The Topeka School by Ben Lerner Read Online (FREE)
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Darren pictured shattering the mirror with his metal chair. From TV he knew there might be people behind it in the dark, that they could see him. He believed he felt the pressure of their gazes on his face. In slow motion, a rain of glass, the presences revealed. He paused it, rewound, watched it fall again.
The man with the black mustache kept asking him if he wanted something to drink and finally Darren said hot water. The man left to get the drink and the other man, who didn’t have a mustache, asked Darren how he was holding up. Feel free to stretch your legs.
Darren was still. The man with the mustache returned with the steaming brown paper cup and a handful of red straws and little packages: Nescafé, Lipton, Sweet’n Low. Pick your poison, he said, but Darren knew that was a joke; they wouldn’t poison him. There was a poster on the wall: KNOW YOUR RIGHTS, then fine print he couldn’t read. Otherwise there was nothing to stare at while the man without a mustache talked. The lights in the room were like the lights had been at school. Painfully bright on the rare occasions he was called on. (“Earth to Darren,” Mrs. Greiner’s voice. Then the familiar laughter of his peers.)
He looked down and saw initials and stars and ciphers scratched into the wood veneer. He traced them with his fingers, keeping his wrists together, as though they were still cuffed. When one of the men asked Darren to look at him, he did. First at his eyes (blue), then at his lips. Which instructed Darren to repeat the story. So he told them again how he’d thrown the cue ball at the party, but the other man interrupted him, albeit gently: Darren, we need you to start at the beginning.
Although it burned his mouth a little, he sipped the water twice. People gathered behind the mirror in his mind: his mom, dad, Dr. Jonathan, Mandy. What Darren could not make them understand was that he would never have thrown it except he always had. Long before the freshman called him the customary names, before he’d taken it from the corner pocket, felt its weight, the cool and smoothness of the resin, before he’d hurled it into the crowded darkness—the cue ball was hanging in the air, rotating slowly. Like the moon, it had been there all his life.
They were drifting on her stepfather’s boat in the middle of an otherwise empty man-made lake encircled by large tract houses. It was early autumn and they were drinking Southern Comfort from the bottle. Adam was in the front of the boat watching a changeable blue light across the water that was probably a television seen through a window or glass door. He heard the scrape of her lighter, then saw smoke float over him, unravel. For a long time he had been speaking.