FICTION December 16, 2011

Wild Kingdom


In geometry class, when Miss Godfrey has us students go one by one to the front of the room and draw triangles on the chalkboard, her guiding voice reminds me of the Peanuts gang.  The way that teacher wonk wonks at Charlie Brown is what I hear as she covers the end of day materials.

Still, she’s getting to be okay in my book.

Rick has a take as well.  He calls her a magnificent love star.

I’m not sure if he’s confusing our class with astronomy.

But seeing that geometry just so happens to be the last subject, my brother has made a routine of now personally coming to the room to take me home on the back of his motorcycle.  And he’s always on time.

When the final bell rings the two of them walk me outside.  No sooner are we in the fresh air and they’re talking over a Marlboro Light about their favorite music, the latest movies, and how us kids appear so wise, so dangerous.

I sometimes pretend they’re my parents.

Miss Godfrey, being new and younger than the other instructors, is the gossip of the school.  Everything about her is foreign, right down to her clothes, which strike me as different, in all the cool ways.  She told the class once she grew up in Germany and Japan and a few places we needed a globe to find.  That’s as much as she’s said about her childhood.

These days, Miss Godfrey is mostly what I dream about.

As she has me approach the chalkboard the great event of the afternoon has its better way with my emotions.  Since first bell I have been restless and weird – tapping a pencil against the desk to whatever tunes play in my head.  My knee can’t stop moving either.  I blurt out the sky is falling to no one in particular.  This is followed by a collective stare.

See later on my brother plans on jumping his dirt bike over Chloe in the sandpit near our house.  There’s talk a reporter will be there to capture the moment but that’s merely jive, according to Rick.  Not to mention a bad scene.  Having a newspaper reporter there would land him in the clink if word got out.  Rick told me the sandpit was formed when a meteor crashed there thousands of years ago.  “The sky is falling,” he said to me once.  “Take your chance, for tomorrow might not come.  Holes like that sandpit are what took out the dinosaurs, Hippie.”

His words made sense.  I read about this in books.

Anyway, the idea for the jump came to be after Rick and Chloe had a two-day blowup in our basement not long ago.  That’s when Chloe challenged.  “Prove your love to me, hot dog.”

This event is what he came up with.

On the chalkboard, I begin to draw my triangle.  It’s unlike the others.  I start by drawing a long horizontal line in the center of the board.  This way I am able to tip the isosceles on its side and with my ruler build what looks clearly to me like a sweet motorcycle ramp.

Miss Godfrey offers words of approval for my innovation.  When finished the task, she claps and points out that triangles can be any way you want them.  It really depends on how you want your geometric shapes to be.

“That’s wonderful,” she says.  “Good job.  Allison, you’re next.”

With my back to the class, I can hear Allison Wheeler’s chair slide across the tile floor then her quick footsteps as she walks toward me.

“You’re done, Jackson.  It’s Allison’s turn.   Let’s see what her vision will be.”

But like everything in these delirious hours, I am about the day’s potential.

Freehand, I draw a crude motorcycle and two even-more-crude stick people – one stands off to the side of the triangle, a ways away from the ramp.  This one gets long, wild hair, and inspired by Rick’s army jacket, a love heart around her.

“Enough, Jackson,” Miss Godfrey declares.  “Other students need a turn.”

I throw up a finger.  “One second,” I say then chalk the other stick person next to the dirt bike.  This one has an arm raised, and inspired by the promise of the day, gives a peace sign.

The class erupts in laughter, hands slap desks, textbooks fall on the floor.

John Vail, who sits in the front row and Cape Middle School’s royal snitch, breaks in.  “Miss Godfrey.  I know what Jackson’s drawing.”

“Not now, Jonathon,” she says.

“But Miss Godfrey.”

In my head I realize a huge problem with this picture.  The sandpit walls are not the exact angle of the isosceles I have crafted.  They are far more horizontal.  I panic.  Fearing Rick’s safety, I go for the eraser to fix everything.  As I do, I latch onto Miss Godfrey’s fist.

Standing next to me, she owns the eraser.

“Us.  Talk.  Out in the hallway.”  She takes me by the back of my elbow.

The class quiets to murmurs and giggles.

On our way, I dare Vail to tell Miss Godfrey what’s planned later on.

“Take your chance, Vail, for tomorrow might not come.”

His face flushes.

The neighborhood stands on the lip of the sandpit like a row of shrubs.  From here in the basin, they are relatively motionless.  Their enthusiasm or concern is only slightly visible by the occasional arm wave or nail bite.  Maybe it’s a good thing that the reporter is nowhere to be found.  Standing next to Rick, the scene feels too wonderful for adults.

He straps his helmet.  For safekeeping, he offers a piece of paper, which he’s told me is his last will and testament.  “Don’t open,” he instructs.  “It’s major bad mojo to read a will when the person’s still alive.”

I try not to show my nerves.  “Did you leave anything for me?”

“Let’s hope we don’t find out.”

After a final check of the shocks and tires, Rick speeds toward the sandpit wall.  Chloe, ever devoted, wears my brother’s army jacket over a loose white dress.  Around her neck she has tied one of his blue paisley bandanas.  She blows him kisses on his approach while I run after his loud, angry dirt cloud.

That’s the last image I remember before tripping, falling headfirst on a rock.

According to those in attendance, not only did Rick sail over Chloe with ease, he had the where-with-all to wave at the crowd midflight.

This was more than enough proof for Chloe of his love.

Hours later she filled me in on the details while tending my wounds.

“He was Evel Knievel,” she gushed, holding a compress to my bruised forehead.  “A real daredevil, your brother.”

“Tell me again,” I said.  “Start from the beginning.”

And like that, she told me again how when Rick landed everyone circled his bike to congratulate him on his amazing feat.  One by one he shook hands and hugged his fans but saved his biggest hug for her.

And it turns out the reporter did show up.  In between pats on the back and kisses on the cheek from well-wishers, the reporter would ask why he went and did what he did – “Why risk your life?” to which Rick would respond, tapping his chest, “Why for love, of course.”

There was one important detail, however, that Chloe left out, and who could blame her.  This I learned later in the basement when the stars I was experiencing fleeted.

It had to do with my geometry teacher.  Miss Godfrey.

On the following Monday when I returned to school she was not there.  Her personal belongings, the portrait of Euclid (the father of Geometry himself) and the inspirational signs she papered the room with were nowhere to be found.

“Private school,” John Vail said.  “Are you happy, jack-off?”

“Come again, Vail,” I said.

“She was at the sandpit the other day.”


“She saw everything.”

He meant Chloe.  I’m not sure my brother ever told Miss Godfrey about her.

In the back row, my friends Skunk and Willy had their heads pressed on their desks.  At the chalkboard, Allison Wheeler drew flowers.

We waited for our substitute.