Monday, April 5, 2010



It could very well be the same year, the same class and the same Mrs. Hitler, but in later years he wouldn’t be entirely certain about that.
He’s managed to get a hold of the bathroom pass/key. He’s thankful for that; any chance to get out of the classroom. He lives for the bells that signal the nightmare is over for the day. In the meantime, a long visit to the bathroom provides a small measure of relief.
But today, he’s not interested in any sort of relief. He’s been thinking, all day. He hasn’t been drawing or gazing out the window. He’s been looking intently at the teacher as she speaks, looking for all the world as if he’s paying attention.
He hasn’t been, though. He’s been thinking of something else, something he plans to do once he gets the bathroom pass/key.
And now he has it, and he’s in the bathroom and no one else is around. He reaches into his shirt pocket and pulls out the little safety pin he found on his mother’s dresser that morning. He looks at it, examining the tarnished point, testing the spring that locks it in. He touches the point gently with his finger and relishes the tiny drop of blood that appears.
There is an electrical socket near the bathroom door. He approaches it, thinking remember you must die, and there are things eating you alive and in the end, in the end.
He laughs very quietly, and sticks the pin in the socket.
Something explodes in his brain, white and red lights flash as the synapses once again overload and electrical impulses rage out of control and all through his body. He smells something burning, he tastes something like copper pennies on his tongue.
He’s vaguely aware of keeling over backward, his body stiff as a board, and then everything goes black.

When he opens his eyes again, the world is still pitch-black, and he only knows he’s awake by the feel of cold tile against his back. He doesn’t know how long he’s been out. In a daze, he sits up on the bathroom floor, feeling… okay. His arms and legs are numb and a little tingly, but otherwise he feels fine.
He stands up and gropes his way through the dark until he finds the door. He leaves the bathroom and emerges into the light of the hall.
But the hall is darker than it’s supposed to be, the only light coming through the wide windows at the far end of the hall. He wonders for a moment if he’s damaged his eyes—further, that is—everything seems so dim, until he passes an open classroom on the right and sees the entire class looking dumbly at the ceiling. The teacher, too, is looking up, and the boy realizes that all the lights have gone out.
He’s shorted the entire school. Or at least this wing of it.
Oh no, he thinks, dread seeping into his heart. Oh no, I’m in trouble.
He finds his way back to his classroom, where the teacher is only just beginning to get a handle of the brief eruption of chaos caused by the blackout. She doesn’t even notice him slinking in, sliding behind his desk.
Sometime later, the lights come back on.
And sometime after that, the PA system crackles, and the principal’s stern voice demands that he come to the office immediately.
Across the desk from the principal, the boy sits vacant-eyed and terrified. The principal asks him directly if he caused the electrical short. The boy shakes his head.
“Does this look familiar?” the principal says. Between his fingers, he’s holding the safety pin. The point is burnt black and crispy. The boy shakes his head again. The principal demands to see the boy’s fingers.
The boy shows him. The thumb and forefinger of his left hand are both black.
The boy begins crying.


It’s after that the other kids begin referring to him as the Head Case.
Two or three times a week, he is called out of class to go to a private office and meet with someone called Miss Harmony. She always asks him questions about how he’s feeling, what he did over the weekend, if he feels bad or sad a lot. She has little games she makes him play sometimes, like here’s a word, what other word does that make you think of or what does this picture look like. None of the games are particularly fun.
When the boy is called away to see Miss Harmony, a couple of the other kids say, “Time for the Head Case’s therapy session,” but the boy doesn’t know exactly what ‘therapy session’ means. From the context, though, he knows it can’t be anything good.
He sits on a lumpy sofa with Miss Harmony, hands in his lap, and she smiles at him and says, “It’s okay if you don’t want to talk about this, but I was curious about your father.”
The boy shrugs.
“He’s not around, is he?” Miss Harmony says.
The boy shrugs again.
Looking very sincere and gentle, Miss Harmony says, “What do you know about him? Anything?”
The boy says, “My dad is Dirty Harry.”
Miss Harmony frowns. “He’s… dirty and hairy?”
“No. He’s Dirty Harry.”
“You mean… you mean, like, Dirty Harry, the movie?”
The boy nods.
“You mean your dad is the actor? Clint Eastwood?”
“Yes,” the boy says. “Once he’s done with his next movie, he’s coming to get me and take me with him to Hollywood. And I’m going to be in his next movie. I’m going to be his partner.”
“I see,” Miss Harmony says, unable to suppress a bemused smile. “And what will be the name of this movie?”
The boy doesn’t know where the answer comes from—it just pops into his head. He says, “The Lost Man. It’ll be called The Lost Man.”


  1. I'm tempted to not comment, only because I'm starting to sound like a broken record. HL, this bits and pieces are genuine and truly terrific bits of writing. I've always enjoyed your work, but these make me downright jealous. I know mainstream probably isn't really your cuppa, but if you maintained this voice for a whole novel, man! You'd be getting some kind of award.