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Bones of the Holy by Aleksandra Pandyra

The junior high school I attended in the early-nineties was a two-story, brown monstrosity. It must have been built in the late fifties and was named after a saint. There was a gas station right at the nearest bus stop. The gas station worker, a sallow complexioned man in his mid fifties, doled out sour and sweet small gummy candies which cost one cent apiece. It was the beginning of grade eight and I just turned fourteen.
     Our homeroom teacher was Mr. Mentini who was also the school’s gym teacher. Although in his mid twenties, he was already balding. Every morning in homeroom, before scattering to our scheduled classes, we had to massage each other, just the shoulders, for five minutes. Mr. Mentini said that it was a good way to start the day as it got the circulation going. Whenever there was an odd number of us, he would pair up with a student, always a girl.
     Rob Lessack was in my homeroom. He was tall and pudgy and I got stuck massaging him a lot because I sat behind him. He had a bowl haircut parted in the middle and usually wore a dark green turtleneck and black sweatpants. His parents were rich doctors and Rob always had five dollars for lunch. Rob would buy two bags of Little Ceasar’s crazy bread and some candy at the gas station for lunch. He gave a bag and most of the candy to Preston and his hoodlum friends. I once heard Preston ask a handicapped man rolling by on the sidewalk in his wheelchair, if he was able to whack off.
     Rob had two friends. One was Bobby-Joe, who had failed a couple of grades because she was away so much. Bobby-Joe was as tall as Rob, had large breasts, glasses and long hair she wore in two idiotic pigtails. At first, I thought she was very diligent as she always took careful notes in her neat little handwriting but somehow it never amounted to much. Rob’s other friend was Miss Moon, our language arts teacher. Miss Moon was a stubborn leftover from the eighties: she had teased hair, wore big padded sweaters, tight grey jeans and talked to us a lot about her live-in boyfriend Terry. She made us write essays about what we did in the summer. As I didn’t do much except read a lot of Stephen King novels, I wrote about the different kinds of ice cream flavors I tried at the gourmet ice cream shop that had just opened up next to the IGA. I meant this essay to be an ironic response to her idiotic assignment but she just gave me an A followed by a couple of smiley faces.
    That year Miss Moon talked to us seriously about bullying and I knew that she was mostly talking about Rob. One time, I came in early for class and heard Miss Moon talking to Rob about how a special person like him would be appreciated later on in life.
    As the year darkened into October, the attacks on Rob continued. One time I hurried into the school’s side entrance after the final lunch bell rang and noticed a trail of crazy bread garlic sticks lying there like soft garlicky pillows. I longed to take one. Although on the grass, they were still a better alternative to my stale sandwiches. When I came in, I saw Rob sobbing on Bobby-Joe’s heavy capable shoulders.
    Rob and I were partly on the same bus route home. Unfortunately, any of the other kids who took the bus were also there. Rob would grimly sit at the front and someone from Preston’s group would routinely run up the aisle and give him a whack on the head, yell and something obscene.
    Maybe Rob was hoping that by sitting at the front, the bus driver, an adult with some authority, would protect him. It didn’t help. Most people knew what was good for them. There was something about Rob, like a disease that might be catching. Although he was picked on unfairly, he did possess a combination of petulant whininess and insular wealth that aroused contempt. His sniveling responses naturally evoked contempt. He deserves it, I would sometimes think.
    One late afternoon in October, Rob sat down beside me. I instinctively turned around to see if the popular kids were there but luckily they must have caught an earlier bus or else were stuck in detention.
    ‘You want to come over for a bit?’ I really didn’t but was caught off guard by the proposition and couldn’t recover enough to say no.
    ‘Um ok, I guess.’ It’s not like I had anything better to do. I would come home to an empty house and just watch TV. This is what I did most evenings after I finished the easy homework. Like most newly minted Canadian citizens, my parents were understandably preoccupied with money and that meant that all they did was work at their menial jobs for which they were over-qualified. In the late evenings, my mom and I would watch shows like My So Called Lifeand Party of Five. That was family time.
    The coiled driveway leading up to Rob’s house was outlined with pine trees pruned into teardrops. The house was an imposing two-story red-brick colonial. Inside I heard the distant whirr of the vacuum cleaner.
    ‘Let’s go tell Albena we’re here.’ Albena was a dark, dumpy little woman who barely glanced at us and when she did, she looked like didn’t care whether we were here or not.
    ‘There’s spaghetti in the fridge for your supper. Enough for your friend too.’ I cringed at that. Albena turned back to her vacuuming.
    Rob led me up to his room. I was afraid of touching anything as it just looked so unlived in. At least Rob’s room was messy and pungent with scattered dirty socks and random school supplies.
    ‘Here let me show you something.’ Rob pulled out a box from the jumble underneath his bed. It was filled with little firecrackers, the kinds you could only get in hunting stores.
    ‘I found them in our basement, it must have been from before I was born when my dad used to go out and shoot.’ I had noticed a few horny animal heads hanging above the giant fireplace when we passed the living room.
    ‘Sometimes Marco doesn’t close his locker. It takes a while for them to start off, I lit one already. I can slip it in right before he comes.’
    Shit I thought, now I’m going to be an accessory to a crime.
    ‘Hey don’t be stupid.’
    ‘You don’t know what those guys do to me.’
    It was true, I didn’t. But I didn’t think that a few firecrackers would make them stop. I quickly left after that. I considered saying something to Miss Moon but it annoyed and embarrassed me the way she tried to be everybody’s friend.
    Rob went through with his plan a few days before the Halloween dance. He had more balls than anyone but me would ever know. He was not caught. Marco almost lost an eye when a firecracker shot out of his locker but it jut skirted the edge of his cheek.
    That Friday was the Halloween dance and I went with my group of quiet and studious girlfriends. We just stood on one side of the gym with the other girls. Everyone was just pretending not to wait for the slow numbers when the boys would amble over to the girls’ side. I was never asked to dance as I was flat chested and by then had a reputation for brains. Even Bobby-Joe with that rack was getting asked to dance by hopefuls wanting to cop a feel.
     I did not want to awkwardly shuffle on the gym floor to Brian Adam’s I will always love you with some pimply boy but still I was embarrassed to be found so lacking. Even my girlfriends were dancing with a couple of other geeks and I almost wished Rob would ask me but he was nowhere in sight. This drove me outside where it was quiet. The actual Halloween when kids would be trick or treating wasn’t until tomorrow.
    I walked around the school and stopped in my tracks when I reached the back corner. Rob was there, surrounded by Preston, Marco and one other kid, the one with the mustache, Chris something. Their bare bums shone in the moonlight. From my vantage point, Preston was most visible and I could see a thatch of pubic hair blooming above where his pants were lowered.
    Marco said something I couldn’t hear and then the rest of them started pumping. Then I heard Rob crying and Preston shout.
    ‘Come on, just take it out.’
    ‘Fuck you.’
    ‘It’s easy just think of something good.’
    ‘Hmm yeah, I’m thinking of those giant titties in my dad’s hustler.’ Chris groaned. He was the first to finish, his semen shooting out and aimed at Rob who by then was curled up on the ground, arms over his head. One by one, they each showered him. I ran back to get Mr. Mentini and by the time he got there Rob was huddled on the floor, alone and sobbing.
    Rob never came back but transferred to a private posh school. I heard all this from Bobby-Joe. Preston, Marco and Chris were suspended for a week. As for me, I was left wondering what would have happened if I just walked up to them, boldly revealed myself. What would they have done? There’s nothing quite like surprise to make people momentarily drop the mask and expose whatever is lurking underneath whether monstrous or tame.
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