveted five-piece drum set with fourteen inch hi-hats and eighteen inch coast ride cymbals for his last birthday. Niki had been saving some of her household money for drum lessons. While Jonathan wouldn’t stay around for track, he did want to be part of the band, if he could pass the audition.
       “You know you’re supposed to use the facilities before class.”
       Wyona couldn’t pass up an opportunity for correction.
       “I had a late religion assignment to turn in. There wasn’t time.”
       “Another late assignment?”
       “We had to find a hymn based on a poem. It took me a while.”
       “And once you were in the gym?” Kramer asked, obviously annoyed at Wyona for derailing her interrogation.
       “I was walking past the lockers toward the urinals and I heard a noise. I turned around and there were these two guys.”
       “What two guys?”
       “Just two guys.”
       “Not St. Tim’s students?”
       Wyona would have already told Kramer this. Had the boys been St. Tim’s students, there would’ve been no need for police contact.
       “What’d they look like?”
       “One was tall. Dark, maybe from India. Black hair. Grey hooded sweat shirt. Nike tennis shoes.” Jonathan was very good with details.
       “And the other one?”
       He hesitated for a second and Niki panicked until he continued: “Shorter, but bigger than me. Not as dark as his friend.”
       He needed more specifics. She was relieved when he added: “His khakis were kind of dirty, had a rip above one knee.”
       “And then what happened?”
       “They asked me if I’d like to get into one of the lockers. I said I wouldn’t.”
       Niki watched Kramer, who’d been eyeing Wyona, turn her ferret eyes on Jonathan. His drumming had migrated from the arm of the chair to his thigh.
       “They pushed me down and shoved me in the locker.”
       “Did you resist?”
       “Sure. I kicked. I hit one of them.”
       “And they hit back?”
       “The big one held me down.”
       “Any scratches or bruises? Mind if I look at your arms and legs?”
       Of course Jonathan would mind, but Niki wasn’t sure there was much she could do about it.
       “Is this necessary?” she asked. “Don’t you think he’s been through enough today?”
       “It’s routine, Ma’am.”
       Officer Kramer pushed up Jonathan’s sweater sleeves and rolled up his pants to the knees. Jonathan stared at the opposite wall, his lips pursed.
       “Don’t see any battle scars.”
       “If I’d fought back more, they’d have hurt me.”
       “You think so?”
       “How long did it take two boys to get you stuffed into a half-sized locker?”
       “I don’t know. I wasn’t thinking about time.”
       Niki could see where Kramer was heading. “He’s only ninety pounds,” she added. Kramer continued her questioning, not acknowledging Niki’s comment.
       “So, now you’re in the locker and then what happened?”
       “They slammed the door shut. I couldn’t open it from the inside. I banged hard and told them to let me out. They laughed and then I heard them walk away.”
       “And you’re sure you’ve never seen them before?”
       “You’re sure?”
       “He told you no,” Niki said. “If you’re finished now, we’d like to go home.”

       Once she saw the police car pull out of the parking lot, Niki found Alex and put the boys in her car before going back inside to speak privately with Wyona. Alastair should not get wind of Jonathan’s story. The two strange boys were really a stretch. Jonathan had probably just got bored in homeroom, gone down to the locker room and put himself in a locker, not realizing if he closed the door he’d be trapped. Still, in the off chance he was telling the truth and she had falsely accused him, she’d lose his trust. Alastair, on the other hand, didn’t tolerate “drama queens” and probably wouldn’t give Jonathan the benefit of the doubt; he’d call him a fabricator and indirectly he’d hold her responsible.
       She’d have to get a copy of the police report, be sure there was nothing too damaging in it. Then after a few days, she could have a heart-to-heart with Jonathan about what had really happened in the locker room. Orchestrating a private talk might be difficult, but Jonathan did need a new pair of swim goggles, and Alex probably wouldn’t want to come along.
       She knocked tentatively on Wyona’s door. It was a few minutes before the assistant principal opened it.
       “Forgot something?” she asked.
       “Just wanted a word with you.”
       Wyona hesitated. “Come in then,” she said, holding open the door.
       Niki didn’t take the seat she’d occupied during the conference, electing to stand by the door.
       “About our conference,” she began, shifting her weight off the foot that was beginning to rub in her heels. “I’d appreciate it if it were kept between the four of us — just between you, me, Jonathan and the police woman.”
       Wyona shuffled a pile of papers on her desk. “Mr. Andrews extricated Jonathan from the locker. He usually doesn’t say much.”
       “Of course, but aside from him, no one else needs to know.”
       “You can count on our discretion.” For the first time, she looked Niki in the eye. Something about the curve of her mouth wasn’t quite right. “I hope we are not going to have any more incidents like this one,” Wyona continued. “Jonathan has taken up far too much of the school’s time.”
       “Thanks for your cooperation,” Niki said, opening the door to the hall. A few white dots appeared in her right visual field, dots that often preceded a cluster headache. She hadn’t had one since the conference about the five demerits; she had coped with a couple of Tylenol, making veal stew Marengo for dinner, serving it with a crisp Voignier, Ravel’s “Bolero” on the stereo. It was one of the few classical pieces from Alastair’s collection that really touched a chord. Not that she could imagine him doing a bolero; he was really a foxtrot kind of guy. But maybe he realized how incredibly sexy it was, as they had made love that night — first time in ten days — Alastair unaware of Jonathan’s behavior until his report card came out two weeks later.
       She planned to drop Jonathan at the pool and Alex at tennis, but Jonathan said he wasn’t up to swimming; he just wanted to go home. She was encouraging him to swim — it could help him relax after a bad day — when Alex interrupted.
       “How come you had to go to Matthews’ office?” he asked.
       In the rear view mirror, she could see him elbowing his brother.
       “Got locked in a locker,” Jonathan said, giving his brother a nudge in return before elaborating.
       “Gee, man. You let two guys stuff you into a locker? Watcha do in there? Play the drums?”
       “Shut up, Alex. Where’re you going, Mom? I told you I’m not swimming.”
       “You’ve already missed three days this month. Your coach is not going to be happy.”
       “Fuck the coach.”
       “I just spent two hours in a locker. I got a headache.”
       You and me both. She took the next turn off to the tennis club.

       As soon as she and Jonathan pulled into the driveway, Jonathan bolted for his room. A chance for a couple of aspirins, a cold face cloth over her eyes, maybe even a short nap to fortify her for the evening. Any inkling of a Jonathan problem could turn a pleasant dinner into a row, Alastair not understanding why his older son was such a constant embarrassment. As if the bad behavior genes belonged to her, and couldn’t possibly come from Alastair’s side of the family. Did he really believe that, or was it just his pissy side, his way of getting back at her? Revenge for a messy front hall table, housekeeping skills that fell short of his mother’s, failure to help the altar guild with flower arrangements, frustration over a son who didn’t meet his expectations, his own lack of advancement in the Church? ? If he could just get past the deacon level, out from under St. Tim’s rector, and be appointed to the recently vacated rector position at the neighboring parish church.
       Hopefully, his noon meeting with the bishop had gone well and they’d have something to celebrate tonight. She put a bottle of sauvignon blanc in the fridge. Given the afternoon, take-out was appealing, but recently, she’d made a serious attempt to expand her menus in anticipation of the kitchen remodel Alastair had finally agreed to. She’d bought Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking and, to Alastair’s delight, had learned to make suprêmes. If she could muster the energy, she might tackle chicken Milanese tonight. Get up some steamed broccoli with toasted almonds, rice pilaf, a salad with sliced persimmons from the tree out back. She’d prompt Alastair to read the poem with the “mellow fruitfulness” and tell him she was thinking of it while planting today. He might not notice Jonathan’s funk. He might even abandon his study in favor of their watching a TV movie together.
       She put on fresh make-up and chose a navy wool dress she often wore to church, not wanting to give the appearance of staging an evening, and went down to the kitchen. The light was beginning to drain from the patch of sky visible from the window over the sink. After pounding the boneless chicken breasts vigorously with her new mallet, she dipped them into separate bowls of egg, flour, and a bread crumb-Parmesan mixture. An egg-slippery chicken breast slipped from her hand. She stooped to pick it up — it wouldn’t acquire germs in less than five seconds on the floor — hopeful that all her new efforts could narrow the widening gulf in her marriage.
       Jonathan was still in his room when she finished prepping the chicken. He could stay there while she went to pick up Alex. The aspirin, along with an escape from the drumming that reverberated through the walls of the house, would help the incipient headache. The familiar rhythm stopped her for a moment before lyrics popped into her head: Fire all your guns at once. Explode into space. Steppenwolf. Born to be Wild. He’d almost got it. She laughed, pleased her son was taking up music of her generation. Music might be an even better way to unite the family than a new garden or gourmet dinners. Alastair wouldn’t relate to heavy metal thunder, but there was bound to be other music he and Jonathan could agree on. He’d had piano lessons as a kid, so he should be able to do something with an electric keyboard. Tomorrow she’d check out available rentals, pick up some Seals and Crofts or Eagles sheet music. Maybe get Alex started on a sax. She’d always wanted to play electric guitar, do a rendition of “Classical Gas.”

       “We’re not going to talk about school issues tonight,” she told Alex, thinking about “far away troubles” as she enjoyed the wistful sound of “Yesterday” playing on the car’s sixties pop station.
       During their brief courtship, Alastair had made light of his clerical side and had surprised her with tickets to an outdoor concert that featured Beatles’ hits. She’d brought a picnic and they’d spread a blanket on the lawn, Alastair feeding her bites of roast chicken, between chaste kisses, as the band played “ I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” Even when George Harrison's stand-in started in on “My Sweet Lord,” Christ had not joined the party; to her relief, Alastair had left Him at home. Nothing against Christ, but He tended to push the conversation towards topics like the poor inheriting the earth, which didn’t sit so well after a Ferragamo shopping spree.
       She opened the driver’s window, half hoping to catch the intoxicating scent of jasmine laced with pot that she recalled from the concert. Alastair had never been as turned on as he had been that night when they’d later made love in the back of his Buick. The memory made her nostalgic for her high school pot-induced escapades, evenings ripping around in the T-bird her dad had given her and then taken away at the time he imposed a strict curfew and counseling sessions. In college, she’d exchanged drugs for a series of affairs, and not with anyone whose dad was listed in Dun and Bradstreet.
       At one point, her father told her she’d sufficiently sullied her reputation that no decent man would have her. If it hadn’t been for that remark, she might never have taken up with Alastair, although she didn’t want to believe she’d married him just to prove her father wrong. Away from school and church, Alastair could be fun. His hysterical John Cleese and Robin Williams tapes. That one about the definition of golf. They’d died laughing listening to them together, before God had become a full time occupation and the Church, the other woman in her life, before they got into arguments over Jonathan. What he needed now was half a joint before dinner. Could you put pot in chicken Milanese?
       Alex was full of tennis gossip. He’d had a good practice and his coach was going to put him in the line-up for next week’s match with the neighboring elementary school. Great, she told him, fearful she was shortchanging the kid who wasn’t having a problem and at the same time wondering how tonight’s dinner would unfold. Alex was invariably up when Jonathan was down, the family somehow always out of equilibrium.
       As soon as they were through the front door, Alex turned on a sit-com, a forbidden activity until homework was completed. She didn’t stop him, unable simultaneously to negotiate a gourmet dinner and an argument. Besides, she and Alastair had made the TV rule more for Jonathan than Alex; after dinner, Alex would get down to his assignments without prompting.
       The crash of the hi-hats almost obliterated the clatter outside the study door, which occurred simultaneously with her draining the broccoli.
       “For God’s sakes. Do you have to leave stuff right in the middle of the path?”
       The dropped trowel and box of bulbs, the start of a birthday present, forgotten when she ran to get the phone … Alastair had tripped over them.
       “So sorry,” she said, running from the kitchen to open the study door. “I was gardening when the phone rang and I just dropped everything. Then it was time to pick up the boys.” She brushed off the knees of his trousers, looked at his scraped hand; a bandage and a glass of wine might still salvage the evening, although the lines in his forehead suggested the rector position in the neighboring church had not been offered. “Dinner’s ready. I have a lovely sauvignon blanc.”
       “Where’s Jonathan? I understand there was quite a scene at school today.”
       “Could we just have dinner now?” Niki asked, wondering, if Wyona had kept quiet as promised, how he’d found out. “It’s been a trying afternoon.”
       “This is not going to wait.” He dropped his briefcase by the door. “I can’t have this sort of disruption at school. Jonathan?” He shouted up the stairs. “Alex,” he said, turning to his younger son. “You know the rules. No TV until homework is done.”
       Niki disappeared into the kitchen. The butter for the broccoli had browned in the frying pan. Alex had turned off the TV, come into the kitchen, and opened the fridge door. Staring into its bowels, he announced he was famished.
       “Why is Jonathan not coming when he’s called?” Alastair asked.
       “What’s for dinner?” Alex watched Niki tip the colander of drained broccoli into a new combination of butter and oil. “I hate broccoli.”
       “Ask him,” Niki answered Alastair, running the pan with the browned butter under the faucet and wiping away the remaining scum. She turned to Alex. “I don’t want to hear about it. Eat the chicken.”
       A package of sliced almonds that had been sitting on the counter a minute ago had magically disappeared. She poured a glass of sauvignon blanc and handed it to Alastair.
       “I’m not in the mood for wine tonight. Jonathan?”
       “He probably can’t hear you while he's playing.” For the first time she was grateful for the thumping that pulsated through the house. Get your motor running/ Head out on the highway. Steppenwolf lyrics had taken over her brain. The highway in her old T-bird, top down. Preferable to the Bainbridge’s dining room tonight.
       Alastair went upstairs and shouted through Jonathan’s door, “Stop that blasted drumming and come downstairs at once.” By the time Niki served the chicken Milanese, he and Jonathan were standing by their chairs, Jonathan out of school uniform and into a Grateful Dead T-shirt and jeans.
       “This is undercooked,” Alastair said, after he cut into a breast.
       “Gee, Mom, are you trying to give us all salmonella?” Alex asked.
       Without a word, she took the plates into the kitchen and slid the chicken breasts back into the frying pan, turning up the heat, as she listened to the unraveling drama.
       “So Jonathan,” Alastair began, “I need a forthright account of what happened today, starting from when you arrived at school.”
       Jonathan began his story. He’d asked for a bathroom pass in homeroom, then found the hall bathrooms locked.
       “The hall bathrooms are never locked,” Alastair interrupted.
       “They were today, or the door was stuck. I couldn’t get in.”
       “I’m not buying this, but go on,” Alastair said.
       Niki re-entered the dinning room, plates in hand, silently praying that the chicken breasts were now cooked through.
       Jonathan continued his tale, giving a detailed description of being confronted by the two boys and being pushed into the locker.
       “I don’t think two guys could get me into one of those little lockers,” Alex said.
       “No one asked you.” Jonathan gave his brother a poisonous look.
       “What were you doing before school?” Alastair asked.
       “Couldn’t this wait until after dinner?” Niki asked again.
       “What did these boys look like?” Alastair took a bite of broccoli and bypassed the breast.
       “Mom, the chicken is still pink,” Alex said.
       “One was tall, dark, maybe from India.” Jonathan had cut the broccoli florets into miniature trees which now floated in a butter soup.
       “Why do we always have to talk about Jonathan? I’m in next week’s tennis line-up.”
       “What was he wearing?”
       “A Snoop Dogg T-shirt and jeans.”
       Niki looked up from her plate and met Jonathan’s eyes. He looked down at his plate immediately and attacked the chicken breast with his knife. The Indian guy Jonathan described in Wyona’s office had a gray hooded sweat shirt. Alastair would be unaware of the first rendition, unless, of course, Wyona had given him a blow-by-blow description of the cop interrogation. Unlikely, even for Wyona. If Alastair had an inkling that Jonathan was fabricating any part of this story … the punishment? No swimming for a month? That might not bother Jonathan that much. The new drum set? Alastair would love an excuse to get rid of it. Which could start World War III.
       Alastair looked over at her. Something in her face must have given her away.
       “I’m not listening to this poppycock,” he said, standing suddenly. “You didn’t tell me what you were doing before class.”
       She looked from her husband to her son. Since when was before school an issue?
       Jonathan pushed back from the table, toppling his chair. “I’m not staying in this shitty school.” He ran from the dining room and out Alastair’s study door.
       “What’s for dessert?” Alex asked.
       Niki looked at the chicken and broccoli sitting on his plate.
       “Homework,” she said.
       “Why do you stick up for him when he tells these cockamamie stories?” Alastair asked Niki, his face contorting. “I understand you cut the policewoman off when she was trying to get at the bottom of things.”
       So, there it was. Wyona had probably gone to the rector as well, the little witch.
       “How come there’s never anything good to eat around here?” Alex headed towards the fridge again.
       “Why don’t you acknowledge he needs help? Dr. Tuttle tried to tell you.” Niki put her fork and knife down and looked at her husband directly.
       “Help? He needs a good canning.”
       “That seems rather excessive for a cover-up story to an embarrassing situation.”
       “An embarrassing situation? The whole school was in an uproar today.”
       “I thought only a handful of people knew.”
       “There were more than a handful of people at chapel this morning. It was the bishop’s visit.”
       “The bishop didn’t see Jonathan in the locker.”
       “No, he didn’t. What he saw was…” Alastair’s hands were shaking and he couldn’t get the words out.
       “During Jerusalem, his favorite...”
       “You know, the hymn set to the William Blake poem.”
       Her look said: “What on earth are you talking about?”
       Then he added, “Oh, of course, I shouldn’t expect you’d be familiar with the Prophetic Books, given your reading habits. The third verse starts: Bring me my bow of burning gold. Bring me my arrows of desire. Bring me my spear, o clouds unfold.” The words seemed to carry him away. His ruddy English complexion turned a deep plum. “And just at that point, when the music swells, these … these c-condoms,” he stuttered, “came raining down on the congregation. Apparently someone had fitted them over the organ pipes.”
       Niki, who had just taken a sip of her neglected wine, covered her face to contain the fluid that was emerging from her nostrils. Her panties suddenly felt a bit damp. So that was the other incident at school Wyona hadn’t wanted to mention. Condoms exploding into space. Surely Jonathan wouldn’t have embarrassed his father that way.
       “At least it wasn’t Jonathan’s prank. He was in the locker during chapel.”
       “And where was he before chapel? What do you think he was doing last weekend with that bicycle pump and those balloons in the garage?”
       A torrent of condoms was just the sort of thing Jonathan might think up. Could they have been forced up by the air in the organ or did he have some other contraption in place? She’d have loved to have seen the expression on the faces of the rector and the bishop when the condoms started landing in the congregation. But of all days to pull such a stunt. Surely the children must have known about the bishop’s visit. Jonathan, however, wouldn’t have been aware of his father’s anticipated critical meeting.
       “The bishop left immediately after the service and the rector kept all the middle school boys in the chapel for the morning,” Alastair continued. “They’d already missed two classes and recess, when I returned. No one had confessed. And as long as they remain silent, none of them will have any privileges. No recess. No after school sports. No school outings. That’s what your innocent son has imposed on his peers.”
       “My son?”
       “The one you refuse to discipline. Just wait ‘til I find him.”
       “Well then, you’d better hustle.” She nodded in the direction of the door, annoyed by the repeated reference to her son.
       “Where’s my windbreaker?”
       She’d worn it that afternoon and now couldn’t think what she’d done with it. She was relieved when he located it on the coat rack.
       “Better change your shoes,” she said, looking at Alastair’s churchy black shoes. In the running department, he was no match for Jonathan.
       The door closed with a bang. Returning to the kitchen, she was scraping the uneaten chicken down the garbage disposal, when she heard a clatter: Alastair, no doubt, kicking the trowel and box of bulbs out of the way. Did he understand that even if there had been no incident today, getting the new post was not necessarily a slam dunk, given that the bishop’s views seem to align with those of St. Tim’s rector who Alastair openly differed with? The archdeacon was a social advocate, while Alastair maintained Christ had come to offer redemption, not to do social work. And the rector had an evangelical bent Alastair didn’t share. He also pushed for low-church austerity and Alastair occasionally went for “smells and bells.” Despite these differences, Alastair would now always believe his son’s behavior kept him from acquiring his own parish.
       Little white spots in her visual field pulsated with a new rhythm of the house. It took a few moments to recognize its source: Alex was trying out his brother’s drum set.
       She switched on the outside light by the study door and found the trowel and overturned box of bulbs. Gathering them up, along with her copy of Julia Child, she walked into the garage and dumped them on a shelf with discarded water guns, skate boards, and an old badminton set she’d been meaning to take to the hospice gift shop. Hyacinths, what had she been thinking? A floral tourniquet for a bleeding family? Chicken Milanese? About as much of a sham as Jonathan’s Indian with the gray sweatshirt or Snoop Dogg T-Shirt, whichever it was.
       Back in the kitchen, she downed the dregs of her wine, contemplated a little retail therapy, and shouted upstairs to Alex to quit the drumming. Then she fumbled for the address book in her purse, and left a message for Dr. Tuttle. She was just thinking about starting a movie to pass the time, when the garden door opened to a sweating and out-of-breath Alastair.
       “Damn kid,” he said. “I don’t know where he’s off to.”
       “Why couldn’t you have just said, ‘I understand there was an incident today in chapel while you were stuck in a locker? Would you like to tell me about it?’ Instead you had to set him up, trap him, didn’t you?”
       A small muscle was twitching above his left eyebrow. The drumming resumed.
       “That does it. Those drums are history.”
       He started up the stairs. In a minute he was on his way down again, carrying the bass drum.
       “I was done with my homework and I just wanted to try them,” Alex called from the top of the stairs.
       “You can’t take his drums, Alastair. Especially when you’re not positive he was responsible for what happened in chapel. His band audition’s next week. Find some other privilege to take away.” Niki stood on the second from the bottom stair, blocking his passage.
       “I can and will take the drums. I don’t care if they were a present from your folks. It’s high time he had some meaningful consequences for his stupid behavior.”
       He was coming down the stairs quickly, beads of perspiration popping on his forehead, Alex following on his heels.
       “Dad, Jonathan needs his drums.”
       Alex grabbed the back of his father’s belt. Alastair’s foot rolled over the edge of the carpeted stair. As he tried to stop himself from falling into Niki, he released his grip on the drum which catapulted over the banister, knocking into the Sèvres vase on the hall table. Niki, using the banister to brace herself against the weight of Alastair’s shoulder, saw the vase fall against the marble-topped table, shattering into several jagged pieces. The mail floated off in different directions and the pieces of the vase clattered to the floor, one piercing the skin of the drum as it rolled through the living room. For a moment, her eyes met Alastair’s and what she saw in them was not distress, but triumph.
       “Look what you’ve done! The two of you!” she shouted.
       “I didn’t mean to. Honest, I didn’t.” Alex was crying. “I can fix it with Krazy glue.”
       Alastair regained his balanced and moved past her.
       “I know you didn’t mean to,” Niki said to Alex, as she watched Alastair stoop to pick up first the large triangular piece with the head of the doe and then a smaller fragment. He tried to fit them together. “But some things can’t be mended.”
       “I’m sorry,” Alastair said, turning the shard over in his hand as he limped towards his study, past the ruptured drum. He had probably twisted his ankle when he fell into her. She felt no sympathy, hating him for the inadequacy of his response.
       “Sorry about the vase or the drum?” she asked after him, picking up another piece with the intact stag. The eye stared at her. The most beautiful art piece in the house. How would she explain its absence to her parents?
       “This isn’t a problem for the theologians,” she called into the silent study.
       Slowly she collected the other pieces from the floor, as Alex made his way quietly back up to his room. She’d get the two Alastair had picked up later. Perhaps there was something that could be done with them. Not likely.
       She was holding the punctured drum en route to the garage, when Jonathan opened the door from the garden, looking a bit disheveled, but certainly less frazzled than Alastair had appeared ten minutes ago. Seeing her, he froze.
       “What are you doing with my bass drum? Jesus, what happened to it?”
       “It had a little accident. I’ll get it fixed in the morning. First we need to talk.”
       “You bitch,” he said. “What makes you think you can fix everything? My audition got moved to tomorrow.”
       “Jonathan, I ...” but he had turned on his heels and run back into the night.
       The b word stung. She’d been about to tell him to watch his mouth, but then again, he probably didn’t really mean it. But the fixing … she’d thought she could fix most things, although she had just told Alex there were some things that couldn’t be mended.
       Light was visible from underneath Alastair’s study door. Was he really reading or was he sitting there thinking about how the world had shortchanged him? She continued into the garage and climbed into her car, putting the drum on the passenger seat, still clutching a shard. Being pinned behind the steering wheel felt like being wrapped in a safe cocoon. Her own locker. A place to hide while all the commotion was going on. Clever Jonathan. Still she could brain him.
       The broken piece of the vase was hurting her hand. The eye of the stag stared back at her. She began to concoct various stories she might tell her mother about what happened to the vase. The cat knocking it over was the best one, but the cat had disappeared two months ago. Everything she came up with was about as convincing as Jonathan’s Indian in the Snoop Dogg T-shirt. She stared at the battered drum. Tomorrow she could get a new skin for it at the music store where she’d intended to check out the rentals, but suddenly she took the shard and cut around the drum’s circumference, peeling back the torn skin. Getting out of the car, she retrieved the remainder of the bulbs, the trowel, and the potting soil from the garage shelf where she had placed them not ten minutes before. With the same zest she’d used to attack the hyacinth bed that afternoon, she scooped soil into the drum, planted ten bulbs in the body, and arranged the shards like rocks in a Zen garden. Removing the weighty drum from the front seat, she waddled it over to Alastair’s study. His head was buried in a book when she opened the door.
       “Early birthday present,” she said, depositing the drum garden on the floor.
       The French carriage clock struck ten. Time to look for her boy.

Lorraine Comanor is a graduate of Harvard University and Stanford University Medical School. A board certified anesthesiologist and industry consultant, she has authored or co-authored over thirty-five medical publications, including a book chapter. In a past life, she was also the U.S. figure skating champion and member of the U.S. world team. A memoir piece appeared last year in Skating Magazine. The Locker is her first short story and features characters from the novel she is now finishing. This January she’ll complete her MFA in fiction at the Bennington Writing Seminars. Married with three children, she lives in Truckee, California.

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