Mike finds himself ... inspired, poetically speaking. Says the author, this story was inspired by the episode "Bad Faith."
The two boys watched the woman gracefully stride towards the parked car, the sunlight turning her honey-brown hair into a veil of molten gold. She waved to them when she saw them looking her way.
Mike Logan sighed.
Billy Marino grinned. "Stow it, Mikey. She's ice."
Mike watched the car pull away from the school parking lot, then sheepishly returned Billy's grin. "But nice ice."
"I heard she's putting out with the Coach."
Mike was surprised. "Callaghan?"
Billy nodded. "Vinnie saw them at the drive-in on Friday. Said he had his hand up her sweater."
For some reason, the image those words evoked disturbed Mike. He changed the subject. "Want to get in some swings after school? Jesse said he'll bring his new mitt."
Billy shook his head. His voice was studiedly vague as he said, "Nah. Gotta do some work for Ma."
Mike knew that Billy never did any work for his Ma, but didn't bring that up. Billy never questioned any of the stories he gave for the bruises that sometimes showed even though he must have known they were just stories - he lived two stoops down from the Logan's and nothing remained private in their neighbourhood. One time, after a particularly brutal weekend when his father was home after being suspended for roughing up a suspect, Billy had even taken up for him with the Principal's pet Danny Wilson when the bully had been badgering him. Billy had said menacingly, "What do you mean how did he get it on his cheek from a door? Maybe if you told your sister to keep her melons inside her blouse instead of putting them out for show-and-tell, then maybe our Mikey here would walk without banging into doors." Danny Wilson had taken a swipe at Billy and it had turned into a full-blown brawl in the hallway, with all three of them ending up in detention for a week. Mike and Billy had never talked about the incident, then or since.
Mike let himself into the apartment, quietly and cautiously. The next three minutes would decide the course of the day. He let out a ragged breath of relief as the smell of cheap whiskey hit him.
He was safe.
Barely glancing at the woman lying on the couch, he quickly went to his room. There would be time enough afterwards to scrounge up something to eat; he should finish his English assignment before his mother revived.
Its passions will rock thee
As the storms rock the ravens on high.
Bright reason will mock thee,
Like the sun from a wintry sky.
As he struggled to paraphrase Shelley's poem, unbidden memories overwhelmed him ... the sun picking out the golden glints in her honey-brown hair, her skirt moving with the sway of her hips, her perfume engulfing his senses as she passed his desk. His jeans suddenly felt uncomfortably tight, and he dropped his head into his hands. Christ, what was happening to him? She was old enough to be his mother. His mother... he remembered the woman passed out on the couch, head rolling limply, spit glistening at the corner of her lips as her mouth let out noisy emphysemic breaths . He felt bile burn his throat and he jumped up and grabbed his jacket. He would have to stay after school tomorrow if he didn't hand in his homework, but he had the strangest feeling that if he didn't get out into fresh air this very minute he would choke on his own vomit.
Once outside on the sidewalk, his feet carried him of their own accord. Across from the grocery store where Mr. Marino worked, he saw Billy and almost called out to him, but then noticed that Sam McGill was with him. Mike was momentarily distracted from his own thoughts as he wondered what Billy was doing with the younger boy. He saw them walk a few paces up the street and pause below the church steps, and it seemed as if Sam didn't want to g o in but Billy was coaxing him, then the two of them disappeared inside. Mike turned to stone, staring across at the closed engraved door as a dreadful suspicion took root and spread its insidious tentacles inside his brain. Unrelated recollections of whispered talk and images of Father Joe with the other altar boys meshed into a monstrous certainty. Stomach heaving, Mike bent over the kerb and retched till his ribs hurt.
Stella Conway looked across the room and her eyes rested on Michael Logan. He was sporting a bruise near his temple. That was not unusual in itself, but there was a haunted look in the hazel eyes that indicated that something was different today. She had heard talk in the staff room that Michael Logan had decked William Marino in the middle of the cafeteria and it had surprised her - the two boys had been friends since kindergarten, each looking out for the other. Why, just a few days ago she had waved to the two of them as they hung out in the shadows near the school parking lot, sneaking, no doubt, a few puffs on contraband cigarettes. She hadn't heard of any girl being in the picture, so what could be serious enough to provoke a young boy into punching his best friend out of the blue and then hurting about it afterwards?
Throughout the class, her eyes kept straying to the dark head bent over the quiz. It was only when she caught William Marino's speculative glance on her that she made a conscious effort not to do so. Even then, she couldn't resist asking him to stay back.
"Michael, is everything all right?" She hesitated, wondering if she should bank on her instinct that something was drastically wrong. "Do you want to talk about ...anything?"
"I'm okay," he said, avoiding her eyes. "Can I go now?"
She shuffled the papers on her desk and singled out his assignment. She handed it to him, saying briskly, "I looked through this last night, and I'd like you to do this over."
He looked up at her then, startled at her request. She said more gently, "Your grades need to improve if you wish to pass English this term, Michael. Now, I know you don't care for Shelley's work, but this report doesn't even show that you made any effort to understand what he wrote. I want you to work on this again and give it to me by Monday."
She felt guilty when she saw him swallow as if extra weight had been added to his already burdened shoulders, but he took the paper from her without a word. She saw him waiting for her to tell him that he could leave but she hesitated, her mind racing desperately to find ways to ease the load. Finally she asked, "Would you prefer to work on another poem?"
Once again he looked up at her with surprise.
"I don't want you to see this as a chore, Michael. I want all my students to love poetry like I do." Her voice softened as she explained, "There's something magical about poetry if you just take the trouble to look for it. It can lift you higher than who you are...it can take you far away from where you are."
She was wondering if she had reached him when she saw the sudden awareness in his eyes that he understood what she was trying to convey to him - that there was solace to be found in words when the world around you didn't have it in itself to offer comfort. She also saw a quickly masked emotion that sent a quiver skimming through her nerves. Crushes on teachers were as much a part of growing up as dealing with them was part of a teacher's job, but of all the young boys in her care Michael Logan was the last one who needed to be in such a hopeless, helpless situation.
She moved away to put a distance between them and reverted to her impersonal teacher voice as she took out a much-thumbed book from her desk drawer. "Why don't you attempt The Lake Isle of Innisfree? It's by an Irish poet named Yeats, and I think you'll find him more to your liking."
For a long while after he left the room, she sat staring at the frayed poster of Mark Twain on the opposite wall. It was only when her fiancé Jack Callaghan poked his head around the door to ask her if she wanted to join him for coffee that she finally put away the image of hazel eyes brimming with silent worship.
Mike lay in the dark, trying to ignore the shouting in the next room as his parents fought again. He tried to focus his mind on something that would distract him from their rising voices. Usually he thought of baseball, but he hadn't gone for practice since the day in the cafeteria when...
He stopped his train of thought and tried to think of something else; the poem he had been reading before going to bed. It was about a cabin by a lake that sounded so peaceful that he understood why Yeats had carried an image of it in his heart.
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
He wished that he too had such a place to escape to, a place where he too could live alone... Mike turned on his side, despair creeping over him. T he glow from the streetlight cast eerie shadows on the wall and, unable to help himself, he saw in them the events of the past few days unroll like a slow motion TV replay - the sun glinting on Miss Conway's hair as she walked to her car; Sam McGill hesitating on the church steps; Billy's face swelling up after he punched him for suggesting a matinee with Father Joe; the diamond in Miss Conway's engagement ring shining like a thousand rainbows as she handed him the poetry book.
And I shall have some peace there...
For the first time since he was seven and his mother had smashed his fire truck in a surge of anger, Mike fell asleep with wet cheeks.