I have known that for a long time.
So nothing is worth doing.
I just realized that.
Pierre Anthon left school the day he realized that nothing was worth doing, because nothing meant anything anyway.
The rest of us stayed on.
And although the teachers had a job on their hands tidying up after Pierre Anthon in the classroom as well as in our heads, part of Pierre Anthon remained stuck inside of us. Maybe that was why it all turned out the way it did.
It was the second week of August. The sun was heavy, making us slow and irritable, the tarmac caught on the soles of our sneakers, and apples and pears were just ripe enough to lie snugly in the hand, the perfect missiles. We looked neither left nor right. It was the first day of school after summer vacation. The classroom smelled of detergent and weeks of emptiness, the windows reflected clear and bright, and the blackboard was yet to be blanketed with chalk dust. The desks stood two by two in rows as straight as hospital corridors, as they did only on this one day of the year. Class 7A.
We found our seats without caring to shake any familiarity into the orderliness.
There’s a time for everything. Better things, jumbled things. But not today! Mr. Eskildsen bid us welcome with the same joke he made every year.
“Take joy in this day, children,” he said. “There would be no such thing as vacation were it not for such a thing as school.”
We laughed. Not because it was funny, but because him saying it was.
It was then that Pierre Anthon stood up.
“Nothing matters,” he announced. “I’ve known that for a long time. So nothing’s worth doing. I just realized that.” Calm and collected, he bent down and put everything he had just taken out back into his bag. He nodded good-bye with a disinterested look and left the classroom without closing the door behind him.
The door smiled. It was the first time I’d seen it do that. Pierre Anthon left the door ajar like a grinning abyss that would swallow me up into the outside with him if only I let myself go. Smiling at whom? At me, at us. I looked around the class. The uncomfortable silence told me the others had felt it too.
We were supposed to amount to something.
Something was the same as someone, and even if nobody ever said so out loud, it was hardly left unspoken, either. It was just in the air, or in the time, or in the fence surrounding the school, or in our pillows, or in the soft toys that after having served us so loyally had now been unjustly discarded and left to gather dust in attics or basements.
I hadn’t known. Pierre Anthon’s smiling door told me. I still didn’t know with my mind, but all the same I knew. All of a sudden I was scared. Scared of Pierre Anthon.
Scared, more scared, most scared.
We lived in Tæring, an outpost to a fair-size provincial town. Not swank, but almost. We’d often be reminded of the fact. Nobody ever said so out loud, yet it was hardly left unspoken, either. Neat, yellow-washed brick homes and red bungalows with gardens running all the way round, new gray-brown rows with gardens out front, and then the apartment houses, home to those we never played with. There were some old timber-framed cottages, too, and farms that were no longer farms, the land developed into town, and a few rather more imposing whitewashed residences for those who were more almost-swank than the rest of us.
Tæring School was situated on the corner of two streets. All of us except Elise lived down the one called Tæringvej. Sometimes Elise would go the long way around just to walk to school with the rest of us. At least until Pierre Anthon left.
Excerpted from Nothing by Janne Teller. Copyright © 2010 by Janne Teller. Excerpted by permission of Atheneum Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from 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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