At the talent show in the middle school cafeteria, a boy shows that he can hold his hands up in surrender and cause them to bleed just by thinking about it. At first there is laughter and derisive moaning from the crowd -- a joke gone bad and too long in the telling. Then those in the front row of folding chairs begin to point. They can see the back wall through holes in the boy's palms, and the first screams erupt. The Vice Principal steps forward to chastise the boy for causing such a ruckus, then abruptly ducks into a crouch, scanning the assembly for the silencer-equipped firearm that must have targeted the boy's hands as he raised them for quiet. Teachers usher the children out and search them.
Thus the show ends. And later, when the boy's hands are inspected and found to be whole -- absent of any stain or scar -- he is punished. Bent over, he gazes into the aquarium in the Vice Principal's office as the board descends again and again. The man is on a mission with a blunt instrument, and he gives himself over to the love of such work. The boy thinks of water and waves; he thinks of the rhythm of pain that is part of the pang felt when something beautiful presents itself to the senses: evening clouds in the moment when they lose flame and pale to ash; the tiny lights fish carry with them into weed caves; the bird's beak still open after the call is finished.
When he raises himself finally, and turns, his face is shining with calm. "Insolent whelp," the man proclaims. And he adds suspension to the boy's punishment, crossing his name off the roll.