Sunday, November 25, 2007

Gothic Fiction: Class Reunion

Here is a gothic short story I wrote about that most lame of traditions, the high school reunion. CBC was going to buy it to make into an episode of an omnibus TV series, but the series never got off the ground. What else is new....

CLASS REUNION by Les Wiseman

You got the invitation and you wondered. Grad class twenty-year reunion. Why? You hated those knotheads then, why would you want to go back to that small town and get together with them now? When you've become your own person via two decades of hard labor. You never fit in, were never part of the in cliques. And since you left it all behind you'd made real friends, people who respect and admire you. Who don't know that in high school you were scorned. These days, people think you're cool. And during a decade of journalism you had occasionally gloried at the thought of those high-school turds reading your byline with envy while they pumped gas or labored in mindless repetitive jobs while their sows whelped. And you thought of the great sex you'd had, with beautiful women who loved your body and never knew the kids wouldn't let you walk home with them. You had taken drugs and drank with some of the brightest minds of your generation. You were a known entity in the cultural mosaic.

You were proud that you had put out two books of horror, that were birthed in high school when you read weird magazines and comics while the jocks played on their petty little teams and made out with their vacuous little squirrel-headed cheerleaders. And while you never had a leather jacket or any of the fashionable clothes because your parents couldn't afford them, your agent had just negotiated a six-figure deal for your third book. And while kids would put "Kick Me" signs on your back in the hallways, you now got letters from fans who would like to meet you. And when you stepped away from the podium at a reading, you knew there were always going to be a couple of women who wanted you because of what you had created. Your power.

So, you figured you had your ego in check enough that you could go to the reunion, not to gloat, but just to show how you had turned out. Better than most.

You had what you wanted. A book contract, a mortgage, and you had found, after some rakish searching, the dearest woman in the world. You had given up thinking there would ever be a right one for you, but then she had walked into your life. True, she was substantially older than you, but all relationships are weird. And though she had a few lines, it was obvious that she was a beautiful woman. Plus, she had a mind. She read books. You could talk about things that mattered with her. And she had no ego screwiness; she did what she wanted and the rest of the world could go sit on a tack. Your books never shocked her. She read all that sort of stuff. And at conventions, the other writers who had come to accept you were always delighted to see her because she knew their work and could talk about it intelligently. She was a gem. And she left you alone to write, but was always right there doing the little things that kept her happy, her cross-stitching, her knitting, her recipes. You had a wonderful life together. And while the other guys in your class might've had wives that were sleeker, none had one remotely as full of worth and goodness.

So you went. Back to that small town. To that high school gym. You couldn't resist an Armani suit. And while the little woman was noticeably a few axe-handles through the beam, she looked fabulous in her diamonds.

You knew you weren't going to be the richest guy there. You'd heard that Donny Paulsen had started a lightbulb business with a couple of other jerks and had turned it into a multi-million dollar distribution company. But, hell, he was still just a glorified lightbulb salesman. You wondered about that Deanna Allen, the haughty genetic-wonder cheerleader who you lusted over mightily and once called you a loser. That had destroyed you for weeks, maybe longer. You'd heard that she was divorced from that alcoholic football player now and was waiting tables in a series of restaurants. Might be nice to go there for dinner, make sure to get her section, leave a fifty dollar tip, blow her away.

When you entered the old gym, there they all were: fatter, balder, saggier, but strutting around like puffer pigeons, each one wanting to meet only those whose lives hadn't turned out so well. And you'd gotten your wife a drink and she whispered that you had gone to school with an awful lot of severely ugly people and that made you want to hug her right there. You knew there was no place she would less like to be than here, but she was humoring something inside you that needed to be aired. You saw a few you'd known. Saw them look you over. And it came to you with a panic flash of flop sweat that your wife was going to find out that you had been a loser in high school, that you did not have any friends to be reunited with.

So you skirted the walls of the hall. Absorbed yourself in looking at the photos put up there, clipped from the annual and new stuff sent in by people who had some sense of spirit about this thing, pictures of their homes, their kids, their boats. Among some of the older pictures you saw an annual clipping of you, sitting in a chair alone. Out of context. You felt the sweat rise again; you knew that you were sitting alone at a dance. Some joker with a Brownie had snapped your picture to display to everyone what an outcast you were. But now the picture didn't communicate that to anyone else, you assured yourself. So you pointed it out to your wife. She said she could tell that you had potential despite that ridiculous haircut.

And you heard that voice and felt that tap on your shoulder and turned around to see Donny Paulsen. Tanned, in a suit as expensive as yours, but much more conservative. He breathed scotch on you, his eyes filigreed with red capillaries. He looked you up and down, then smiled all teeth and warmth. Then, he reached out, and before you could do anything, he ruffled your hair and chuckled. He indicated the picture with his scotch glass. You knew he could spill the beans, that he knew where and why the shot had been taken. He just laughed and shook his head. You heard a quaver in your voice as you introduced him to your wife and he gave her a cursory "I could have you" glance. You mentioned that you heard he was in lightbulbs. And you saw a flare of anger in his eyes when he heard the derision in your voice. He said he'd tried to read one of your books, couldn't remember the title, but he didn't have time to get through it. You felt yourself flare and you couldn't look over at your wife for fear that she could see that this guy was ranking you. He looked around the room, saw someone he wanted to see and, before he turned away, he lifted his hand again toward your hair, but prepared you shot out your hand to intercept it, but not before he had dropped the hand. It had been a feint. He'd got you again. He chuckled and shook his head as he walked away.

You told your wife what a prick he was. She allowed as to how that was quite obvious. Asked if you wanted to split. You said no and went and got a couple more drinks, yours a double.

Cliques were starting to gel. Goobers who were flyspecks on the social calendar were clapping each other on the back and eyeing each other's wives. Your wife and you were starting to look conspicuously isolated.

Some geezer made a speech. A band stumbled through some tragic retro rock. Despite the fact that you went to school in the '70s, high school always seemed denoted by '50s clinkers. You talked with a few other incongruities, didn't remember them, but were polite and glad for the company. And when your wife went to powder her nose, Donny Paulsen and a couple of his lightbulb cronies seemed to appear beside you. Asked you outside to see something; implied that there would be primo lines. You figured a little toot wouldn't hurt. You hated the thought of your wife coming out of the can and not finding you there, but you'd be quick, besides you wanted to smack Paulsen on the cheek and ruffle his hair. You thought after a line you'd tell them about the time you did a rail with Hunter Thompson.

Then outside the door, in the parking lot, they came too close. Grabbed you, bent you back over the hood of a car. You laughed for a second until you felt them working your pants down. Then you started to kick, but they overpowered you. You flailed frantically and their ugly violent faces laughed down at you. Donny kept shaking his head. Telling you that what you were in high school is what you would always be. Then your belly and thighs were white in the fluorescent glare of the parking lot lights. Your manhood exposed, shriveled with fear and adrenaline and you felt something thick and wet being smeared on it. You looked down at the black mess they were marking you with. Black balling. Then they let you go and you slid onto the gravel, the bumper bruising your hip. You watched their backs recede into the building as you scrambled for the tatters of your pants. No dignity. And you wondered how you would get to your wife. You imagined her waiting inside alone, worried. You imagined going in to get her and the room turning to laugh and point led by Donny Paulsen who had told everyone of your treatment. Of your wife's humiliation adding exponentially to your own.

They'd had to teach you a lesson, that you could never change, that you could never rise above the station that you were ranked into by your superiors in high school. And, if you got uppity, they would be there to knock you right back down into your proper place. No matter how snotty you got when you were out of reach, you couldn't escape it, there was a law of the jungle to be maintained.

But suddenly she was there. Her good, warm face creased with worry and concern and when she touched you whatever composure you had left broke and hot tears of shame and humiliation flowed down your cheeks and she helped you to the car. She drove. Back to your hotel. When you tried to explain, she shooshed you. She helped you in the bath and she gave you a sedative and she put you to bed. Somewhere in the night you saw light from the outside the curtains penetrate the room and you weren't sure but you thought you saw her naked, coming in through the window. Her eyes blazing, her mouth smeared with red. When you woke, it all came back to you and you felt your stomach sink and roil. But then you heard her singing above the sound of the shower in the bathroom and you lifted your head.

The morning paper was on your chest. You caught the headline, "School Reunion Marred By Parking Lot Slaughter." You caught a fragment of the subhead, "Millionaire industrialist and two of his employees. . . ." And she came out of the bathroom rubbing her hair with a towel and you looked at that little dumpling of a body and you thought that she was a good dear thing. And, even though she was no spring chicken, you loved her all the more. Sure, she was a bit older than you. A couple of centuries, give or take. But she was a good woman nonetheless. And you were lucky to have found her.

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