HOLLYWOOD—To make copies required a written form be filled out, dated and signed by the teacher, swearing that it infringed no copyright. The office devoted full time now to decreeing and suddenly enacting new regulations and, just as suddenly, lifting them. You only had to learn to slip through holes, to dart and turn and wiggle your way through the ever-changing maze.
“You just go right ahead and copy,” the secretary told Jason. “You don't need no form.”
The joke sign in the night school office caught Jason off guard as he made copies for tonight's class—”This is my way of keeping busy until I win the lottery.” It had added poignancy as the insurance company was still processing Jason's claim on Suzanne's life insurance—her last gift to Jason. It could mean Kit's college education, or settlement for Mr. Perlmutter's lawsuit for the spinal cord injury. In either case, a verdict of suicide could jeopardize it. The life insurance “lottery” was far from a sure thing.
It felt like the secretary and Jason were the only two people here. Perlmutter, Janet Gilmore and the teacher, best known as Hey You because of her unpronounceable name, both first and last equally impossible to pronounce and memorize—they were all long gone. One voice, though, was coming out of the lunch room, speaking in a sleepless monotone, punctuated by berserk laughter.
“I've got a kid, a mortgage,” Motor Mouth was saying. “Ha ha! Sometimes I feel like driving off the freeway and crashing into a wall. Hahahahaha!”
When Jason passed the lunch room doorway, undetected, he caught a whiff of alcohol in the air. He trudged back to room 39, his backpack freighted by books, copies and apprehension. He half expected to turn the corner and be met by Abby Fenwick's toothy grin and yolky laugh. Rest in peace, whispered Jason.
The wide open-air walkways of
Jefferson were deserted. Yawning walls of lockers marched by Jason. He opened the door to 39 and entered the thick teen pheromone-laden air. Strewn all over the floor, crumpled cellophane, gum wrappers, brown soda stains, wayward straws. He just sat and stared at the filth on the floor—that's what happened when one janitor is spread too thin. No students were here yet. Jason was quite alone, picking his nose, when Joey Leonard stuck his head in the door.
“The key?” Eyes chipmunk-bright.
“Great performance today,” Jason told Joey. He gave Jason a long hard look.
“You did good, just being there,” Joey said. “How ya doin'?”
“OK.” Jason smiled weakly. Joey grimly flashed his laser-whites and patted Jason on the back. That pat said more than words could ever say.
“You been through a lot.”
“We been through a lot,” Jason said.
“Listen, after Suzanne, it's never gonna be the same,” Joey said. “I don't presume to know what you're going through, and can give you only my sorrow. And my belief based on experience, that when it's never gonna be OK, it's OK. You're on the path to being a full human being. Those who've left us, who've died, departed and overdosed, would wish nothing more, Jason, than for us to keep on truckin' down the brave highway.”
Jason choked up. The buzzer rang and Joey made a knee-jerk move toward his classroom. Like there were any students there. Like any of this mattered.
Two hours passed, and the teacher adviser's voice barked from the intercom: “Hurry up, teachers. It's nine p.m.” Classroom clock read 8:30. Jason dismissed the handful of students and, fuming silently at Edgar, the teacher adviser, he walked through a completely dark campus. Jason hadn't even had time to fill out his attendance sheet. Once inside the office Jason learned that Edgar had been “double riffed,” receiving pink notices for both his daytime job at the high school and for his nighttime job. Understandably, he wanted out of the office as soon as possible and started turning out office lights to hurry the teachers along.
After class Jason drove back to
Hollywood and picked up Kit from Isabel, who was caring for her after Candy went to live in the Valley with her brother. Kit and Jason went straight home from Isabel's.
You would think after all they had been through, the death of her mother and all, she and Jason would get along peaceably, but they clashed now.
“I hate beets. They're disgusting,” she snarled, making a salad for her dad. “Mommy gets angry because they leave a red stain on the cutting board.”
Jason held his tongue. This wasn't easy. Joey Leonard was right: it wasn't going to be OK.
“You know I get claustrophobic in this tiny apartment,” Kit screamed and violently handed the salad to her dad.
“Why can't we have a big house like mommy had? Oh, I know. Because you're a loser and you don't really make $10,000 dollars a week.”
(to be continued)