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It’s a long, long school day, trying to reign in his train of thought. He drags his feet when it’s over, despite his earlier excitement about the party. He’s in a muddle, wishing for time alone to sort through things.
Plus, he doesn’t know what he’ll do when he inevitably sees Lanie.
He might be stalling, but is it really his fault the kids want one more song? He’s always enjoyed children. Even when he was younger and forced to babysit, eventually, he realized he didn’t mind it that much. They listened to him, especially when he grew bigger than their parents.
He ignores Ali’s impatience to get him to leave. The past few days have been a constant barrage of song requests from the students, now that the school is fixed and his hands are “better,” and he can play guitar again. In the last seventy-two hours alone, they’d gone through six rounds of “The Gold Fish,” eight of “Wonky Donkey,” five “Going on a Lion Hunt,” and now they want the “Riptide” game for the third time. Who is he to deny them his Canadian interpretation of his favorite Vance Joy song? He isn’t a monster.
“It’s for the children,” he tells Ally.
The game is a mixture of duck-duck-goose, ring-around-the-rosie, and ambulance tag. Divided into two groups, the kids jump around inside a ring of nap mats, holding hands and going around the circle. There’s one less mat than children. Following the lyrics of the song, they howl when it’s time to howl, and then at the line, “And they come unstuck,” they let go of each other’s hands, and scramble to claim a mat. Whoever is left over has to drag as many kids as possible from the opposite group over to their “dark side” before the end of the chorus. Then they start again. Whichever group is the largest at the end of the song wins.
Ben strolls around them, singing the nonsensical lyrics and making up what he can. They played the game at least three or four times per week in January.
The first few lines are always unaccompanied, and then at the lyric, “You’re the magician’s assistant in their dream,” he picks a giggling child at random and produces his guitar pick from an ear, shoe, armpit, or belly button. After a dramatic pause, he signals for both groups to start howling and walking the circle. At a rapid, theatrical riff they let go and fall down. They knew not to get too rowdy with fighting for a spot on the mats or dragging each other around on the new floors, because then Miss Ali will shut down the game, which already thinks is inappropriate, as always. She just doesn’t know how to have fun.
Some of the more coherent lines of the song remind him of his own life. Though he’s never been to the dentist in the dark, he’s been terrified of girls for most of his pre-adult life, though he knows they had considered him a gentle giant. In a lot of ways, he supposes they were right. His self-consciousness about his robust figure used to make him reluctant to confront anyone. Partly, the shyness was due to the teasing he so relentlessly suffered growing up. There are only so many fat jokes one kid can take. Plus, his hands had always been much too big for his body. “Wreck-It-Ralph,” he was still sometimes called, now that Popeye had fallen out of the mainstream. He’d been mocked by kids and adults alike. It was the casual, thoughtless comments that hurt the most. Meanness, he could understand. But he couldn’t handle knowing that even those who claimed to like and care about him saw him the same way as the bullies.
Once, Ben had wanted nothing more than to disappear. He tried his best to hide his weight, his size. Tried to make himself small. Unassuming. He’d tried to just…vanish.
But now that he’s older, he likes his body. He embraces his size, and accepts that he’s absolutely never be toned or ripped. Self-care is more important, and fashion, and the talents that make him feel happy and confident. He is strong, clean, and smart. He’s under forty. Women want his attention everywhere he goes. He has a lot going for him. And now, he’s found a place he loves, after years of wandering and wondering whether his life was adding anything to the world.
There’s this movie that I think you’ll like
This guy decides to quit his job and heads to Quebec City
This cowboy’s running from himself
And she’s been living on the highest shelf
Can it be that he’s found the sense of home that he’s always been looking for? Is he done running from himself? Despite what happened when he tried to kiss Lanie, he has none of his habitual desire to flee and hide. Whatever happens with her, he has a sense of peace and belonging about his work here. He can handle the dreams. He will force himself to get over her.
I swear she’s destined for the screen
Closest thing to Molly Parker that you’ve ever seen, oh
Kissed from 1996 changed his life. At fourteen, the necrophilia in the movie both disgusted and enthralled him and his friends. Plus, Molly Parker’s eyes were almost as pale as his own, and she was considered highly attractive. So, he’d begun to think that maybe he was too. Maybe that early experience of horror and eroticism was where his screwed-up lust had come from, and why he’s so attracted to Lanie. She’s a lot of things, including the embodiment of death, and he’s a helpless Sandra Larson.
One day, Ben wants to visit Maple Ridge to see the place where the British Colombian actress was born. It’s less than an hour’s drive from North Vancouver, where Prestige Guitars created his custom instrument from Miranda and Bel.
That familiar ache stirs, but it isn’t as sharp as before. Just like it doesn’t matter what guitar he has, the music is the same. It doesn’t matter what happens with her – his work is his music, his calm in the storm. He does have to make things right with her, though. Even though she’s stopped threatening to send him home, he’s just realizing how difficult he’s made things for her. He’d been acting a little spoiled. Okay, maybe a lot spoiled. He wants her respect, but does he respect her?
And who knows, if he works with her instead of against her, he might make her realize that working with him can be easy. Peaceful. Productive. They can build something together. Maybe then she’ll climb down from her shelf – that high tower from where she can see everyone, but no one can get to her.
He doesn’t dare hope that things will ever progress beyond that. But he’s okay with that. Qalcad has gotten in his bones. Maybe it will take more than a year to wipe out all that red, which makes him feel terrified and elevated, floating high in the clouds of a daydream and anxiety.
It’s time to call a truce with the chief.
After the lightning round, with three choruses in a row, the teams have almost returned to their original forms.
“Dr. G,” Ali warns. “The kids have to get ready to go. And don’t you have somewhere to be?”
Well, he’ll have to face Lanie at some point, and try once again to hand her a piece of his heart. But this is a piece they shared together. And he really is excited for the party.
“Alright. And don’t forget, Miss Ali, you’ve got a job to do, too.”
She waves him off. “I’ll be there soon. I just have some stuff to finish here. Don’t let me stop you.”
Carefully, Ben put the guitar away on the top shelf of the cupboard holding all manner of musical instruments. Then he goes out to face the day, smiling despite his apprehensive, heavy-heart.
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“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him.”
~ Romans 15:13