Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I owe Father Leonard a cigarette

I'd promised myself that I would no longer take my split-lipped aunt’s car at night, I still drove it during the day when she asked me to drive her someplace. I also convinced her to let me take it to school some days. I usually took public transportation to high school. The only problem with taking my split-lipped aunt's car was that I did not have a school parking pass of my own and would borrow one from a friend when he knew he would be out sick the next day.

The last day I used her car to go to school ended poorly for me.

Feeling pretty strong about driving to school, the car growled into the parking lot a bit faster than it should have. Owned by an 60-year-old woman for twenty years and never gunned above 30MPH, it responded to my foot which in turn responded to the Rolling Stones. Pressing hard with my right, I made our entrance more dramatic by standing on my left foot. The brakes locked and spun the car towards a row of empty spaces. I almost pulled it off. She slid past my wish point--I wasn't aiming. No harm though. After she slowly rocked to a final groan, I eased this rectangular, red Dodge Dame back into the space, locked it, and strutted inside the school.


During my 3rd period Economics class, my teacher stopped the discussion and asked, "Hey, anyone know who drove that little red battleship into the school yard this morning?"

We were silent, not yet sure he meant me.

"Anyone see that car race into the yard this morning?" Mr. Payne continued.

Some hands raised simultaneously with his eyebrows; all noses pointed toward me.

"Was that you in that little red car?"


"You little demon. That was some move."

The class laughed.

Classes switched and I walked to Chemistry with a deep sigh. I realized I hadn't switched out my books at Dominic's locker. Mine had been jamming for weeks and I never used it. Dom let me share his, but I had to work around his schedule--he had the only key.

A kid I barely knew, sitting near the windows, stood and waved to me, "Yo, Kel, your car is blocked in." I needed my Chem book--I had no idea where Dom was--Mr. Petrarch would kill me if I didn't have my book.

Everyone in class lined the windows.

Parked directly in front of my split-lipped aunt's car was a small white hatchback. Leaning against it was the principal of the school, Father Leonard. If I hadn't treated the parking lot like a theater of war, I would argue that he simply stopped to enjoy his cigarette.

He stared at it fondly as long slow exhales swirled and dissipated behind him.

Father Leonard was the cool recent addition to the high school. He once stood in the hall during a change of classes and brandished a large pair scissors over his head. As he SNIP SNIP SNIPPED the air he proclaimed, "JEWS MADE HERE! JEWS MADE HERE!"

Mr. Petrarch joined us at the window, placed a kind hand on my shoulder and said, "You'd better go see him."

It was the longest walk I ever took.

I popped open the aluminum exterior doors with an unintentional bang. The wind ripped both from my hands which made them echo like I came roaring out to attack Father. With his back to me, he didn't budge.

Instead, he took another captivating drag of his cigarette. The long helix of smoke
hurried busily into nothing.

With head bowed, I approached and stepped in front of him, "Father," I said, "this is my car."

He finished another long drag and flicked the cigarette away before looking at me.

His eyes were intense and hard. He stood straight and punched his finger into my chest. It knocked me back.

His finger kept at it as he started on me, "Don't ever drive in my school yard again. You walk. Don't ever ride in anyone's car in my school yard again. You walk. Don't ever approach me again unless I call you; you should be in class. You wait for me. Don't ever interrupt my enjoyment of one of my vices. You owe me a cigarette."

He stood taller than me, even though he wasn't and hitched at his pants like a gunslinger.

I blinked. There was silence until I simply asked, "What?"

"You heard me. You owe me a cigarette. Nothing filtered either."

I said, "I-I don't smoke."

"Oh shit, that's perfect, isn't it?" He flopped his arms to his sides exasperated.

We stood silent in the wind for a short time.

He turned toward the building and called over his shoulder, "I need a cigarette and I'm out. Don't you dare make a move."

And he disappeared back inside the building.

And I just stood there.

And stood there.

Silhouettes looked at me through the grated and green glass windows.

Classes changed and I stood in place. I thought about going in to see him, but he told me not to move and I was already in deep trouble.

I stood there the rest of the day. At the final bell, as the students hustled from the building to buses and cars, two secretaries approached me through the same doors I slammed open. One got into the white Honda as the other handed me detention slips for cutting class 4th period through the rest of the day.

Alone and still, I read and re-read five weeks worth of detention slips. One week for each cut class. The papers snapped in the wind as I pulled at the locked car door.

The car keys were in my jacket.

My jacket was in Dominic's locker.

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