5:31am, part 4

Tommy’s heart was racing as his shaking hand moved closer to the chest of the corpse.

“How did this guy bite the dust?” one of the students asked. There was laughter, followed by a few fevered whispers.

“Excellent question, Terrance,” Zhang said. “But, if I gave you that answer right away, what would compel you to explore further? For instance, you would never know that he was a single father, ashamed of his circumstances. He liked to drink.” Zhang looked around the classroom expectantly.

“Maybe he died of cirrhosis?!” another student guessed loudly, causing Tommy to jolt forward and stab the corpse just to the left of its heart. A stream of blood squirted onto his fresh white t-shirt. Tommy looked down in disgust, vomiting a little in his throat for the second time that day, which then dribbled onto his shirt with aplomb.

“Well, you can’t go through the rest of the school day looking like that. I don’t think Principal Harrington would approve. Go home and change, maybe take a hot bath.” The classroom laughed. Tommy was blushing, he knew it, and decided to leave the room with his head down.

“So, the previous diagnosis was incorrect. Alcoholism can strain the heart and lead to either cardiac arrest or a stroke, or a number of other life-threatening ailments,” Zhang was saying. “In this case…”

Tommy was tuning the rest out. He was out in the empty halls again, following the faded pattern of shoe marks on the light blue tiled floor.  The day started off well enough, but eventually went to shit in a rectangular wooden box. As Tommy’s cheeks stopped feeling hot, he rapidly stopped feeling embarrassed. He remembered being ashamed before, but only when one of his biological processes had been betrayed. When those went away, when he felt no one could no longer see them, he was no longer nervous. What that unusual?

Before heading home, Tommy stopped by the nurse’s office. She smiled at him and handed him a plain white t-shirt. For some reason, white t-shirts were considered a first aid staple. Maybe they thought that various injuries meant torn clothing. And Principal Harrington wanted to make sure that everyone looked neat and tidy. It was a dress code that allowed for diversity in styles, but rips of any kind were a definite no-no.

But why not stock some kind of clothing for the lower half of your body? Which would make sense since teenagers were looking down there most of the time anyway. Tommy was pondering the various ins and outs of the school policy as he walked out of the school’s front doors. Another day down in Middletown High, Tommy thought. But it seemed like there would be an infinite number more, that high school would never cease. Tommy didn’t have any special attachment to the next four years, it was just that he couldn’t think beyond them. Also, the days had a peculiar sameness to them despite being filled with near absolute chaos.

The rain had mostly stopped and had been downgraded to a mere drizzle. Tommy looked up at the white-greyish sky and smiled for some reason. Couldn’t figure out why. He had been humiliated, but had decided to ruminate about the fact that the future seemed like a vague monster to him to compensate. There Tommy was again, standing in the middle of biology class, watching as the entire class laughed at the modest pool of vomit as it turned to form some sort of crust on his shirt. So, what was there to smile about?

Well, he was alone at last, had a fresh t-shirt, and was on his way home. Tommy was already looking forward to that effervescence inspiring fzz-t of a can of Coke being opened. Maybe he would collapse into his dad’s recliner, watch CNN and root for those “damn liberals.” But, Tommy didn’t really care about liberals vs. conservatives even though it was an election year. Bill Clinton seemed okay, and then there was that other guy.

Tommy was still several blocks away from home when he saw it. A decapitated rabbit was gracing the sidewalk with its presence, its bodily fluids leaking out and cleansing the pavement of urban filth.

 

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