Sunday, March 18, 2012

F3 Cycle 72 "Standing in Judgment"

Flash Fiction Friday Cue: Use the photo for one scene in your story; it must have at least two scenes.

  The day Mary Bain was murdered I saw her standing on the side of the road looking out towards the river off in the distance. As I passed her on my way to my second job, I did not think much about it other than the fact that she looked like she was waiting for someone. It was cold that day and the jeans and sweater she was wearing looked normal enough but draped across her shoulder was a purple bag stuffed to the point it looked like it might explode. Deep down I sensed loneliness and a despair in her that ate at what small part of my soul I had left.

  For a second I contemplated pulling off the road to check if she was okay but just as quickly thought the better of it. Mary was just another of those hopeless cases high school educators encounters every few years while teaching in rural backwaters where the word of God rules everyday affairs and the locals are instantly suspicious of anyone even remotely intellectual. You learn quickly living in the Appalachian foothills of upstate South Carolina outsiders like me do not get involved in gory mess that many of the residents call their lives, even if you have some acquaintance with the family.

  Mary’s dad, Phillip Bain, was a high school dropout and disabled Iraqi War veteran whose humvee was blown up under him resulting in a brain injury and an extreme case of Post Traumatic Stress making it impossible for him to hold a job. In the best of times, Phillip suffered from terrible headaches and in the worst, dealt with memories that haunted his mind. He and I had were introduced to each other at the local VFW since I had done three tours in that hellhole myself as an infantry platoon leader with my National Guard unit. That made it possible for the two of us on occasion to bridge the divide of mistrust that would have normally existed between a man suspicious of everyone in authority and me, a former officer and college graduate.

   As for Mary's mother, for the most part she had abandoned her daughter to concentrate on raising the children she had with her second husband. This left Mary drifting between her disabled father and elderly paternal grandparents who regularly went around town proclaiming the Rapture was imminent. Everyone in Mary’s life had failed her from the day she was born, and in a way, I failed her worst of all.

  Seconds later, I glanced up at my rearview mirror for one last look but she was gone. Absentmindedly, I figured one of the cars that had passed me going the other way had quickly pulled over and picked her up. Caught up in my own affairs I had no idea she had gone missing until the news three days later that her lifeless body was found washed up along a riverbank.


  The morning after I learned the news I found myself sitting in my empty classroom waiting for the morning bell to ring. Looking at the thirty unoccupied desks in front of me, I got the eerie feeling they were judging me in every aspect of my life and that Mary’s phantom was the prosecutor. Given the number of ways I had failed over the years, I figured it was an open and shut case.

  Like Mary’s dad, I had my own demons to contend with over what I had seen and done in Iraq. After my last deployment I came home to Long Island and found my marriage damaged beyond repair and the middle class lifestyle I took for granted spoiled and worthless. Teaching was the one refuge I had in my personal storm, until I started seeing the same soulless eyes in my privileged American students that I saw in the poverty stricken and fearful Iraqi kids who lived in a war zone. For all the wrong reasons the American kids whined about how tough and unfair their lives were and when I could not take it anymore I left it all behind and went looking for someplace I might be able to make a difference.

  What I found was ignorance and a closed society that rivaled anything I saw in Iraq. Now saddled with alimony and having to provide most of my own teaching supplies I find myself sacrificing the very students I left everything behind hoping to help.

  Outside in the hall the sound of the kid’s voices were exactly like the day I first met Mary. It was my freshman algebra class and I quickly found myself struggling to supply the level of work her keen mind demanded. Mary was a gifted student and in a better place, she could have done anything she wanted with her life but Fate was cruel and had saddled her with too many obstacles.

  The bell rings and my students file in and take their seats. Some look at me expectantly while others seem in a daze. None have Mary’s abilities and in fact I see little hope for most of them. However, that is not for me to judge, I am a teacher and I must try.

  “Mr. Blake, are you okay?” One of the girls sitting in the front row asks.

  “No,” I say, “in fact from today on I will be asking far more of you as you should demand more from me.”


Akelamalu said...

It's interesting what 'happenings' teach us lessons in left isn't it?

Great writing as always Beach.

okjimm said...

Good Stuff. Truly.

Sarge said...

Are you seeking treatment? I don't want you to be just another PSTD
statistic on suicides from the VA.

email me -


Windsmoke. said...

Well written it really cuts right to the bone :-).

Beach Bum said...

Akelamalu: Thanks! Pulled this story together from several different sources.

Jim: Thanks buddy!

Sarge: Appreciated Ron, but I'm all good. This is all fiction but like I mentioned above I pulled it from a bunch of different things I heard about guys and gals coming home.

Windsmoke: Thanks! One item that does bother me is how a bunch of Biblethumperers here in the States can get all sanctimonious about Muslims when their own beliefs are just as radical. In fact I see no difference between Rick Santorum who is running for president and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Marja said...

An intriguing story beach which touches a lot on the dark side of live. I have worked with kids who were failed by everyone and they are close to my heart.
would love to read more

Life As I Know It Now said...

You have a way of getting down to the nitty-gritty Beach. Your understanding of human nature is well illustrated in this piece.

Randal Graves said...

This is definitely one of your best. (not that there's anything wrong with vampire spies from outer space, dammit)

Glenn Ricafrente said...

Simple and heartfelt. Liked it a lot.

Pixel Peeper said...

You did a great job painting a picture of the sad and desolate lives lead by some of the forgotten members of society.

Red Nomad OZ said...

Thought provoking parallels between 'developed' western society and other, less affluent places we westerners are 'helping'.

Beach Bum said...

Marja: Thanks, a bunch of schools up here are treated as dumping grounds for kids everyone has given up on.

Life: Yeah, and it's a big reason I would love to haul ass to some isolated island. The human condition just about everywhere is just too damn depressing.

Randal: You know I had actually forgotten about that series of vampire stories I wrote a while back. Still think they blow away that Twilight crap.

Glenn: Thanks buddy!

Pixel: Sad thing is that could be a few sections where I live now.

Red: Thank you, it blows my mind to hear some fool complain about how people in the Middle East live but if you listen to them they are not far from acting the same way.

Doc Häagen-Dazs said...

As a career secondary teacher retired, I have to say you have captured our professional occupational angst perfectly, Beach!

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this tribute to a lost life. Too many teachers show up simply to collect their paychecks. Often, only a lost life will wake people out of their stupors. But even so, most will drift back into a status quo daze.

Thomas Pluck said...

A damn fine story about hard situations.

Doc Häagen-Dazs said...

Hey, backoff cmstewartwrite, don't go pounding on hapless teachers without first taking a whack at those parents who deliver poor quality-controlled input into our educational system in the first place.

Anonymous said...

I'm not pounding all teachers, just pointing out that of them don't take their jobs seriously enough, as in any profession. Same with parenting, as you pointed out.

Beach Bum said...

Doc: Can't say much more than the real Ravenhair was/is a dedicated high school teacher. She and I had long talks about how much she worried about her students. Many she felt were destined to crash and burn while a very sad few had a chance to make a mark on the world.

CM: "status quo daze" As a resident of the "great" state of South Carolina that is what is most prompted by the Elites of this state who never really left the 19th century. Education is, and more than likely always will be, viewed by the good country folks here as a form of snobbery. It's a wonder Ricky Santorum did not win this state.

Thomas: Thank you so much sir! I truly appreciate the compliment.

Doc and CM: If anything this story is about a dysfunctional society existing on many levels. My character "Mr. Blake" is a dedicated teacher who became disgruntled at the lack of awareness of his rich students up on Long Island. Got to apologize for my lack of clarity but in my nifty directors cut of this story(about 1500 words) Blake was a bit of an idealist wanting to make a difference. After leaving Long Island to go his crusade life grinded him down to the point he was struggling to stay afloat.

The educational system here in South Carolina, with a few exceptions, is an abomination that should embarrass the Hell out of the residents. Frankly I am willing to lay blame on the general population that is suspicious of anyone "smart", does not want to properly pay teachers resulting in a large number just drawing a pay check. But most of all I blame the parents and the kids who to paraphrase the old saying about horses, you can lead them to water but you can't make them drink from the river of knowledge.

Enough of my rant, I have an empty beer bottle in front of me and that will not stand.

Ingrid K. V. Hardy said...

Loved this story, Beach Bum... Showing the tough times but I like what the teacher says in the end. If he is going to push his students, regardless of his judgement, then hope is not lost.

Ranch Chimp said...

Touching Story Bum ... Have a good un

Joyce said...

Superb tale. Life only gives us one shot to get it right. Tragically, at times, it takes great loss to ourselves and those around us to remind us of that fact. There are those who let it slide right by them because they are living in a 'me-me-me' bubble. Then again, there is your character, whose loss and confusion drive him on to keep trying to make a difference, however generally futile that may be. You certainly made that prompt hit home.

Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw said...

A bleak portrait of a life cut tragically short by a society that too often can't, or won't, see beyond their own angst and suffering to help another soul in torment.

A compassionate telling, Beach... thank you for sharing.

lime said...

so much heartache on so many levels for so many people. just sad. even though i know it's fiction, things like this are real for so many.