Title: Section Eight
Author: Slipstream (www.geocities.com/slipstream_chan)
Rating: PG-13, for language and mild psychosis
Summary: A re-write of a scene from the novel "A Separate Peace" by John Knowles. Gene comes to visit Leper after his 'escape' from the army. Leper's POV.
Notes: My English teacher asigned this without knowing that she was asigning us to write a fan fic. So I had a *lot* of fun with it. She especially apreciated the parts where I read the curse words aloud. All of the dialogue is quoted directly from the book, only Leper's perspective is changed. All of the italicized stuff in brakets are voices from Leper's army experience, just to make things less confusing if the html doesn't work. Enjoy!
I like snow. Snow is safe. It's so white that no shadows can suddenly spring up and take shapes of things that aren't really there. Snow masks all the sharp edges of spring and summer and fall, making it one smooth canvas for the mind to paint pictures on. The light blue shadows make non-threatening pictures of rabbits and squirrels and soft shapes, nothing like the horrors that spring from the shadows of army camps.
"Come out and play, Leper…"
That's one of the reasons why I like the dining room so much. The window in here makes a perfect frame for the snow that covers the front fields. The perfect background to let my mind roam free with itself. The blue shadows dance across the white, daring so close as to cross the line of the front yard before they dash away, laughing. It is not a pleasant pastime, to be taunted by your own imagination, nor is it sane, but it is safe, I am safe, here behind the glass staring out on the world.
Thus when a new shadow appears on the horizon, a tall, dark one, a shadow which causes all of the blue rabbits and squirrels to scatter suddenly, a shadow that grows in height and solidity, it takes me a while to register it's appearance. I watch this shadow, watch its approach, beckoning it forward eagerly, my heart hammering in my throat as I wonder whether this is another manifestation or something truly real. I am frozen, half in fear, half in crazed animation.
The shadow crosses the threshold of the yard and becomes real.
It takes a few moments to pry my finger nails from their firm grip on the window sill, so Gene has already made it to the front door and entered by the time I walk to greet him at the dining room door before he can make it further into the house.
"Come in here," I say. "I spend most of my time in here."
He steps inside, polite enough to shake of the bits of snow clinging to his pants in the entryway. Gene has always appeared overdressed during the winter session, to me. I don't know what the winter's are like, where he's from, but he hasn't gotten used to New England's yet. I imagine that winter in the south is starker, without a blanket of snow to hide it's ugliness. I imagine that the people walk unknowing beneath those sharp angles, grays and washed out browns casting their thin shadows that beg to be photographed.
Now he's shedding his thick coat and the other coat beneath it, unwinding the scarf around his neck and sniffing a bit as he clears his head of the cold. "What do you do that for, Leper? It's not very comfortable, is it?"
I feel suddenly defensive. "Well, it's a useful room."
He pauses, his face twisting once before settling into an open, blank stare. A safe look. Agreeable. "Yes, I guess it's useful, all right."
I can't keep myself from talking. My tongue, as well as my mind, is now and ever more beyond my control. "You aren't lost for something to do in dining rooms. It's in the living room where people can't figure out what to do with themselves." It was in the living room that I bid my mother farewell before I set off for the army, and back to the living room I slunk upon my escape. Our living room is not well lighted, apt to dark corners and shadows that stretch their long fingers closer and closer. "People get problems in living rooms."
"Bedrooms too," he adds, trying to be helpful.
I turn away from him, from his face which, though less menacing than the rest of the crowd of schoolboys, still carries that distinguishable mark of Devon. It's in the way his lips are curved just slightly, the mouth barely open, as if he is ready to speak as soon as the air clears enough, the way his eyes remain steadily open, unblinking, the muscles of his face still, an expression you can read a million thing into and still not know what he's thinking. I
leave that uncertainty, reaching out for the smooth, dark lines of the dining chairs, solid and certain. A dining chair will always be a dining chair, at least that was the rule, before the army, but a human face is a device bent purely on deception. I sit, then he sits, draping his coat across another chair.
"In here you never wonder what's going to happen. You know the meals will come in three times a day for instance," I continue.
"I'll bet your mother isn't too pleased when she's trying to get one ready."
"What's she got to be pleased about?" I snap. For an instant the Devon look falters on Gene's face. I can feel my own face twitching, eyes going fuzzy and wet for an instant. I rush out my words, trying to cover it up, but my voice doesn't get it right and it comes out strange and not my own. "I'm pleasing myself!"
I breath heavily for a second, and then my mind slides back into place. The moment has passed with the click of a shutter. I am myself, with my still features, and Gene is himself with his.
"…How long'll you be here?" he inquires slowly, manners taking over. That's the wonderful thing about manners. You can ease out of anything if you're only polite enough.
I shrug. My manners are a thing of the past, another layer of linen to wrap around the mummy of Elwin Lepilier. I stifle a giggle at the thought of wrapping myself in a thousand white bandages.
"Well, if you're on furlough you must know when you have to be back." Gene continues talking, but the words are flowing around me like dirty cloth bandages, the tail end of the thought brushing against my brain with a whispering that could be mistaken for the dining room curtains if you were actually sane.
"I didn't get any pass," I groan, clenching my hands. I have to ignore the whispering of the words as they dance though the air.
Gene stutters again, then his voice comes, as if forced. "I know you said… that you 'escaped.'"
"I escaped!" My voice and face are no longer my own. They betray me, writhing in fury to escape from the memories that flood my thoughts.
"God damn it, boy! Get a hold of--! Hold him! Hold him down, you--!"
Gene's looking at me like he can here the voice of Sarge in my head, too. "What do you mean, you escaped? You don't escape from the army…"
"…in the army now and God damn it if you don't… The army's got no place for you!"
"That's what you say." Am I talking to Gene or Sarge? "But that's because you're talking through your hat." Mental image of Sarge choking on that khaki green monstrosity. "What do you know about it, anyway?"
"Well I—how am I supposed to answer that? I know what's normal in the army, that's all."
"He ain't normal… ain't normal… ain't…"
I snort. "Normal… What a stupid ass word that is. I suppose that's what you're thinking about, isn't it? That's what you would be thinking about, somebody like you. You're thinking I'm not normal, aren't you? I can see what you're thinking—I see a lot I never saw before…" Like chairs that talk, legs that walk on their own, a drill sergeant eating his hat. A lot of things, Gene. "You're thinking I'm psycho."
Gene stares back at me, his eyes round, Devon mask cracking just a little bit. A wave passes though him, like a short burst of machine gun fire, and his mouth flaps a couple of times before he can spit out. "You make me sick, you and your damn army words."
He looks so much like a fish, it's funny. Like a great big herring, skinned down to the bones, with the head chopped off in one solid thwak from the cook's knife to be fed to the dogs.
"They were going to give me…" The laughter takes control for a second. "…they were going to give me a discharge, a Section Eight discharge…"
He sinks back, boneless (like a fish, with it's head…), and suddenly the Gene of Kentucky is gone and the Gene of Devon is solid in its place. His next words are spoken with a solid determination of a boy reciting Latin, certain in the superiority of his translation. "I don't even know what you're talking about. You just don't make any sense at all. It's all Japanese to me."
"A Section Eight discharge is for the nuts in the service, the psychos, the Funny Farm candidates. Now do you know what I'm talking about? They give you a Section Eight discharge, like a dishonorable discharge, only worse. You can't get a job after that. Everybody wants to see your discharge, and when they see a Section Eight they look at you kind of funny—the kind of expression you've got on your face, like you were looking at someone with their nose blown off but you don't want them to know you've disgusted—they look at you that way and then they say, 'Well, there doesn't seem to be an opening here at present.' You're screwed for life, that's what a Section Eight discharge means."
Quietly, "You don't have to yell at me, there's noting wrong with my hearing."
Was I shouting? Did I even say anything? Did Gene say anything? Anything important? Nothing…?
"…that you used to care about is important anymore. What's important is that you boys are in the United States Army. What's important is that we have 12 weeks to gear you into shape for those lovely folks in Europe to meet. You're going to make us proud, or else you will die. There's no other choice, boys. Nothing else is important. We've got you now…"
"Then that's tough shit for you, Buster. Then they've got you."
Gene squirms and absently rubs his ears, subconsciously realizing that his physical perfection is a curse, not a blessing. "Nobody's got me."
I eye him, once up and down. All he's missing is a khaki uniform and a buzz cut. "Oh they've got you all right."
I've made him angry. "Don't tell me who's got me and who hasn't got me. Who do you thin you're talking to? Stick to your snails, Lepellier."
I laugh. I'm breaking him down, taking away the mask , the blindfold, that Devon has placed over his eyes piece by piece so that he can't hide beneath it any more. His emotions are churning under the shattered remains of that mask.
"You always were a lord of the manor, weren't you? A swell guy, except when the chips were down. You always were a savage underneath. I always knew that only I never admitted it. But in the last few weeks…"
The humor leaves me for a moment. I am empty. I blink at him, swaying and sudden emotion switch. Like a light switch. Plug me in and turn me on and off. I breath deeply a few moments before I can start again.
"…I admitted a hell of a lot to myself. Not about you. Don't flatter yourself. I wasn't thinking about you. Why the hell would I think about you? Did you ever think about me? I thought about myself, and Ma, and the old man, and pleasing them all the time. Well, never mind about that now. It's you we happen to be talking about now. Like a savage underneath. Like…"
I break off, making eye contact with Gene. He's half out of his chair, leaning forward, as if to spring. A savage, I realize with sudden glee. Glee turns to revenge and giddiness and hatred and fear and provoking and raw, soul-sucking need all rolled into one big jumble, so the next words are sweet and bitter and oh so right at the same time.
"…like that time you knocked Finny out of the tree."
Gene is out of the chair, in my face, all of Devon gone. "You stupid crazy bastard--!"
I can't stop laughing. I can read you now, Gene, you've got nothing left to hide with.
"Like that time you crippled him for life."
The world spins as I land with a sudden thud on the floor. Oh. Gene… kicked…. He's standing over me with the turmoil of a thousand red thunderstorms raging across his features, a look that can never be captured in a single film exposure because it is constantly shifting and changing. Oh, God… "…always were a savage underneath…"
I'm lying on the floor, laughing or crying, I can't tell which, when a voice breaks though my barrier.
"What on earth happened? Elwin!"
"This isn't a place you can call your mother. Get a hold of yourself! Get a hold of…!"
"Geez, the freak, what's wrong with him?"
"Hold him! Hold him…!"
"I'm terribly—it was a mistake." When did Gene's mood transform from anger to sorrow? Must have been between eye blinks. "He said something crazy. I forgot myself—I forgot that he's, there's something the matter with his nerves, isn't there? He didn't know what he was saying…"
"Well, good heaven, the boy is ill. Did you come here to abuse him?"
Two pairs of hands are picking me up, one soft and familier, the other large and hesitant.
"Grab a leg! You there! Hold him…"
"Christ! Bastard bit me!"
"Keep him down, no! Stop it, you!"
"I'm terribly sorry…" The second pair of hands pull away, leaving only my mother to support me as I giggle my way toward the stairs. "I'd better get going…"
"Don't go!" I call, while my mother tries to steer me away from the dining room. "Stay for lunch. You can count on it. Always three meals a day, war or peace, in this room."
That's stability. Three meals you can't choke down and a window to watch the world pass by. Mashing patterns into your food, green and black swirls of peas and charred beef, wallowing in the smells as blurs pass in and out of your life. That is stability. A white canvas of snow to paint pictures on and eventually loose yourself into.
"Stay with us, Lepellier!"
"Come back, Leper, come back. Come out and play… The snow is soft out here, and the sky is so very very blue…"
He does. I do. And we eat.