Quiz time and the classroom is quiet. Only a few sniffles, Brent’s jackhammer foot tapping. The hum of a mower on the other side of the window. I search the page for answers I know right off the bat. It’s not a lengthy scan.
I have to pass this quiz. I’m already staring at a C and only barely treading above a D. Dinner conversation has taken a turn for the worse. We’re talking a loss of privileges, meaning my Xbox, cell phone confiscation. I fear another hike at the parkway is on the horizon.
I look out the window, as though a cheerleading squad might just parade past, hoisting a banner with the answer key. Never happened before, but you never know.
“Thrash. Number four. I know that one, it’s B. The answer is B.”
The hairs on my neck stand. I search the room, all heads are down, pens to the page. It’s like some secret I don’t know.
My dad stands at the doorway, the same baggy t-shirt, low-hanging cut off shorts. His chain wallet bouncing with his excitement. I close my eyes, squeeze them tight, thinking maybe, just maybe he’s not really there. But he is.
“Dad. Stop. Not now, please.”
A few glances my way. I’m new at the art of whispering, just like I’m new at the art of seeing my Dad—a guy with horrible timing.
He makes this big show of sneak-walking to my desk. When he leans over and taps the page, I get a whiff of him. A slight metallic smell, oil and grit. I’ve seen videos of Dad skating in the old machine shop turned skate house. The one demolished a few years back.
“It’s B,” he says, no longer sneaky but excited, jumping around. His worn black Van’s squeak on the floor. How can no one hear this? I can’t help but study him. He was a skater, in the X-Games. Even got the attention of a few sponsors. Things were looking up, until…well.
Mom said he used to duct tape the soles back on.
I turn away from his,,,glow? Allure? His crackling energy. It’s hard to explain, but you can’t look at my dad and not fall into every word he says. But the thing is, he’s, well, dead. Even with his bright eyes and crooked smile that leave you believing, or wanting to believe, that you can live dangerously, that nothing bad could ever happen.
But it can.
Again, I attempt to whisper out of the side of my mouth. “Please, stop.”
My face goes hot, my brain thumping at the temples to get out of my head. I turn to him again. “Just go away.”
Crap. More faces turn to me. Mr. Leonard—he of old tweed and gray grizzle, clears his throat, his chair squeaking as he shifts, his eyes flipping to the class then back to the book.
Dad makes a face. Mom said Mr. Leonard taught him too, which doesn’t do me any favors. The first time this happened, I thought maybe he could see Dad, too. Then I realized it was ridiculous.
Now Dad walks up to the front of class, stops and smiles at his old teacher, I can’t help but hold my breath as Mr. Leonard fixes his wire frame glasses, lowers his novel. His as in HIS—he’s reading his own novel.
“Charlie? Everything okay back there?”
Double crap. Dad looks at me then to Mr. Leonard. Back and forth. “Man, this guy’s getting old, huh?”
“Da—” I cover my mouth before I say it. Dad leans close, an inch away, inspecting Mr. Leonard’s every wrinkle. A runaway smile hits my face.
Mr. Leonard cocks his head. “Excuse me?”
The entire class looks at me, the giggling crazy seeing\imagining\dreaming\watching his Dad do this goofy shuffle dance in the front of the room.
Mr. Leonard finds a pen. “Charlie, do you need to take a trip to the office. Or perhaps see the nurse?”
I pull it together, shaking my head as Dad circles around and scoots up behind Mr. Leonard, dancing around like he’s possessed. How can Mr. Leonard not at least feel it?
“No sir,” I croak. Dad drops his arms, cranes his neck over Mr. Leonard’s shoulder, scanning the answer key to the quiz. He looks up and cracks a smile. “Told you it was B.”
Mr. Leonard is getting impatient. “Very well. Shall we get back to our quiz?”
I nod, drop my eyes to the guesswork that is my quiz. Dad makes his way to me, soles slapping the floor. He slides up next to me. “Shall we, Thrash?” he says, mimicking Mr. Leonard, tapping my quiz. “Shall thee get back to thou assignment? Thou shalt not fail thou assignment if thee listens to thou father.”
I lose it all over again. I’m cracking up hard. Again the entire class whips around, gawking at the nut who sees ghosts. Mr. Leonard takes a deep, nasally breath through the thick forest of nose airs. Sets the novel down. Great. Now I’ve failed the quiz and gotten kicked out of class.
“Is something funny, Charlie?”
Dad looks at me funny, as though he has no idea. Almost like he’s disappointed in me. Like he has any right. But I should be disappointed in him, crossing that train trestle…when Mom was pregnant with me. For dying before I ever got to know him.
He backs out of the doorway, stops, and mouths “B,” before vanishing into the hallway. I still don’t know if it really happened, but I fill in number four: B.
It’s probably the only answer I’ll get right anyway.