Death of One

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Whenever the sudden death of a classmate rocks a college campus, the narrator struggles with his feelings on the matter.

Submitted: August 13, 2013

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Submitted: August 13, 2013

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Death of One 

 

I remember the spring that we found out that Johnson Bradford Hale had passed away in a plane crash on his way back from studying abroad.  The entire campus was very well torn up about it; the school held a large ceremony in his honor; and his name was whispered on every inch of the 1500 acre place.  I took it as a grain of salt, for, having removed myself from the public eye to prefect my writing skills, I had successfully desensitized my emotions -- an effect that I felt would help me to see things clearly and unbiasedly.  You would forgive me, then, if my tone was a little sarcastic.

Despite my sardonic tone of writ, however, some people on campus really did take the news of Mr. Hale’s passing rather badly.  I myself found a group of professors huddled, crying at a table in Winston, at 1 AM; one girl -- his girlfriend of three years -- had had a nervous breakdown and was sent to BarH in Richmond.  The campus was a total wreck during those weeks immediately following Hale’s tragic death, and the professors’ strange reactions and Rachel’s being the only girl on campus, as well as his girlfriend made everything a bit uncomfortable for quite longer than I felt necessary.  Now, like all decent people, I believe there is indeed a time to grieve, but that time should be minute in the length of a school year, far from spanning the course of several weeks!  I admit that he was a very well educated and publicly cordial fellow, but I, now as well as ever, do not think his mourning period should have lasted for more than a week.  After all, we were supposed to be in college; if a class would have been disturbed by a weepy professor or a tired and lonely frat boy in the midst of final exams, something would be wrong, right?

 

One particular day succeeding Hale’s accident, I was taking a stroll around Lake Chalgrove, one of my alma mater’s ponds that the faculty and student body liked to inaccurately refer to as a lake.  The leaves were green, full from a winter of harsh, Virginia rains; and the path around Lake Chalgrove was dotted with ants, who were hungry after a winter of seeming non-existence.  I distinctly remember sitting down on a moss-covered bench that lay beneath a plaqued oak tree and turning over the matter of Mr. Hale’s death in my mind.  The birds sang their spritely songs to one another -- a sound far from racket.  Feeling the weight of a day filled with paper writing, I leaned my head against the tree and closed my eyes to think. 

Presently, a boy from my Art class appeared and sat down on the bench next to me.  I opened my eyes and swayed my head in his direction to acknowledge him; then closed them and readjusted my relaxed position against the tree.

“What are you up to?” he asked.  

I opened my mouth and paused before speaking.  “Just taking a break from my English paper.  Yourself,” I returned, finally.  All the while -- I could not let him know -- I was trying to remember his name.  I have a terrible way with names, but I nonetheless like to know who I’m speaking to.  

“Oh, I’m just taking a rest from Biology lab,” he answered.  I took note of the sad way he pronounced Biology: he carried a sick, almost weary tone when he said it.  I knew from classes with this kid, of course, that he had had his first Biology class of college with Hale, the subject of which was now bound to come up in conversation.  

Sure enough, before very much more awkward silence filled the area surrounding us, the boy -- Kerry was his name -- sighed and begin to reiterate what I had heard for the past week: “Boy, it’s a shame about Hale.” 

“Yeah.”

“Were you close with him?” 

“No, not in the least,” I said.  I lied.  

“He was a great guy.  I had my first Biology class with him.” 

“I heard something about that.” 

“Yeah,” he asked with a surprised and brightened countenance.  

“Yes, I’m most certain I heard it somewhere,” I answered, taking out a cigarette and lighting it as I spoke.  

Kerry shook his head and sighed.  “When are you going to put those things down?  I’ve known you for three years now, and you always have a cigarette whenever I see you.” 

“Believe me,” I said with an abrupt laugh, “that says more about you and than me.”  I looked at him to catch his reaction and saw that he took it lightly.  He merely smiled and scratched his head with pleasure at the attention.  He was a dog.  

“Yeah, ol‘ Hale would have had a degree in Architecture, had he lived,” Kerry began again.  I hated him now, for I’d taken the cigarette out for the specific purpose of avoiding any further talk of Hale.  I hate people who deliberately return to ground that has already been covered.  

“It’s a shame, what happened,” I returned in the nicest way possible.  “I don’t know why we’re all still mourning him, though.  He’s been dead for nearly three weeks.  If you ask me, he’s beginning to stink,” I added, crossing my legs and taking a drag from my cigarette.  

“You didn’t like him, then?” Kerry asked suspiciously.  He shuffled his feet and ran his hand through his long, thick hair.  I could tell my words had offended him; I’m afraid they often have that effect on people who offend me.  

“It’s not that I disliked him, I just didn’t know him well enough outside class to be terribly upset when I heard the news,” I responded with a sneer.  I was, by this time, ready for Kerry to go and let me enjoy my evening; and I was determined to offend him as much as was needed to get him to leave.  It would not be of any use, however: Kerry never took anything to heart, really.  

We sat there for a moment longer before Kerry started to fidget.  He looked at his watch, stood up, and paced back and forth at the side of the bench.  Finally, he sighed deeply before extending his hand to shake goodbye.  “Well, I have to get out of here.  Bio starts back up in ten,” he said with an unadulterated smile on his face, the kind of smile that suggests having smoked too many cigarettes and drank too much tea.

I flashed a smile back at him and lifted my hand to my eyes to act as a shield against the sun’s rays.  The setting sun glinted keenly off the water of Chalgrove, leaving the area surrounding me beamed by the its fantastic warmth, which in turn blinded me from seeing him off.  Desperate to get Kerry to leave me for a moment’s peace, though, I closed my eyes and tilted my head back against the tree to signal that he could leave.  

After the nuisance Kerry left, I sat quietly under the tree, which hosted a cool breeze now.  I unbuttoned my shirt and sat with my arms on the backing of the bench, waiting, perhaps, for the opportune moment to return to my studies.  The birds continued to sing; the ducks continued to play on the quiet, reflecting waters of Lake Chalgrove; the leaves stayed green; and the ants continued their busy life collecting food.  I wondered why we, as humans, could not be as they are -- why we take things so seriously.  I wondered why humans continue to deny what we really are: animals.  I smiled as I thought these things, before my mind slowly drifted back to Hale.


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