|A SweatyToothed Madman
Author: Five Minutes Til Bedtime PM
Even from a distance, he can see the boy is trembling. The words from before rush back to him, only grotesque in the new light of understanding. One-shot.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Drama - Todd A. & Mr. Keating - Words: 1,632 - Reviews: 5 - Favs: 20 - Follows: 3 - Published: 03-08-12 - Status: Complete - id: 7907471
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Title: A Sweaty-Toothed Madman
Summary: Even from a distance, he can see the boy is trembling. The words from before rush back to him, only grotesque in the new light of understanding. One-shot.
Fandom: Dead Poets Society
Word count: 1455
I close my eyes
And this image floats beside me
A sweaty-toothed madman with a stare that pounds my brain
His hands reach out and choke me
And all the time he's mumbling
Truth like a blanket that always leaves your feet cold
You push it, stretch it, it'll never be enough.
You kick at it, beat it, it'll never cover any of us.
From the moment we enter crying to the moment we leave dying,
It'll just cover your face as you wail and cry and scream.
~Todd Anderson, The Dead Poets Society
It wasn't until a time much later that the words would come back to him. Oh, he remembered them perfectly – every stutter, every prompt – but that was in a different fashion, the way a sculptor remembers each stroke it took to chisel a masterpiece. Only Mr. Keating didn't want to chip away at the stone like the rest of society, didn't want to force it to be something that it wasn't. He merely wanted to pull down the hard surface of conformity and obedience that seemed to be plaguing these poor school boys and let the image from within shine without.
So he remembered the words fondly for a time. Seeing it as his breakthrough, his triumph, evidence that what he was doing was working and that he wasn't just some loon the rest of world took him for. For weeks he would glance at the boy and send him a small wink, a slight smile, as he played the moment over in his head and the boy blushed and looked away.
That was the power of Todd Anderson. He wasn't a leader like Neal, so raw and driven and sure of himself. But it was the potential, the depth, of Todd that intrigued Mr. Keating. It was the knowledge that somewhere beneath those blue eyes lurked a creature so rare and honest that it could scarcely catch itself in the mirror, let alone allow anyone else to glimpse it. There were many like Neal, who wore their hearts on their sleeves and stars in their eyes and had enough passion to turn a water wheel in winter – they were invaluable, of course, but there was no mystery. It was from point A to point B and little else between. With the Todd Andersons of the world, it was the middle bit between that mattered most.
Then Neal kills himself. Point B is blown out of the water and Mr. Keating is left thinking 'What? What? What?' because Neal was always the one, always the boy who listened to his lesson most of all, who was sharp as a tack and handsome and popular and knew with all his heart and soul what he wanted to do and why. Neal was going to be an actor. He was going to share his passion with the world. He had everything going for him but one – his family.
Looking back Mr. Keating cries at how naïve he had been. He had seen too much of himself in Neal. He had assumed (and that should have warned him already) that Neal would do as he had done when his own father had breathed down his neck, duck, huddle it out, and then burst forth from school with both wings spread out to catch him. But he had been wrong. Neal was not Mr. Keating, and the teacher who strove so much to break the cookie-cutter mold should have known better than to try to make Neal into a clone.
And it seemed that Neal was not the only student he had been too soon to judge.
The words come back to him a single moment of clarity. He is walking a dead man's walk, knowing that his job is already forfeit and that there are only the last final strokes of his pupils' pens that remain to cut the final strings. He is not ignorant as the headmaster calls each of the boys into his office, but there is a small bit of curiosity that strikes through his grief and shame and guilt that urges him to listen as each name is called out, confirming the members of the club that he had never bother to confirm.
The last name to be called is Todd's. Mr. Keating can't help but let his lips twitch up as he imagines the shy boy squatting in a dripping cave with the others, wide eyes taking in everything as the other boys hooted and hollered and shouted out ancient words. He'd always wondered if Neal had managed to drag the boy along given his extreme shyness. Now he knew.
Todd's meeting drags on longer than the others. Mr. Keating worries his lips and paces the entrance hall, a flight of stairs below the headmaster's office, waiting for the tell-tale sound of the door opening. The other boys had been in and out in less than five minutes; it's been at least twice that already.
And just as he is thinking this, the creak of hinges and the heavy stomping of feet draw his attention up. He sneaks around a corner as the footsteps descend the stairs fast and heavy.
He peers around the corner and the first thing he sees is a middle-aged woman in a pick sweater. Haggard, is the first word that comes into Mr. Keating's head, followed by empty. The ever present poet in him likens her to rung out curtains that had once been white and lace and had been stained with age and hard winds into a limp, dreary thing. Her face is pressed with lines, the only marks that show on an otherwise plain canvas. She walks straight down the stairs and out the door without looking back.
Coming down the stairs three steps behind her is the man who is undoubtedly her husband. His grey suit is pressed, his tie is blue and straight, and everything from his polished shoes to his closely cropped grey hair is so ordinary it makes Mr. Keating cringe inside. Or maybe it is the familiar figure who walks directly behind the man – Todd Anderson who, even from his vantage point, he can see is trembling.
Mr. Anderson stops abruptly before reaching the doors and turns to face his son. Mr. Keating expects a clap on the shoulder, perhaps even a hug, some sort of comfort for a son who is obviously scared out of his mind. What he does not expect is the sudden resounding crack of skin against skin, the snap of Todd's head as it is jerked to the side by the force of his father's blow, the absolute silence that follows the terrible sound.
And somehow that isn't the worst of it. It isn't the action, but the reaction. It is the quiet shaking of Todd's shoulders. The downcast eyes. The acceptance.
This is the moment that the words return. They play through his head. He sees every stutter, the flinch as he drapes his hand over the boy's eyes, the quiver in his voice.
The pride he had always felt evaporated in an instant with a cold stone that dropped into his stomach. Moments in his classroom suddenly danced before his eyes. Wide eyes growing in terror as Mr. Keating calls on him, he'd always assumed chronic shyness, but that was like calling Shakespeare's sonnets pretty. He hadn't looked beneath the surface, hadn't felt for the raw like he always had with Whitman and Bryans and Poe.
The words weren't just words strung along at his prompting, they were a story. They were too personal, too deep for a high school boy to pull out on the spot. These were thoughts that must have been mulling around inside the boy's head for days, weeks, years even. He looked back and remembered Todd's face as he said that he hadn't written anything. Such lies. Todd was a model student, he would have had something whether he was frightened of speaking aloud or not.
And if the words had not been written, they certainly had been thought on.
A door slams and suddenly Mr. Keating is back in the present. Mr. Anderson is gone, following in the footsteps of his dour wife, and Todd is still trembling with his head askew in the same position as before.
Mr. Keating watches as a shaking hand reaches up to press against white lips and thin shoulders hunch in on each other, quivering up and down. There is no sound but the silent splatter as tears begin to hit the wooden floor, rolling smoothly across alabaster cheeks that are drawn up into a silent cry. Mr. Keating remembers saying that poem can be written about something as simple as the rain, and he can't help but think of the millions of lines he could write at the sound of salty tears hitting the floor.
Mr. Keating's feet won't move. He is a mouse playing the part of a lion. Carpe Diem, he tells his students. Courage.
He had told them so many times before to look beneath the surface. The feel, not think. He had not taken his own lesson to heart. He had not felt, had not looked.
He had failed.
Neal and Todd. He had failed them both.