Yesterday, while I was nibbling on a piece of cafeteria-style sausage pizza in the lunch room, I noticed one of our new eighth-graders as she stood in line. She was oblivious to the squeals and smells around her, the jostling for a spot two inches closer to the food, and the inane banter which inevitably rises from young humans forced to be still for more than a minute. Her eyes and all her being were absorbed in a book, and she seemed pushed along the queue, oblivious, alone with her adventure. It took me back...
...to a day when I was that girl in the line, holding my book, hardly daring to breathe, not eating even after I had set my tray on the table, because the danger was profound and nothing else mattered. The author was Francis Clifford and the book All Men are Lonely Now. My hero was a double agent, undeserving of any mercy, allied to the wrong side and worthy of scorn, fear, and retribution...and yet...I couldn't stand to see him discovered. For although I knew exactly what the author had done--made me love his main character before he showed me that fatal flaw--and although I resented him for having done that to me, an innocent reader only escaping from the overwhelming crush of high school triviality, I still couldn't help but pity the agent. He was a gentleman; he had a girl, and he treated her like any man treats his adoring beloved. Surely for her sake, he would defect. He would walk into that building and confess his double allegiance, and life would truly begin for the two of them. They would move to Tripoli or Managua and start a simple life of bliss. But it wasn't going that way. They were going to find him out. Right there, while I postponed eating the creamed peas and fish sticks. They were finding him out. It was like a blow to the stomach. I was shaking and I wanted to run for him, faster, over the fence....escape! escape! you beloved rat!
But I knew the guns were waiting, and I feared that his own beloved had set them on him. She too, it seemed, was an agent-- his nemesis--and all her love was a sacrifice to a just and righteous cause. If he discovered that, they wouldn't need a gun to silence him. Poor man. Poor, miserable, wrong-sided, creature.
I couldn't bear it. He needed an out. I gave it to him.
Slamming the book, I ate my cold peas in silence, and he turned around. He fought his way through the darkness, back to the dock, onto the ship to safety. He had escaped. And I, well I had been forced back into the light world of sophomore silliness, but I bore my punishment with a smile, convinced that I done the right thing in freeing a villain before the blind jaws of justice had snapped upon him.
That was thirty-five years ago. I own the book. It sits quietly on my bookshelf...still daring me to finish it.
This is an entry in Scribbit's Write-Away.