A Novel

Chapter 14: Second Floyd

Across town » Tiskilwa High School auditorium » New School Year Convocation:

Camden Brady's younger brother Floyd, a little nervously, waiting with his teammates off stage, watching his schoolmates from behind the leg curtains. New School Year Convocation and pep rally. The pep rally is really the main event, what everybody's waiting for, what the excitement's all about: the introduction of the varsity football team.

Floyd's first year on the varsity team, his first year up there on that stage, all the kids cheering, the freshmen and sophomores now looking up to him, to be a role model, to be cool, to help the Chiefs win on the field and make the school proud.

It was all really happening, and it was all just exactly the way he thought it would be, every bit and more:

The cheerleaders, the most popular girls in school, chanting, "Hey freshmen, what's your number; hey freshmen, what's your number?"

Timidly, lamely, a few of the freshmen called out, "Ninety one, ninety one, nine-nine-nine-nine-ninety one."

Then: "Hey sophomores, what's your number; hey sophomores, what's your number?"

A little louder than the freshmen, showing a little more school spirit, they call back their part. . .

And then, "Hey juniors, what's your number; hey juniors, what's your number?"

Floyd's class. For the first time, they really knew what to do, and really felt they should show those freshmen and sophomores what it meant to be upperclassmen → stomping their feet on the auditorium floor—he could feel the place actually shake—they shouted out, "Eighty nine, eighty nine, eight-eight-eight-eight-eighty nine!"

Floyd felt a little strange, being up on stage, behind the curtains, instead of out there, with everbody else, where he had always been before. He felt a little strange, realizing that he would never be out there again, and, even worse, that he would be graduating in just two years → he would only have one more Convocation pep rally ever, in his whole life.

Snapping out of it. . .Don't be lame; don't be pathetic.

Seniors' turn: they had to show that they were the best, the loudest, that they had the most school spirit, and they ruled the school, and nobody had better forget it:

"Hey seniors, what's your number; hey seniors, what's your number?"

All the seniors stood up; they stomped their feet; they shouted at the top of their voices: "EIGHTY EIGHT, EIGHTY EIGHT, EIGHT-EIGHT-EIGHT-EIGHT-EIGHTY EIGHT!!!!!!!!" They stomped their feet so hard; they called out so loudly: thunder and lightning, kineticity and electricity ↣ you could practically feel it in the air.

Now, the final part of the cheer: the time for everybody to unite, to be all on the same side—not freshmen or sophomores or juniors or seniors, but Tiskilwa High School Chiefs: "Hey Tiskilwa, what's your number; hey Tiskilwa, what's your number?"

Everybody—freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors—joined together; everybody knew what to do now; everybody knew they were part of something bigger and better than themselves: "NUMBER ONE, NUMBER ONE, NUM-NUM-NUM-NUM-NUMBER ONE!!!!!!!!"

The whole place went abso-fucking-lutely wild with cheering. The cheerleaders: pencil jumps, pom-pon shakes, and high kicks → from where he stood, Floyd could see all the guys in the auditorium scoping the cheerleaders' panties. Oh yeah, Floyd remembered being there himself: full-mast, half-blast, thrilling the peak. Hell, for most underclassmen, that was as far as they had yet gotten with a girl! It was crazy cool; it was that wild, that insane! Everybody was stoked, stoked for the coming school year, stoked for the coming football season, just jacked-up on adrenaline-fueled excitement. There was gonna be some serious v-i-c-t-o-r-y coming their way, that's for sure.

Principal Smith walked onto the stage, and stood behind the podium. It took at least five minutes to calm the students down, everybody was so wound up. Finally, the students were quiet, and then Karen Crawford whistled and called out, "I love you Mr. Smith!" She was a senior and pretty cool too, in a brassy redhead kind of way: she could get away with a lot more than most. Everybody laughed, and then a few other girls began whistling and suddenly the whole gymnasium burst into cheering again, this time for Mr. Smith, the best school principal ever. And you did did have to admit that, for a principal, he was pretty good-looking, too.

Eventually, the kids all quieted down, and Principal Smith began his annual, opening address:

"Okay, okay. Well, thank you, and Karen Crawford, please report to the principal's office after the assembly."

Everybody laughed. The joke was just ever-so suggestive, and it was an example of what made Mr. Smith such a cool principal: he could walk that fine line. Floyd had even heard some steam about Mr. Smith crossing that line once or twice with a graduating senior. Some people claimed he chose one every year, but Floyd doubted that very highly.

"Now, on behalf of the faculty and administration, I would like to welcome you to a new year at Tiswilwa High School. . ." Principal Smith shifted into auto-pilot here, with boiler-plate text: "Tiskilwa High School offers many opportunities to those students who want to become involved. . .Take advantage of the clubs and activities as well as the academic challenge. . .Study and learn as much as you can. . .You can become what you want and go as far as you like. The only limitations are your abilities and your determination to work and succeed. . .Familiarize yourself with your class schedule, the library, the guidance office, student affairs, the nurse's room, and the principal's office."

Some of the kids were beginning to get a little fidgety, and some just plain bored. Mr. Smith obviously recognized the need for a little levity, so he said, a bit sarcastically, "Remember that the principal is your 'p'-'r'-'i'-'n'-'c'-'i'-pal!" He looked across the stage and caught Floyd's eye; he winked and grinned.

Everybody laughed. Floyd got a big kick out of the joke: teachers had been telling them that "your principal is your pal" since they were first learning to spell. But Principal Smith really was pretty cool, and if any principal ever had a right to claim that the he was your pal, it was Principal Smith. And he had always been super-supportive of Coach McCabe, and the team, and of Floyd personally.

"The faculty and administration are here to assist each of you in reaching your full potential. Remember that high school is not a preparation for life; it is life. Good grades are important, but grades are not the only important thing about your your school experience. We are proud of Tiskilwa High School, our faculty, our students, and our record of success. Help us have another productive year. Get involved. We wish you enjoyment and success in the pursuit of your goals."


Principal Smith continued, "And now, without further ado, let's move on to what I think we've all really been waiting for. Coach McCabe, if you would do the honors, and introduce the fine group of athletes—students and athletes—who will lead us to another sensational year on the football field, the nineteen eighty seven, Tiskilwa High School, varsity Chiefs!"

The pep band broke into the school fight song and the students went gangbusters wild as the football team walked onto the stage. Floyd was drunk with it all. Coach McCabe talked the team up, singled out a few of the fellas for special praise. He even mentioned Floyd: "And as you can imagine we're very pleased to have the legendary Camden Brady's younger brother joining the varsity squad this year, and we're expecting great things from you Floyd—you are ready to break all your older brother's records, aren't you?"

Laughter and cheering. Floyd blushed over the friendly ribbing.

Just to be clear, reader, this Floyd is Floyd Brady, not Floyd Hotchkiss. The names in this novel have not been changed to protect the innocent, because nobody in this story is innocent, so there are no names to change. Consequently, there are two Floyds in the novel, and this Floyd is the second Floyd.

After Convocation, regular class schedule resumed—already third period! Halfway to lunch! Floyd had Junior English third period.

As he entered the classroom, he still felt buzzed off the pep rally, and a couple of his buddies high-fived him. Yeah, he was definitely still feeling it, so pumped, so psyched, so jacked on school/on football/on the world/on everything. He took his seat and realized he had never before in his life felt both high and content at once; it was incredible, both exhilarating and mellowing. He had never felt so good before in his whole life.

The class bell rang and Mrs. Krug entered the room from the hallway, closing the door behind her.

In the row next to him, Jason Hassler slouched in his chair, his feet rocking against the book rack beneath the chair of the desk in front of him.

Mrs. Krug stood between her students and a wall-to-wall green chalk board, on the top left side of which she had written, "Wednesday, August 26, 1987"; on the top right side was a list of vocabulary words:


Mrs. Krug said, "Okay class, today we are discussing the poetry of John Bryant. Maybe we might impose upon the star of the hour—Floyd Brady?—to recite for the class one of the poems you were assigned to read."

The students giggled. Floyd felt a little annoyed, but decided this was probably the kind of special responsibility that came with being a varsity athlete. He reluctantly agreed, and asked which poem.

"Let's have you read 'Senachwine's Grave', and let's make this a proper recitation: bring your book with you and come to the front of the room."

Floyd groaned, rolled his eyes to telegraph his reluctance, and then heaved himself out of his desk and onto his feat.

As he walked from his desk to the front of the classroom, he again began thinking about the pep rally; he felt proud to be an upperclassman, proud to be himself. He came from a pretty good family, and that counted for a lot. Sure his family wasn't perfect—his aunt Connie had a doubtful reputation, though he didn't know whether she really deserved it. He liked her; she was always kind to him and his brother, maybe because she had no children of her own. She lost her first child in a miscarriage, and never became pregnant again. Some people said she didn't even want a baby to begin with, because a child would interfere with her fast lifestyle. Some even suspected her of causing the miscarriage herself. Comments like that seemed pretty nasty to Floyd, and he would have said so if he ever actually heard anybody make one. Gossip was strange that way: you didn't have to hear it to know it; gossip had some mysterious, insidious way of making itself known. But how could that be? How could you know something you never heard or read or observed? And yet he did know: Connie had a bad reputation. Maybe she didn't deserve it, but she had it, and it was real. His grandad also had a bad reputation. But people feared his grandad, and that's a different kind of bad reputation. Bad, but in a better way. And now his brother Camden was getting a bad reputation too. Again, he thought, one hears gossip without actually hearing it. Strange that, despite all these bad reputations, his family was still regarded as a good family. It somehow didn't add up right. Floyd's mother said that in every family there was a good seed and a bad seed. Floyd guessed that he was the good seed; he had to be, since Camden was turning out to be the bad one, although that had not always been the case.

Only a year ago, Camden was at the height of his popularity and promise; now look where he was. Their mother frequently lamented that Camden had not gone to college, as she had wanted him to; she blamed her husband, said he hadn't been firm enough. She blamed her husband and she blamed "that Skinner girl"—Trish Skinner, Camden's girlfriend. "She's what's keeping him here." Their mother seemed pleased that Floyd was not going steady with anyone.

Floyd resembled Camden physically: same height; same thick, black-Irish hair; same perfectly straight nose, strong jaw, and movie-star mouth. He was less muscular than Camden, who had been the superior athlete of the two; Camden had been more popular too. That was okay. Floyd's mom told him that aunt Connie had been more popular as well, and that popularity had brought her nothing but trouble in the long run. Popularity could be dangerous, he guessed. Of the two brothers, Floyd had the better grades, better reputation, better prospects. He had already begun thinking about college. He could see his good reputation in the way Mrs. Krug watched him with satisfaction and expectation as he walked to the front of the classroom.

When he reached the front of the class, he opened his textbook, and began to read, in a deliberately awkward, wooden manner ↣ he wanted to sound jockish, like he imagined his brother would sound: "Senachwine's Grave by John Bryant.

"He sleeps beneath the spreading shade, where woods and wide savannas meet, where sloping hills around have made a quiet valley, green and sweet.

"A stream that bears his name and flows in glimmering gushes from the west, makes a light murmur as it goes beside his lonely place of rest.

"And here the silken blue-grass springs, low bending with the morning dew; the red-bird in the thicket sings, and blossoms nod of various hue.

"Oh, spare his rest! Oh, level not the trees whose boughs above it play, nor break the turf that clothes the spot, nor clog the rivulet's winding way.

"For he was of unblenching eye, honored in youth, revered in age, of princely port and bearing high, and brave, and eloquent and sage.

"A scene he loved around him lies, these blooming plains outspreading far, river, and vale, and boundless skies, with sun, and cloud, and shining star.

"He knew each pathway through the wood, each dell unwarmed by sunshine's gleam, where the brown pheasant led her brood, or wild deer came to drink the stream.

"Oft hath he gazed from yonder height, when pausing mid the chase alone, on the fair realms beneath his sight, and proudly called them all his own.

"Then leave him still this little nook, ye who have grasped his wide domain, the trees, the flowers, the grass, the brook, nor stir his slumbering dust again."

The class applauded perfunctorily. Mrs. Krug returned to the front of the room and said, "Thank you Floyd for indulging me. Now class, this poem of course has special significance because of the archaeologists who are actually excavating Senachwine's grave right here in Tiskilwa, but what do you think John Bryant was trying to tell us with this poem?" A girl eagerly raised her hand, and Mrs. Krug called upon her, "Nikki?"

"I think Bryant is talking about how it's impossible to go back to the past. We can't go back to the past, so we have to leave it alone."

Nikki's answer annoyed Floyd, who thought almost the exact opposite: that we could go back to the past, indeed we must. Wasn't Bryant's poem itself one way of doing so? The past can be lived again, even if only in one's mind. Floyd already lived a great deal in his own past, dwelling in his imagination on past successes and past happiness. He didn't really even want to leave for college: he was happy now; he could already feel the present receding into the past, and pulling him backward with it. In a year, now will be then. He could understand why his brother never left town.

Mrs. Krug said, "That's a very interesting observation Nikki. Does anyone else have an idea? Do you think he was telling us to ignore the past, or to respect it?" After a few moments of silence from the class, she called on Jason Hassler, "Jason, what do you think?"

Clearly unhappy at having been called upon, he awkwardly said, "I don't know. Respect it?"

"And why do you think he wants us to respect it?"

"Well, I guess because the same thing's gonna happen to us someday, and that's what we'd want other people to do for us?" The class giggled a little.

Without raising his hand and waiting to be called upon, another student, Eric Rusk, said, "No, I agree. It's not funny. We wouldn't want people digging up our graves and gawking at our bones. It's disrespectful. Haven't the Indians suffered enough? I hope they shut down that excavation."

A fourth student angrily responded, "Whatever. I disagree—they're building a museum to Senachwine. It's not disrespectful at all. It's a monument to him."

The discussion was careening out of control; the poem itself seeming to have dissolved completely in the solvent of the controversy surrounding the excavation of Senachwine’s grave, a controversy that had erupted only recently when the Illinois State Archaeological Survey revealed plans to build an indoor observation platform above the grave site, with Senachwine's bones in full view. Pressure from American Indian activists had steadily increased in intensity, and Mrs. Krug's English class clearly found the controversy more interesting than John Bryant's poem. She appeared relieved when she saw Floyd raise his hand, and she quickly called on him, "Floyd, what do you think?"

"I think Bryant is trying to talk about man's relationship to his surroundings: our environment can inspire us by its beauty, and we can imagine that we are masters of it, but it surrounds us; encases us like a grave. A grave is like a waiting room you can't leave for a long long time, maybe never. Senachwine's grave is all around him, even in life."

Floyd sensed his classmates' annoyance with him. He had thrown a wet blanket over an exciting discussion. Nobody really wanted to talk about the poem. He was surprised by the reaction, and he reflected that it was an example of why he would never be as popular as Camden had been. Camden would never ruin so lively a discussion the way Floyd had. Floyd was furthermore embarrassed by the earnestness of his comments, and realized that the other kids probably thought him a bit of a prig.