from “Living Dead” by Michael G. Cornelius


FULL STORY TO APPEAR IN THE GOTHIC (November 2010) ISSUE!

As Jamey Faulkener’s mother used to always say: It was such a shame, really, about her son. A damned shame.

Such a shame that a boy as scrawny and ugly and painfully awkward as her son didn’t have the brains God gives a horse. Mrs. Faulkener figured that any kid that gangly, with those thick glasses, that badly pock-marked skin, and that over enlarged Adam’s apple should at least be as brainy as he looked. Mrs. Faulkener believed—quite reasonably so, in her mind—that if a boy was going to look just like a nerd, then he ought to have the smarts that’s supposed to go along with it. That way he could grow up and become a doctor or a lawyer or a computer repairman or something, something more than what he was, which, by Mrs. Faulkener’s reckoning, was a big pile of nothing. But her son didn’t have any real brains. He was bad at figures and couldn’t spell worth a fig. He couldn’t identify the parts of a cell or remember any dates from history class, not even 1492, when Columbus sailed the ocean blue (and Mrs. Faulkener had lost count of how many times she had tried to get Jamey to remember that little rhyme, but nope—even that was beyond her son.) Jamey couldn’t draw, or sing, or play an instrument. He only passed his classes because his teachers felt sympathy for Mrs. Faulkener’s big useless lump of a son. Every year come June they’d look down at their final grade reports and sigh before placing a requisite “D” next to Jamey’s name. They felt bad for him, felt bad for his mom, and since he wasn’t any trouble—he barely registered as even present, to be honest—they figured it did no harm to just send him on down the line, to the next teacher, who would probably take four months just to remember Jamey’s name, same as with them.

It was no surprise to Jamey that his mother thought these things about him—after all, it was her number one topic of conversation with practically everyone she met. She’d talked about it to their pastor, talked about it to her hairdresser, to Jamey’s pediatrician, to his dentist, and to his Cub Scout master, at least for the five weeks Jamey had managed to show up for Scout meetings. Mrs. Faulkener talked about it to everyone, not in any hopes of finding a solution, but just so people knew the terrible cross she had to bear, the burden God had placed upon her. Pity her, who had only one child before her husband Leland had died in that mining accident; pity her to be saddled with a boy who didn’t show any hint of ambition and who didn’t even seem to be up to working the mines that had claimed the life of his father, grandfather, and one cousin on his mother’s side.

Poor Mrs. Faulkener.

It didn’t really bother Jamey that she talked like that; he was used to it, and besides, she was right. Right about him, right about his grades, right about all of it. It’s not like he hadn’t tried—he had, early on anyway, tried to show his mother something, some ambition, some attempt to make something useful of himself. One time, he’d gotten a math tutor through an after-hours program at the school. But everything the tutor said just seemed to contradict what Mrs. Pugano said in Algebra class, and Jamey’s grades actually went down. Another time he tried out for the basketball team, but only got laughed off the court. His mother told him to make sure he took his glasses off before he played, so he wouldn’t break them, but without his glasses he could barely see the ball, let alone the net. All during his try-outs the other kids thought it was fun to make rush passes at Jamey, so the ball always caught him square in the face and knocked him to the court. Down he’d go, flat on his back, the sniggers and snickers of all the other guys resonating in his ears. He’d get up again, and again, only to get knocked down again, and again. Finally, the coach told him to hit the showers.

And Jamey didn’t mind, really, that they all laughed at him. He figured if he was one of them, he would have laughed, too. But Jamey would never be one of them; he knew that, and perhaps worst of all, he didn’t mind about that, either. He really didn’t. Sometimes Jamey figured that might be his problem. For some reason, he just didn’t care. He didn’t see the point to any of it. He didn’t see any reason to get good grades in math. He didn’t see any reason to be a star basketball player. Why bother? He wasn’t going to college, he wasn’t going to the NBA, so what good would any of it do him anyway? It was the same logic he followed for almost every aspect of his life. What good would playing the piano or being able to paint a picture or eating with friends at lunchtime really do? How would that help him? Jamey had gotten this far without any of that. Whether he got good grades or not he was still just a few weeks shy of graduating school. Whether he ate his lunch with friends or alone didn’t make the Salisbury steak go down any easier. It was all the same. So why did he mind if people laughed at him or pushed him in the hallway? Why should he care if his teachers knew his name or not?

Really: what was the point?

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