Missing was ‘Fat’ Johnny Walker.
Most of the other kids were going about their dily routine as they had done for the weeks prior to his disappearance, and as they have gotten back to doing three week after it. For a precious few days, the class jerks notwithstanding, everyone wore a heavy shroud of concern and even fear for his safety. But, as in all things and after all emergencies, things have a way of getting back to the way they were. Memories are short and concerns are fleeting. Perhaps one or two people still wondered about his whereabouts, although none really worried aloud—except her on occasion, and only then to her closest friend. She, too, had been a long time classmate of ‘Fat’ Johnny Walker, and she, too, had known him before he had become ‘Fat’ Johnny Walker, school pariah and persona non-grata.
She looked down at the time display on her Chocolate and sighed heavily, impatiently, wondering where in the world the other three were. Almost everyone else had long since assembled in the recess area, and were already ‘networking’ to gather information for the report. She watched the other kids chattering away, their mouths moving without a sound, since all she could here was the strains of Boz Scaggs singing “Love, look what you’ve done to me.” Their heads were moving this way and that like bobble head dolls in an earthquake and arms flailing like a mime with palsy. She wondered what they were talking about, what information they were spewing so that the administrators could know the intimate details of the students as relayed by other students.
Sometimes, she wondered if the reports were actually making each and every student into tattletales and snitches. Or perhaps they were making people into liars and/or tightlipped introverts in spite of all the words that they spewed while concocting stories and feelings.
Or perhaps you think too much!
Again she sighed, more impatiently, and thought for sure that the thought she had had been whispered into her ear between verses of Boz.
She kicked at the leaves beneath the bench and started to rise when, at long last, the trio of Astora Stern, Joshua Abrams and Hussein worth emerged from the building’s double doors. They moved slowly, having a grand time apparently, since they were laughing and poking and prodding each other as they came. Astora was in the middle, looking back and forth between the taller Hussein and Joshua, of the same height.
Astora was a pretty girl with curly, wiry brown hair that draped her shoulders like a shawl. All the boys liked her, especially since she was pretty well developed already. And they doubly liked her because she knew how to work what she had. Even in her movement toward the bench where Miranda watched with a mixture of impatience, happiness and jealousy, the boys not with her and the men teachers keeping order in the placid yard, turned to watch her. So did the female teachers, and the girls. If Miranda didn’t know better, the squirrel that has been busy gathering nuts from an oak tree on the other side of the school yard’s wrought iron fence stopped to stare.
And they all watched for different reasons. The girls were jealous. The boys in love. The men in recollection. The women in disgust. As she and her two escorts drew nearer, Miranda’s smile widened. Not only because her best friend was coming at long last, but because she thought that the squirrel was watching because it might have wanted to nest in her hair.
Miranda popped the ear buds from her ears as the trio came and sat with her, Hussein and Joshua on the school side of the table, facing Miranda, and Astora taking her place beside Miranda.
“Took you guys long enough,” Miranda chided, not wanting to know why it took so long, but dying to know nevertheless. She also didn’t want to know why they were all smiling so.
“You should have been with us! It was awesome. Rad.” boomed Hussein. He was half-Jamaican and half-Korean, bespectacled. Nerdy, but funny as all get-out, with his animated style and exaggerated tall tales. The kids would say about him: “Who’s sane? Not Hussein.”
The others nodded eagerly.
“Well, what was it?”
Hussein leaned closer, prompting the others to do so too, including Miranda, about to take the event into her confidence.
“Well, we saw…” he looked this way and that, making sure no one other than the three could hear him, said: “We saw a mouse in Mr. Leman’s class.”
Miranda fell, back, sucking her teeth. “is that it?” She couldn’t believe it.
The others laughed at her agitation. “Well, ti was a big mouse. Big, gray, had these beady black eyes…”
“Ugh, you guys are so simple.”
“So we told Mr. LeMan, and he looked for it, but couldn’t find it. Then we went to go get the Miss Alvarez since she wasn’t in her office.”
Miss Alvarez was the director of custodial services in the school. She was mean as could be.
“Mr. LeMan couldnb’t page her?”
“well, why not?”
“The pager system isn’t working. She was actually doing some work on it when we found her. You ever been to her office?”
“You need to go. It’s awesome, right ?”
Joshua and Astora nodded.
“Did she find the mouse?”
“Yep. It was already dead though. That’s what was so strange about it. It just crawled up behind the radiator, you know, the one that’s next to you?”
Miranda’s lip curled at the thought of sitting next to the radiator where the mouse died.
“Are you sure it was the same mouse?”
Hussein shrugged. “Misses Alvarez said that it probably was.”
“Anyway,” he went on, “she said it was probably sick or something.”
“I’m going to tell my mom,” Astora said, her nose all but in the air. “We’re not paying ten thousand dollars a year to have dead mice popping up all over the place.”
Although she was Miranda’s best friend, Miranda had long ago realized that Astora was a little stuck up. Her family was pretty well to do, much more so than Miranda’s mom was, and she liked to remind people, whether it be classmates, teachers, administrators, the hot dog cart guy across from the school, cashiers at the mall, that she was a student at a school where her folks pay ten thousand dollars a year. But her pushy attitude did get things done, and she did make people (and squirrels) stand up and take notice of her.
“She took the mouse out in a plastic bag. You know, like the evidence bags on those tv shows. She had on rubber gloves and everything.”
Miranda envisioned the scene. She was glad she didn’t see it. She wasn’t afraid of mice. In fact, she thought they were cute. She just didn’t like the thought of one having died right next to where she sat every day. But at least it had been removed before it got cooked and putrefied by the heat from the radiator. It probably would have smelled almost as bad as ‘Fat” Johnny Walker.
Astora noticed the pout on Miranda’s face. She knew what it meant. So did Hussein. So did Joshua, who finally broke his silence.
“Oh, boy…here we go again.”
Miranda sucked her teeth again. “I was just going to ask what she was going to do with the mouse.”
“Suuuure you were. You were gonna say something about Johnny.”
The others nodded, throwing in: “Yep.” “Yes you were.” “Uh huh.” “You always do.” “Every day.”
She felt herself get hot. “Well, don’t you ever wonder what happened to him?”
“He ran away,” opined Joshua. “The police said
it. He did it before.”
“He was six years old then. Good grief, that was ages ago.”
“Well, no one knows anything else. And if the police say so, I guess you have to believe it.”
Miranda sighed. She didn’t want to concede that that was more than likely true. It was just hard imagining him running away. Of course, he probably had every reason to. But she just didn’t believe it. Perhaps she didn’t want to believe it. Perhaps she wanted it to be more sinister than it really was. She didn’t want any ill to befall him, she kept telling herself. But for some reason, the thought of something sinister was somehow easier for her to accept.
“So what’s she going to do with the mouse?” she asked again, not wanting to think about the missing ‘Fat’ Johnny Walker anymore right then.
“Get it tested for rabies.”
“Ew. Does she think it might have rabies?”
“Nah, she just has to do it because it’s school rules.”
“I think they need to get Hanta virus too,” added Astora.
Miranda stopped herself from rolling her eyes, and said in her mind just before Astora did ‘My dad’s a doctor and he said… blah, blah, blah.”
“My dad’s a doctor and he said that rodents carry a lot of different diseases.”
“No shit,” moaned Hussein. “My grandma’s a farmer and doesn’t speak English, and she knows that.”
“So you need to speak English...” started Joshua..
“No, I’m just sayin…”
Astora’s nose went up into the air with utter indignation. “Well, don’t Koreans eat….”
Miranda tuned them out and popped the ear buds back in as the argument boiled over and brought a teacher, not to mention four or five dozen pairs of wondering eyes, to the scene. She didn’t want any part of any punitive responses to the disturbance caused by her friends. She knew she would be guilty by association, and thought to distance herself when the teacher arrived, but he kept her pinned to her seat with a glare.
It was Mr. LeMan, and he looked very displeased. His gaunt face and pointy chin made it look like a wedge and his nearly lipless mouth was drawn into a single taut line. He had a beak of a nose and the nostrils flared, almost in rage, and his eyebrows, bushy and brown, were given almost uni-brow quality, they were drawn together so tightly.
Miranda shrank at the sight. She had never seen him angered before. He was usually alight hearted and affable guy. He had his issues with discipline and he could be a strict disciplinarian at times, but nothing had ever caused him to look the way he did.
“What’s all the commotion? Why are you kids acting like you have no sense?”
Obviously, the other three saw the same thing that Miranda saw and drew as rigid and motionless as she did. They could say nothing, as their voices, much like the mouse in the classroom, crawled away, hid and died in the backs of their throats.
His eyes found Miranda’s. if they lightened any, she didn’t notice, and he motioned with his hands for her to remove the ear buds. She did so promptly, given the will the move by his allowance of her to do so.
“Were you a party to this misbehavior, Miss Oliver?”
Her head shook in very short jerks. She couldn’t speak. Here eyes were as round and wide as globes.
“Were you, Mister Abrams?”
He did just as Miranda had done.
His eyes moved to Astora. “Miss Stern?”
She followed Miranda’s and Joshua’s lead.
Last, but not least, he looked at Hussein. “Mister Worth?”
His head shook in short jerks.
Mr. LeMan took a deep breath and took a step back. “So, let me get this straight. All the commotion that we heard all the way on the other side of the yard was caused by…what, the leaves beneath your feet?”
Someone chuckled. It sounded like Steve Johnson, but no one cared to look, as all eyes were trained on the table with Miranda, Joshua, Hussein and Astora.
“Or perhaps it was the sound of the wind rustling through the leaves. Was that it?”
No one said anything.
Mr. LeMan drew in a breath to say something else, but he paused when he heard the door to the yard slam shut.
All eyes went to the disturbance, and rapidly moving toward the assembled crowd was the Principal, Mrs. Araby. As wide as she was tall, she took quick choppy steps, the sounds of her thick, stocking enshrouded legs swishing together growing louder the closer she came. With her high heels clacking on the pavement, then thrashing through the leaves accumulated on the grassy parts, Miranda, although not in the mood to be amused, found herself on the verge of a snicker, urged on by a set of thoughts. She wondered how she could walk in high heels, with so much weight. The woman had no ankles to speak of, only a thick log from the knees to the shoes, which were so tight that her fat feet bulged over the tops of them. And with her legs swishing, he wondered why the woman didn’t burst into flames, considering all the friction her legs must have generated.
She came to a rest, her huge chest heaving and shuddering as if two midget wrestlers were engaged in mortal conflict beneath her shiny white blouse and satiny shawl. She looked like pug.
Miranda had to avert her eyes, and hold her breath. She squinted and squirmed and tried to think of anything other than Mrs. Araby, because she knew with no doubt at all that laughter would be a near fatal mistake under these conditions.
She wheezed. “What seems to be the problem here, Mr LeMan.”
Miranda confounded her laughter with a cough.
“You find something amusing, Miss Oliver?”
Still laughing, still coughing, Miranda managed to whisper: “no ma’ am.”
“Then please tell us what all the commotion is about.”
“Nothing ma’am. Just… uh… just a little disagreement about … ummm … about what happened to…ummmm…”
“…about her husband,” came a voice hurled over the crowd. Steve Johnson’s voice.
Mrs. Araby drew up her lips as if she had eaten something bitter. “Well, we will have no more rumor and innuendo on that matter, Miss Oliver, do you under stand me? That goes for the three of you also. If you wish to discuss the whereabouts of your fellow classmate, you are free to discuss it with a counselor. The police have given their findings, and that is all there is to it. We sympathize with the family—with our family at the school as well—but there is nothing more to be done on the matter. So if it must be discussed, discuss it with a counselor. Clear?”
She whirled and waddled away, somehow keeping her balance as she did so.
Mr. LeMan still looked gravely displeased, although much calmer now that Mrs. Araby had gotten to the bottom of things.
Then he, too, turned and walked away, after, of course, giving them the once over with a suspicious eye.
Miranda scowled at Astora and Hussein. “if you guys ever do that again, I’m going to have some pretty nasty things to say about you in my report.”
Astora’s nose went up in the air and she fanned out her hair. “Well, maybe if some people had more manners, none of this would have happened.”
Hussein mocked her without a sound.
“In any case,” said Miranda, “You all better keep your mouths shut. Mr. LeMan was going to rip off somebody’s head.”
The others nodded.
And Miranda knew that she would have to add that to her report. No doubt about it!
The Reason Why We Love Copyright © 2006 by Walter R. Milton