White Whale Review: An Online Literary Magazine Untitled Document
WHITE WHALE REVIEW
Kevin Wilder
Kevin Wilder is a writer in Birmingham, Alabama, and coauthor of the serialized young adult blog-novel Some New Trend.

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nolan

Kevin Wilder

 

It was the first day of the school year, and like everyone else I was trying to make the best of it. Life as a junior at Palmetto Ridge High seemed about the same—which is to say, not terribly good. In the hallway behind the Science Lab, Hal Shultes uncrinkled his class schedule and handed it over.

I squinted. “Not a single class together?”

“S’truth, Ringo,” he said. “Not even P.E.” Hal had suggested we start calling each other by the names of Beatles as a temporary replacement for "dude." Like most of his ideas, it hadn’t really caught on.

I folded his schedule into a football and flicked it down the hallway. It floated past lockers, silk palm trees and human faces, and landed in a talking girl cluster comprised mainly of Pantherettes. Hal didn’t bother fetching his football-schedule. Instead, he asked if I’d enjoyed my final week of “holiday” and inquired about my dinner plans.

“Sorry,” I said. “No bangers and mash tonight.” After school they were re-testing potential Honor’s students. If I got lucky, I could find myself borrowing a pencil from Annabella Kolosky in Pre-Calc II. She’d just moved here this summer. Her hair was significantly long, and she liked to tie it back in this super-angelic ponytail.

“Stop looking at me weird,” I told Hal fake-maliciously. “Cricket will have to wait.”

We hadn’t really planned on playing cricket. These jokes were at Hal’s expense. Hal was raised in northern Yorkshire, which is somewhere in England. I’ll admit, it’s sort of weird when he looks at me all jolly-eyed and calls me one of his “favourite blokes.” When he punches me too hard, he says, “I’m just takin’ the piss outta ya, mate.” Nearly everybody acts as if Hal were born in a castle. It’s not like the King’s English is all that different from the real version.

Hal checked my face for vitals and asked how I felt. It sounded sympathetic coming from him. I have this problem, where I can never sleep that well, mainly because of these hallucinatory dreams


I have. I’ll wake up several times an hour clutching my pillow. It’s entirely unfair. But then again, so is coming into the world with bad teeth and a white man’s afro.

I proceeded to tell Hal about the previous night, about how I witnessed Annabella’s ponytail swinging below my ceiling fan. Before long my covers fell to the carpet and I was sent hovering above the mattress. Several minutes later I dematerialized, and drifted above the roof shingles where every species of bird pecked my gut as I traveled across all of central Florida.

“Crikey,” Hal said. “Sounds flippin’ miserable.”

I told him he didn’t know the beginning of it.

 

In Room 312 I stared at my tuba before lifting it. It felt comforting, wrapping around me snake-like, no longer weighing 37% of my own body mass. I blew into it and thought, Not bad for not practicing since June.

Our twelve thousand year-old instructor Mr. Hallup led us through scales and arpeggios—cake

then explained how he’d taken it on himself to replace the PRH Fight Song with “something more contemporary.” He bragged over penning the song on a foldout chair by the beach and became giddy at the mere thought of having us consecrate it.

“What an ass,” mumbled Donnie Sharp, the kid to my right. “Sounds like a lousy way to spend your vacation.”

Before anyone could give Mr. Hallup’s song deserved or underserved justice, Annabella Kolosky walked in. I almost dropped my tuba and peed myself, for no other reason than this being Annabella Kolosky. What the hell was she doing in Room 312? Maybe she’d heard my life was disintegrating, and out of kindness had decided to come for backup. As it turns out, she’d merely come to present an urgent doctor’s note to Marvin Longinotti, the third chair trumpet.

Like most every female at Palmetto Ridge High, Annabella had joined this recently instituted Cowperson Revival thing. All girls fluctuating from moderate to extreme levels of hotness had rediscovered their mothers’ boots and snap-button


shirts. This was strange, since most of them hadn’t ever stepped through a cow patty or bundled a pile of hay and probably weren’t planning on doing so anytime soon, either. Hal and I often like to take notes on the things people are wearing as a way of understanding the world around us. Dresses over jeans, we write in our notebooks. Giant sunglasses. Someday we’ll make sense of it all.

Even wearing the boots, Annabella remained infinitely less annoying than her peers. She didn’t seem too impatient while Marvin Longinotti shoved assignments and mechanical pencils into his oversized backpack. I did, however, wonder why her cheeks looked so red. Maybe she’d gotten flustered, not knowing where the band room was.

Seeing Annabella like that made me wonder if her life could be difficult like mine. I wanted to run after her in the hall. Perhaps I could offer up some consolation, or a hug. “Everything’ll be fine,” I would’ve told her, even though nothing will ever, ever be fine. She’d want to know how a person with bad teeth and a white man’s afro felt entitled to make such claims.

When Annabella left Room 312 I added catch flu like Marvin to my day planner and jotted down dangly yellow earrings in my notebook, then filed them both away.

 

Hal Shultes frequently reminds me, along with anyone else in the room, that I’m a “bloody orthodontist’s nightmare.” I try not to get offended. Hal calls everything bloody, regardless if anyone’s getting beaten to a pulp.

But this statement is only partially correct. Truthfully, I’ve been no less than three orthodontists’ nightmares. It happens like this: my lips press into my tuba mouthpiece, my lungs fill with air, and my braces lacerate my inner-mouth, until pretty soon I lose focus on what’s being played. I’m left unable to focus on little else but the taste of blood in my mouth, along with nickel titanium, bubblegum, peanut butter, etc.

Where do people find confidence? I’ll ask God sometimes. And, Will making sense of a difficult adolescence take an entire adulthood?


Whenever my dad mentions naming me after his favorite baseball pitcher, I always think he probably set his hopes a little high. Balls in general make me nervous. As do Frisbees, since they’re usually aimed at my head. I got stuck with the tuba instead. It’s what I’m good at, unfortunate as that may be.

 

Once again, Hal stood behind the science lab, carrying two paperbacks under his arm: Dante’s Inferno and a flimsy artifact titled Millions of Women Are Waiting to Meet You.

“Put that shit away,” I told Hal delicately as possible. “There’s girls around.”

Did I mention Hal’s even less experienced with females than me? Mostly because he tries using his accent to lure in the older ones. Sometimes, when his sister’s friends show up at his house after dumping some college boyfriend, he’ll start acting cocky and pitch words of wisdom from one of his made-up “foggy London town” excursions. I wonder whom he’s trying to fool, since these “hens” he “fancies” are like three years older.

“We should find a new meeting place,” Hal said, holding his nose. “It smells like bloody photosynthesis out here.”

I told him this hardly made sense, and that maybe he should stick around to see if some Science drifted out to filter into his substandard brain. Our meeting place would remain. After all, there aren’t too many athlete-free zones in the hallways of PRH.

When Hal asked about my nightmares, I started to ease up. He really did want to help me get a handle on the thing. I told him about a dream I’d had the day before, on my long bus ride home. Rain always makes me sleepy, and I eventually surrendered to it. I tried yelling for help as my body plummeted through the seat, but as I hit the pavement my organs turned to liquid until I drifted down the gutters in the company of candy wrappers and cigarette butts. I explained to Hal how it felt to swirl in a sewage whirlpool but decided to leave out the part where Annabella lifted me to safety by undoing her ponytail and braiding it into a rope, Rapunzel-style.


His expression told me he knew she was all over it. He said, “I think what you should do is just lay one on her.”

“Lay what on her?” I asked, digging through his backpack’s zip-flap for bubblegum.

“A kiss, mate. And if she fancies that, go straight for the knickers.”

“Sounds like rape,” I admitted. “You expect that sorta thing to work?”

Hal tilted his head to one side. “I dunno how it works in the States, Preston. But I seriously doubt her dad will try your arse for coppin’ a feel.”

I looked at Hal with confusion. “Preston?” He took out his air-piano, which told me he meant Billy. Since it hadn’t taken long to run out of mop tops, he’d naturally progressed to Pete Best, George Martin, Beatles’ wives—and in this moment of cutting-edge artistry, the temporary fifth Beatle.

"Wait a minute,” Hal added. “I was havin’ a laugh. You don’t really plan on groping Anna Bee ... do you?”

I winked insinuatingly and told him I wasn’t telling. This was ludicrous, of course.

“You suppose she’ll let you go the whole eight yards?”

“In the Americas,” I explained, “the number of yards in the expression is nine.”

Hal tried stuffing his dating manual in my backpack, but I snatched Dante from him instead.

“Flippin’ hell,” he said. “I’ll need that for next week’s test.”

I told Hal not to worry, that I was pretty satisfactory when it came to returning things.

He said “Aye,” and then twisted my nipple before running off to first period.

 

For the rest of the week it became increasingly apparent: my sole coping mechanism for classroom monotony would come in extra handy this year. I kept taking out another notebook labeled For Artistic Purposes Only. Offensive heavy metal


stickers had been adhered to the cover, because everyone has to grow up sometime. Afternoons were spent sketching out blueprints for airliner jets and custom guitars. Before long, I was on to ponytails.

Annabella’s body parts were everywhere. In Homeroom one morning, The Morning Show host interviewed her on how it felt being Palmetto Ridge’s newest Pantherette. “I know everyone’s disappointed Kelly Bastille moved away,” she said, touching her knees at the hem of her skirt. “But I’ll do my best to fill her shoes.”

In what might be the biggest mismatch of losers and beautiful people ever, school officials had made it acceptable for Pantherettes to share a field with the Band Brigade. The entire marching season they’d be kicking their legs and shaking their asses in half-sexy arrangements, as if the music were capable of generating that kind of enthusiasm. I checked the Formation Chart on the door for verification, and saw it was really happening: Annabella Kolosky, for the time being at least, would be standing next to me, Nolan Bates.

This made me equal parts ecstatic and suicidal. I really couldn’t blame Hal for taking the piss out of me. Though let’s face it, I wasn’t the worst option Palmetto Ridge had to offer. In Drama I pretended to survey people with questions like, If Annabella were forced into procreating with me or Little Zachary Ballard the male flautist, who d’ya think she’d pick?

Of course, no one in the room was hearing these thoughts. They were busy texting their significant others over which of the weekend’s R-rated cinematic features were worth seeking. Since Ms. Hallsworth has a reputation for near-sightedness, I figured Drama was a safe place to get a little rest. While Macbeth slaughtered the King of Scotland on the antiquated Magnavox screen, I hid behind Lorraine Rheinschmidt’s frizzy brunette curls and drifted to another world. Annabella’s ponytail helped carry me there.

 

One Tuesday afternoon I stood midfield at practice, trying not to lick the sides of my mouth.


The mosquitoes were especially vicious, and I kept swatting my arms in agitation. At one point Annabella Kolosky turned around to say the word “Cute.” I looked behind to see whom she might be referring to, and then remembered how the Cowperson Revivalists used the "cute" adjective when describing clothing articles they found admirable. But when Annabella said the word “cute” it sounded ... cuter.

“Huh?”

“Your t-shirt, dummy,” she said, all giggles. “What’s it mean?”

I looked down at my raggedy cotton garment, faded with several holes. In the center was a cartoon drawing of a chef wearing a toque. Beside his mouth a speech bubble read “I AM A CHEF.”

“I bought it in Arizona,” I explained, as if this might be useful information.

She nodded and did an about-face, kicking her leg toward the sky some more.

 

Before our third practice drew to a close, the Tuba Alliance had gotten reprimanded twice. Mr. Hallup made us repeat the first several bars of “We Are The Champions” until we’d gotten them near perfect, all for laughing at Jordan “The Fridge” Davies’s head. Steam was accumulating above it, brought on by sweat and the evening breeze.

“What does Hallup expect?” said Donnie Sharp, spitting into the grass. “It’s an oddly compelling sight!”

Wind instruments and Pantherettes alike rolled their eyes, shooting us dirty looks. They wanted to go home, having better things to do, like homework and their boyfriends.

At precisely 9:37 PM Annabella Kolosky dropped her glittery baton. I did a balancing act with my tuba and squatted for it, then gave the baton a quick sniff before handing it over. “You might need this,” I said, hoping another conversation might materialize.

She grinned and said, “Thanks, Nolan.”

I smiled too. She’d remembered my name.

 


On the first night of PRH football, no one seemed too enthusiastic about the impending sports contest. The Panthers were supposed to annihilate the Eagles. Or maybe it was the other way around—none of us were exactly sure. Room 312’s affiliates were more intrigued with Jordan “The Fridge” Davies, who’d begun pouring water into someone’s euphonium. The liquid would shoot out the bell whenever it was picked up and played, or so he figured.

In my loudest tough-guy voice, I confronted the spectators. “You are all truly pathetic,” I said, because band people can say this type of thing to other band people.

Then Melody Whitworth, perhaps as a way of thanking me, walked over to play me a song on her clarinet, allegedly “Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac. I’ve always found it funny that Melody’s parents named her Melody since nothing she plays sounds all that gratifying. But I like Melody okay, so out of politeness I stuck around and watched. I wondered if Annabella might notice this other girl not finding me completely repulsive.

So what if she plays in the motherfuckingmarchingband?

Annabella couldn’t have been less interested in our cacophonous exchange. She sat cross-legged in the corner, painting a fellow Pantherette’s face with makeup. When she finished her masterpiece, it thanked her and jumped up to find the others. Annabella sighed. She leaned against the string cabinets, clutching a textbook to her chest.

I decided to leave Melody mid-song. All dreaming aside, I needed to make some headway with my schoolboy crush. I mean, she had seemed pretty impressed by my t-shirt. Could this have been some sort of code that meant she found me abstractly handsome, mysterious or intriguing? Completely repulsing her would be cool in its way too, though certainly not as favorable as her finding me handsome, mysterious or intriguing.

“Where’d your friends go?” I found myself asking Annabella, trying to focus on her face rather than her legs. The other dancers, I’d heard, were congregating in the parking lot, rumored to be mixing vodka into their Gatorade bottles. Perhaps


Annabella had done some investigating of her own, and had found the secluded sophistication of the band room far more compelling than the senior lot.

“Not sure,” she said. “I feel like I could use some help. I’m kinda new to all this.”

You know how certain girls have that ability to leave a room smelling like gardenias simply by being there? Before Room 312 had always smelled like dog food. I closed my mouth to hide my permanent, built-in retainer and said, “I enjoyed your segment on The Morning Show.”

She looked at her feet. “Yeah. I think everyone still misses Kelly.”

“Everyone’s stupid,” I said, balling my fists. “Don’t let Kelly Bastille worry you. That girl’s a no-good wh—”

“Hey Nolan,” she interjected. “You seem to know your way around here pretty well. Can you tell me what I should be doing? Like, in preparation for the game?”

I did a chin-rubbing gesture to suggest that I

was tangled in a web of reflection. It’s possible I might’ve also muttered the word “Crikey,” since she gave me a raised eyebrow.

“Lemme ask you another something,” Annabella said. “At what point did you decide you were gonna play music? Or did you just fall into it?”

If there were ever a green light to sit beside a pretty gal, I figured this might be it. I stalled before sitting, trying to formulate an answer of sufficient philosophical lucidity. My mind drifted wildly before landing on her parents, whom I figured conceived her knowing she’d one day wear this particular spandex uniform. I also felt silly, unable to ignore the fact that she’d asked a boy with luminescent white marching shoes and triple-thick band pants for advice. My required attire looked nothing like hers. It had been developed a hundred years earlier and was in desperate need of an update.

After a few more eternities I said, “Playing tuba isn’t so bad.” And then I snapped my suspenders, silently cursing myself for being a dumbass. “Of course I’d rather be playing the guitar.”


Though I didn’t have a guitar, per se, I figured Hal would let me borrow the flying-V if Annabella ever actually decided to come over. The rest of what I said probably sounded like a thing you’d impart on a gal whose parents have just died: “What you need to ask yourself is, ‘Do I like being a Pantherette?’ And if the answer is ‘yes’ ... you’ll find yourself completely pleased with the decision of becoming one.”

“Thanks,” Annabella said, warming up to my advice, if not completely confused by it. I thought she might kiss me. Instead, she stood up to find her boozing buddies. Helpful or not, I still played the tuba.

But when she reached the door, I noticed her turn back toward me. I made sure to wink, deploying the bad boy mystique I’d been tinkering with for a day or two.

 

When the game is on, Halftime serves as a reminder that it’s half over. Palmetto Ridge natives grab food while the band marches. To me, the next

twenty minutes equate with something taken straight out of Hal Shultes’s disturbing book. Here’s a brief summary of the connections I’ve found between PRH Halftime and the Seventh Circle of Dante’s Inferno: In the Outer Ring of the circle of Violence, people are immersed in a river of boiling blood at a level proportionate with their sins. It looks like the sidelines, I think, where family members sit close to cheer you on. You may stiffen your posture and lower your hat, to reduce the number of blasphemers, sodomites and frauds who recognize you. But the world is never so easily fooled.

The Middle Ring exists on the bleachers. Or maybe it’s like deciding to join marching band in the first place. Here people are transformed into thorn bushes and trees. In actual life, however, they’re made to squeeze into idiotic uniforms and hold shiny instruments designed to weigh down each choreographed step.

At the Inner Ring the letters PGH are formed on the field. A flawless, blasphemous token to a false god. While the letters are etched on a desert of


flaming sand, fiery flakes pour from above. To the unlettered, this appears to be athletic turf grass and a light drizzle.

The Seventh Circle is frightening, painful beyond all logic and nearly impossible to endure. Until you remember Paradiso waits around the corner. I’m not sure how this part equates with the book contextually, but after Halftime you’re allowed back to the bleachers where, as long as you’ve played decently enough, the winged-monster Mr. Hallup permits the shedding of some thirteen layers of uniforms to engage in half-hearted songs while the crowd obsesses over the game’s final outcome.

 

I caught a glimpse of Hal Shultes as the fourth quarter rolled around. Since he’s never been a fan of American football or band songs at large, I figured he might’ve come chasing after some hen’s arse or something.

“Play prohper, Entwistle!” he shouted from the sideline fence. He was on to dead members of The

Who at this point. “Yer givin’ me a yedwarch!” he continued, which is the Yorkshire equivalent of a headache I think.

I ducked and started searching my coat for a tuba rag to wipe away my forehead sweat. I’d been avoiding Hal ever since I dropped his book in the tub while reading the chapter where Pier delle Vigne fell out of favor with Emperor Frederick II. It was all starting to creep me out. However, the book had kept me from falling asleep—and thus, perhaps saved me from drowning.

When Annabella gave me a little wave, my heart jerked involuntarily. I tried to stay calm. We were friends now. I don’t know what brought this on, but I then decided to test my luck further by blowing her a kiss. This might’ve been overdoing it a little, but she didn’t seem too infuriated before returning her attention to the massacre of bodies on the field.

 

Dante’s Seventh Circle had given me a yedwarch of my own. In order to gain control of my senses I laid my head on Marvin Longinotti’s trumpet case


and stared at a lamppost. Here’s what I expected to happen: my bones would slip through the bleacher cracks. Or perhaps my entire body would be seized by a figure in sports regalia, forcing me back onto the field to play another round of “Footloose” and other movie hits for a thousand years or more. When the end of the world finally came, everything would be tinted red and purple.

Thankfully and surprisingly, Annabella Kolosky’s real-life ponytail was bouncing on a pathway toward my salvation. This time she did the approaching, looking for her partner-in-temporary-formation. Was she going to offer up some real-life assistance and save me from one of my ill-conceived destinies?

“Stellar game,” I said, amazed to witness my yedwarch instantly fading in her presence.

Annabella laughed. She seemed to be a fan of sarcasm and stupid behavior in general, which seemed like a promising sign. When asked how she enjoyed her first performance as a Pantherette, she said “Eh,” then flipped her mane back to re-tie in her trademark hairstyle. She wiggled a little closer

and cupped her hand to my ear. “I think I might quit tomorrow."

I hollered an instinctive “No!” perhaps showing more devastation than was necessary. I tried to clarify: “Maybe you’ll enjoy dancing after a while. I mean, that could totally happen, y’know? What else would you be doing right now?”

“Not sure,” Annabella said. “Reading a book, doing laundry or something?”

“If you stick around long enough,” I continued, “I could let you in on some fundamental survival techniques.” I wanted to ask her about the Cowperson Revivalists, and maybe explain some tuba-playing methodology. I hadn’t yet mentioned Dante, the Yorkshire dialect, or anything really. But then I figured, though this might’ve been the biggest assumption of all, that Annabella might keep some sort of friendship alive with me whether she remained a Pantherette or not.

The two of us could learn to not be so miserable together, I thought, searching for a heavenly presence above the stadium. I then pleaded: Is this really so much to ask?


Asking her to reconsider felt bold, so I switched to something safer: Jordan “The Fridge” Davies was flinging his spitvalve runoff at a saxophonist’s elbow. Annabella laughed, and then sighed. And then her head sort of fell and landed on my shoulder. She left it there a while. I tried to ward off the butterflies attacking my stomach and adjusted my armband shoulder cord to increase her level of shoulder-leaning comfort.

I said, “Sky’s lookin’ pretty, ain’t it?” I placed my band hat next to her leg-gripping sparkly tights and fluffed out my white-man’s afro. Though my bad teeth and built-in retainer were showing at this point, I no longer cared.

Altogether new things started to happen. She was yawning. Now we were both falling asleep.

As the final touchdown transpired, I awoke to find myself on holiday, sitting in a tiny canoe with Annabella. I was trying to take in everything this time and never wanted to wake up. The two of us were paddling down the River Ouse, in search of an emerald green hill charming enough to spread a

checkered blanket on. Best of all, our arses weren’t even sore!

I looked back to the stern seat. Annabella had stopped rowing and was sunbathing. I took out my notebook and wrote pink-floral bikini and below that old-fashioned swim knickers. And then I stopped rowing, too, somewhere between Bishopthorpe and Hemingbrough, deciding to prematurely crack into our leftover bangers and mash.

Nothing’s obstructing our course! I told her. No sharks, alligators, or winged-monsters! No Seventh Circles, yedwarchs, Panthers, Pantherettes, Band Brigade, homework...

Annabella Kolosky was spreading lotion on the insides of her arms. She asked, So where we heading?

I threw my paddle overboard and hollered back that I didn’t bloody care.

 

Copyright© Kevin Wilder. White Whale Review, issue 2.1


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