“I think we just have enough time for one more question. So, in the rectangle, the MN cuts the shape into two regions. Find x the length of seg-”
“SHIT,” blasted a voice from the back of the classroom.
Mr. Mackay didn’t break stride and continued, “Segment NB so that the area of the quadrilateral MNBC is 40% of the total area of the rectangle.”
The chalk squeaked on the whiteboard as he finished drawing out the math problem. A smattering of hands shot up in the classroom.
“WOOF, AH STUPID IDIOT.”
“X equals 1 meter,” blurted Peter after hitting the bell in front of him.
“Correct, Peter well done.” He looked at his watch and pushed his glasses back up his long nose.
“It’s almost time and I know most of you stopped listening half an hour ago anyway, so… Class dismissed. Don’t forget to hand in your books to me on your way out. Thank you everyone.”
The students stood with the scrape of chairs and filed out into the hall. Peter overheard the new girl asking Maggie what the hell was going on in that class. He ignored them and walked out quickly trying to avoid his teachers gaze.
“Peter, come here please,” Mr. Mackay said over the drone of excited students heading home for the weekend.
“Yes sir, UGLY SKINNY SHIT.”
“You forgot to give me your book, well done today you did a great job. Before you go I just want to wish you good luck for tomorrow.”
Peter’s head snapped violently to the side and he kicked over the chair in front of him.
“FUCK OFF. Thank you sir. Can I go now? ASS.”
“Yes, yes of course. Good luck again.” Mr. Mackay smiled and looked down at the papers on his desk.
Peter walked out the door and followed the stragglers down the hallway on the way to his locker. He brushed his shaggy blonde hair away from his face with the back of his hand and slung his backpack over his shoulder. He was so happy the week was over. He arrived at his dented locker and punched it with his elbow before opening the door and retrieving his coat.
Out of nowhere he felt a person jumping on his back pulling him down.
“Get off me,” he shouted and bucked backwards.
He swiveled round and threw his assailant off him. Catching his breath he looked into the laughing faces of Bill, Cindy and Neil.
“Jeez guys, you scared the hell out of me.” Peter coughed and then proceeded to tell the locker it was an asshole.
“You should have seen your face,” laughed Bill.
“You should see your face,” said Neil, “I’d be surprised if you could without breaking a mirror.”
Bill stopped smiling and flipped Neil his middle finger. Cindy laughed, her cheeks rosy from her exertions in gym class.
“How do you spell oligarchy?” Fired Neil, as he raised his thumb and finger making a shooting motion towards Peter.
“Is that your word of the day?” Laughed Bill.
Neil ignored him and waited for Peter’s answer.
“WOOF, AH, STUPID SHIT,” shouted Peter.
“No I don’t think that’s the right answer man. Where’s your bell?
“UP YOUR ASS,” Peter’s cheeks reddened.
“It wasn’t last time I checked,” said Neil with a grin.
“Get the bell! Where is it?” Said Bill.
“Here it is, I’ve got it.” Cindy shouted as she grabbed it out of Peter’s bag.
“O-L-I-G-A-R-C-H-Y. Oligarchy.” Peter spelled out. His breath slowing down a little he hit the bell again.
“Guys I’m nervous about tomorrow, knock it off.”
“Sorry man, we’re just kidding around,” said Neil, staring daggers at Cindy after she kicked him in the leg. Cindy slid her hand into Peters and gave him a peck on the cheek.
“Come on let’s get out of here, our parents are probably waiting,” she said.
The first time she’d met Peter he called her a silly sausage and then slapped himself in the face; they had been practically inseparable ever since. Peter’s hand shot out and hit his knee dragging Cindy down with it. She laughed and they made their way out of the main doors and into the afternoon light.
They said their goodbyes at the gate. Bill lunged off in search of the bike he’d chained up earlier and Neil ran over to his impatiently waiting father. Cindy’s mom said hello to Peter and he politely told her to go fuck herself before apologizing and running over to his mom’s yellow Subaru. “See you tomorrow,” shouted Cindy, “Don’t stay up too late.” He waved and jumped into the front seat of the waiting car.
Peter smashed his fists repeatedly on the dashboard and banged his head on the headrest. His ticks often flared up when his mom collected him from school, especially when he was excited for the weekend after a long Friday. She waited for him to calm down and fix his seatbelt before sliding into gear. The fan belt squealed in protest as she turned the wheel and left the school’s parking lot.
“Mr. Mackay wished me good luck today in math class, STUPID ASS WIPE.”
“Oh that was nice of him. Not that you need it,” she said and added,
“I’ve got nuggets in the oven; I hope Jack has remembered to put the beans on the stove.”
“I bet you he forgot.” Peter said and flailed his arms hitting his watch into the window. He lapsed into silence. She regarded her son for a moment and took a breath. He was looking more like his father every day.
They rounded the bend of Crescent Avenue and pulled into the drive of their house. Peter could see the wagging tail of the dog as it jumped up and down excitedly on the sofa under the window. He got out of the car and raced to the front door. He repeatedly pressed the doorbell and yelled expletives at the rose garden, his mum followed and she slid her key into the lock.
“Tommy we’re back,” she yelled as she dropped her keys into the bowl by the door. Kicking off her shoes she added, “Did you remember to put the beans on?”
“Yes Mom,” came the reply from a sprawled teenager playing video games on the TV in the living room. Peter bent down and gave the dog a cuddle by the door.
“SMELLY BREATH, YOU STINK,” he shouted into the face of the beaming puppy.
“Tommy turn that off, let’s kick around in the garden before it gets too dark,” Peter said over the head of the excited dog.
“OK, five minutes, I’ll meet you out there.”
Peter walked out to the back doors through the dining room and stopped to look at the mantelpiece. The urn stared back at him the same way it did every day, with silence. He walked over and brushed an errant dog hair off the mantelpiece before involuntarily slapping his hand on its surface. “Miss you Dad.” He said and walked out to the garden.
Sally turned the heat down on the potatoes and washed her hands in the sink. She caught sight of her two sons playing in the garden and sighed. She watched as Peter tried to kick the ball and missed, tumbling to the floor. Both brothers in fits of hysterics, she smiled. Their father had loved to play with the boys in garden; it was still strange to see them there without him. She thought back to the last group meeting her husband had organized for sufferers in the area. The lady doing the relaxation therapy session had just started.
“Imagine you are in a field. It’s beautiful and green; a soft wind is blowing from the north as you run your fingers through the long grass…”
“I’M UP TO MY EYES IN FUCKING COW SHIT!” Peter had shouted, setting off a few other ticks in the room. She smiled at the memory.
People thought it was a funny illness. Especially the swearing kind, that was very rare. It sure wasn’t funny for Peter though, or her, though she marveled at his light hearted self deprecation and the delight he got from messing around with his friends. He was lucky, in a way.
The weeks following his Dad’s death Peter’s ticks were sometimes so bad he would collapse to the floor, able to only communicate by blinking, for hours at a time. Often, when Tommy was there, he’d lie down with his brother and comfort him. Sally was lucky to have them both. She turned off the faucet and shouted for the boys to come in for dinner.
Later in the evening Peter sat on the edge of his bed and thumbed through one of his spelling books. His silver bell rested by the reading lamp on his table. He hit it and practiced a few words. His head snapped forwards and he dropped his book on the floor. Cursing he picked it up and wished for an easier day tomorrow.
He hated his ticks. They were like an alter ego he desperately wanted to kill. He couldn’t fight the embarrassment sometimes even though he’d done nothing wrong. Most people he knew ignored the swearing but for the big stage he was nervous. The bell stopped him from being so scared though; he took comfort from the peace that came with its ringing. He knew he could win.
* * *
Sally, Peter and Tommy were in the car and almost there. That morning Peter had tried to get the dog to run in front of a car. They had to be really careful when going out for a walk. Sometimes Peter would get the overwhelming desire to shout at the dog to cross the road. He just couldn’t help it.
They pulled into the parking lot directly under the sign that said: SPELLING BEE STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS .
Peter could see Cindy’s mom’s car and could feel the excitement well up inside him. He shouted, “I FUCKING HATE SPELLING,” as they slammed the doors of the car and made their way to the entrance.
They got a few looks as they walked down the hall, following the red arrows into the lecture theatre. They were a little late and it was already three quarters full. Peter ran off to the contestant’s area. He caught sight of Cindy, Bill and Neil in the stands and waved with a fit of blinks.
Tommy followed his mom into the saved seats provided by Cindy’s family and they sat down to excited bubbles of conversation.
Three rows across from them sat a handful of people from their school. They all shouted their support for the first contestant to walk out onto the stage: Michael Charlotte.
Possibly due to a violent complex relating to his feminine surname, possibly because he just wasn’t a nice guy, either way, most people at school thought he was an asshole. Unfortunately his spelling was damn good.
Cindy nudged Neil and pointed over to them, booing under her breath.
Neil smiled and said, “Forget about them, Peter’s got this.”
“I know, I know. I just hate that lot. I’m nervous for Peter.”
“Nah, nothing to worry about, he’s a champ,” said Bill.
They jumped to their feet and chanted for Peter as he walked out onto the stage and took his seat. Cindy’s mom couldn’t believe the cheek of the bullies a few rows over who booed Peter as he sat down. He rocked his chair backwards and forwards violently three times. Sally’s knuckles were white as she subconsciously clenched the sides of her seat. Peter dinged his bell and seemed to calm down. The on-stage monitor introduced the judges to the contestants and the audience. The competition began.
Round after round they came up and recited their words. Competitors came and went. Eventually there were only three left. Peter and Michael spelled their words with ease. The head judge asked for quiet in the room and the third remaining contestant came up for her word of the round. The judge gave it to her and she looked like she was about to cry, she didn’t think the words would be this hard. She couldn’t do it. She didn’t even bother to ask for a definition, thanked the judges and left the stage.
“STUPID LOSER,” shouted Peter and clasped his palms over his mouth.
The judges exchanged glances. They were briefed on the boy’s condition before the competition but still thought it to be highly irregular. The monitor called for a short recess before the final rounds.
Cindy, Bill and Neil gave each other high fives surrounded by a hum of conversation in the audience.
“Hey, what’s that creep Michael doing?” Said Bill.
“I don’t know,” replied Neil. Michael had gotten up from his seat and stood in front of Peter. They couldn’t tell what he was saying from their viewpoint but they imagined it to be something mean. Peter stood up and walked off the stage towards the toilet.
When he returned the judges sat back in their seats and called for the final rounds of the competition to start. Michael was asked forward first wearing an arrogant smile on his face.
The head judge said,”Your word is prospicience”.
Michael’s grin evaporated from his face. He asked for a definition.
One of the judges looked up the word and said, “Prospicience: the act of looking forward, foresight.”
Michael’s face was blank.
“He doesn’t know it!” Said Cindy, clutching her hair pin tightly in her hands.
“I’m sorry but I’m going to have to ask for your answer,” said the head judge.
Michael inhaled a breath and spelled, “P-R-O-S-P-I-S-C-I-E-N-C-E”.
“I’m afraid that’s incorrect. Please take a seat.”
Michael stomped back to his seat in a huff but as he sat. He didn’t look half as upset as he should have in Neil’s eyes.
Peter stepped up and was given his word. He smiled but asked for a definition just to be sure.
“Logorrhea: excessive and often incoherent talkativeness or wordiness,” came the answer.
His smile broadened and he hit his bell with the palm of his hand.
He hit the bell again. There was no noise, no ding. Nothing.
Peter’s family and friends all held a collective breath. Peter started shaking, his head started to wobble. He looked like he was about to explode.
“Oh no,” breathed Neil.
Bill said, “What happened to his bell?”
It was completely quiet in the room.
Peter was holding his breath. He hit the bell again. Still nothing. His jaw was clenched tight; he was desperately trying not to let his words spill out of his mouth. He couldn’t hold it in any longer.
Cindy leaped up and dived over the seat in front of her. She hit her hairpin against the glass in the hand of the person sitting there.
“L-O-G-O-R-R-H-E-A. LOGORRHEA” Peter shouted.
“Correct!” Exclaimed the head judge, “Congratulations.”
Peter had never been so happy before in his life.
Once the clapping had subsided and the room returned to order, the judges presented Peter his trophy and passed him the microphone asking him to say a few words.
Looking nervous but happy Peter said, “I’d like to dedicate this to my Dad, my friends and most of all, my Mom. I wouldn’t be here without her, the SILLY BIT-
Cindy, Bill and Neil all lunged for the glass at the same time.
DING DING DING DING DING.