The Packing House

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Chapter 25 | Relocation Program

At the end of school the next day, I get called down to the guidance office for another parent/counselor death-row-execution session. My vote is for lethal injection. If I’m going, I might as well get to pick the format where I go to sleep and never wake up. It’s perfect and ironic all at the same time.

My mother is meeting with Ms. Moore in her office. I picture them chatting in the comfy seating area, sipping tea and nibbling scones. I sit in the waiting area and smile at the secretary: I’m a dead man walking. Now would be the perfect time for my X-ray-vision mutant ability to kick in. Doesn’t a traumatic event precipitate the onset of the mutant gene? I should read more comics.

Instead, I read a book for English. These kids spend all their time trying to get a neighbor to come outside of his house. It takes place in the south during the Great Depression. I know because our history class is covering the same time period, and we are doing a massive WWII unit next. Our teachers organize projects that can overlap in both classes.

At least the book is decent. I’m reading chapter ten where the father, who’s a lawyer, has a secret talent. Kind of like a mutant ability. It turns out he’s an expert shot with a gun. Only he doesn’t like to use his ability unless he has to. He thinks it’s an unfair advantage. I haven’t figured out if I have a talent or not. Maybe writing. I think Jonathan’s talent is screwing as many girls as possible, skittering around venereal disease.

The phone rings at the secretary’s desk. I look up.

“Ms. Moore and your mother will see you now. Do you remember where her office is?”

I nod and gather my things. “Right this way,” she says, pointing down the hallway where my mother and Ms. Moore prep the syringes collaborate. I hope they won’t hurt me. I find myself meandering slowly down the hall c’mon, see through the wall, see through the wall. Eh-nee year. I’m not a fan of needles. Or death it’s so final.

My mother is the first to look up when I enter. I cross the room and take a seat catty-corner from where I first sat the other day. Ms. Moore sips from a steaming mug. Oh, to be the edge of that mug just below her lips

“Joel, we were just talking about you,” Ms. Moore says. I knew it. Conspiracy theories flash through my mind. “Why don’t you have a seat, and we can discuss your test results together?” I sit. Ms. Moore offers me refreshments. Gotta love guidance. You’ll never leave hungry or thirsty.

“The reason I discussed your results with your mother first is out of concern fear for my job for your well-being, Joel.” Oh, right, I must have forgotten.

“Listen, Joel,” my mother says in her super-mother-tone. “We are very concerned think you’re a pain in the ass about your transfer grades and with some of the behaviors you’ve exhibited as of late. Not the least of which is your running away, stealing money from my purse, fighting with your brother, and smoking.” She pulls out an empty cigarette pack. Shit. I must have thrown it away somewhere she could find.

“Joel,” Ms. Moore continues, as if it were rehearsed, “your mother is very concerned if we say it enough times you’ll have to believe us about you. She is. She just shared with me information about your past, when your father left, how that was a very difficult time for you. These patterns of yours are very similar in structure to what happened in your childhood. We are concerned convinced you’ll be a serial killer you could relapse.”

There. They’ve said it I’m crazy. Now that we’ve gotten that out in the open, flapping in the breeze like a cold piece of fried chicken, I think it’s time to leave. I stand and pull on my backpack.

“So, that’s what you think this is about? A relapse?” My anger swells like hot scraps of metal behind my eyes. “You just try to put the spin on things to take the heat off your gambling problem.” I let that fester and turn to leave. “I think we’re done here,” I say as I head to the door.

“Joel,” says Ms. Moore, “we don’t leave in the middle of a conversation monologue. I need you to come hear the rest of what we have to say. I promise to give you a chance to respond, okay?”

I stop, lean my head against the door frame, and then turn toward Ms. Moore.

“I told her about the nightmares, too, Joel. We need to deal with this and make a plan for you that doesn’t end with your face on the side of a milk carton.” My mother must be going for an award. I ignore her.

Instead, I will myself to turn and walk back to the chair. I slink down in the seat and am overwhelmed with exhaustion. What are they driving at? They talk around what the actual plan for me is, like they want me to warm up to the idea. This can’t be good. I know what happens when you put a lobster in a pot and turn the heat on.

“Yes. About the nightmares, Joel, are you still having them?” Ms. Moore asks.

“I’ve had a few off and on.”

“How about recently?”

“Uh, yeah, I guess so.”

“You guess so, or you know, Joel? Which is it?” my mother interjects.

“It’s okay, Joel. We’re just trying to help ourselves feel better about what we’re about to do.”

I’m not sure what to say I can see the elephant in the room. This is a smokescreen to the real agenda. I want to know what this is about.

“So, what’s going to happen to me?”

“Joel,” says Ms. Moore, “your test results reveal some… concerning alarming trends. I’ve gone over the algorithms and checked them against the written test results. You’re in a crisis. Whatever these nightmares are about, you need to face what causes them. That’s why they’ve come back.”

Okay, I’m listening. If she knows how to help me get rid of the nightmares, I should hear her out; although, I’m more interested in the pattern of the carpet beneath the coffee table. Lobster. Pot. Screams ensue.

“I called your grandmother and your aunt and uncle. Between the three of them, you’re going to go and stay out there for a while. At least until the end of the school year. I can’t be home enough for you with my work schedule, and I think heading back where you grew up, where you were when your father was still around, might help you through this I’ve had enough of you.”

Sounds good, but still fishy. Where’s the butter?

“Joel,” says Ms. Moore, “I’m going to speak with the counseling department of the school district there and make sure you will have a place to go when you need to talk about anything the mandatory counseling sessions will continue.”

“Okay, thanks for not jabbing me with that needle.” I don’t know what else to say.

If my mother sends me back to the shore, I’ll get to see Amber again. Since she’s only interested in investing in her relationships nearby, moving back to the shore is my only shot at rebuilding things with Amber. As far as I can remember, I get along with my grandmother and my aunt and uncle, so staying at either place will be an improvement. It’s been so long since I’ve been there, though, even for a visit, that I can’t recall what they think of me.

I only went to elementary school there, so I don’t know anything about the high school, either. I’m not opposed to being sent away from here. The trailer is awful, and these nightmares are awful. I wonder if a change of scenery would help. I was just starting to get used to this new school, though. And Jonathan will be pissed at me for leaving again. But this time it isn’t my idea. Besides, he’s still testy since I punched him in the face. The distance might help smooth it over.

Lost in thought, I barely hear my mother and Ms. Moore plan away the rest of my life. Did I sign a contract without realizing? I feel hot, like I’ve been sitting in boiling water too long.

Since my mother came to meet with Ms. Moore, she drives me home. The buses have already left for the day, so my mother spends the drive telling me all the details of the travel arrangements. Jonathan rode the bus and will get home before we do.

My mother can only afford a one-way bus ticket. She’ll take me to the station, and my Uncle Brandon’ll pick me up when I arrive. They’ll decide the best plan for housing me. From what my mother has said, they’re discussing these plans right now. I’ll bring the transfer papers with me and complete my school year at Ticonderoga High, near my grandmother’s house.

My mother’s been working on the details all week. I must have missed that part. I was a little preoccupied by my lack of sleep and the nightmares. I can’t remember most of the week. I must have looked like a walking zombie (minus the flesh-eating part).

“So, how many days until I head to Uncle Brandon’s?”

“When we get home, you need to pack all your things and be ready to go. I’ve got to get you to the bus station before I go to work. Jonathan or I will return your books and things to Sanderville.”

“Wait, I leave tomorrow? Tomorrow morning?”

“First thing.”

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