Academy Fight Song
It was an all-boys school, of course, and she taught us Latin right after lunch period: two-ten, the bright dead spot in each day. One smelled tuna fish on her breath. Her hair, dyed blue-raven-black, was obvious, even to us, her "fine young men." Bird-like, gawky and quick-tempered, raised somewhere in Britain and sent to one of its oldest public schools, she did what she could to dissipate her rage. In a different place or an earlier time she'd have paddled a few grown boys. Alas! -- she left school angry each day. Right in the middle of class I would excuse myself and head for the bathroom, the only light in there filtered through frosted panes. I'd pick up the dry, bony soap, wet it and carry it with me into the private stall. In that cooldark, I'd unzip, pull myself out and imagine her commanding me to act: Do your duty, she'd scream, Dulce et decorum est! Part of the thrill was in knowing that, at any moment, someone might enter and hear me babbling, uncontrollably, in broken Latin.
Both sixteen, we plan for this -- a glaring Sunday afternoon. I pick her up and we drive to the auto-tire plant, closed for the day, park behind it, up against the barbed-wire fence. Then slide the front seats forward, get in the back to kiss and undress -- just terrible to look at each other naked now, in this open light, our exposed genitals the color of old roast beef. I roll a condom on and get on top of her, the windows fogging up. We change positions several times, each as uncomfortable and awkward as the last. I sweat on top of her, our chests making noises when we crush and separate. A thought fires off somewhere in the brain which the body is quick to extinguish. Finishing, I pull out and look down: nothing left but a white rubber ring, the rolled end of latex. The day sure is bright. I begin to really sweat. We both sit back and have a cigarette. Well, here we are, I think -- trying not to move -- new rulers of a universe, pale and thin, terrifically small.
Torn, caked and stuck together, those pictures -- too loud to breathe easily around --
put a stop to us, gently pulling each one out of his childhood, as from a molting
or a glove. What could we do? We stared, feeling sour in the stomach and queer-headed,
something deeper than sadness but twisted, electric. Trees rose up and up beside us
to their leafy, sunblown ceiling. Looking carefully by their gnarled roots you'd have seen puffballs and earthstars or stinkhorns thrusting up from the loam. A biologist would find diatoms and water-blooms drifting over the silt. Not us: even the birdsong and creek-murmur ceased. Shadows lengthened. The world was new. Go back there yourself. Just try going backwards. See if you can look away.
Once these large rocks were thrown down to cut off a slim channel, near which moss grew and discarded hemp-ropes and flotsam, reeking and rotting, fell apart with time, ice, wind and sunlight beside the great river on whose skin the light jumped like rain, like boiling grease. Later they poured concrete on some of the rocks -- a walkway between poles strung with steel cable. And later still we came along, walking clear-headed and connected once again, at the end of September, an afternoon showing us, through the clean swift current, a weedy bottom and a tire slick with green.
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