Jake was horsing around in the back of the room with his best friend, and I waved to him as I signed in. A hood was covering half of his face, and for an instant, I thought I had waved to the wrong kid. He waved back and then started pummeling his buddy, and the brief mortification bubbled back down.
The adviser separated the boys, and Jake and I found a quiet spot toward the back of the room. He had reading and homework to attend to that day, and as coincidence would have it, he was reading the same book Lorne had been working on two weeks before. We opened on a page featuring flesh-eating horses and a thousand years’ worth of manure. I was starting to catch onto the narrative by that point, and had begun to view the book as a lesser Harry Potter with more gore.
Jake took his time forming the words, pausing occasionally to re-read and add some inflection to his voice. He stumbled each time he came to a farm word, and I laughed to myself, imagining my childhood and how mystified I had been upon seeing a hay bale in the back of a truck on the first day of school in Llano, Texas. City kids have no concept of ranch life when the only place they see dogs poop is the concrete sidewalk.
I stopped and corrected him every couple of paragraphs, trying to keep my voice free of criticism. He was a likable kid, and he accepted my corrections the way the popular boys had back in school: acknowledgment, then dismissal.
Ah, okay. Cool.
His speed was hindering his ability to digest the storyline, so I tried to engage him. While I was trying to explain the concept of a wake, which I expected his fourth grade mind would enjoy, he interrupted me. He knew what a wake was, he said. There was one last week in his neighborhood for a woman who had been strangled.