Brian Reynolds

Halfway down the hall to get a cup of coffee, Beckett picks a scrap of cardboard off the floor and sees the blood, a crimson splatter marring parts of Ludwig Van Beethoven. Someone’s vandalized Cantor’s ASPIRE TO EXCELLENCE bulletin board. Pictures of dead composers and musicians hang askew, their scalloped Bristol borders torn. A smear of hemoglobin sends a different message now. Empty staples jabbing at the air aspire to something new.

Sometimes Beckett spends his fifth-period prep sitting in the staff room staring into space, too tired to count again the days and years until retirement. Today, after sending his restless grade eight students off to Ms. Cantor’s music, Beckett tidied up his classroom desk and read the note he intercepted: “Cyn 2 Shane, C U @ 4!!! _ sin.” The final “n” looped up along the margin and ended in a daisy. He’d let it slide. They’re not the easiest group I’ve had, he’d thought, not the hardest either. Then he’d gone for coffee and found the trouble in the hallway.

Beckett trails red spots on cream tiles to the boys’ washroom, hoping it isn’t one of his. It’s always hard having kids this age in an elementary school; it’s even harder on a reserve. He knows how many grudges they hold against the former Royal Marine who shouts at her quiet native students from the beginning of each class until the end. Well, music’s difficult to teach, thinks Beckett, to kids so shy they rarely speak.

And there’s Shane, standing by the row of sinks, trying to stop the bleeding with a wad of paper towels. Shane is two inches taller than Beckett. Jet-black hair touches his shoulders; his headband is a woven rawhide rope. He’s failed eight twice. He’s been back in school just six days now since his last suspension—smoking in the teacher’s parking lot this time.

Behind Shane, Becket sees one stall door hanging by a single hinge. He sees Shane’s skinned knuckles. He thinks about the test this Friday that Shane is going to miss.

“She kicked me out before I even got inside her fucking room. I didn’t do nothing, sir. I didn’t say a word. Not a fucking thing. She just says, ‘Office, now!’ and points down the hall like I’m some fucking dog.”

Beckett sees the approaching tears, holds out his arms and lets Shane, the toughest kid in the school, collapse into his arms and bleed into his crisp, white shirt.

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