“Blue Lagoon Eyes,” Kyle Hemmings
His eyes looked crazier as the warm days grew longer. Throughout the semester, his ramblings had grown more erratic and zigzag. He started to smash chalk against the board. He kept emphasizing the correct proportion of orange and blue in a lit Bunsen burner and said blue was the most sacred of all colors. Then, scanning our faces, he announced that most of the students at St. Ignatius were composed of spiritually dispossessed adolescents who would drift far beyond their graduation date. Some of us rolled our eyes. Only Peter stared straight ahead, never flinching, that complex look of hurt in his otherworldly blue eyes.
Looking back, I like to think of him as Peter of Lost Souls.
At the sound of the bell, we scattered into the hallway and forgot ourselves.
Summer. The bubble gum smell of the streets enticed us. On our transistor radios, The Rolling Stones were again no. 1. Brother Mac’s eyes now resembled tiny dark fish, twitching and snapping, perhaps looking for some clear sea. I kept imagining this hunger, monstrous, inarticulate.
Looking back, I would pronounce that hunger as a blue lagoon. Well, kind of.
It was a Friday. The last one before finals. The air, hot, heavy. There was a slight mist coming in from the factories. You could see them from the windows. Brother Mac ordered us to close our books and he started asking questions. He told us to stand up and face the back wall. I heard him close the windows. His quick footsteps, back and forth, or the stillness. We stood in our suits and uniform trousers, pressed by our mothers, mocked by the public school kids in our neighborhood. My palms sweated. Brother Mac accused of us of not studying for the whole semester.
Do you think you can make it up now?
He started throwing chalk at us. Whoever got hit had to answer his insane questions. If a wrong answer, he gave you three days detention and an assignment. If you got it right, you just leave. It was already past three. The chalk whizzed past my head. It hit Dominic.
“What is the boiling point of phosphorous?”
“Phosphorous, Brother? Uhm…I think the same as phosphor.”
“Three days detention, Mr. Corrillo. Good-bye.”
The chalk ricocheted across the room.
“Kids. I’m not in favor of concentration camps. But they do have their purpose.”
The heat was making me dizzy. I turned. Peter stood as rigid as the wall, same one I was looking at. I wanted to get inside his head. He had all the answers. I turned. The chalk pinged against Robert McGovern. One side of his face was red. I felt the drain.
“Mr. McGovern, why is there carbonic acid in this room?”
There was a strange hum coming off the street.
“Okay. Let’s make this easy. Easy enough for kids. Is there carbonic acid in this room?”
Girls laughing outside. Two car doors slammed.
“Yes! Yes, there is. In some form, right? Now, Mr. McGovern, why is there carbonic acid in this room?”
The whole room seemed to swell. Swell out of time. And we could always look back on this moment-bubble.
“Three days detention, Mr. McGovern.”
An eraser slapped against someone’s back.
“Why what, Brother?”
“You weren’t listening, were you, Artie? Maybe you were thinking of girls. Blue-eyed girls in swimsuits. But you don’t want to stay ignorant of the laws of physical science all your life, do you?”
“Good. Now why is there carbonic acid in this room?”
My starched collar was wet.
“Because we are breathing, Brother, because we are breathing out.”
“Very good, Mr. Zeigler! Very good job. You may leave. Good luck on your finals.”
The room became quiet again. I look across at Peter. Tried to look at his face. He must have felt hot, tired.
My mind drifted. I started thinking of all those late night prisoner of war movies. Only here, there was chalk.
The thump of a book cover. The boom of his voice.
“Now here’s a bonus question, kiddies. What color is the water in a blue lagoon? Think hard before you answer.”
“In a what, Brother?”
“Three days detention for not listening.”
The chalk hit the back wall, flew back.
“It depends what time of day and what season, Brother.”
“Don’t get so technical on us, Mr. Clay. Three days detention.”
He now stood behind us. I felt his breathing. For some reason, I sensed he felt cool. My cheeks were burning. I wanted to run.
“Peter. Peter. Perhaps you can help us.”
“I’ll try, Brother.”
His voice sounded weak.
“Peter. What is the color of a blue lagoon?”
I looked over at Peter. His head took on a strange tilt. It was as if he was studying his shadow.
“The color is blue, Brother.”
Peter turned towards me. Brother Mac stood against the back wall facing Peter. A smile. Cautious. Slight. His eyes were no longer fish. No longer looking for blue water. They found it.
Peter eyes were blue lagoon blue.
“Yes, that is correct. And sometimes the water appears green, doesn’t it?”
He dismissed us.
Three years later, I graduated St. Ignatius. My number being too high, I wasn’t drafted. Over the years, the Vietnam War faded from our forebrains, but we wore its memory on our faces, in our ironic way of speaking. I dated a girl for two years before she dumped me for a veteran. The first car I drove was a ’68 Impala. I worked in the back kitchen of a restaurant, chopping cabbage for cole slaw, dicing carrots or setting a timer for perfect biscuits, before I went to college.
And it was the last I heard of Brother Mac or Peter of Lost Souls. Rumors had it that they crossed a certain border in a ’66 Chevy station wagon. What happened after that I do not know.
And I have lived long enough to survive my own drownings. My own kidnappers.