The Last First Day

The Last First Day by Carrie Brown

Book: The Last First Day by Carrie Brown Read Free Book Online
Authors: Carrie Brown
apprehension of a presence outside the white walls. Something had orchestrated the whole day, the whole evening, steering it toward this moment of crisis. Something had built the whole waiting world around them, trees, scented grass stretching away into the darkness, stars. She was afraid.
    There was a rippling along the pew, boys jostling one another. The boy beside her bumped hard against her shoulder.
    He turned an agonized face to her, color leaping into his cheeks. Sorry, he whispered.
    Face blazing, he leaned forward to flash a look of hatred and fury down the row.
    Fights were inevitable at the school, often at sporting events. One moment everything was under control—the players spread out over the grass, clouds arranged prettily in thesky. And then the next moment a boy somewhere on the field would have struck out savagely, a stick swinging, a fist. Suddenly a clot of bodies would be angrily grappling and struggling, the referees moving in. These incidents happened so quickly they left Ruth breathless. She felt now, in Peter’s strange silence, the potential for chaos among the boys.
    She felt the anxiety of the moment pass now into her belly, her bowels. Should she stand up? Could she go rescue him?
    Peter cocked his head slightly. He’d been doing that, she’d noticed, tilting his head as if he couldn’t quite hear.
    The din of the boys around them rose another degree. She glanced behind her again, but the white frame of the doors contained only the pure, deep, shining blue of the night sky. A silhouetted figure crossed the open doorway, a dark form moving from one side of the chapel to the other. Then there was nothing but the empty square of the night, and Peter’s silence, and the dangerous restlessness of the boys around her.

    Peter knew what was about to happen. The boys had filled the chapel between him and the open doors, the square of blue twilight glowing at the end of the aisle. In the past, when the shuffling and throat clearing had died away, a true and deep silence would enter the room, an invisible presence.In the face of it, the babbling of the private mind, the ceaseless effort of holding up for examination before the conscious self one thing after another, the whole demanding dumb show of the imagination … all of this would cease, the mind as empty as if its contents had been sucked into a vortex. The paradox, Peter thought, was that this state of emptiness was simultaneously a state of acute, almost transcendental engagement.
    He’d tried to explain this to Ruth. But her whole history, everything about her childhood, had conditioned her to vigilance, not acceptance. It had always been difficult for her to relax. He was grateful for the calm that had overtaken her later years and that spilled now into all corners of their life: the unmade bed, the haphazard meals of this or that, whatever they could find in the refrigerator or cupboards—bread and cheese, pickles and ham, bottles of wine. He was grateful for her clever mind—my god, she knew something about practically everything; she would have won on
, he’d always thought—and grateful even for the untidy house.
    What did it matter really, that the house was untidy? He had put too much pressure on her about such things over the years, he knew, even as he had disliked himself for worrying what others would think. And she had worked so hard for him, for the boys. She had been the picture of duty.
    She was a funny person, too, his Ruth, though not many knew that about her. She had always made him laugh, so witty and smart. And she was beautiful, though he knew she had never thought so. Gorgeous big breasts and big sweet mouth and melting eyes and long legs … his
Ruth. He had a sudden memory of her on the tennis court—she was a terribletennis player—running crazily from one side of the court to the other as he lobbed balls at her, her face red as a beet, her big feet pounding away in her big sneakers, her

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