From that point on Arthur Lomb's reddish hair and hunched shoulders were easy to spot, though he and Dylan had different homerooms, and schedules which kept them from overlapping anywhere except the schoolyard at lunch hour. Arthur Lomb dressed in conspicuous striped polo shirts and wore soft brown shoes. His pants were often highwaters. Dylan once heard a couple of black girls serenading Arthur Lomb with a couplet he hadn't himself elicited since fourth grade, snapping their fingers and harmonizing high and low like a doo-wop group: The flood is over, the land is dry, so why do you wear your pants so high?
Arthur Lomb carried an enormous and bright blue backpack, an additional blight. All his schoolbooks must be inside, or maybe a couple of stone tablets. The bag itself would have tugged Arthur Lomb to the ground if he'd stood up straight. As it was the bag glowed as a target, begged to be jerked downward to crumple Arthur Lomb to the corridor floor to enact his shortness-of-breath routine. Dylan had seen it done five times already before he and Arthur Lomb ever spoke. Dylan had even heard kids chanting the song at Arthur Lomb as they slapped at his reddened neck or the top of his head while he squirmed on the floor. Play that fucking music, white boy! Stretching the last two words to a groaning, derisive, Bugs--Bunnyesque whyyyyyyyboy!
There were just three other white kids in the school, all girls, with their own girl factors to work out. One shared Dylan's homeroom, an Italian girl, black-haired and sullen and tiny, dwarfed by the girls all around them who exploded with hormonal authority. The black and Puerto Rican girls had risen to some other place where they were rightly furious at anything in view, jostling at one another and at the teachers in a rage of sex. However, their very size offered an approach: it was feasible to pass unseen below. Homeroom was a place for honing silence in a theater of noise and so the Italian girl and Dylan never spoke. As for Arthur Lomb, Dylan supposed he and the other boy had been kept apart intentionally by some unseen pitying intelligence, to avoid making both more conspicuous in their resemblance. This was a policy Dylan endorsed heartily, whether it existed outside of his own brain or not. Even at that remove, Arthur Lomb bore the mingled stink of Dylan's oppression mixed with his own, so that it was hard to tell where one began and the other left off. Dylan wasn't in any hurry to get closer. Really, he wanted no part of Arthur Lomb.
It was the library where they finally spoke. Dylan and Arthur Lomb's two homerooms had been deposited there together for a period, the school librarian covering some unexplained absence of teachers for an afternoon, a blip in the routine nobody cared about anyway. Most kids sent to the library never arrived there, ended up outside the building instead, taking the word as a euphemism for class dismissed. So the I.S. 293 library was drab but peaceful, an eddy of calm. Below a poster advertising A Hero Ain't Nothin' But a Sandwich, a book the library didn't actually offer, Dylan placed himself against a wall and flipped open issue number two of the Marvel Comics adaptation of Logan's Run. As the period ticked away glacially, Arthur Lomb buzzed him twice, squinting to see the title of the comic, then pursing lips in false concentration as he mimed browsing the half-empty shelves nearby, before stepping close enough for Dylan to hear him speak in an angry, clenched whisper.
"That guy George Perez can't draw Farrah Fawcett to save his life."
This was a startling allusion to several bodies of knowledge simultaneously. Dylan could only glare, his curiosity mingled with the certainty that he and Arthur Lomb were more objectionable, more unpardonable, together than apart. Up close Arthur Lomb had a blinky agitated quality to his features which made Dylan himself want to knock him down. His face seemed to reach for something, his features like a grasping hand. Dylan wondered if there might be a pair of glasses tucked in the background somewhere, perhaps in a side pocket of the monumental blue backpack.
Excerpted from The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem Copyright© 2003 by Jonathan Lethem. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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