The Blue School
by Michael LaPointe
I can’t recall how many years it’s been since I came to the Blue School, the man told Simon.
“Leave me alone.”
I’d travelled to the village to meet a farmer’s daughter, can you believe it? Yet over the course of one dinner, I realized there could be nothing between us. Continually topping up my cider-mug, her father droned on about the hardships of farming cattle here. What he called the wolves were always mangling them. Nothing could keep the wolves away; nobody had ever killed one.
“The village is dying,” the farmer told me. “We send our children to the city.”
His daughter looked hopefully across the table.
The final insult, the farmer reported, was that the very best land was owned by the Blue School.
I said, “The Blue School — here?”
It was just an hour’s walk beyond the village. Had I heard of it?
“Of course I have, old man.”
In the city, I taught a clutch of boys at a rather dubious institute, where my colleagues spoke with envy of our country’s private schools. The Blue School was often discussed. It had been said that a quarter of our new parliament had graduated from the Blue School, including the prime minister.
But I hadn’t realized the school was so near the village where this failed chance had taken me. The daughter was such a defeat, and the earliest train back to the city was the following afternoon, so I thought I might salvage the trip by having a look at the school. Perhaps its innovations could be brought back to the city.
I set out in the morning, and last night’s disappointment receded as I exerted myself on the road — I’m sure you know the one, Simon. It was an unusually hot autumn day, if I recall. Following the signs for the school, I found myself cutting through a density of pine. Resin cooked on the trunks, needles sharp on the floor.
I very much believe I heard a gentle shift above me.
In the forest, the Blue School’s seclusion was total. On a carpet of grass, it was a crisp glass cube, and in the morning light, it seemed to quaver blue. I could see students inside, on their way to first class. In the windows flanking the entrance, rainbow letters spelled out words like DIAGNOSIS and REFLECTION, as if advertising the school to the nobody of the forest.
When I entered, the restful calm of study had fallen. I paused to look over the contents of a trophy case: a diorama of parliament, with tiny blue people sitting where alumni held seats.
In the office, I identified myself to the receptionist as a teacher from the city, and asked if it would be possible, on such short notice, to arrange a tour.
She indicated a seat by the window and asked if I could wait. I peered across the groomed field to the dark pines I’d walked beneath, and was just noticing a rustle in the higher branches when a teacher greeted me.
Have you met Ms. Pike? She was very beautiful back then, Simon, very fresh. It’s really beyond imagining, the foot we got off on.
“Go away,” Simon said. “I don’t want to talk to you.”
But the man went on, “With customary generosity, Ms. Pike told me I could observe her class.”
We set out down the hall, practically arm-in-arm. Students in slick blue uniforms poured from the doors, and I could see at once how they were very directed.
The focus I was observing, explained Ms. Pike, was a result of the school’s rigorous admissions process, which took individual constitution into as much account as academic aptitude.
I told her it was rather astonishing, perhaps even a little unnatural.
“It’s class time now,” she stressed, “but don’t think we can’t have fun.”
“The Blue School can boast of a 100% university acceptance rate.”
“Wonderful,” I answered. “Admirable.”
When we arrived at her classroom, the students were already present, no fidgets in the hands on the desks. At my school in the city, such docility would only ever be achieved by fatigue. The ambience of the Blue School is so conducive to the educational enterprise.
Ms. Pike introduced me as a colleague from the city, and I sat in a corner at the front. She opened the blue textbook — have you received one, Simon? — and announced they would study some poems.
You can imagine my surprise when I discovered that the students learned by rote, a method long since outmoded at even my own institute. Ms. Pike would proclaim the line, and the students would recite it back to her in a shrill, prepubescent chorus.
But these weren’t ordinary poems, Simon. She wasn’t drawing from the canon. With embarrassment, I realized they’d decided to play a monstrous trick on me.
“There once was a man named Herman,” she said.
“There once was a man named Herman,” said the children.
“Who wanted a pussy to sperm in.”
I said, “Ms. Pike—”
She put a finger to her lips.
“Who wanted a pussy to sperm in,” said the children.
“Though he took off his pants, one evening in France, the cunt wasn’t French, it was German!”
I stood and said, “Really—”
“Please,” she said. “You’re a perfect stranger here.”
“Is this your idea of a joke?”
“Not at all,” she said, halfway scolding and pleading. “You don’t understand. We must continue.”
“But this is grotesque.”
And something oddly flickered in her eyes; a private word passed between us.
She said, “We must go on.”
Somehow I felt her meaning, and who was I to press? Clearly there was something in it; the results spoke for themselves. And the children didn’t seem to grasp what they were saying. At least they weren’t laughing. At my own school, the merest allusion to genitalia would have caused a general riot.
I sunk back in my chair. Ms. Pike turned the page.
“There once was a whore from Peru, who filled her vagina with glue.”
Beneath my brow, I watched the children intently. A boy in the very first row snagged my eye. He had a shaved head and gave me a look of such woeful sympathy, as if sorry that I — not he — were being subjected to the obscenity.
“She said with a grin, ‘If they’ll pay to get in, they’ll pay to get out of it, too!’”
The hour proceeded in this line, with Ms. Pike orating her limericks from the blue book, and the students reciting them back like humourless adults. I can recall the sensation of sweat as it trickled down my sides, the excruciation of exposing children to vulgarity. I felt like a doctor observing his colleague botch a surgery, somehow unable to correct his hand.
When the bell rang for lunch, the children filed from class. Ms. Pike closed the book and breathed a sigh of relief.
“That went well, I think,” she said. “It’s over now.”
“That was a terrible thing you did.”
She was in a daze of exhaustion, watching her children, and my voice caught her by surprise. She brushed a strand of hair from her forehead.
“Yes,” she said. “You’re right. Terrible.”
In the doorway stood a girl of about sixteen. With her hair like dark blonde panels, for all my life I thought I was looking at the farmer’s daughter as I’d once pictured her.
“Hello, Lucy,” said Ms. Pike.
“They sent me to show him the mess.”
“Very good. And will you skag?” asked Ms. Pike — or at least that’s what I thought I heard.
“You’re in good hands,” Ms. Pike told me. “Lucy is one of our very brightest upperclassmen, a leading member of the prefecture. She’ll make things very comfortable.”
“Thank you, Ms. Pike,” Lucy said. “Come with me, sir. Are you hungry?”
Despite the cider still uneasy in my gut, the poems had spoiled my appetite. But I said, “Yes, a little.”
“I’d be delighted to escort you.”
Lucy guided me downstairs in a crawl of kids. From the staircase, I could see the field and the pines.
“Will there be games at recess?” I asked.
Lucy laughed at me.
What I mean to illustrate, Simon, is that things that seem strange to you now will be common in time.
“I’m tired,” Simon said. “No more.”
We kept going down and down, Lucy and I, and now I understood that the Blue School was as much under- as above-ground. Beneath the cube were the students’ living quarters, one floor of boys, one floor of girls, and so on — deep.
Everyone lined up together, here at the mess. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the tunnel.
“The food is always excellent,” Lucy told me, biting her lower lip and trying to see to the front. “I’m famished.”
“Lucy,” I said, “were you taught limericks by Ms. Pike?”
She adjusted her skirt.
“Of course,” she said. “I adore Ms. Pike.”
“I think it’s a rotten business.”
“Everyone does,” she sighed. “Spaghetti bolognese!”
We’d arrived at the front of the line. Lucy handed me a big white plate, piping hot from the wash, and we served ourselves from the buffet. The sauce on the noodles looked wonderfully bloody, the beef so freshly ground.
By the time we entered the mess, we were too late for seats. It’s never been big enough for the student body. And anyway I found the place as dour as the farmer’s hut, and was relieved when Lucy said, “Let’s not eat here.”
“We should skag.”
Before I could ask what it meant, Lucy cut toward another set of stairs. Boys were coming in the other direction, chirping “Hi, Lucy, hi, Lucy.” As it got darker, I found it hard to balance the plate, but Lucy took me by the hand. I was weightless in her grasp.
“Come on,” and she laughed, and me, too.
Then we entered the hall, the man told Simon, and the smell of shit enveloped me.
“Yes,” Simon said, “I know, for the love of God—”
“Lucy!” I gasped, but she was already ahead.
She called, “It won’t be far.”
I had to follow. I balanced the steaming plate. It was when I tottered beneath the stench that I realized these walls were the backs of toilet stalls. And on the other side, the boys were voiding — boy after boy. I could hear the grunts of exertion, the bubbling asses, clods dropping in water. I couldn’t draw breath, but then Lucy was so vigorous.
She peeked through a crack between stalls.
“Where are my friends?”
I followed her eyes and caught a skinny bum on porcelain.
“That’s a good boy, Tom,” she said, as he began. “Here, this is an alright spot.”
Affixed to the wall were trays. Lucy pulled some down for us, and after setting her plate upon one, slurped up the spaghetti, spying on Tom as he splattered in the hole.
“It’s a skag,” she hurried, the grease of beef on her lips, “when the girls come visit the boys.”
“I can’t stay here.”
“This is a good spot.”
Dots were swarming in my eyes.
Other girls came with plates of spaghetti. They set them on the trays and celebrated the boys.
“Yes,” Simon said. “Yes, I know. You don’t need to tell me any of this.”
It’s better here in the mess, admitted the man. But we shouldn’t judge the children. Lucy was an extraordinary student; she went on to do influential things. And over the years, her daughters have come to the Blue School and skagged with all the rest.
But at the time, he said, I fled. The girls laughed as they saw me take two stairs at a time. I didn’t look back until I was at ground level. Lucy hadn’t followed.
Seeking an exit, I hurried past classes until I met someone I recognized — that tiny bald boy from the front of Ms. Pike’s class, the boy who’d pitied me. He wasn’t downstairs, in the mess or on a skag. He was gazing out the window at this beautiful day.
The sun had moved across the sky. I must leave right away. The train to the city would pass the village soon.
The boy said, “Do you see them?”
There was no one on the grass.
“There,” and he put his little finger to the glass.
I squatted down beside him and peered out to the pines. Again I saw them rustle, as if something were passing from branch to branch.
“What is it?” I whispered.
Ms. Pike sped toward us.
“Yes, Ms. Pike,” said the boy. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s alright,” she said, and tucked him behind her. “Did Lucy show you the mess?”
A righteous anger urged me on.
“Ms. Pike,” I said, “I’ve only heard wonderful things about the Blue School. This is an institution of national repute. And yet what I’ve seen is profanity. I cannot believe this is the school that’s produced some of the most luminous figures in the country. Something has gone horribly wrong here. You’ve lost your way somehow. I arrived here expecting to envy you, but now I leave with the strongest possible disgust. You can expect to hear from me again, Ms. Pike. The city is a busy place.”
She didn’t lose her calm. She offered no protest.
Indeed it was only when I said, “And Rowan will come with me,” that she wavered.
“Rowan,” I said, “would you like to leave this place — leave with me?”
Rowan peeked from the edge of her dress. I read into his eyes.
“Very well,” I said. “Come on.”
Ms. Pike stopped him with one hand.
“I can’t allow this.”
“You’re making a grave mistake,” I said.
“You don’t realize—”
I seethed over. Ms. Pike made a scream that clapped off down the hall as I forced her out of the way and seized him. The boy was weightless. Insanely I slung him over a shoulder and ran.
“Is this the way?” I asked.
“Yes,” he sort of hiccuped, bouncing with my stride.
Children stood aside as we charged by. Now we turned the corner and I saw the exit’s brightness. I ran toward it, through it. We burst into open air.
It would be impossible to recapture what it meant to breathe the air.
I sprinted over the grass, wind rushing in my ears. Desperately I looked back to the school. No one had pursued us. When we made it to the safety of the pines, I slowed.
It was then I noticed the boy was crying. I set him on the floor of needles. He shivered.
He held himself, eyes rolling to the canopy.
“No one ever goes outside,” he chattered.
Did you have this experience, Simon, and was that when you realized?
“Just go away. Please. I’m begging you.”
“But did you see them?”
“Yes,” he urged the man. “Yes, I did.”
What I wouldn’t give to be your friend, Simon. I never saw a thing. I only heard the rustle high above us, the wild stirring of the pine.
Michael LaPointe's first novel, The Creep, will be published by Random House Canada in 2021.
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