This is the story of little Jimmy, or Joey, or Billy, the oft forgotten youngest son of a middle class family of five. He wasn’t tall or short. He was neither malnourished nor suffering from that great social plight known as childhood obesity. He was, to put it simply, quite average.
It was in the forth or fifth grade that little Jimmy, or Joey, or Billy- or whatever his name was, asked the question that forever altered his average existence. He wasn’t usually the troublesome type, the type to ask too many questions or demand reasonable explanations. He rarely noticed the many inconsistencies of his lessons. Whether division by zero was possible or not mattered little to him, so long as his average grades were reasonably maintained. But little Jimmy, or Joey, or Billy had noticed a peculiar habit of his teacher, and he just couldn’t seem to let it pass. Every afternoon he was aroused from his post-lunch coma by this disturbance, because every day at 1:45 in the afternoon his teacher walked to the classroom window and pulled down a purple shade, and every day little Jimmy, or Joey, or Billy wondered why. So one day the boy raised his hand.
“Mrs. Appletree- err I mean Mrs. Smith?” the boy called out, his right hand jabbed firmly in the air.
“Yes, little Billy, or Jimmy, or Joey?” his teacher replied.
“Well, um,” he swallowed hesitantly. “ Every day at 1:45 you pull down that purple shade, and I just wondered. Why?”
Mrs. Appletree or Mrs. Smith stood silent for a moment, seemingly perplexed by the question. Her face quickly flushed, and her eyes glazed over. Finally, she erupted in a tumultuous rage.
“You don’t know about the purple shade?” she spat. “Little Joey, or Jimmy, or Billy, or whatever the hell your name is I cannot believe you don’t know about the purple shade!
“Go to the principal’s office!” she demanded thrusting a long crooked finger towards the classroom door.
So little Jimmy, or Joey, or Billy lifted himself from his desk and with his head hung low stumbled into the hallway. He didn’t know which was greater, his fear, confusion, or shame, but judging from the dampness below his waist, his shame was surely the most imminent problem. Normally the other children would have laughed at little Jimmy, or Joey, or Billy for being sent to the principal’s office, and they certainly would have pointed their fat little fingers at his urine soaked shorts with the sparkle of sadistic glee in their eyes, but they hadn’t. Not even the slightest snicker had escaped their slack-jawed mouths. There was something altogether different about the purple shade, and his classmates’ silence stirred the boy’s curiosity and deepened his confusion. The swell and slosh of his shorts and the ever-increasing stench of piss would have to wait.
Little Jimmy, or Joey, or Billy wandered the halls rather aimlessly. He obsessed about the meaning of the purple shade, but could come to no reasonable explanation of its purpose. He stopped at his locker, stalling for time, but the trip to the principal was inevitable. Perhaps, at least, the principal would be more forthcoming with answers. So little Jimmy or Joey, or Billy walked on down the hall.
Stepping awkwardly over a pile of commingled sawdust and vomit, descending clumsily through stairwells designed poorly for anyone less than fully grown, slip-sliding across overly waxed and institutionally patterned tile floors, little Jimmy, or Joey, or Billy made his way towards the principal’s office. He entered through the swinging doubled doors and grinned sheepishly at the corpulent receptionist.
The receptionist squinted at little Jimmy, or Joey, or Billy through thick bifocals, and blinked haphazardly with consternation.
“Little Billy, or Joey, or Jimmy,” the lipless crease betwixt her swaying jowls softly spat. “What brings you here?”
The boy, repressing an urge to wipe his face free of spittle, looked solemnly towards the dull colored tiles of the floor, seeking comfort in its predictable oppression.
“And what on earth is that awful smell?” the fat woman continued, looking hastily about the room.
“Purple shade…” was all the boy could squeak.
“What about?” The boy was certain this time that the woman had showered him with saliva. He said nothing. “Oh my, child, you’ve soiled yourself.”
Again he said nothing.
At that moment the principal happened upon the scene of the bashful boy and his awful stench and the bloated secretary and her equally awful confusion. She stood silently for a moment, taking in the situation, or remembering her all-important need to pick up her dry cleaning. The other four pant suits of her five day wardrobe were each as meticulously chosen for their air of learnedness and authority, but the salary of a low level state administrator only went so far. One had to keep up appearances. Appearance lent dignity to her office.
“Little Joey, or Billy, or Jimmy what on earth are you doing here?” The Principal gestured to her assistant. “Mrs. Tempor, please take little Jimmy, or Billy, or Joey to the lavatory and get him cleaned up.”
Mrs. Tempor started to her feet and returned to her chair, stood again and sat, and on the third attempt waddled toward the boy. “ Come little Billy, or Joey, or Jimmy. Let’s get you—Oh, Principal, the boy said something about the purple shade.” Her stubby hand paused in hesitation before making contact with the door handle for the third and final time.
The principal stalked toward Little Jimmy, or Joey, or Billy, placed her hand upon his shoulder, and lowered herself to the floor so as to be eye to eye with the boy. It wasn’t the open, inviting stance of a squat or one knee, a feigned gesture of egalitarianism. Bent at the waist, it was the jackknifed posture of imposition and stern warning. Her face set so close to his that her coffee tainted breath felt cool across the remnants of Mrs. Tempor’s phlegm on his scarlet cheeks. She proceeded with the inquisition.
“You see, Principal,” little Jimmy, or Joey, or Billy began. “Every afternoon Mrs. Appletree—er Mrs. Smith pulls down this purple shade, and I just wondered. Why?”
“How dare you claim ignorance of the purple shade!” The principal shouted rising stick straight in indignation. “I know you’ve been taught better! I know you have been raised better! Mrs. Tempor call his mother to bring him home.”
“Oh, Principal, Judy will be so upset,” Mrs. Tempor sighed. “Little Joey, or Billy, or what-have-you your mother, Judy, will be beside herself.”
“But I don’t know…” the boy muttered to no one in particular.
“How dare you!” the principal raged. “Mrs. Tempor, tell Judy her boy is suspended.”
“Oh, my,” the assistant’s jowls flapped as she clutched, clutched, and reclutched the phone receiver to her great bosom.
“But I just want to know what the purple…”
The principal shouted over the boy’s protests. “Nevermind suspension. Call Judy, and tell her that her boy has been expelled, and he is walking home.” She shuffled the boy out of her office and into the hall, then turned about and slammed the door in his face.
Tears streamed down little Jimmy, or Joey, or Billy’s face as he raced toward the nearest exit, trying to escape the ringing bells and herds of children that were pouring into the hallway to change classes. He blasted through the door and into the street, turned left and tore down his favorite alley shortcut and hurled face first into the side of a dumpster.
“Whoa there young fella,” a deep and reassuring voice said from somewhere above the haze of stars that was little Jimmy, or Joey, or Billy’s field of vision. A meaty hand, gnarled and filthy, reached out in front of the boy as if to offer assistance. With timid uncertainty little Jimmy, or Joey, or Billy accepted the kind gesture.
“Thank you,” he stammered.
“No worries, boy.” The booming voice belonged to an older man in layered clothing, seemingly a very well fed vagrant. He wore the tattered remnants of a tweed jacket over a number of threadbare sweaters, hiding what appeared once to be a windsor knot; the patch on his left elbow hung by a few bare threads, while the right was not present at all. “What seems to be your trouble, son?” the vagrant bellowed.
“I’m not supposed to talk to strangers,” Little Jimmy, or Joey, or Billy said as he stared up at the giant of a man.
“Well that’s no trouble at all,” the vagrant replied. “Would an exchange of names and pleasantries suffice to alleviate your burdens?”
“Suppose if such things mattered I’d be called Fred, Fred Murray. At least that’s some form o’ what might be called my Christian name. Fred Murray. How d’ya do?” Fred once again extended his gnarled hand in the boy’s direction.
“Well, uh, Mr.…”
“Mr….mr….hmmm…yes, that should do. Names are for people who think they’re important anyway, titles doubly so.” The vagrant chuckled to himself at this thought before continuing on. “Anyway, not much point in all this blathering. Can an old forgotten bum be of any assistance to you, my troubled lad, before I ramble on? I mean, why the blinding tears?”
“Well you see,” little Jimmy, or Joey, or Billy couldn’t help himself. “Every day at 1:45 my teacher, Mrs. Appletree—er I mean Mrs. Smith, pulls down this purple shade. So today I decided to ask her why.”
“That’s good instincts you got there, boy.”
“But she sent me to the principal’s office,” the boy sighed.
“As right she would.”
“And the Principal expelled me.”
“And that’s why you came barreling into my lunch pale here all bleary eyed and baffled?” The vagrant asked thumping his meaty hand like a mallet against the side of the dumpster with childlike glee. “Doesn’t seem much trouble at all.”
“You suffer from that incurable disease of curiosity. No use for you in an institution of learning.”
Little Jimmy, or Joey, or Billy shook his head. “That doesn’t make sense.”
“Some day it will, and when it does you come find me again. Maybe I can help you with your demons.” The vagrant reached his filthy hand again towards the boy who graciously accepted. He then returned to digging through the dumpster for scraps. Little Jimmy, or Joey, or Billy turned and wandered towards home.
As the boy continued home the old bum’s kind words and gentle smile offered him a modicum of solace. He walked a bit slower and more assured, and his tears ceased flowing. But upon reaching the weather-beaten front door of his family’s humble single home little Jimmy, or Joey, or Billy took pause, and a wave of anxiety crushed the breath from his chest. His heart beat violently at his breast as he balanced clumsily on his toes and peered through the window searching for signs of life. His father worked nights at a refinery. His mother took odd hours at the nursing home where his ailing grandfather stayed; her employment there, however tenuous, allowed the family a steep discount, and gave her the ability to take care of pop’s minor hospice needs so as not to, in the words of the home’s director, “overburden the orderlies and nurses with charitable works”.
Seeing no movement or other signs of hostile parental figures, little Jimmy, or Joey, or Billy slipped through the door as quietly as he could. He crept slowly up the stairs making sure to avoid those he knew creaked the loudest. He made it to the landing and turned right, only four steps left to the safety of his bedroom, but the path was blocked. He stared blankly ahead of him at the ominous silhouette, his mother stooped toward the floor scooping piles of his dirty laundry into a basket clutched at her hip. He thought of turning about and hurtling down the stairs, making a break for the door, but in his moment of hesitation his mother straightened up and turned toward him. Just as he had done upon entering the principal’s office little Jimmy, or Joey, or Billy lowered his gaze to the floor.
“I don’t know where you’ve been young man,” his mother sternly grunted. “Luckily your father had a few beers and an Ambien with his supper before Mrs. Tempor called.”
“I…” little Jimmy, or Joey, or Billy began to stammer.
“Not a word,” his mother commanded. “You are to remove those filthy clothes and take a bath. Then you will go to your room and wait until I am ready to speak with you. Do not dare wake your father.”
Little Jimmy, or Joey, or Billy did as his mother demanded, removing his piss soaked clothes right there on the landing. He felt an unfamiliar sense of shame at his nakedness. He avoided any eye contact with his deadly silent mother as he deposited the soiled garments in the basket and made his way into the bathroom.
It seemed like days passed after little Jimmy, or Joey, or Billy’s bath before his mother came to speak with him. He could find nothing to pass the time. The television and his video games were down in the den, and his toys were of little interest. Even his obsession with the meaning of the purple shade had subsided in the wake of his ever-growing fear of punishment. Knowing no other recourse he attempted to drift off to sleep. As he began to dream of the old vagrant and the purple shade his mother shook him from slumber.
“I don’t know what to do with you,” She was visibly shaking from nerves as she spoke. “Your father has already taken up shift work to pay the second mortgage. He works thirty hours or more of overtime already. With your grandfather being sick I can’t work much more than I already do. Now we’ll have to send you to private school.”
“But…” the boy started to speak but thought better of it.
His mother continued on oblivious to him, “And with your brother about to start college…Expelled. I cannot believe you were expelled. And for asking about the purple shade no less. The shame. How will I ever show my face at PTA?”
Once again she paid him no mind. Wringing her hands and muttering on with her worries, she moved away from the bed and departed from the room raising her voice one last time to moan, “Wait until your father hears about this.”
“”Wait until I hear about what?” the rasp, exhausted baritone of his father’s voice echoed from behind the bedroom door.
“Nothing, dear,” his mother said softly. “Go back to bed.” She quickly turned and shot a cold and desperate glance at little Joey, or Jimmy, or Billy. A faint grunt was the only reply as his father drifted back to sleep, and his mother slipped silently down the stairs.
Little Jimmy, or Billy, or Joey’s heart raced as he shot out of his bed. The thought of facing his father was too much for him to handle and that had been far too close. He had to get out of the house. He looked about in a panic before his eyes set upon the window. There was a tree just outside that window, his favorite climbing tree. Many hours he had spent hiding up in that tree watching the world go by without a moment’s glance at him. This is part of what it feels like to be a bird, he had always thought. The memory had momentarily calmed his nerves, just long enough for Little Joey, or Jimmy, or Billy to open the window and leap for the nearest strong branch. He grasped the branch with one small hand and gripped it like the lap bar of the most intense amusement ride he had ever experienced. His grip held, but the branch did not. First there was a snap as the branch cracked, then a tear as it peeled the remaining bark away from the trunk. The branch and the boy swung violently toward the trunk but met the ground first with a thud.
Fear and adrenaline denied the pain of any bumps or bruises, and the initial pause in inertia had been enough to avoid any serious injury, so Little Billy, or Jimmy, or Joey picked himself up and began to run. He didn’t know where to go or what exactly he was doing, but he ran as fast as his little legs would carrry him. He found himself running back towards the school, the robotic instincts of daily habit choosing his direction. With that brief moment of awareness came rushing back the moments of the day. The drive to understand the purple shade came screaming back into his consciousness. I have to find that bum, Little Jimmy, or Joey, or Billy thought.
A few blocks from the school he came upon three of his classmates. Mike was a star PeeWee running back, and the girls who had discovered such things were madly in love with him. Brian was something of a class clown, but only he and his friends thought his mostly abusive antics were funny. Fitz was the star catcher on the baseball team thanks to the political machinations of his father and a slightly better than average swing. They were walking home from school and throwing rocks at stop signs.
At first Little Billy, or Joey, or Jimmy paid them no mind as he sprinted towards the alley where he had met Fred Murray, but a reasonably sized rock to the back of his skull sent the boy reeling and rolling toward the concrete sidewalk.
“Freak!” One of the boys across the street shouted as the others nearly fell to the ground with laughter.
Feeling unusually accustomed to pain and embarrassment at this point in the day, Little Jimmy, or Billy, or Joey picked himself up off the pavement and turned to confront his abusers. They continued hurling ill-phrased vitriol at the boy calling him a freak and a loser. The insults crescendoed in a chant of “you don’t know about the purple shade” as they began in unison to hurl rocks at Little Joey, or Jimmy, or Billy.
The boy stood his ground as rocks landed all about him. An eerie sense of calm washed over him as he stood there amazed that he felt no shame in the face of his adversaries. Normally he would have pleaded to God for a place to hide, to seek shelter from these, his supposed social betters, but there was now only rage and righteous indignation. A rock finally struck him in the arm, and he finally had it.
“Neither do you!” He fumed as he picked up a larger of the rocks and started towards the three boys. They stood startled and confounded. No one had ever stood up to them, and Little Jimmy, or Billy, or Joey was absolutely right. They didn’t understand the purple shade at all. Little Joey, or Billy, or Jimmy picked up his pace, started sprinting toward the boys, and cocked his right hand back, a white-knuckled grip upon the stone. He rushed towards Fitz at the center, who was a good six inches taller than him, and leaped into the air. Looking back on it later he would have sworn that time nearly stood still. He felt his fist curled around the rock whip towards Fitz’s face. He felt pleasure and pride in his actions, then doubt in his success. The doubt was supplanted by remorse then a return to righteous indignation, then the blow connected. It was a scene torn from the epic struggles of the past: David and Goliath, Mike Tyson’s Punchout. Fitz’s head whipped sideways and his eyes rolled into the back of his skull as his body, limp from a sudden void of consciousness, crumpled toward the ground. The other two boys scampered away from the scene only looking back to scream “Freak!” in a weak attempt to massage their wounded pride.
Little Jimmy, or Joey, or Billy stood astride his unconscious victim like a hunter surveying felled prey. It was an extraordinary sense of accomplishment, but it was short lived. The other two boys had run home to their mothers; a police cruiser quickly flashed onto the scene. Images of winters passed, throwing snowballs at passing cars and evading police pursuit, flashed through Little Joey, or Billy, or Jimmy’s head. He hopped a nearby fence and ran quickly through neighboring yards. He hurdled trash cans and plowed through hedges. He ducked tree limbs and dodged various pieces of lawn furniture. Sweat poured down his face as his lungs struggled to find enough oxygen to fuel his frantic pace. When he could no longer find the will to run, and the flashing lights of the police cruiser seemed a distant memory, he paused to take a few much needed breaths.
Finally pausing to take in his surroundings he realized there stood but one chain link fence between himself and his favorite hideout; a ravine that carved its way through a small tract of dense woods. At the far side of that beautiful piece of untouched paradise was a creek where Little Billy, or Joey, or Jimmy loved to catch crawdads and skip rocks. Across that creek was a park in another township, a different police jurisdiction. Little Joey, or Jimmy, or Billy thought for certain that he would be safe there, and the creek would make a fine place to cool off.
Hoping the chain link fence and slinking down into the dense cover of the ravine Little Billy, or Jimmy, or Joey shot a glance in either direction just before the road and nearby houses passed out of view. No one had seen him enter. He felt it was safe to relax. The ravine had the ominous stink of fresh skunk spray, but the boy paid it little mind. He had had more than one run in with skunks down there, and days or weeks of trying to rid himself of the stench had made him nearly immune. Something he had never seen in these, his woods, was a stray dog, a fact that occurred to him with a fearsome snarl. A great, shaggy dog stood just a few yards away, clutching the remains of the oreo-colored vermin in his pointy barred teeth. Little Joey, or Jimmy, or Billy stood frozen, like his three abusers had been during his attack. He recognized the similarity instantly, and a wave of bemused emotions swept over him. The dog took a step back, lowering itself into a more aggressive stance. Searching for a path through the fear, guilt, and pride that battled for control of his psyche, Little Jimmy, or Billy, or Joey was astounded that he hadn’t noticed before: he was still squeezing violently at that large rock. An awkward sense of security and confidence washed over him.
“Scram,” he shouted. He waved the rock erratically at the mangy, shaggy beast. The dog raised its head slightly, relaxing its posture and letting its fanged expression fade. “Go on,” Little Joey, or Jimmy, or Billy continued in an equally stern but softer voice. His hands came to his chest and flowed out from his body in a shooing gesture. The dog whimpered and hustled off into the brush.
It is at this time that I, the storyteller, the narrator- if you like, in the end, the author of this god-awful, derivative dross have become interminably bored with the direction of this story, and seeing as it is, for lack of another fool to claim it, my story to tell- at the very least my preposterous version of said story, I shall now tie a pretty- truth be told, not in the least bit, pretty (much like this sentence)- bow around Little Billy, or Joey, or Jimmy’s next ten years.
He eventually forgot why he was hiding, returned home, and was sent to military school. He was a some-what-successful high school wrestler, got decent grades, and mostly kept his mouth shut. The impassioned violence with which he wrestled and the stoic silence he maintained cast a thick shadow over his peers that served to turn the story of his origins at the school into myth and legend. They said he killed three of his classmates with a chalkboard eraser in the middle of afternoon classes. Seeing as he was already labelled a killer, and he enjoyed the attention he got from girls when he wore his uniform to the mall, the legend, Little Joey or what-have-you, became Private Who-Cares.
Private Who-Cares was as average of a soldier as he had been a student. Having no exceptional or even less-than exceptional skills, Private Who-Cares was put on the frontline of some meaningless little excursion into the desert to kill or be killed by men in sandals and pajamas that were clearly pissed off about a great deal more than being shot at and bombed. The Private, on the other hand, was perfectly satisfied with being pissed off about being shot at and bombed. The ringing in his ears and the shrapnel in his leg would attest to that when he was discharged after less than two years of military service.
Upon his homecoming, cranky from all the ringing and limping, Private Who-Cares took up recreational drug use, mostly psychedelics and opioids, and fashioned himself a new persona: The Dirty Hippie.
The Dirty Hippie wore berkenstocks with wooly socks, dabbled in veganism, and beat his head against a wall trying to explain to his pinko-commie friends that Marx was an evil-fuck and that violent revolution was the successive dance of a Mad Tea Party. “You simply want to become the oppressors!” He’d shout to no avail as the dreadlocked gutter punks and heroin-chic goths that scattered about the squat tilted their heads like dogs or snorted another line to avoid the same old conversation.
It was in the midst of yet another vapid conversation about how the world could be better if only something blew up, that The Dirty Hippie blew up. “To hell with you!” He roared at no one in particular. Like a bear from hibernation, he rose up in a tremendous stretch, shook his head to clear the hydrocodone cobwebs, and lumbered lazily out into the street. The sun was high above and the sky was clear, tears welled up in The Dirty Hippie’s bloodshot eyes as the light nearly blinded him. It had been days, possibly weeks since he had left the smoky shadows of that squalid hovel, his dope-fiend prison. He shaded his brow with one hand as his eyes adjusted to the light, the other clutched at his belly. A nausea, vaguely like hunger, gripped at his insides. Less than a fist full of coins in his pocket, not near enough for a proper meal, The Dirty Hippie staggered over to his favorite dumpster dive behind the Big Box Superstore Grocery Mart Center.
The Dirty Hippie approached a six-foot-tall green dumpster, set his sandals aside, and scurried up over the lip. His feet slid through strata of refuse. Yet to expire produce, his lunch, topped the heap, below that a layer of greying meats nearly sealed in plastic wrap, then an indeterminate rotting heap, and, finally, six inches of semi-solid, congealed, organic yuck. The Dirty Hippie’s feet slid slowly toward the steel bottom, and he retched. Yuck creeped through his wooly socks and between the cracks of his toes, and shockwaves of pain tore through his body. He doubled over, his face planted firmly in a mess of just-wilted baby spinach and shredded cabbage. The shockwaves of pain that ripped through his nervous system projected violent flashes of light upon his retina like a transcendental pyrotechnics display. The Dirty Hippie screamed in agony, clutched at his scalp and pressed his palms angrily at his temples. He lost consciousness.
The Dirty Hippie opened his eyes a few minutes later. Drooling and exhausted. He lacked the strength to pull himself from the grocer’s carnage. He cursed the opiate addiction that left him weak, hungry, and withdrawn. He cursed an anthropomorphic god he would usually swear did not exist. He cursed the government that sent him to war, and the faceless synthetics called corporations that profited from the misery that government caused. Most of all, he cursed the purple shade. An eerily familiar voice boomed from above him, and he feared for a moment some bearded deity had come to take and judge his immortal soul.
“Need a hand, fella?” A large and gnarled hand reached over the lip of the dumpster. The face behind it was indeed bearded, but it was no god. The Dirty Hippie accepted the great paw and was quickly snapped from his refuse prison. He began to laugh almost hysterically. “I do believe the last we met by my lunch pale you was cryin’,”
Murray the bum said. “Now you’re laughing, but I’m pretty sure it ain’t as different as it first appears.”
The Dirty Hippie could not stop his laughter even though his insides still twisted in pain, but he was polite enough to nod assent.
“I’m going to guess,” Murray started. “Ya stuffed that curiousity down deep and tried to muscle it out of your mind; let the hate and confusion others tried to foist on ya take control. Can’t be done. Curiosity didn’t kill the cat; it was the fear. Wiser man than me once said: Fear is the mind-killer.”
The bum’s words shook the Dirty Hippie to the core. His laughter died suddenly. He looked into Murray’s gentle eyes and saw a level of empathy and concern that could only come from shared experience.
“You tried?” The Dirty Hippie asked. “To kill your curiosity, that is.”
“Aye. Stopped asking questions because I didn’t like the answers. Stopped fighting the good fight ‘cause it seemed a lost cause.”
“Thought so,” the bum replied. “Thought so until just now. Now…now I’m figuring there’s redemption in showing you the way out.”
“The way out?” The Dirty Hippie grew excited for the first time in years, possibly since that fateful day, the day he asked about the purple shade.
“It was the purple shade that broke ya. If I recall.”
“Seems the thing to do,” Murray continued, “is to go back to that school of yours.” He paused to look up towards the sun. “Gotta be about one-thirty now. If ya run I bet seeing that ritual from the outside might shed some light on your predicament.”
“Yes!” The Dirty Hippie shouted his closest approximation of glee. “Of course.” He started to dash off towards the middle school, stopped shortly to look back and wave his thanks, then charged ahead. The purple shade held the answers he needed.
As he ran through small clusters of befuddled pedestrians, and darted between parked cars and through slow moving traffic, he thought back to that day. He thought back upon the purple shade. He remembered the excitement the moment he made that fateful decision. He recalled thrusting his hand into the air as Mrs. Appletree or Ms. Brown drew the shade down, the mechanical click of the classroom wall clock having just ticked 1:45. A swirl of emotions, turbulent and invigorating, compelled him forward on wavering legs long weak from past trauma and present neglect. He remembered the spreading warmth and moisture in his shorts as the startled teacher had lashed out at him and sent him scurrying to the principal’s office. His left knee buckled and his right struck the pavement savagely. He remembered the rock that struck him, and the look on those boys’ eyes when he rose and retaliated. He rose up and continued to run. The middle school was just two blocks down. He could nearly see that old corner classroom, nearly eye-ball that damned purple shade. Soon he would know. Soon he would understand. Why did Mrs. Appletree or Ms. Brown pull down that purple shade every day at 1:45? What was its purpose? What meaning did the purple shade hold?
Out of breath and flush with excitement, The Dirty Hippie stood on the precipice of enlightenment. He stood teetering over the curb of the sidewalk across from the school. He could see clearly through the window of his old classroom. He saw a few dozen children slumped at their desks, their little heads sagged and jumped in a rhythmic pattern. He saw Mrs. Appletree or Mrs. Smith at the chalkboard; she slumped as well, though it was less boredom and more aging that left her sagging. She turned toward the window and shuffled toward the purple shade.
The Dirty Hippie stepped off the curb, his eyes transfixed on the scene above. He was compelled to get closer. He stepped slowly forward, ever staring.
He never saw Mrs. Appletree or Mrs. Smith pull down the purple shade, just like he never saw the bus that hit him, but he may have found enlightenment.