The below post is the fifth chapter of the young adult novel I started in earnest a few weeks ago. I have this kind of goal to get the thing written this summer, so I'm going to post bits of it to keep me encouraged. The plan, I suppose, is to remove older chapters as I put up new ones. So, for now, my two-and-a-half readers, enjoy.
On the wall behind the counter there was a clock that read ten till four, and Larry and half-a-calendar guy chitchatted until the big hand snuggled up next to the twelve. Then half-a-calendar spoke into his walkie-talkie that the new arrival—me, I was guessing—was waiting to be processed at intake. In another minute or two a guy got buzzed through a door with a little rectangular window in it that looked out on a tall-ceilinged room. I looked for signs of life though the door when it opened, craning my neck, but didn’t find any.
New guy asked half-a-calendar, “Cooperative?” and half-a-calendar replied, “Haven’t heard him peep.”
Then new guy approached me and noticed my hands were still behind my back, cuffed. “Let’s get you out of those things,” he said. “Stand up and kneel on the bench, please.”
I did as I was told, leaning forward so my shoulder balanced me against the wall. In a few seconds, my hands were free. It felt so good I wanted to turn around and shadowbox, throw some jabs and uppercuts, slash my hands freely through the air, but instead I held them in front of me and slowly clenched my hands into fists and then unclenched my fingers, wiggling them, thankful they were still attached.
New guy told me to have a seat again and delivered the cuffs to Larry, who slipped them in his back pocket where they joined the handkerchief he had used to clean my face. Then Larry made a small production of sighing and announcing that his work here was done. “Be good, Kyle,” he told me, and headed for the door we came in.
Sitting on the bench with my hands free, I remembered that this was the exact place I sat the last time I was here, when I got released after about an hour. That time, when the deputy brought me in on that Sunday morning, they’d scored me out on something they called an instrument. I’d needed to score a fifteen to stay, but only tallied a nine, since I didn’t have any previous arrests and wasn’t on probation.
The guy who scored me out on the instrument, though, had called a supervisor into the room, and the two of them held a little forehead-to-forehead whispering conference. I caught the words “serious nature” and “override” before the supervisor, a tall thin bald man with hands like catcher’s mitts, walked over to me. He rubbed one of those enormous hands over the top of his bald head, slowly. “Even though you don’t score out,” he said, “I still have it in my power to hold you until the State’s Attorney reviews your charge on Monday.” He paused here for dramatic effect, and it worked. I became very afraid.
You see, I’d gotten pinched on Sunday for a thing that happened on Friday, and I’d kind of forgotten about it all by then. Sure, I might have cried myself to sleep Friday night. I might have woken up on Saturday morning and vomited two or three times. But when the deputy finally showed up on Sunday I was more pissed off than anything. I had a key to the high school’s gym, and I’d been planning to go up there with my buddy Remy so we could feed the pitching machine for each other. I’d honestly put Friday night out of my mind, and thanks to the deputy’s friendliness on our way to the detention center, I kind of felt like this was all a formality. I didn’t think there was any chance I would actually have to stay.
The supervisor had rubbed his hand over his bald head again, and the deputy who’d brought me in called the tall man over for a little conference of his own. This time I overheard “three days” and “possible lie.” It was true, Kendra Gilchrist waited three days before going to the police, and she could have been lying.
The supervisor nodded his head a few times, stewed things over. Then he said, “All right, Kyle. We’re cutting you loose.”
It took all of a half hour or so before my parents came to get me. I walked right out the front door. Before I did so, the guy who released me said, “How about you don’t make a habit of showing up here?” I’d replied that I didn’t plan on it. “You’ll never see me again,” I’d said. “I’m gone. A ghost.”
Remembering all this made it feel wrong, Larry’s leaving without me, like there had been some kind of mistake, but I was the only one who’d realized it. I said, “Wait—” thinking maybe he’d remember the mistake and take me with him. But Larry reached for another one of those silver buttons, and before he even got his hand up to it, the door in front of him thunked and buzzed, and he was gone. I was half-amazed by this until I found yet another camera in the corner of the room, and then it all made perfect sense.
“So, Kyle,” new guy said. He was holding a brown file in his hands, looking down at it. “One hundred eighty days.”
“Yeah,” I said, beating him to it, “I know. Half a calendar.”
New guy dropped my file until it was waist-high in his hands and looked up at me with a puzzled expression on his face. He said, “I suppose that’s one way of looking at it.”
He shook his head from side to side, and kind of smiled. I don’t know what I was expecting the people who worked there to be like, but I know I didn’t expect them to smile. And then new guy started laughing and repeated, “Half a calendar. I’ve been here two years and I’ve never heard that one before.”
I couldn’t tell if he was just playing me, and I wondered for a second if any of this was real. It seemed very possible that I could wake up from a bad dream at any moment and I wouldn’t be wearing this tie and these dress slacks. I would be at home in a pair of mesh shorts and a T-shirt, lying on my bed. I’d wake up by playing a game of MLB ‘O6 on my PlayStation 2. I’d created a player named Kyle Holt over the past year, and his skills—hitting for power, running speed, throwing arm, even his bunting—were all maxed out. He had just the previous week signed a three-year deal to play centerfield for the Cubs. That Kyle Holt, he went from game to game, batting clean-up, roaming the outfield. He has never committed a crime, never been sentenced to jail.
Just after Larry left the building, I couldn’t get out of my head what I’d said the last time I’d been in the detention center: I’m gone. A ghost. For three months, I think, I had been something of a ghost. I was a ghost named Kyle Holt playing centerfield in MLB ‘O6. I was a ghost named Kyle Holt who went to school and got good grades, was voted first-team All-Conference as a sophomore. And I was a ghost named Kyle Holt who showed up in court on occasion, watched his trial unfold.
Those first ten minutes in the detention center, I almost convinced myself that maybe all this was a dream, or that I was just another ghostly version of myself. And then I realized that with my hands free there was a way I could check to see if I was really awake, if I was me. I could pinch myself.
New guy was stacking sheets of white paper on top of my file, getting settled in a chair on the other side of the counter. Since he wasn’t looking at me, I crossed my arms and grabbed a little skin through my shirt up near my armpit. I massaged the skin there for a second and then squeezed it as hard as I could between my index finger and thumb. The pain made my shoulder twitch, and I blinked my eyes a few times. I don’t know, though, exactly what I was hoping for: to wake up in my bed, beneath cozy sheets, from a three-months-long bad dream, or to disappear completely, to suddenly materialize as the ghost I thought I’d become.
My mother-in-law, Amanda, kicked the bucket (in her sleep, peacefully, without the usual requisite illness; really, my own mother said a few days later that’s the way she wants to go, the way Amanda did) and my father-in-law, Bill, started going to estate sales. He drives a boxy, red Ford truck with a handmade, wood-and-welded-iron bed extending from the cab. He spent two months of his retirement building this truck bed, and it’s a sturdy, monstrous-looking thing. On the highway, he cruises steadily at forty-five miles per hour, and I often pass him in the morning when he is on his way to a sale somewhere in Illinois and I am on my way to the university where I teach. On clear, fogless mornings, I know it’s his truck from about a mile back.
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I have this story under consideration at a few places now, so I'm pulling it from the blog. As is custom around here, give me a shout if you'd like to read the rest.
When I was nineteen or twenty I got serious about reading and writing and subscribed to Poets & Writers. At the time, it made perfect sense. In retrospect, however, I really had no business even looking at the pictures. Mostly, I thought that I wanted to be a writer, but I rarely spent any time in front of the computer, writing.
Once, though, I did send a short-short to Story Magazine’s contest, which I saw advertised in P&W. I thought I had a real shot at winning, and every day, I would race down to the mailbox, expecting to find the letter announcing that I had won, and the $1,000 check. Eventually, I got my little rejection slip. Minor heartbreak ensued. *
Almost ten years later, I’m subscribing to P&W again. And now, my name has officially appeared in its pages. You have to look pretty hard to find it, but trust me, it’s there.
*Three years later, the talented guy who won the contest, interviewed here, actually became my teacher. Brady, you really need to get a website going.
He is on his side and almost asleep when suddenly his wife, who is supposed to be dead, is in bed behind him, snoring. At first, her snore is an almost imperceptible sound: a catch in the back of her throat, followed by a low whistle.
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I have this story under consideration at a place now, too, so I'm deleting the rest of it from here. You know what to do if you're utterly intrigued.