Short Fiction

Getting the words out
Matt Johnson
Thursday, February 7, 2002

"Neil Neville. You're next."

Neil stood and handed copies of his poem to every student in the small English class. He made his way on wobbly legs to the podium at the front of the room and turned to face the two dozen students.

"My poem is called, Life: a Lonesome Journey."

Mrs. Golden nodded and smiled. Neil glanced at the clock on the wall. There were only five minutes left in class. He took a deep breath and began.

"Life is a strange and lonely trek," he read.

A girl at the back of the class opened a can of pop and the loud hissing noise momentarily broke Neil's concentration. She began to slurp loudly on her beverage.

"On a cold gray morning,"

Another girl near the back of the room started chomping and smacking on a large piece of gum, and then she blew a bubble only to bite down onto it and start a series of bone-jarring snaps and cracks.

"One with a beginning but no real end,"

A loud, high-pitched chirping rang out. Neil stopped as a rather sheepish guy in the front row rummaged through his backpack to find his cell phone and turn it off.

"A path with many twists and turns that goes on forever,"

Outside, the roar of a lawnmower drowned out Neil's voice as it passed by the open windows, and he started to yell out his poem over the noise.

"The winds whisper quiet lessons in my ear,"

The bang-bang-bang of a hammer pounded on the wall. Neil realized with a wince that the construction crew must be done with its lunch break and was continuing work on remodeling the computer lab next door.

"Truth is withering, lost and shivering,"

Bang bang bang.

"Under a gray and overcast sky,"

Bang bang bang.

"Pierced by occasional rays of sunlight,"

"Your attention please," the intercom crackled. "This is your principal speaking. The following is the school lunch menu for the remainder of the year. Monday, May 12. Fish sticks and tater-tots with choice of fruit cup or vegetable sticks. Tuesday, May 13. Sloppy Joes. Green Beans. Peach cobbler…"

Neil continued to shout his poem over the racket.

"The wind whispers of pain, suffering,"

"and brownies. Wednesday, May 14."

Bang bang bang

"And my heart aches with the agony of"

"hot dogs and French fries"

"tragedy. And I long for a light to"


"fill my empty life"

"with baked beans and celery sticks."

"And make the cold wind feel warm"

A power drill screamed from behind Neil, and the rumble of a jackhammer rocked the floor, sending vibrations up and down his spine. Neil continued to scream his poem to the class in a vain attempt to read over the noise.

Then it stopped. The hammering was gone, the intercom was silent, and the siren had finished. Aside from the slight ringing in his ears, all Neil could hear was beautiful quiet.

"I smile in peaceful bliss,"

Then, the door burst open, and the high school band stormed in belting out "Stars and Stripes Forever" with a volume that rivaled a jet engine. The lead drummer knocked over Neil's podium and sent his poem fluttering to the floor. The entire troupe stomped on it as they marched around the room once and then headed out the door through which they came. Neil, red faced and shaking, bent over, picked up his paper and stared at the class numbly, waiting for the next interruption. The teacher checked her watch.

"The bell is about to ring, Neil. Please finish."

Neil took another deep breath, "I realize this path is long,"

The bell rang for the next period. The entire class stood from their seats and filed out of the room, crumpling their copies of Neil's poem into a ball and tossing it into a waste basket on the way out. Mrs. Golden following behind and gave Neil a weak smile and a shrug before she turned off the lights and closed the door. Neil stood there in the empty room with his jaw hanging open for a full minute.

"but I have only just begun," he finished.

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