Excerpt from “Last Order of Loneliness”
The morning is grey with a promise of clear skies tickling the western horizon. Abel Klemper is heading to Hugely Park by the lake to meet his friend Freddy Kane who is a year older than Abel and in Grade 6. Abel feels the nervous excitement of doing something for the first time as he walks the overgrown path into the trees. Freddy is already there, sitting on a downed tree.
“Did you bring it?” Abel asks Freddy.
Freddy pulls a small sandwich bag a quarter full of grey powder from his knapsack.
“Is that it?” says Abel.
“This is it,” says Freddy. “Mom will never notice it’s missing. Ready?” Freddy untwists the twist tie, opens the bag and an aroma of bananas rises from into the still damp air. “I’ll show you how since this is your first time.”
Freddy takes a small amount of the powder on the tip of his index finger, brings it to his right nostril and sucks the powder up his nose. He sniffs a few times to get the dust as far into his sinuses as he can. A weird smile crosses Freddy’s face. “Your turn.”
He hands the bag to Abel whose hand is shaking a little bit but he manages to get the powder onto his finger, snorts it up his right nostril and follows Freddy’s lead, sniffing it several times. “Oh, owww, it burns,” Abel says.
“Yeah but just for a minute,” Freddy starts to laugh through his strange smile. Both boys take another fingertip full and snort it up their left nostrils.
“Ooow, I taste bananas,” says Abel. Both boys start to laugh and start making monkey noises and motions. They both get dizzy and sit down on the fallen tree trunk. Abel feels a little like throwing up but resists.
“My head is growing,” says Freddy. “Growing like a pumpkin in autumn.”
Pumpkinhead would be a good nickname for Freddy, thought Abel, finding it increasingly difficult to think directly about anything. His head felt big and floaty, more like a balloon than a vegetable.
“Pumpkinhead,” Abel says, turning toward Freddy. “That would be a good…” Abel stops in mid sentence. With horror at the suddenness of it, Abel says to Freddy, “Your nose is bleeding!”
“Yeah, that sometimes happens with this stuff.” Freddy dabs his nose with a tissue. “It’s a good idea when you know you’re going to snort to bring along a tissue or two.” The bleeding is spotty and soon stops.
“Let’s go,” says Freddy.
The boys wend their way out of the trees toward Hugely Elementary, staggering slightly. Abel’s’ head still feels light and large.
Twenty minutes later, as Abel ponders the first page of a math test with ever-mounting confusion – a combination of his general inability to do math plus the affects of the aspartame-loaded drink mix – a large red drop of blood splashes onto the paper. Abel stares at the blood without moving, his eyes growing larger and more horrified. A second drop falls, then a third. Abel doesn’t move, he’s transfixed by the sight of his blood so cleanly and readily leaving his body, a strange attraction to it grows in him.
A shrill scream from the girl sitting across the aisle shatters his interlude. She has noticed his bleeding nose. Abel jumps and the class turns to see him rubbing his nose on his sleeve leaving a long red gash on the blue fabric. He tries to wipe the blood off the test paper, smearing it with his hand, leaving bright red splotches on the paper and his hand. He wipes his hand nervously across his forehead leaving several thin red lines. A few sniggers arise from his classmates. A solid red line of blood runs from his right nostril over his mouth and drips off his chin.
Realizing he is the focus of everyone’s attention, Abel smears the blood over his chin and cheeks with increasing intention. His face is a reddening mask pierced by two huge black eyes that survey the other children as if they are prey. He tastes banana and begins to growl, rubbing his face with more blood, small drops of it spatter around him onto other students. Abel imitates a monkey and laughs a high keening wail. He scratches his sides and his butt, woofing through funneled lips. His classmates become less entertained, more frightened by Abel’s actions.
Miss Baxter runs to Abel’s desk. “Good Lord, Abel, Abel, are you all right?”
“Shove your fucking Lord up your fucking ass,” snarls Abel through his reddened grimace.
Miss Baxter exercises her control over the Grade 5 class.
“Everyone! Clear the room. Everyone out in an orderly fashion. Wait in the hallway. Everyone out NOW!”
The room clears quickly, leaving just Miss Baxter and Abel. Without his audience, Abel is deflated and slumps into another student’s desk, watching his blood splatter onto the clean white test papers. Miss Baxter puts the box of tissues from her desk next to Abel. He takes several and wipes at his nose. The bleeding is slowing. He holds the white tissues against his face in stark contrast to the red blood which is beginning to dry and peel off.
“Abel Rufus Klemper.”
Abel has never heard his name spoken with such negative force.
“Abel Rufus Klemper.”
Abel trembles, too afraid to turn around. “Who’s asking?” he peeps.
“I’m not asking. I’m telling. Look at me.”
Abel turns to see the letters B-A-M on a large silver belt buckle. Principal Mangle glowers down at Abel, his fists clenched on his hips, his crisp white shirt and tightly knotted tie support his large angry face.
“To my office.”
“Miss Baxter,” Mangle says, “I’ll let the janitor know for a quick clean up. Reschedule the test. Take them for a study break in library. Let’s not overreact.”
“Yes. Thank you Principal.”