"Alfred," he said. "Look around you. Look at the movers and shakers of this world. Do you think they got to be where they are by lying around all day reading books and listening to rap music?"
"I don't know how they got to be where they are," I said. "So I guess they could have."
He didn't like my answer, so he sent me to see the school psychologist, Dr. Francine Peddicott. She was very old and had a very long, sharp nose, and her office smelled like vanilla. Dr. Peddicott liked to ask questions. In fact, I can't remember anything she said that wasn't a question besides "Hello, Alfred," and "Goodbye, Alfred."
"Do you miss your mother?" she asked on my first visit, after asking me if I wanted to sit or lie on the sofa. I chose to sit.
"Sure. She was my mom."
"What do you miss most about her?"
"She was a great cook."
"Really? You miss her cooking the most?"
"Well, I don't know. You asked what I missed most and that's the first thing that popped into my head. Maybe because it's almost dinnertime. Also, Uncle Farrell can't cook. I mean, he cooks, but what he cooks I wouldn't feed to a starving dog. Mostly we have frozen dinners and stuff out of a can."
She scribbled for a minute in her little notebook.
"But your mother she was a good cook?"
"She was a great cook."
She sighed heavily. Maybe I wasn't giving the kind of answers she was looking for. "Do you hate her sometimes?"
"Hate her for what?"
"Do you hate your mother for dying?"
"Oh, jeez, that wasn't her fault."
"But you get mad at her sometimes, right? For leaving you?"
"I get mad at the cancer for killing her. I get mad at the doctors and . . . you know, how it's been around for centuries and we still can't get rid of it. Cancer, I mean. And I think, what if we put all the money we spend on these wasteful government projects and stuff like that toward cancer research. You know, stuff like that."
"What about your father?"
"What about him?"
"Do you hate him?"
"I don't even know him."
"Do you hate him for leaving you and your mom?"
She was making me feel freaky, like she was trying to get me to hate my father, a guy I didn't even know, and even like she was trying to get me to hate my dead mother.
"I guess so, but I don't know all the facts," I said.
"Your mother didn't tell you?"
"She just said he couldn't commit."
"And how does that make you feel?"
"Like he didn't want a kid."
"Like he didn't wantwho?"
"Me. Me, I guess. Of course, me."
I wondered what the next thing I was supposed to hate was.
"How do you like school?"
"I hate it."
"I don't know anyone."
"You don't have any friends?"
"They call me Frankenstein."
"Kids at school. You know, because of my size. My big head."
"What about girls?" she asked.
"Girls calling me Frankenstein?"
"Do you have a girlfriend?"
Well, there was this one girlher name was Amy Pouchard, and she sat two seats over from me in math. She had long blond hair and very dark eyes. One day during my first week, I thought she might have smiled at me. She could have been smiling at the guy on my left, or even not smiling at all, and I just projected a smile onto a non-smiling face.
"No. No girlfriends," I said.
Uncle Farrell talked to Dr. Peddicott for a long time afterwards. He told me she was referring me to a psychiatrist who could prescribe some anti-depressants because Dr. Peddicott believed I was severely depressed and recommended I get involved with something other than TV and music, in addition to seeing a shrink and taking anti-crazy drugs. Uncle Farrell's idea was football, which wasn't too surprising given my size, but football was the last thing I wanted to do.
© Rick Yancey 2005. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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