A Black Book

by Callum B. Downes

Who knew thirteen years of private school education tore so easily. It was as if he’d rehearsed the dramatic ripping motion in the mirror weeks before the ceremony, as the school emblem was pulled into two perfect halves and his name split into Francis and Jacobsen. He scrunched the portioned graduation certificate into a ball, launched it toward the headmaster’s horrified face, yanked the microphone from the whimpering school captain and battled the squealing feedback to yell, ‘I hate you all and I wish you were dead!’

Fellow pupils, teachers, parents and honourable guests, gasped a collective breath, before cupping the ears of their neighbours and leaning their bodies into rumour fuelled whispers. The mumbling and sniggering grew into an almighty crescendo that was almost enough to drown out the headmaster’s desperate plea to ‘calm down, please!’

Meanwhile, Francis had stormed off stage, school councillor in pursuit, and slammed through the back doors of the auditorium after knocking the burly gym teacher, Mr Sorensen, flat out onto the floor with palpable force. ‘Now please, could everybody calm down! There are still many students awaiting their awards!’ bellowed the headmaster, clutching at his collar and wiping his brow. His cracking voice now surfaced above the persistent mumbling. ‘I expect our wonderful, Miss Piper, will sort this mess out.’

Miss Madison Piper was well acquainted with Francis Jacobsen and had been dealing with his mess since the seventh grade. His first visit began in seemingly endless tears, brought about by the ridicule he suffered following a quick lunchtime shower in the boys change rooms, when his clothes were stolen and his XXL underwear displayed above the main quad alongside the Australian flag. This initial session ended with playful laughter and broad smiles, sealing the pair’s relationship for the duration of Francis’ school career. Like many pubescent boys before him, it seemed Francis had enjoyed the company of Miss Piper, whose gentle embrace usually invited a prolonged glimpse down her flowing blouse unto her soft breasts.

But one afternoon signalled the demise of their playful relationship, and instead, marked the beginning of something much darker. From the moment Miss Piper called Francis into her office on the last day of grade twelve, until the graduation ceremony months later, she couldn’t mange to shake the uneasiness that immediately befell her. There was something more determined in his gait, more sinister in his tone. It was a certain edginess she’d never expected of him and her thoughts grappled to understand it. He assumed his usual seat. Gaze fixated on the floor, he began to grumble, recounting the days events as per routine. His breathing took on an abrasive quality and his voice grew hoarse, as he reached the climax of his report. ‘I told him the truth about my Dad. How he’s actually gay and everything. And he just laughed in my face. Laughed and shook his head.’ His fists clenched tightly, he was now speaking through the grinding of his teeth. ‘He promised he wouldn’t tell anyone. It’s our little secret, friend. That’s what he told me!’ His voice was a volcano, spit erupting through grinding teeth. ‘Friend? Who is he kidding? He’s a liar. He told everyone in the entire school. He’s meant to be a Christian, but he’s just like the rest of them. A lying, manipulative little shit!’ He exploded violently out of his chair, forcing a black notebook out from his pocket and onto the floor. A sudden varnish of alarm coated his expression, as he dropped to his knees, gathered the little notebook and stood up straight as a plank, all in the time it took Miss Piper to stand out of nervous reflex.

‘Okay, Francis,’ she whispered with self-deceiving calmness, as she motioned forward with outstretched arms. ‘Take a deep breath and…’

‘Don’t touch me!’ He screamed, before shuffling back and almost falling over his chair. A lengthy silence ensued, as he regained his posture and Miss White considered her options. ‘I need to tell you something Maddy.’ The fear in his voice hung expectantly in the air.

‘Go on Francis.’

‘I really trusted him, you know? I thought so highly of him’. Familiar tears formed like crystals beneath his dangerous eyes.

‘I know Francis, but you don’t…’

‘No, you don’t know,’ he interrupted. ‘You don’t know that I love him!’ With a sudden burst of momentous strength, he shoved past Miss Piper and out the door into a predictably challenging future, the little black notebook, protruding from his anxious grip.

Yet, breaking free from shackles of presumptuous doubt, his adult years were not so bleak. Behind an impregnable wall of cultural dissonance, he mended the strings of his fickle heart, finding meaning in the shadow cast. Within the dim lit alleys and neglected back streets of moral society, he became a man true to his fibres, to the seams of his spirit. He melted into those likeminded, vibrant with the rush of first love. Like a seasons bloom, he sprung forth from a dull winter’s bud to glorious spring flora. No longer a prisoner to the masters of ignorant narrow-mindedness.

And on the day after his honeymoon, the brimming heart of Francis Jacobsen beat out of its chest. For he stood motionless before the letterbox, engrossed by an unlikely correspondence. Unfamiliar tears gushed beneath gracious eyes. Forever altered by the sincere message penned.

Dear Francis,

Congratulations on your big day. I expect it was as boisterous and flamboyant as your former days in school. Best wishes for your future endeavours with Brandon by your side. I pray God blesses your marriage immensely.

More importantly, I wish to offer you an apology. I am profoundly sorry for making your life miserable and I’ll always regret breaking our promise about your Dad’s secret. If possible I’d like to grab a drink together sometime and reminisce over the good ol’ days in the schoolyard.

Yours sincerely,

Patrick.

As the sun’s departure set the sky aflame in lofty blotches of impure light, he sat upon his porch and flicked through dog-eared pages. He squinted toward an orderly flock, sailing silently across the horizon, blocking the sting of the sun’s glare momentarily. He pondered the brave decision he presently faced, and as the last trailing Ibis began to keel over the horizon he drew a line through a painful name. With that he breathed easy and soared upon their fading wings of freedom. He closed the black book which bore an etched title.

People who must die.

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