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Serge Shea is a writer and teacher who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Serge received an MFA in creative writing from NYU in 2003 and has recently finished his first collection of short stories. Serge has been published in U.S. based journals and short story anthologies.
The Capital of Thailand
They didn’t tell us much. They only said there was an accident during the ski trip and someone was hurt. We weren’t on the ski trip. Not many people went on the ski trip. Then they said William had been hurt; they didn’t give us any details. Then to clarify they said William Brenner the sophomore not Will Greenman the senior. William Brenner had been in an accident. At the time, no one really knew who William Brenner was. We did.
We knew who William Brenner was before his accident. We had seen him in the hallways, alone or with his one friend, usually slinking behind everyone else. We knew his strange sweaters decorated with ugly geometric shapes or dotted all over with small patterns. We knew he had thick frizzy hair that looked like he used toothpaste as a styling gel. We knew that his glasses were too big for his face and looked like the safety goggles used in wood-shop. We knew he sometimes wore a fanny pack. We knew that he wore brown shoes with white athletic socks. We knew he played chess, and we thought it was safe to assume that he was part of the chess club. He had at least one friend: Sean Murphy. Sean was tall with soft, black sprouts of hair covering his face. He didn’t shave because his acne was so bad. We had a joke that if he ever shaved he would need a bowl to collect the puss from his zits and an extra large box of band-aids.
William Brenner wasn’t a strong skier. He wasn’t a jock. He did intramurals for his sports requirement. He was average height, skinny. We wondered what he was doing on the ski trip anyway? Why he went? He didn’t have many friends so it wasn’t like they were going. We heard it was at the end of the day when the temperature had dropped and after thousands of skiers had been down the slope making the run a slick, smooth surface; someone mentioned it was pure ice and as smooth as plastic. It was the last run of the day. William was alone. We thought he must have been alone for the whole trip. Did he realize no one else was skiing anymore? Did he know the last run is always the most dangerous? He wasn’t a skier. Some one said it was the first time he had been on skis. Supposedly there was a senior who was at the bottom of the hill, who saw the whole thing. We didn’t talk to him. It was nearly dark, when William took off for his last run. It was a double diamond with lots of moguls. William Brenner was a beginner skier. William Brenner had only been on the bunny slopes before the last run.
Eventually they held an assembly. They talked about William Brenner while we sat on the hard wooden benches. They said it was a tragedy. They said he was lucky to be alive. They said William Brenner was rising above the tragedy. They said he was coming back. They said he would be in a wheelchair. They said it would be hard. They said we were expected to be sensitive, to help him, and to make it easier for him. They said we would have to rise above the tragedy also. They used the words awareness, sensitivity, and empathy. But they never told us exactly what happened; even when we raised our hands to ask if they could tell us exactly what happened. We were left with questions, tons of questions. What did William Brenner look like when he was flying in the air? How high did he go? How many flips did he do? Was it a one-eighty or flip with a twist? How did he land exactly? Was it right on his neck or neck and side? Face down or up? Was there blood? How long did he lie on the frozen ground for? Was he knocked unconscious and for how long was he out? Did they need a chopper to take him away? Was there a ski patrol? What do you do if you are on the freezing ground and can’t move? What was he thinking? Did he get frostbite? Did the senior who saw it help him? Did he need mouth to mouth? Was there a cute nurse? We wanted more details. We wanted all the details. We couldn’t help it; it’s the way we are.
We are faggots and homos, pussies and twats, dip-shits and cock-suckers, assholes and shit-heads, dick-heads and douche bags, fuck wads and jizz bags. We ruin and damage things: dioramas, windows, chairs, spirits, and esteem. We have little to no respect. We are fucking each other’s mothers. At least we were last night, and you could bet we were the night before too. We’ve been with girls, tons of them. We’ve gone all the way and then some. Don’t believe us? Just ask your sister or your mom. We would know what to do with Mandy Anderson if we got the chance. We know we will never get the chance. We know she doesn’t know who we are. We actually know very few girls. We are experts in everything but we know nothing. We are generally mean even to each other. We make things difficult. We trip each other in the hallways. We know exactly where to hit someone to give them a dead leg or arm. We can spit up to distances of twenty feet. We give purple nurples. We play mercy until our knuckles bleed. The one thing we do know is the capital of Thailand: Bang-Cock! with a punch to the crotch. You deserve it if you don’t know the capital of Thailand. This is the way we are; we are boys.
We had images in our head. We acted out mock scenarios. We made jokes. William Brenner was in a Bender. William Brenner, William Brenner his neck and spine are so tender. We thought of making an action figure of William Brenner. The plastic head would be able to swivel all the way around. We came up with this during math class. Mr. Thompson, our math teacher, said we don’t know how to deal with tragedy. He said we have no reference. We need to be more sensitive. We need to learn sympathy. We thought Mr. Thompson was a faggot.
We did impressions. We lay on the ground and asked people to help us back into our chairs. We practiced. We pulled ourselves across the rough, grey carpeting only using our arms and elbows, pretending our legs didn’t work. Sean Murphy told us we weren’t funny. We told him we were developing sympathy.
Wooden ramps were installed. Desks were rearranged in some classrooms. Doorways were widened. A special bathroom was put in. You needed a key. Two new water fountains were put in. We calculated that they were the same height as a urinal. There was talk of an elevator.
Then one morning a brand-new, dark blue school van pulled up to the entrance. The driver got out and opened two large swinging doors in the middle of the van. William Brenner was in a wheelchair. A hydraulic lift lowered him down to the ground. Not many people saw his arrival but we did. There wasn’t a big deal made. The principal wheeled him up the new ramps into the school. He was wearing one of his black sweaters with strange shapes on it. He was wearing the same brown shoes with thick white socks. His glasses fogged when he was wheeled from the cold outside into the warm school. Everyone suddenly remembered who William Brenner was. We had known who he was all along. Most people said “hi,” “welcome back,” or “we missed you”. We tried not to stare. We didn’t talk to him. We only mumbled our jokes to ourselves. We couldn’t do our impressions anymore.
Then other things happened. We put a fetal cat in someone’s locker. We broke beakers in Mrs. White’s lab. We left a Bunsen burner on for a whole day. We waited for our parents to go out of town so we could have parties. We had car accidents. No one was ever really hurt. Religion was our response to every question the history teacher asked. We made bongs in pottery. We read the last page of the Odyssey. We translated Latin. We solved for X and graphed Y. We got bad grades. We learned as little as possible. We moved up in grades, barely.
And something changed. We hardly used to notice William Brenner; now suddenly, we couldn’t miss him. William Brenner became head of the yearbook. William Brenner became president of the chess club. William Brenner got to work the electronic score board at basketball games. William Brenner was given a special seat on the student council. We noticed that William talked to teachers more. We noticed William had more friends around him. We noticed they all hung out together. We noticed the cool teachers talked to him differently like he was one of them. No one used to talk to him, now everyone did.
One day we saw William Brenner in the hallway. We were nice to him. We stepped to the side to give him enough room to get by. William Brenner had a “No Fat Chicks Allowed” bumper sticker on the back of his wheel chair. We thought it was cool. We told him we liked his bumper sticker. We told him we thought it was funny. William Brenner told us to go screw ourselves. He asked us where our moms learned to give such good head. We were silent. We hadn’t expected this. Then he asked us if we knew the capital of Thailand. We answered too slowly. He was naturally at crotch height. No one was around to see it. We couldn’t do anything. We wondered if William Brenner had always been mean. We didn’t know. We thought he must have changed. He didn’t laugh after insulting us. He didn’t laugh after punching us and yelling Bang Cock.
We had gone out of our way. We told him he had been forgotten and that people only remembered him because of his accident. We told him people were only nice to him because of his wheelchair. He told us to tell him something he didn’t know. We told him we could break his legs if we wanted. He told us to go ahead. He said he couldn’t feel them anyway. Then he rocked his wheelchair from side to side until it tipped over and he was on the ground. With his arms and elbows, William Brenner crawled down the hallway. We didn’t move. We were confused. He yelled for someone to help him. A teacher came out of a classroom and asked what was going on. The teacher helped William back into his chair. William said we had pushed him out of his chair; that we had called him a cripple and said let’s see how well you move without your chair. We couldn’t believe it. We didn’t know what to do. We were still sore from getting our cocks banged. We suddenly liked William Brenner. We welcomed him. He was one of us.
©2010 Serge Shea
Short story by Serge Shea in Philadelphia Stories