"The Second Remove," written between 1970 and 1974, is posted for entertainment purposes only and may not be crossposted to any other datafile base, conference, news group, email list, or website without written permission of the author.
Copyright © 1997 by J. Neil Schulman. All rights reserved.

The Second Remove

by J. Neil Schulman

I. Lefton Hall

Some years ago a writer named J.D. Salinger penned a bestselling novel about a character he called Holden Caulfield; it was so well done that ever since, anyone under age twenty having even the slightest hard time has been unmercifully compared to him. Well, if you want to know the truth--to use Holden Caulfield's favorite idiom for the first and last time--I also have a story to tell, a true one, and I don't believe Holden Caulfield has a thing on me.

To begin with, I attend class in New York City at Lefton Hall Preparatory Academy, a private school as educationally pretentious as the building housing it is new--which is very. This school has got to have it over any other private school--Pencey Prep included--by its name alone: it includes the words "hall," "preparatory," and "academy"--an absolute must for any school trying to be the most exclusive in Manhattan. Super Prep School takes up the entirety of two floors in the Uni-Syn Building an Avenue of the Americas, United Synthesis being one of the countless new research firms specializing in diversification. In any event, two floors in a Manhattan high rise is quite a lot of space for a school with only two hundred or so students... and the exorbitant tuition reflects this extravagance.

Yesterday, as usual, I took the elevator up to the fourteenth floor, Lefton Hall's classrooms; it's actually the thirteenth floor but numbered fourteen because of the old superstition about evil spirits (who are too stupid to count but can nevertheless haunt high-rise office buildings). But spirits or not, no sooner had I visited my locker, grabbed books, and proceeded to homeroom...the late bell rang. "You're late, Mr. Graham," Mrs. Hayes spat out my name as I crept into the room. "Do you realize this means another detention for you?"

Wearily, I slid into my seat. "I realize that."

"Very well," Mrs. Hayes replied abruptly, "be here immediately following your last class."

She then dispatched Marcia Finkelstein, the student messenger for the week, to the office with the attendance and late list, and as the door swung shut, the public address system chimed the beginning of the morning ceremonies. First came the Pledge of Allegiance and national anthem, then the thought for the day, a quotation from an inspirational source. This time they quoted the Reader's Digest. Next the microphone was handed over to Gwen Phillips, a stunning redhead who got herself elected student body president by becoming, literally, the student body. As usual she said nothing of significance then the bell rang and I left toward my first period class, English with Mr. Hadley. Halfway down the corridor I discovered that in my haste to get to homeroom on time I'd grabbed the wrong books from my locker. That isn't to say I ever look at them but it is easier to simulate attention if one at least has the correct book open. I'd run back, made the exchange, and twirled my combination lock, when a rasping voice from behind startled me. "Hello Graham--you queer." I brought into view Paul Adler and two of his goons, Phil Evans and Donald Banks; their type has been after me since my first day at kindergarten. I decided to try bluffing my way out of the trouble I could smell coming. "Watch it, Adler," I said with as much threat as could be mustered on so short a notice, "unless you'd enjoy getting a fist down your throat."

He called. "Listen to the man talk. And just who, may I ask, is going to put it there, Graham? You?"

If there had been just one less of them I would have delivered a splendidly executed kick in the testicles, instead I attempted a ruse I'd heard about in one psychology book or another: back down giving them a way to leave without losing face. My face. "Gentlemen," I started with as much sarcasm as I dared, "I don't have time to chat just now. Do you mind if we continue this discussion at some other time?"

I had intended to use that line as a point of departure, but Evans and Banks had other ideas; they linked arms and barricaded themselves in front of me. I contemplated my next move while Banks spoke: "Do we take this shit, Paul, or do we take care of this fag now?"

Adler started shoving me back against the locker. With perhaps the only courageous impulse I ever had I swept his hands off my chest. Evans leapt forward to punch me in the gut for that resistance, but for some reason Adler held him back. I supposed he just wanted to save the first innings for himself. I started wondering if I should chance shouting for help in hope a teacher might respond...and certain death if one didn't. Then Adler spoke, "It's just lucky for you that I have to get to class or I'd push in your face, but don't think we're letting you off free. We'll take care of you, like you requested, 'some other time.'" Adler backed off, motioning Banks and Evans to follow. They started walking down the hall; after a few seconds I started towards English in the other direction. Suddenly from out of nowhere, I was kicked in the rump and sent flying, my books strewn all over the floor. I looked up in time to see Adler and the others at the far end of the hall, already, and laughing like the fools they were. "See you later, fag!" Adler shouted. How I hated those bastards.

II. Alessandra

I arrived in class about a minute before it was slated to begin; I dreaded it more than any other of the day's classes because it was the one period I had with Alessandra, my girlfriend up until last week. She was standing over to one side of the room with a group of the girls; the boys were on the other side making inane comments about their rumps. The class seemed from the beginning that it could only go downhill. Mr. Hadley was standing up at the board erasing the previous lesson. He seemed in his typical wretched mood. He finished erasing then rapped his yardstick three times on his desktop to signal the class to come to order. Everyone started back to their seats, Alessandra to hers the row to my right and one seat forward. Then Hadley started droning the lecture--Kafka or somesuch bore--and I started daydreaming: gazing at her, like a perfectly cut diamond needing nothing complementing her to be beautiful. How could she have turned out to be such a bitch?

It started last Saturday. Alessandra had arranged an overnight party at her apartment for ourselves and two other Lefton Hall students, Michele Adrienne an Benton Dewitt. Alessandra's apartment is on the east side of Manhattan near the United Nations and is absolutely huge; her father is the biggest client at my father's brokerage house. In fact, that's one of the reasons my parents sent me to Lefton Hall; Mr. Chertok had suggested it. In any case, her apartment has six bedrooms and is very luxurious.

The set-up for the evening was each of us would have our own rooms. Mr. and Mrs. Chertok and their maid had already gone to bed and the four of us decided to stay up through the entire night--not go to bed at all. We talked for a while, then about half past one we turned on the Late Show and watched the movie. Afterwards, Alessandra got us some food and we took out a bottle of apple wine. We all started getting a bit silly and decided to play Monopoly. About four-thirty Michele decided she couldn't keep her eyes open any longer and retired to her bedroom. The three of us left in the game divided it up and about a half-hour later Alessandra won.

Then Alessandra got the idea to go outside to her terrace and watch the sun come up over the East River. We all got our coats--it was still quite chilly last Saturday--then we went our and watched for about three quarters of an hour. When we came back in, I stretched out on the couch, Alessandra took an easy chair, and Benton lay down in the middle of the oriental rug. I started wondering how long it would take Benton to get the message and leave Alessandra and me alone. We relaxed there a while longer, had more apple wine, then I left Alessandra and Benton in the livingroom because I had to go to the toilet. When I returned, Alessandra had joined Benton on the oriental rug. Screwing. It took a few seconds for the image to register, then I got my coat and left without saying a word. I was damned if I was going to show any emotion; I wasn't going to give her the satisfaction.

My mind drifted to this past Christmas when Alessandra and I were alone at her parent's ski cottage in the Berkshires. We'd started going together just about from the time I'd entered Lefton Hall; we already knew each other through our fathers. In any event, it was snowing--a blizzard, to be precise--and her parents had gone into Pittsfield to get some provisions in case we were going to be snowed in.

Alessandra and I were alone for what amounted to the very first time. I'm not saying we hadn't managed a few minutes' caresses before, but this wasn't the same thing; we were totally alone, a real fire in the fireplace, and her parents were away for several hours at least.

Alessandra was "modeling" her outfit for me: a cream-colored cashmere sweater with a low vee-neck, no brassiere, and she had on skin tight navy blue ski slacks. The two of us were in an insane mood and she was modeling the outfit for me, parading back and forth--pivoting as in a fashion show--and every time she turned she swung around her long blonde hair and her unfettered breasts.

I was sitting next to the fireplace in an overstuffed armchair; she passed by me pretending she'd lost her balance and fell on my lap. We put our arms around each other and stared into the other's eyes...then for some unfathomable reason I started laughing. Well, she was rather put off at my spoiling the "romantic" moment and tried to make me stop laughing, but I couldn't. She finally jumped off my lap, really disgusted with my behavior, then I jumped up and started chasing her around the cottage. I finally caught up to her in the master bedroom and wrestled her down to the bed, then started twisting her arm to stop her. I must have twisted her arm too hard because she then started screaming to let go and tears started streaming down her cheeks. I brushed a few strands of hair away from her face, then I kissed her. I just didn't know what else to do. She didn't seem very surprised, then she put her arms around me and really returned the kiss.

"Michael! Why don't you tell us the plot?"

"Eh?" The class laughed and I was shaken out of my reverie.

"I asked you to relate to us the plot of Franz Kafka's 'A Hunger Artist,'" Hadley said. "You did read it for last night's homework?"

He knew quite well I hadn't. "No sir. I didn't read it."

"Very well, Michael. You had better buckle down, son. It's getting rather near the end of the term and unless you start doing assignments you'll have to repeat the year."

I would have dropped out and cleaned streets for the rest of my life rather than repeat a year in that school. "I don't give a damn," I muttered.

"I'm sorry you feel that way, Michael," Hadley said, overhearing me. "I'm not even going to waste my time on a student who never does work when I have a classful of students who do. Joyce, will you please give me the plot? Perhaps there's someone in this class who can do more than warm a chair."

The class roared with laughter and suddenly I wouldn't have remained for a minute longer if my life had depended on it. While everyone was still laughing I made my decision. I stood, walked over to Alessandra's desk and before she even knew what had happened...I kissed her. A hushed silence fell over the room; everybody was staring at me. Alessandra was near a state of shock. I walked straight toward the door, paused for a brief moment...and just smiled at Hadley. He was standing in front of his desk with his mouth hanging open. I continued out to the corridor. It was beautiful.

"Michael Graham!" Hadley's voice echoed down the corridor after me. "You get back here on the double if you know what's good for you!" I kept walking as if I hadn't even heard him.

III. Archie Boyd

Well I'd rally done it this time. Between ghastly grades and never doing homework and my somewhat dramatic exit from Mr. Hadley's class the chances were that I'd be expelled. Nonetheless I didn't care about anything other than the way my parents were getting the shaft; my father had laid out all that money for Lefton Hall. I wasn't looking forward to facing them.

I took the elevator down to the lobby of the Uni-Syn Building and just stood there with a blank expression on my face. My head was swimming; everything had happened so quickly! I'd walked out but where was I going? I felt confused, dissociated from myself, rather like prisoner being paroled after twenty years with a couple of hundred dollars and a new suit...then not knowing where to turn.

I decided in any case I'd better get as far from the Uni-Syn Building as possible because of he image I had of Dr. Savella, the headmaster, charging out of the elevator and forcing me to go back...which I was determined never to do.

I headed almost automatically back toward Forty-second Street--my route to and from Grand Central every day--and about halfway there my eye was caught by the Kodak exhibit across the street. I'd passed by it hundreds of times on my way to school but never had gone in. On an impulse I decided to go in and have a look for a while, at least until I knew what I wanted to do.

I came to the crosswalk, waited until the light changed, and started across the street; then everything started happening all at once. A piece of soot flew into my eye and blinded me, right there in the middle of Avenue of the Americas. I stopped--a really imbecilic thing to do--then some stranger got ahold of my hand and started pulling me back to the sidewalk. I didn't even see who it might be, but called out, "Thank you!" I never even found out if whomever it was heard me or not.

My eye was still tearing--the piece of soot was still in my eye--so I stumbled into the first door I found and found myself in a coffee shop. "Would you please tell where the men's room is?" I asked the woman behind the register.

"To the rear behind the telephones," she replied. "Something wrong with your eye?"

"I got some dirt in it," I said.

"You should be wearing sunglasses," she said.

"Yes, I suppose so. Thanks." My eye was still murder; I started toward the rear of the place, nearly breaking my neck because some fool had left a briefcase in the middle of the aisle next to one of the booths. I made it to the men's room and splashed my face furiously with warm water; finally, with my shirt and hair drenched, the soot was removed. I then invested two quarters in an unbreakable comb and put my hair back into some semblance of order; in doing so four of the comb's teeth broke. I disposed of it and went out front again. It was eleven-thirty and most of the Lefton Hall students would just be going up to the top floor of the Uni-Syn Building for lunch; it was the Uni-Syn employee's cafeteria and they were quite nice about it, even giving us the same discount. I therefore decided to get something to eat.

The waiter brought over the breakfast menu and I suppose I was rather hungry at that point; I studied the menu while he was getting my water, then I gave him my order. "I'll have the number three `Breakfast Special' with the bacon."

"How'd you like your eggs?"

"Once over easy."

"Coffee?"

"Yes, please."

"Anything else?"

"Could I get marmalade with the English muffin?"

"No problem, coming right up." He immediately brought my coffee; about a quarter hour later he brought the rest of my order. I'd already finished the coffee so he refilled my cup. Then he started to strike up a conversation. "Mind if I sit down with you for a couple of minutes?" he asked. "I don't get much of a chance to talk with the customers; either I'm busy or they're in a hurry."

"Be my guest," I said. "Where is everybody, anyway?"

"The lunch crowd doesn't hit for another twenty minutes." I didn't say anything; I was too busy eating. "You know," he said, "you strike me as the intellectual type--not like most of the people we get in here. You know the type: nine-to-fivers, breaking their backs at pointless jobs day after day, then running out to a wife and four kids in the suburbs."

I swallowed a mouthful of egg and started talking, my mouth still half full. "What makes you think I'm the intellectual type?"

"The way you talk, for one thing. Your way of speaking is more cultured than most people's--especially someone your age. Also the way you wear your hair. You do anything special to it?"

Now, this struck me as sort of strange; my hair isn't particularly distinct in any way. "Nothing special."

"Well, it's nice just the same. You go to school around here?"

I took my time in answering. "Lefton hall Academy--over in the Uni-Syn Building."

"I've never heard of it," he said.

I thanked heaven for small favors. "It's a fairly new school, only around for about two years. How about you?"

"I'm going for my Ph.D in sociology at the City University Graduate Center over on Forty-second."

"Doctorate, eh? How come you're waiting tables?"

"I needed extra book money and this place is convenient." By this time I was finished eating. "Would you like your check, now?" I nodded; he completed the addition, and handed me the check. I started getting up. "Listen," he said, "I'm having a party over my place tonight and I thought you might like to come."

Everything suddenly fell into place and I wanted out of there as soon as possible. "I'm afraid I can't make it," I said. "Perhaps some other time." I started walking toward the cashier in what might best be termed a stifled canter.

He followed me to the register. "There's no reason to rush, is there? I mean, would you like another cup of coffee? A Danish? On the house."

"Thank you, I would--really--but I have to get back to class," I lied.

"By the way," he said, " I'm Archie Boyd." He extended his hand to me.

"Certainly you are," I said, stuffing the check and a five dollar bill into his outstretched hand--about a hundred percent tip--and running out so quickly I almost killed an old woman carrying a Saks shopping bag. I didn't slow down until I reached Grand Central.

IV. Multiple Orgasm

There was a New York Times on the seat which I wanted on the train home; I picked it up and started flipping through it, waiting for the train to start moving. Soon after, the train did pull out and I traded the paper for the window, looking out into the darkness of the tunnel, counting the occasional streetmarker that broke the blackness. When the train broke daylight about ten minutes later I started looking at the scenery--if Harlem can be designated "scenery."

I looked at the people: children playing games in garbage- filled lots, teenagers hanging out windows and fire escapes watching my train longingly, black women hanging out wash on plastic lines between building. It certainly didn't do justice to an April day.

I pulled into my station about one o'clock and detrained, then walking up to street level. I took my good old time walking home--I wasn't looking forward with joy to facing my parents--and was rather nervous by the time I rounded the bend to our street. I suppose the possible consequences of walking out were first starting to hit me.

It was about a quarter of two when I finally walked up to our house; a quick glance at the driveway informed me what was doing inside. First off, my father's Cadillac was gone, meaning he'd decided to go into the brokerage house; he only went two or three days a week since spending two weeks in the hospital with acute ulcers several months back. My mother's Mercury was in the garage as usual an Rosemary's Volkswagen was in the driveway--Rosemary being the maid my parents use when company's coming. The prospect of company didn't exactly thrill me at the moment.

As I entered the livingroom, I knew more precisely where everyone was. Rosemary was in the kitchen alone--the radio was playing Latin music which my mother can't stand--and this was seconded a moment later by my mother's shower starting up. Our cat, Aslan, was curled up on my father's favorite chair. I named him after the Aslan of C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia which I was reading when we found him as a kitten about four years back; Lewis' Aslan is a Christlike lion and that seemed a fitting name for this regal feline homesteading our front step. When I came in, our Aslan casually opened one eye, gave me a What-are-doing-home?-look, yawned, and went back to sleep.

I decided to stay out of the kitchen, being in no mood to undergo one of Rosemary's inquisitions, so I walked into my bedroom and just spreadeagled myself on my bed. I remained there about fifteen minutes then heard the shower stop. After waiting long enough to assure my mother being at least partially robed, I got up, walked to her bedroom door, and gave a couple of soft knocks. "Come in, Rosemary," my mother called out.

I didn't open the door. "It's not Rosemary, It's me." I spoke barely loud enough for her to hear me through the door. A few seconds passed before the door opened. My mother was wearing a terrycloth bathrobe and her head was wrapped in a towel.

"Michael, what are you doing home so early?" Aren't you feeling well, dear?"

I wasn't feeling well but to say that's why I had come home would have been a lie I'd just have to contradict later. "I walked out of school."

"You did what at school?"

"I walked out. Left."

She sat on her bed. "But why? I don't understand. You mean you skipped school today?"

She still didn't understand. "I meant I walked out of school and I'm not going back."

She continued looking at me with a puzzled expression on her face. "What happened? Why did you leave?"

"It's a long story. Everything just started happening at once. First," I said, " I was late for school, then I got attacked by that bastard Paul Adler and two of his cronies, and then everybody started laughing at me in Mr. Hadley's class because I was daydreaming and hadn't read the lesson, and the whole school sucks and I just couldn't take it anymore. So I walked out."

"This is a reason for quitting school? I just don't understand you," she said, shaking her head. "I don't know what we're going to do with you, I just don't know. How could you do this to us after we went to all the trouble and expense of putting you in private school? What do you want us to do with you? Go on, you're the one who walked out."

"I don't know and don't care, really." I didn't give a damn, at that point.

"Michael, you knew how upsetting this would be to your father--and with his ulcers you're going to put him back in the hospital. Is that what you want?"

"Would you stop the Jewish mother routine, already? I don't feel like talking about it anymore." I started back towards my bedroom...and stopped. "Who's coming over for dinner tonight?"

"The Chertoks," my mother said. "I told you that yesterday; can't you remember anything?"

"Alessandra's parents? Here tonight?" I started getting panicky. "She won't be here, will she?"

"No," my mother said, "she wasn't invited because it's mainly a business meeting; your father is personally handling the arrangements to drill for oil on some of Mr. Chertok's property."

I gave a silent thanks to as many deities as I could remember then walked back to my room and shut the door. I lay on my bed thinking until what must have been an hour later--but seemed forever--I heard a knock on my door. I got up and opened it; it was my mother, already dressed in a tres chic pantsuit, fully made up, and her hair now all dry and combed out. "I just spoke to Dr. Savella at Lefton Hall, " she said. "I made an appointment for us to see him tomorrow morning."

"Great," I said. She left, towards the kitchen I think, and I went into the livingroom and turned on the television. I watched an old movie from the fifties, Rebel Without A Cause, which was quite good except that it was interrupted every few seconds by commercials, one of which had to do with a housewife who practically had a multiple orgasm because she finally got her toilet bowl "really clean." While I was watching, Aslan woke up, gave up his spot on the armchair, crawled up onto my lap, and fell asleep. That cat slept an awful lot.

V. Fidelio

At about five o'clock my father walked into the livingroom through the kitchen; I hadn't even heard him drive up. "Your mother told me what you did today," he said. I couldn't think of anything worth saying so I didn't say anything. "Shut the television set and come into my room; I want to talk to you."

He walked out of the livingroom towards his own room; I picked Aslan up off my lap, set him back on the easy chair, shut the TV, and walked into my parents' room. The second I saw him I knew exactly what he had in mind; he'd removed his belt and was holding it in a loop. I started backing out. "Come here, Michael." His voice was very reserved; I didn't budge. "I told you to come here." His voice was even softer this time. I took one step forward. He stared into my eyes and pointed to a spot on the floor about a foot in front of him. I walked toward it, very, very slowly.

I thought perhaps he was just going to use the strap as a symbol of authority this time, that he wouldn't really use it again. After all, by the time you're sixteen...

He spoke, "You did a terrible thing to your mother and me today--do you realize that?" Perhaps if I agreed with everything he said he wouldn't beat me; I nodded. "All right, then, you understand why you're about to be punished. Bend over."

"You'll have to make me," I said. "If you think you're up to it."

"Bend over."

I started toward the door; he managed to grab my arm and pulled me back against my entire strength; I lashed out at him ineffectually while he managed to force me into a bent over posture. Then he hit me--I don't remember how many times--over and over and over...then he just stopped. He put the belt back on his pants and walked out of his room, leaving me in there alone. I went back to my own room, slammed and locked the door, then sat down on my bed. My face was covered with tear stains and that's when I noticed it. My pants were soaked with urine.

By the time I'd gone into my bathroom, showered, and changed my clothes, the Chertoks had arrived. I didn't talk much at dinner; I didn't have anything to say to Alessandra's parents and wasn't in the mood to say anything to my own that wasn't absolutely necessary. At least they had the common decency not to draw me into the conversation.

After dinner I discreetly excused myself, went back to my own room, and turned on the radio. There wasn't anything I felt like listening to on the AM band so I switched over to FM and started tuning around. I stopped looking when I found WQXR: they were rebroadcasting a live performance of the Metropolitan Opera production of Beethoven's Fidelio. I recognized it immediately as Fidelio was one of the operas I was trapped into escorting my mother to this past season.

My dear, the scene at the Metropolitan was absolutely insane; I don't see any difference at all between attending an opera or a football game, for all the extra status attached to opera-going. Everybody shouted, "Bravo! Brava! Bravissimo!" and there weren't any cheerleaders, but the booing seemed about the same. What I liked best, though, was the gentleman in the lobby before the performance selling librettos--the text and translation to the opera because they hardly ever sing in English. This particular vendor had style, the way he rolled his r's like an Italian tenor as he shouted, "Librettos! Buy your librettos!" He was better than some of the people on stage.

Which is why what I realized as I lay on my bed listening to Fidelio was so strange; I was actually enjoying it. It surprised me to be enjoying anything after the way my father beat the wet out of me...much less an opera.

By the time Fidelio was over Alessandra's parents had left and my parents were in bed. I undressed, turned off the radio, and went quickly to sleep.

VI. The Second Remove

I stood gazing into the collective, en masse; waiting for her, somehow different from all those others afraid to stop moving. She approached me, then for no apparent reason suddenly turned and fled. Confused by her actions I followed her, not realizing I could never return.

After a long chase, I finally caught up with her as she tried hiding behind a rack of men's suits in a department store. I threw the suits aside, confronting her, but before I had the chance to speak, she spat in my eyes and escaped again. I followed her down several escalators and saw her run through the store's basement exit. The exit seemed to connect to a women's hair-styling parlor, but even as I passed through it, the image transmuted into the ornate view one meets at the Entrance to the Queen's Throne Room.

She, now the Queen, sat on her black leather throne, clothed in the skins of many leopards. I tried approaching her, but was halted by a guard pointing to a sign posted over a ticket window; Price For Presentation To The Queen...Ten Dollars. I bought the ticket and the more subtle features of the hall were suddenly more distinct to my eyes. The walls reflected a deep, glowing purple, absorbing all other light from the great translucent dome in the cathedral ceiling. The floor was the slimy belly of an unknown creature, which looked to my touch as if its flesh was composed of raw liver. Sleek, black panthers roamed freely around the great hall. The Queen sat on her black leather throne, stroking the fur of her gently purring favorite.

Angry and confused, I proudly marched the length of the hall and confronted her again; "Why did you run from me?" I shouted. "If you didn't want me anymore, I wouldn't have held you to anything! There wasn't a reason in the world for you to act like such a goddamned bitch!"

The Queen sat on her black leather throne, cloaked in the skins of many leopards, stroking the fur of her gently purring favorite...

And smiled at me.

"First of all, sir," she said quite calmly, "we are no longer in what you like to believe is your world. But now, this can be of little interest to me. We exchanged gifts--numbers, I believe it was--and as Queen, I can't allow that to happen, now...can I?" She stood, the panther leapt from her lap and ran away. "Depart this place forever," she commanded. "I reject you!"

To enforce this edict, the belly of the raw liver creature which was the floor came to life, rolling towards me like waves to a shore. I frantically searched for a hiding place and found an opening to a long, darkened corridor. No sooner had I passed through when the opening melted into the wall. When my eyes adjusted to the dimness, I found three doors remaining. I decided to chance the first.

Inside was the den which held the Queen's finest, but as yet untamed, black panthers. As one poised to leap at me, I hurriedly slammed the door.

Halfway down the corridor, I entered the second remove.

Now in a lecture hall, and exhausted by my ordeal, I chose a seat next to a man I shortly recognized to be my English teacher. I didn't know what the lecture was about so I leaned over to ask him. He just stared at me for a few minutes, then burst into peals of uncontrollable laughter. Frightened by his behavior, I ran once more.

With no other possible route, I reached the final door and passed through. I was overjoyed at my escape for I was again in the fresh air and sunlight. First blinded by the now bright light, I rubbed my eyes and looked around for the first time.

I was in an amusement park.

Off in the distance, three men were firing rifles into the den of the Queen's finest, but as yet untamed, black panthers. I heard from afar a loudspeaker blaring:

"LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! WELCOME TO THE ARENA OF ENTERTAINMENT: A BRAVE SON HAS JUST VOLUNTEERED FOR OUR DEMONSTRATION BY ENTERING THE TIGER PIT OF HIS OWN FREE WILL!"

A huge crowd, drawn by the loudspeaker, was gathering. They began cheering madly in response to the unseen voice. With nauseating dread I came to realize that I was this "Brave Son" in the Tiger Pit. I stood in a concrete and steel trench; overhead there was a sign which read "The Tiger." The only way out was the door which would return me to that accursed hall. The crowd surrounded me. I tried climbing out over the concrete barriers, but it was no use. Since I had no other choice, I was determined to stand like a man--

And fight.

"THE FIRST ATTACK WILL BE A CRUSHING RIGHT HALF-NELSON!"

"Michael!"

The now hysterical crowd screamed for more as I was grabbed by an unseen arm. "NEXT WILL COME A SPLENDIDLY EXECUTED HOLE-IN-THE- HEAD!"

"Michael!"

I heard a power drill being started. "PARDON ME, BUT IT WILL TAKE A MOMENT TO DRILL."

"Michael!"

The fear of being rammed over and over and over by some vast tidal wave of force, cradling against my body like a solid wall. The sound of my pronounced name reaching deep into my mind and dragging me out of Hell.

I opened my eyes. My mother was sitting on the edge of my bed. My father standing next to it. My mother's voice: "Are you all right, now?"

I didn't answer immediately. Still dissociated from myself, as if I was no longer in my body but somewhere outside looking in. "I guess so. No. I don't know."

"I suppose you won't be needing us anymore tonight." My father.

"You'll be all right, now," my mother said. "Just relax for a few more minutes, dear, then try going back to sleep. Do you want me to stay with you a little while longer?"

"What time is it?" I asked.

"It's half past five," my mother said.

"The sun will be up soon. I suppose I'll be okay." They started back to go their bedroom. "I was screaming, wasn't I?" My mother turned back towards me and nodded, then continued out of my room and shut the door.

VII. It Can Ruin You

I was reawakened by my alarm at seven that morning and managed to drag myself to my bathroom where a shower completed the restoration of my mind to full consciousness. Then, after completing other usual rituals, I walked back to my bedroom to dress for the meeting with Dr. Savella. To be honest I had mixed feelings about meeting with him. On the one hand I wasn't particularly thrilled with the idea of returning to Lefton hall, but on the other I thought perhaps discussing my problems civilly might be just what I needed to pull myself out of this hole I was in. After all, Savella must have known something to qualify for a doctorate.

I proceeded to my closet and selected a suit and tie from the rack; I really don't mind dressing up the way some fellows my age do and it seems to help adults listen quite a bit better. I finished dressing, proceeded to the kitchen and fed Aslan, then returned to my bedroom until breakfast. I heard sounds I hadn't heard on a weekday for a long time; my father's electric shaver, my mother preparing breakfast in the kitchen. My parents usually sleep past ten and even on days my father goes into the brokerage house I leave before they awake. It felt a bit strange to have them up so early; it felt good, but still, the thought of my parents accompanying me to school canceled out the good feeling.

A few minutes later I followed my parents to breakfast. When I walked into the kitchen my parents didn't say a word; not "good morning," not anything. I suppose they were still rather annoyed with me. Finally my father spoke; "What are you dressed up for?"

My father questioning my choice of suit and tie? I couldn't believe what I was hearing. "I wanted to make a good impression on Dr. Savella."

"What are you talking about?" my father said. "You aren't going to see Dr. Savella; you aren't even going in to school today."

But Mom told me we have an appointment this morning, and if we don't, why are you two up so early?"

"Your mother and I have the appointment. you stay home."

"You mean I don't even get a chance to defend myself or explain?" I said. "Any murderer gets that right at least."

"You don't have any 'rights' anymore," my father said. "Why should we give you the chance to louse things up any more than you've already done? You showed us just how irresponsible you are by running away from school. If you're so immature, you have no further say in the matter."

I was burning up at this point. They had no right to do this to me. What made them think they had the right to dictate my life? "All right," I said, "Go. See Dr. Savella and tell him anything you like. I don't give a fuck anymore." I ran into my room, slammed and locked the door, then sat down on my bed. I felt horrible.

A few seconds later my father rapped on my door. "Michael, let me in."

"Go away."

He rapped harder. "Enough of this nonsense, Michael. I told you to open the door. Immediately!"

"We have nothing to talk about; you don't really give a damn what I want. All you really care about is your oil deal with Mr. Chertok."

I heard my mother speaking to him softly, "He's upset, Nelson. Maybe it would be better to leave him alone for a while."

"No, Rachel, he can't go on defying us this way. Michael has got to learn to obey authority. Michael!" he shouted through the door. "Open this door immediately or you'll feel my belt again."

"If you ever try to hit me again I'll punch you right in your goddamned ulcer."

The second it was out of my mouth I practically wished I was dead. I could tell how it hurt my parents--especially my father--just from the terrible silence on the other side of the door. I just sat there on my bed practically crying, I felt so horrible. They didn't say another word that I could hear, and shortly thereafter I heard the car drive off as they left to see Dr. Savella.

I remained on my bed for several minutes after they left--not even thinking-just feeling wretched as hell. Then suddenly, all the feelings of the past week started coming at me all at once; Alessandra screwing Benton Dewitt right in front of me, that bastard ADler and his thugs, my father's beating me. It all just started coming at me and I barely made it to the toilet before I started vomiting.

Afterwards, I washed out my mouth with warm water and returned to my room. I lay down on my bed and was about as low as I've ever felt. Don't ever catch your girlfriend screwing someone else if you've been drinking wine, watching the sun rise over the East River, and haven't had any sleep. It can ruin you.

Then I knew exactly what I should do. I went into my parents' medicine chest, got my mother's sleeping pills and a glass of water, and was about to take them--I had half the bottle spilled out onto my hand--when I realized I hadn't said goodbye to Aslan.

I put the pills back in the bottle--that in itself took five minutes--and walked into the livingroom. Aslan was awake for once; he sat on the couch in a Sphynx position. I walked over to him and started scratching him behind the right ear the way he liked. "Goodbye, old son," I said to him; then all of a sudden he jumped off the couch and ran down the stairs to his basement retreat.

I realized he wouldn't be fed for a while--what with all the commotion when my parents found me dead--so I went into the kitchen and put some more raw liver into his bowl.

Then I decided I needed a suicide note. This was it. It took all day to write and by the time I finished I was too tired to commit suicide. I'll do myself in tomorrow.

If I feel like it, that is.



Go to Benny Rich is Dead.

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