The Soapbox: A Way Out 2
Today Is The Day
Clarence has led an interesting life. Born in the back of the rusted-out body of an abandoned bus deep in the forest, his mother Karlene and his father Beuford always did their best to take care of him. Karlene was a full-time stripper and juggler, able to also work a part-time labor job while balancing a child and a crazy husband with the dancing gig. Beuford, well Beuford liked guns, he went to a shooting range every day since the day he and Karlene were wed, refusing to let the birth of his child add any hindrance to his chosen lifestyle. In fact, Beauf’ even brought young Clarence along to Mueller Bane’s Shootin’ Range and taught him how to shoot at a very early age. The shooting range became Clarence’s second home by the time he was seven; one day he brought a revolver to show and tell at school and nearly got himself expelled. The teachers and school board were none too thrilled, but the power couple that is Clarence’s parents managed to convince the school to remove the stick from its ass.
Clarence had always been a bit of a social outcast growing up, never making friends on the playground at school. This may or may not be due from the multiple times he tried to jump the fence and escape into the woods, but kids will be kids. He had a few friends freshman year, the few dwindling to a couple in sophomore year and extinguishing into zero during junior year. He tried joining clubs, but during the meetings he would just be stuck alone anyway, he didn’t know how to talk to humans properly and nobody ever started a conversation with him. Many a rumor floated around the school that Clarence was crazy and that his parents make him touch animals inappropriately, which obviously could not be farther from the truth. Every day he’d walk the halls of his school alone, rumors abound, fear thick in the air, conversations everywhere, but Clar’ had not a word to speak. His grades were always good because his mother was diligent about Clarence’s schooling; homework was checked every day, anything below a B was absolutely unacceptable and rewarded with a pistol-whipping to the face (it’s a good thing he never got anything below a B) and his projects were done the day they were assigned, you feel me? Clarence excelled for it, but he never had any time left over to go out and be social or take up a sport or a hobby. Other than shooting, anyway.
Over the course of high school, Clarence started going to the range more often. He was better with a pistol than the local police force, slicker with a shotgun than a spazzy Southern winch named Hester, and he even took up a bit of archery. During sophomore year, he saved up a bunch of money selling candy for quarters at school and he bought himself his very own handgun, complete with enough targets to build a private firing range in the woods near his house. And you know what? He did just that.
Shooting at the gun range was fun for Clarence, but shooting in the woods was different. There was so much more freedom; he could run and gun, do slides and flips, literally anything he wanted to try all complete with nobody for him to accidentally shoot. When his parents found out, his father was cool with it, but his mother was not. She tried taking his gun away, but he wouldn’t let her. They fought for months until they finally came to an agreement – Clarence would take not one, but four comprehensive gun safety classes, or else the gun would vanish in a puff of smoke. Needless to say, our Clarence complied, becoming the state’s teenage expert on weapon handling and safety by May of his junior year.
Today it’s one year later, and Clarence is sitting in solitude at the middle section of a table otherwise packed with students inside a cafeteria reeking of the smell of insecurity, obedience, and high demands. He folds his arms on the table and nests his head, a smile slowly creeping across his face; today is the day.
Clarence had been planning his little school project for quite some time now. He had rehearsed it countless times by himself in the woods, putting time into thinking of what he was going to say, how the others would respond. If they would run or try to fight him. If he would make it out alive. He practiced speeches on speeches, delivering his manifesto to the trees and shrubs until he had it memorized down to the words he needed to emphasize to really get the effect he’s going for. He even taught himself how to fake cry. Once the routine was established, he had to pick a day… one in the middle of the week, not to close to a holiday weekend. He wanted lots of his peers to be there for him, as many witnesses to his project as possible, and why shouldn’t he? They were never there for him before. Nobody was.
So on that conveniently rainy morning, sandwiched beneath a sweatshirt and a lunch bag stuffed in his backpack, was the first handgun Clarence had ever owned. He named it Laj-Fa, an acronym for liberty and justice for all.
When he got on the bus that morning, Clarence couldn’t help but smile. He looked around at everyone, made eye contact, even waved at someone; all the other students were incredibly confused. Nobody paid much attention to him in the past, so he decided to switch up his look today; instead of putting his backpack in his locker, Clar’ carried it with him through the school. Just like he thought, nobody seemed to notice, the teachers didn’t even care. His peers were whispering and pointing at him and conversations got quiet when he walked by, but that’s normal. His first couple of classes went well, none of his teachers called on him and no homework got assigned.
“Happy Wednesday,” squealed the teachers as the students left the classrooms at the tone of the bell. Clarence is going to have a very happy Wednesday indeed.
Finally, lunch time. With a block of time worth forty minutes to feed a quarter of the school, Clarence has to wait until five minutes of the bell before he can make his stand. The last kid got his lunch after the thirty-minute mark, leaving everyone to be deep in food or pointless conversation with their friends. Slowly Clarence raises his head up and pulls the hood of his black sweatshirt over his head. Placing his backpack under the table, he does a quick check of his surroundings. No lunch attendants are near him; the closest one is halfway across the lunchroom and the other one is taking part in a semi-pro vending machine wrestling match. With Laj-Fa tucked under his sweatshirt, Clarence stands up on the bench and climbs onto the table.
Nobody notices at first, not even the lunch attendants. Clarence takes a sweeping look around the cafetorium, really taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of the moment. Etching it into his brain.
Drawing in a deep breath, he pulls Laj-Fa out and raises her into the air. He calls out, “Hey,” in a quiet voice, then once more louder. Still nobody hears, nobody pays him any attention; so, he screams. The lunchroom goes quiet for a moment, everyone slowly coming to grips with the heavy gravity of their current situation. Somebody screams, another girl starts crying. A dude in the back yells out, “I fucking called it! Troy, you owe me fifty bucks!”
At first, Clarence hangs his head low and stands there, faux sobbing to himself. Nobody knows what to do, not even the teachers. Hell, one of them ran out the back door, got in her car, and drove the fuck out of Dodge. The tension thickens threefold when Clarence’s sobbing turns into laughter, further evolving into a maniacal guffaw.
“Hello everyone!” he screams out, waving his piece around in the air. “I don’t know if you know me, but I’m Clarence.”
The audience remains in a stunned silence. Clar’s smile widens.
“I didn’t think so; allow me to introduce myself! I’m the kid that got left behind, I’m that one kid who nobody knows but everyone seems to know everything about, the butt of every one of you perfect humans’ stupid jokes. I’m weird, I’m different, I’m crazy! Well you know what I think? I think you’re all assholes, I think you all use each other to make yourselves feel good about yourselves, because inside you all secretly hate each other! And yourselves!”
Clarence is shouting now, droplets of saliva escaping his mouth with each persistent pronunciation.
“And the worst part, you all have me involved in your bullshit! You can’t just leave me alone, you refuse to acknowledge me or talk to me so you make shit up about me just so you can have a laugh! I’m a fucking human being!”
Clarence’s eyes start welling up with tears, real tears. He didn’t think it would feel this cathartic. Some students who overheard the commotion from outside of the lunchroom closed the doors and barricaded them shut, trapping all the lunch kids in the arena with that weird quiet kid who brought another gun to school.
“I’m a human and I deserve respect! You think I’m weird, you all think I’m crazy? Well I’m about to show you how crazy I really am!”
Clarence cocks his pistol and points it directly at the head of the approaching elderly lunch woman. She stops in her tracks, drops the ladle she was planning to use as a deadly weapon, and falls to her knees. “Lo siento,” she pleads, her begging falling unto deaf ears because Clarence took French instead of Spanish. His eyes wide and his teeth shining in a grin, Clarence walks down to her and presses the barrel against the lunch aide’s head. She closes her eyes.
click click click
“Lady open your eyes, you’re still alive.”
Clarence walks back up onto the table. He holds his favorite gun up and ejects her magazine, cocking the weapon again to show everyone that it is, and was, unloaded. He then begins to disassemble the gun, metal bits and pieces tinking against the tabletop before rolling and falling to the linoleum floor. When he’s all finished, Clarence drops the last pieces and smacks his hands together a few times, removing the metaphorical dust.
Looking out at his audience, everybody stunned and still in shock, Clarence says in a very calm voice, “If what you said about me was true, and I really was this weird, crazy dude who lives out in the woods, some of you would be dead today. Myself included. And it would be everybody’s fault, yours and mine equally, not that fault would really matter in a situation like this. Assholes.”
Clarence steps down from the table, grabs his backpack, and walks out of the cafeteria. His next class starts soon and he wants to at least show up before he’s called down to the principal’s office. He knows he’s going to be punished for this, but it was a lesson everyone needed to learn, even Clarence himself. After all, how severely could he be punished for not killing anybody?
It’s kind of dark in The Soapbox. Is that… a light? A way out?