This week in class we were told to write a short story featuring 5 assigned words: lintel, sparrow, window shade, leaf, and zipper.
It was a test of manhood. A rite of passage. If Alex failed, he would be forever immortalized as the puny, wiry kid who just didn’t measure up.
Literally. At fourteen years he should have hit five feet by now. Not so. Four feet five inches. The rest of his friends were skyrocketing toward six feet, yet he stayed stuck in the freaking fours, as if growing was something his body considered taboo.
How was he going to make the leap to smack the lintel on the doorway leading out of his middle school? It was a tradition all eighth grade boys carried out on graduation day that signified their right to move on to high school.
He pressed his forehead against the window shade that had been drawn down to block out the blistering June sun. Taxes didn’t quite cover air conditioning and extra heat had been a notorious cause of many a fainting spell. Susie Shaffer had never lived that one down. Not for three years. Had that taken place in this classroom? Yeah, it was because it was during math, and this was the math room. Alex’s eyes shot to the back shelf full of geometry books that looked like they’d just returned from a war zone rather than a year of lessons. Thank the Almighty Alex would never have to endure such torture in this room ever again.
“Ok, eighth graders!” The principal, Mr. Sparrow did not resemble his avian namesake in any way, shape or form being neither a bird, dainty nor graceful. He was, in fact, human, large and loud. He found himself hysterical but his students just thought he was nuts.
“Line up now, everyone! That’s right, out in the hallway here, double lines, very good. This is your big moment, kids! Time to leave middle school behind, so why don’t you make like a tree and leaf? HAHAHA!”
A few kids laughed simply to appease him, but in reality, every student inwardly cringed at the horrible joke. To hide their discomfort, they scrambled to line up in the cinderblock hallway two by two: one line boys, one line girls. They reminded Alex of the two green snakes that had snuck into his home and scared the ever-living out of his mother that one time. The graduates were like those two green snakes ready to slither their way out of the building that had been their home away from home for three entire years.
Alex tugged the zipper of his puke-green, too long graduation gown, releasing his overheating neck as the two lines began plodding outside toward the crowd of camera-happy parents. The doorway was in sight; beyond it high school. Figuratively, of course. What actually lay beyond it was a lawn set up for this historic day in all the eighth graders’ lives complete with folding chairs, a rickety platform, a podium, and the American flag.
This was IT! The final showdown. Lintel vs. Alex. To think, he’d never even known what a lintel was before his best friend informed him of the tradition. Other boys coiled their knees and sprang upward, their hands hitting the lintel with a definitive, triumphant smack on the way down.
It was Alex’s turn. He bent his knees and propelled himself up with all the might, will, and prayers he could muster. Up, up, up, reach, reach, reeeaaach …
His fingers brushed the wood hard enough to bend them back and crack his knuckles, the sound misinterpreted by his classmates as his own triumphant smack.
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