A Is for Austerity
This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, locations, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 Bethany Ebert
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author.
The cover photograph was taken by HolgerLi at Flickr.com. It is in the public domain. Use of cover photograph does not imply photographer’s endorsement of viewpoints contained in this novel.
As this book is a fictional story set in contemporary times, the names of some musicians, celebrities, automobile companies, and other pop culture entities have been included. Use of these names does not imply any endorsement of the novel or viewpoints expressed therein.
The soccer ball sailed through the bright blue sky, a beacon, an omen. A testimony of skill. It was 1996, and Parker Beloit was the best soccer player in the third grade. He knew it, the coach knew it, his classmates knew it, the sky knew it.
He kicked the ball again.
From the corner of his eye, he saw Matt Dietrich waving his arms, signaling for a pass, but he had such a direct path to the goal, and why waste it on Matt if he could score the goal himself? It seemed precarious. Too risky.
It was better planning to make the goal yourself.
He wound his leg back and kicked, using the toe of his soccer cleat, but that hurt because his shoes were wearing out again. Sometimes, like now, he kicked too hard, misjudging the distance. Wearing his glasses during soccer screwed up his game. He usually went without. Maybe it was a mistake.
He pinched the front of his shoe, wincing.
The ball sailed into the metal bleachers, and then there was a crashing sound.
“Oh man, you missed,” Jordan said.
“Wow, look at it, though, that went pretty far,” Ryan said, shielding his eyes against the glare of the sun.
“Well, I better go get it.” Parker sprinted off to find the soccer ball.
Thwack. The ball hit him square in the forehead. Somebody threw it at him.
“Hey!” he yelled, rubbing his forehead.
His assailant was a pasty red-headed kid in the bleachers, grubby-looking with thick glasses, glaring at him, face pink with anger. His hair was bright. It reminded Parker of cinnamon and the fall. It was a poetic sort of view, like a painting. The kid held up a cardboard square with a bunch of tangled wires and a few broken Styrofoam balls, smashed into small crumbs. “Hey yourself, douche! You ruined my science project!”
Science project? “It’s recess, douche! Why are you working on a science project?”
The redhead took a deep breath before speaking. “Because,” he said, “it’s extra credit for finals week for Advanced Articulated Science. I have to build a 3-D model of the solar system, and I did, but you just ruined it.”
“Not as sorry as you’ll be when you end up in detention.”
“For what?” Parker asked, exasperated. “It was an accident. I said I was sorry.”
“For being a douche!” The redhead squinted at his 3-D model, brushing a few crumbs of Styrofoam off. He sighed heavily.
“Hey, now, that’s enough,” the recess monitor said, walking up to them on the playground. His big shoulders blocked out the sun. He furrowed his enormous eyebrows, scratching the side of his head. “You kids calm down. And no swearing.”
“’Douche’ isn’t a swear word,” Jessica Harper pointed out, always helpful. Ryan shoved her, and she laughed.
The recess monitor sighed. “Okay, enough.” He pointed at Parker, then at the kid in the bleachers. “Both of you, go straight to detention after school today. No more funny business. And Jessica, stop goofing around, or I’ll put you in detention too.”
Jessica stopped laughing, then pulled the corners of her mouth down.
God, it was useless. Detention. Fine, whatever. Parker pretended like he hadn’t heard and kicked the ball over to Matt Dietrich. The game started up again, and everything went back to normal.
Not many schools offered detention at the elementary level, but Lockhart Elementary School was special. Its founders were a group of German and Austrian do-gooders back in the 1850s, refugees from some white-people war or whatever. It was all the same.
The use of Prussian virtues at Lockhart was well-documented. A is for Austerity. B is for Bravery Without Self-Pity. C is for Courage. D is for Determination. D is for Discipline. A giant poster at the front of the detention room outlined all twenty-three of them. It occurred to Parker during a previous detention that some letters were repeated, and not every letter was even on the list, so it didn’t make much sense to put everything in alphabetical order. But nobody asked him about it.
Parker’s dad said it was good the teachers at Lockhart were so mean. Maybe it would teach the kids not to be fuck-ups and thugs. Parker’s mom thought it was too harsh, though, and anyway, she said, it was up to the parents to be good examples.
Parker slouched over, looking for an empty desk that wasn’t at the front of the room. He found one in the back row, but immediately regretted his choice when he noticed the kid sitting in front of him was the same kid whose solar system he’d ruined earlier that day. He was pawing around in his green-and-yellow backpack for something, head bent down, hair spilling in his eyes.
Maybe if Parker walked quiet, he wouldn’t notice.
Mrs. Lehmann, the teacher who presided over detention, hadn’t arrived yet. There were only a few students present today – Parker, the kid from the bleachers, two future delinquents who (it was rumored) stole art supplies to paint a mural in the coat-room of Mrs. Walker-Hernandez during recess, Brandon who always went into crazy flailing seizures and hit people when they tried to help him because he couldn’t control his hands, and Sam who didn’t know how to talk and preferred biting as his mode of communication.
Parker looked up at the ceiling and sighed. Well, this promised to be eventful. He dug through his backpack for a book. Amazing Poisonous Animals. It was a good read, illustrated, informative. Sometimes he copied the illustrations on his mom’s computer paper.
The screeching of a metal chair snapped him out of his reverie, and he looked up.
The redhead backed his metal chair further, up to Parker’s desk, and leaned in next to him. He kicked at Parker’s foot. “This isn’t over,” he hissed.
“I said I was sorry,” Parker grumbled, for the second time that day. “You want me to write a note to your science teacher or something?”
The boy crossed his arms. “No.”
“What, you want me to help rebuild it?”
God, what an asshole. “Well, what?”
“I’m just mad. You ruined my project. You’re a shitty person.”
“I don’t have to listen to this,” Parker said. He pulled his book out and stared at it, ignoring the cesspool of negativity next to him.
Sam made a loud bellowing noise right then, and everyone shut up.
Ms. Lehmann stalked into the room, looking mean and depressed, like her face couldn’t decide. She had bags under her eyes and a slack jaw, kind of an under-bite like a big dog. “Everybody listen up,” she said. “I’m going to do roll call. Say ‘present’ and don’t say anything else. I despise noise, and the less of it I have to put up with, the better.”
“Present,” Hannah said cheerfully.
“Well, we are so lucky to witness history in the making today. Lockhart Elementary’s future Miss Vincent Van Gogh in her very first detention, ladies and gentleman.” Ms. Lehmann said. She stood in front of Hannah’s desk, inspecting her reflection. “You think this is funny?”
Hannah didn’t say anything, just blinked rapidly behind her glasses.
“Well, it’s not. Vandalism is a crime. If you were twenty years older you’d be fined a hundred dollars. You’ve probably never seen a hundred dollars in your life, have you?” Ms. Lehmann waited, as if expecting a response, then she tapped her ruler on Hannah’s desk a few times. “Perhaps you never will. Van Gogh only sold one painting, you know. He died poor. If you intend to continue a career in art, stick to painting canvas, not classrooms. You may never sell a painting, but at least you won’t be arrested.”
“Sorry,” Hannah said.
“No talking!” Ms. Lehmann looked at her clipboard for the next name on roll call. “Parker Beloit?”
Parker looked up from his book. “Present.”
“Mr. Townsend told me you called somebody a swear word at recess today. Is that correct?”
“Technically not,” Hannah said. “’Douchebag’ is just a word for, um, I don’t know. A bag, I think? It’s a sort of bag. But it’s not a swear word.”
“I said no talking!”
“Sorry,” Hannah said, looking at the floor.
Ms. Lehmann walked over to the front of the room. Her shoes were heavy. They made a thick, padding noise on the linoleum floor. She glared at Parker, not saying a word. A full, silent minute passed. He hoped she wouldn’t rip him a new one like she did with poor Hannah. God, her eyes were evil. That stare. He thought maybe if she didn’t have those giant bags under her eyes, maybe they would turn into laser beams and burn him to death.
He pictured himself lasered to death, in a heroic fire, thousands of weeping sad people at his funeral. He was a good soccer player, his gravestone would say, and a brave observer of freedom of speech. Friends and relatives of the Beloit family would drive up from all over the country for his funeral because his mom’s cooking was so good. Cheddar and salami platters, with Ritz crackers and tuna pâté. Green Jell-O. Mushroom salad with fat, wet lettuce. Garlic mashed potatoes. Tilapia.
Ms. Lehmann’s big frowning mouth moved down the list, detailing the crimes of his detention comrades. “Nick O’Doole,” she announced, and the redhead blinked.
“Present,” he said.
So he had a name.
“Don’t swear at people,” Ms. Lehmann instructed, and Nick leaned back in his chair, folding his arms in front of his desk. “You know, world peace can only be achieved if people set aside their differences and act with compassion instead of malice.”
She cleared her throat, letting him feel the impact of her words. “And if you were saying these things in the future, suppose someone was so angry they decided to assault you? In a court of law, those would be regarded as fighting words.” She closed her eyes, inhaling deeply before continuing. You had the feeling she thought she was very wise.
Parker imagined her sloppily tongue-kissing her ruler after detention was let out.
“One must always be aware of the potential consequences of one’s actions.”
Sheesh, Parker thought. Why am I the potential assailant here? Nick threw a soccer ball at his head. Suppose he was concussed.
He glared at his book, fuming. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Nick frowning, gazing out the open window.
Outside the Lockhart students who participated in the after-school program screamed and chattered back and forth to each other. A rubber ball hit the side of the building. They’d eat peanut butter sandwiches later and drink cartons of chocolate milk while Parker rotted away in detention.
Well, at least Nick was miserable too.
It seemed unfair for only one person to suffer.
A two-chapter vignette, set in the Deathskull Bombshell universe. It's 1996, and Parker Beloit has no idea what he's in for when he kicks a soccer ball - straight into Nick O'Doole's science project! It's hate at first sight. After some harsh words are exchanged, they end up in after-school detention with the cruel Ms. Lehmann.