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Ants Marching

Robert Dart*

 

 

ADAM listened to the question for a long time. He didn’t know how to answer it. He didn’t know how to look at her or how to look away from her. He didn’t know anything.

“Listen, I don’t know what I’ll say.”

They stood for awhile and then it was time to walk back to class.

The plate of cookies was sitting on Adam’s desk in plain sight of the teacher but it was permitted because his cheerleader had brought it for him. There would be a game tonight and the lights would be bright with the coaches wearing their headsets. The plays would go very fast and Adam would have to know assignments. He wouldn’t just have to know them, like answers for a test; he’d have to do them without thinking. Currently he was too distracted to do things without thinking and if this condition remained, he would not perform correctly.

When the bell rang they were all still writing down the assignment. The teacher turned off the overhead and removed the plastic slides. Adam closed his notebook.

The hallway was crowded as always and the people were moving in all directions. Adam said hello to lots of them. Walking along, he recalled his coach’s words. Coach had asked who Adam would ask, for it had been a lot of time, and Adam had said, it would be this girl, Beatrice. Coach knew who she was. But, said Coach, it was Helen he should ask. She was a very nice girl, Adam must agree and yes, Adam agreed. Then Coach had talked about a movie with John Cusack called “The Sure Thing”.

And so, it must be Helen, for Coach knew things; it couldn’t be Beatrice. She was too much what he wanted, he felt her too much, and who was he to think things should work out so perfectly just for him? That was arrogant.

Helen said yes. Adam told her they would get a group and that he would call. Then he walked to the cafeteria. By now there would be long lines, and he was hungry.

He walked down a wide hallway with paintings of Victory Falcons on the cinderblock wall. The Victory Falcon performed many athletic activities on the cinderblocks, wearing shoes and athletic gear that had been in fashion fifteen years ago. He was, in every situation, an unshakable Victory Falcon, and he had looked down on many students.

It reminded Adam of a time at a track meet, during a rainstorm. Adam and Tom had snuck inside the other high school, where the meet was, to goof off before their events. They ran through the halls and up the stairs and found that, although the paintings and the tiles were different, the schools were built on the same exact plan. Adam and Tom were able to get through the whole building, looking inside the classrooms that were just like the classrooms on those very spots at their own school. After a while it was like they were just back in school, on a Saturday, and not like they were doing something, and so they walked back outside, into the tent where the team was sitting.

When they told about inside the school the other kids had laughed because Adam and Tom had taken the effort to be funny. Beatrice, who ran middle distance, had smiled very wide, and Adam smiled too. Hugh, sitting his fat ass on a shot-put, said that it was nothing, that all the schools in the county were the same.

These words summoned, for Adam, the image of a thousand kids getting up, walking the same hallways, going to the same classrooms, sitting in their desks and writing in their notebooks, closing their notebooks and reading from the texts. At the end of the hour the kids would all be looking at the clocks, all the bells would ring at the same time and they would stand up, mull about, and leave.

Adam ate his lunch. Tom posed, to the table, the question of Dave Matthews. Hugh said, “I like Dave Matthews because it’s like what they represent. I mean Dave just represents party.” Adam looked around the room.

The coaches were sitting underneath the message board at the front of the cafeteria, watching a television on a cart. They were watching game film. They all wore the same tight coach shorts and high-crested baseball caps and sat there, running the plays over and over again. Adam threw his tray away and walked over to them.

Coach Delos was telling Adam to watch the guards in their stances. The stances changed according to the direction of the play. That would tell Adam where the ball was, every time. Then he asked Adam about homecoming. Adam told him what had happened.

“Ah good boy,” said Coach Delos. “You remember what I said.” Coach Delos wiped his nose and mouth several times.

The bell rang. Adam nodded to the coaches and walked out the side door. It was best that Adam had taken care of this business so that he could concentrate on what was important. It was best that he had done like coach said because Beatrice probably didn’t even want to go with him and he was probably just being conceited. Helen definitely did want to go with him. Now he had a date and there was nothing to worry about and there was going to be a game.

Then, turning a corner, he saw Beatrice standing in the hallway, far from any of the classrooms. She was leaning against the wall and didn’t seem to be doing much of anything.

Adam said hello to her. She made her eyes look different than they had looked when she was just standing there.

“How’d you do it?” she said. “You can tell me now. Was it like this?” She hunched up her shoulders and stuck out her chest. “Ummm. Homecoming. Me, Nichols. You, Helen. You Helen go with me Nichols.”

“You know, it was just like that. Were you spying on me?”

“Psychic powers.”

“So what are you doing?”

“Me? I’m going to class. Why are you always smiling?”

“I’m not always.”

Then Adam walked away from her, down the empty hallway. Up ahead the light had gone dim and it was busy. He looked down at his shoes. He wanted to turn around and speak to her, but then what would he say, there was nothing.

Then he turned around. He didn’t see her. But she might be just around the corner, she might be able to hear him. “Hold on,” he said. It was almost a shout. “Wait up. I’ll tell you.”

But there wasn’t any response. And he still didn’t know what he’d say. So he stood for awhile, and then he turned and kept walking.

Soon he was in sixth period, sitting at his desk. The day was almost over. It wouldn’t be long before it was dark and the metal cleats would be clacking on the asphalt on the way to the field. Adam told himself, I won’t think about it now because it has already been settled. I won’t think about her because that wouldn’t do any good. I won’t think about it because I must concentrate on the game.

On the bus ride to the opposing field, Adam thought only about how the game would be, whether he would make mistakes, and when it might be over. He didn’t think about it as he stretched his hamstrings in the wet grass underneath the lights. He didn’t think about it when the game began and he ran onto the field. And he didn’t think about it when they took him out of the game and he stood on the sidelines, watching his replacement. Adam was very good, he was learning, at not thinking of things.

 

 

*2012 WOOD COIN: Controversy! Blasphemy! Slander! Marriage!... Issue: Dart, “Ants Marching”

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