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LIKE A FEATHER FALLING THROUGH DUST

by

John Sokol


Going to Benson's History class last year was like going somewhere to watch paint dry. His boring lectures put us all to sleep, even that teacher's pet, Sally Fisher, who had an IQ of something like 2,000. Benson always carried his orange History book in the crook of his arm. He would pace back and forth at the front of the room until, I swear, he had worn a path in the floor. The only time he was the least bit interesting was when one of us fell asleep in his class. That's when he would throw his book at the person who was asleep and they would pop out of their desk like a clown out of a jack-in-a-box.

My friend, Larry, was the one who got the book thrown at him the most. That's because Larry had the bad habit of folding his hands in his lap and letting his head droop whenever he was tired. His head would bob as if it were a heavy weight on the end of a weak spring. The spring always seemed to stretch only so far. Then it would snap and Larry's head would thunk onto his desk, real loud. We were studying that guy Pavlov last year, and this thing between Benson and Larry was kind of like that thing between Pavlov and his dog. Every time Benson heard Larry's head thunk onto his desk, Benson would automatically throw that ugly orange book at Larry. Benson was always bragging about himself, about what a great softball pitcher he was. During the last week of school, Benson didn't throw his book when Larry fell asleep. I think it was because Benson realized he wouldn't be seeing any of us again. It was his last year at this school. He said he was going into business because we were all so stupid that there was no reward in trying to teach us anything. I think he probably figured we weren't so bad after all, and he probably wanted to finish off the year with us liking him. Fat chance. Anyway, whenever Larry's head hit the desk that last week of school, Benson would turn around real fast, as if he was going to throw his book. Then he'd just smile, and say, "Larry! Come on, stay awake." Then Larry would lift his red face and feel his sore nose, then press his lips together, frown, and nod his head.

Larry was always falling asleep because he was our school's best diver. He really worked hard at diving. I mean he was dedicated. I was on the diving team too, but I wasn't anyway near as good as Larry, probably because I didn't work as hard at it as he did. Every night, Larry was at the pool, climbing that ladder to the platform, doing his dives, swimming to the edge of the pool, and hauling himself out; over and over, sometimes for hours after I had left. Sometimes, I would take a shower and get dressed and go back down to the pool and wait for him. Usually, I just left because Larry was a little bit crazy and I could never keep up with him. Besides, when I said, "Larry, how many more?" he'd say, "I don't know." He never knew when he was going to stop until he stopped. He didn't think about diving. He just did it.

Larry was the best friend I've ever had, and I admired how hard he worked at diving and how good he was. He lived diving. Larry dreamed diving. He was the state diving champion two years in a row. I think he probably could have gone on to the Olympics. He used to get up early on Saturday mornings to spring from that canvas-covered board and leap from that tall white tower. He constantly had shin splints and torn ligaments and body welts. He kept at it, because he said diving was his only claim to fame, the only think that could save him from being like everyone else. He used to say that a lot.

Larry could do dives that you'd think were impossible. Sometimes he would cut into the water at such a clean angle that you could hardly see or hear the splash. Larry's forward one-and-a-half with an open pike, his inward two-and-a-half, his backward one-and-a-half with a full twist; those were all great dives. Show stoppers. But the dive I liked seeing him do the most was his swan dive. When Larry arched his back, pointed his toes, and gave that soft kick in his knees, it almost seemed as if he soared upward and then floated down to the water in slow motion.

When I said before that Larry dreamed diving, I wasn't just saying that.

He told me once about a recurring dream he used to have. He said that in his dream he could see himself on a very tall white tower, hundreds of feet above the ground. He said he could see himself standing at the edge and looking down at a crowd of cheering people who would then turn into an airy mass of shimmering colors and reflections. He could see himself doing his swan dive from that tall white tower; just as his feet would leave the platform, he would turn into a feather -- a large, beautiful feather, and he could see himself, feel himself, slowly falling toward that crowd of people who had turned into that mass of shimmering colors and reflections. When he entered that mass, that pool, he said he felt "like a feather falling through dust." Larry used to tell me about that dream a lot, and every time, he explained it in detail; how beautiful that feather was, and how sparkling and brilliant the particles of dust were.

Larry had a lot of problems toward the end of last year. His father was a drunk, and one day he just left the house and never came back. Larry's family had always been poor, but after that, things were a lot worse, of course. So Larry had to start working at the canning factory, where he loaded trucks all day on Saturdays and Sundays. Then, Elaine, his girl friend, started going out with Bill Weathers. I said it was because Weathers had a snazzy car and a lot of money; she said it was because going steady with Larry was too much trouble. I tried to help Larry through those times, but I think all of those things happening all at once just broke his spirit. He wouldn't talk to me any more, he wouldn't tell me what was on his mind like he use to. At the end of the year he was making terrible grades, and getting into trouble all the time, especially in Benson's class, where he fell asleep because he was so tired from diving the night before or from working all weekend. All he talked about that last week of school was diving, how he was going to make it so no one would ever forget him. I thought it was strange that he talked more about diving that last week than he ever had before, because by then the season was over.

Anyway, one day on the way to Benson's History class (his class was the last one of the day; that's what made it so awful), I was walking with Larry and he was talking to himself, mumbling. "I must not forget to keep my toes pointed, my back arched, really arched; and stretch, remember to stretch. Reach for it!

You've got to reach for it." He just kept saying that over and over. So, in Benson's History class, about halfway through, I looked over at Larry. I saw him mumbling that stuff to himself, but his eyes were closed, and his head was bobbing as if he was in a trance or something. Then Benson noticed Larry, and then everyone in the room was watching Larry, except Larry didn't know it. I think he was talking in his sleep. So Benson shouted at the top of his lungs, real sharp, "Larry! WAKE UP!"

Larry jumped up. His eyes rolled back in his head. Everyone was laughing at him.

Benson stared at him. "Now stay awake," he said.

Then Benson turned around and started scratching something on the blackboard again.

All of a sudden, Larry picked up his own orange History book and threw it at Benson. The book missed Benson, and a good thing too, because Larry threw it as hard as he could. Then Larry stood up and said, "Benson, you bastard! You dirty BASTARD!" and he ran out of the room and slammed the door so hard that it shook the clock above the door.

Benson tried not to show it, but I think he was shook too.

When the bell rang at the end of the class, I rushed out and tried to find Larry. I looked all over for him. Then I went out to the front of the school where everybody always hangs out at the end of the day before going home. The whole school was buzzing about Larry. Then one of the girls pointed up to the roof, and said, "There's Larry!" As soon as everyone looked up to see Larry standing at attention right at the edge of the roof, Larry raised his arms, gave a kick in his knees, and did his swan dive, right into the concrete where we had all been standing.







ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Sokol is a writer and painter living in Akron, OH. His poems have appeared in America, Antigonish Review, The Berkeley Poetry Review, Georgetown Review, New Millennium Writings, The New York Quarterly, and Quarterly West, among others. His short stories have appeared in Akros, Descant, Mindscapes, The Pittsburgh Quarterly, Redbook, and other journals. One of his stories has been translated into Danish, and, another, into Russian. His drawings and paintings have been reproduced on more that thirty-five book covers. His chapbook, "Kissing the Bees," winner of the 1999 Redgreene Press Chapbook Competition, is available through Amazon.com.

Send correspondence to
jsokol7608@aol.com




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