Hi, I’m Sean, Sean Fitzsimmons, the narrator of Chill. Chill is about . . . Chill. He's coolest kid you’ll ever meet with the hottest Mom you could ask a best friend to have. It’s about more than that, but that’s the important stuff.
Here’s the first chapter.
Chill’s foot dragged behind him like a murder victim being taken to a shallow grave by a killer too weak to do the job, but he still stood straighter than any other kid in school.
His presence far exceeded his wiry five-foot nine, fifteen-year-old body. Chill’s size didn’t matter because he was fast, and the speed was made twice as powerful because no one expected it from a guy with a bum leg.
He held his head high and no one made fun of him. Well, except for that one kid.
It was back in grade five. He was a big guy, new to Glendale Elementary. Kids are like wolves when they arrive at a new school; they look for the weakest in the pack and try to take ‘em down. This—they hope—will get them the much-needed acceptance of the pack. You can’t survive in school on your own.
It was the first recess and the new kid, Shane or Wayne , something like that, spotted Chill. Once he saw Chill’s leg, he made his move.
“Hey hop-a-long,” he called out, though Chill didn’t hop. Hopping would have meant he was trying to appear normal and Chill didn’t try to be anything but what he was, and what he was, was Chill.
“Hop-a-long,” the kid yelled out again.
Chill stopped. He shook his head like he’d been waiting for it. Like somehow he knew, from the moment he laid eyes on this kid, that it was going to come to this.
He sighed and turned, but didn’t say anything.
Chill wasn’t much of a talker. He didn’t have to be. His sharp eyes and multitude of expressions could speak volumes. On the other hand, I was a talker, and often spoke for Chill.
“What do you want?” I said, sticking close to Chill’s side.
“I’m not talking to you, I’m talking to Hoppy here.,” he said, nodding at Chill.
“I don’t think he wants to talk to you.” I told him.
“What’s the matter,” he said. “His tongue as dead as his leg?”
The kid laughed. He looked around, hoping others would join him. No one did. He turned back to Chill.
“So what happened? Your leg fall asleep in class and you couldn’t wake it up?” he laughed again, and looked around again—nothing.
The lameness of the attempted jokes aside, he should have picked up on the lack of reaction from the crowd. He should have realised that no one appreciated what he was doing and that this wasn’t going to gain him any friends.
Chill shook his head and turned to walk away.
“Where do you think you’re going?” the kid asked. “Nowhere fast, that’s for sure,” he added.
As Chill walked away so did everyone else.
The new kid was losing his audience. He grabbed Chill by the shoulder and spun him around. Chill lost his balance.
I went to catch him, but he caught himself before I could and straightened-up proudly. Chill stared at the kid with a warning glare that would have backed anyone with a lick of sense off. This kid was not good at picking up on subtleties.
“You shouldn’t walk away when people are talking to you,” the kid threatened “Didn’t your mom teach you that? Or did she give up teaching you anything when she saw you couldn’t even to learn to walk?”
It took a lot for Chill to lose his cool but it was definitely going. He turned away again. This time, the kid swung Chill back around with all he had, determined to take him down.
But Chill was ready. He didn’t so much spin as pirouette, with his bad leg swinging like a club.
Chill only meant to sweep his attackers legs out from under him, but the kid had stiffened his leg so he could get the full momentum in his pull. When Chill’s leg connected with the kids knee, it gave a sickening pop, that made everyone in the yard stiffen. The kid dropped like a gummy bear from the ceiling after the saliva dries.
Despite the pain, the kid tried to get to his feet to save face, but could only move himself along the ground like a lame toad.
“Who’s hoppy now?” I yelled.
This got a laugh from everyone—except Chill.
When I turned to congratulate him on his victory he’d already disappeared around the corner.
I found Chill tucked out of sight with his sketchpad in the far doorway of the school.
“That was cool!” I excitedly told Chill.
“No,” he told me, coldly and firmly, looking up at me from his drawings. “It wasn’t.” He lowered his head, returning to his sketching.
We never spoke of it again.
Well, he never spoke of it again. I told anyone who’d listen. I know violence is wrong but that kid had it coming. Well, maybe not the six weeks on crutches and the endless teasing until he finally got a transfer—but still . . .
Chill got two weeks suspension and was on probation when he got back, but that wasn’t much of a problem; Chill never caused trouble, not real trouble, anyway.
The story—with as much help as I could give it—went through the school and the county, and by the time we got to high school it was told with the kid getting two broken legs—both broken in three places. Nobody bugged Chill about his leg again. That is until the new teacher came. What Chill did to that teacher would be a story to shadow the other one into obscurity.
It was the second year and the second semester of our four-year high school sentence and we lucked out and got art for homeroom. I wasn’t much of an artist but it was an easy way to start your day if you didn’t take it seriously and worry about things like color and contrast, light and shadow, lines and perspective, and I didn’t. Chill did, though, so to get through, I’d just mimic him as well as I could.
It’s all right because in art it’s not called cheating, it’s called being heavily influenced by another artist. According to Chill all the greats did it. It’s like in film when everyone copied Tarantino after he copied the Hong Kong and Japanese directors. None of them were cheating or stealing, they were being ‘influenced by’ filmmakers that they admired and respected. And I admired and respected Chill (I also admired and respected Susie Jenkins’ math skills, but we’ll keep that between us.)
The teacher, Ms. Surette, couldn’t tell that I was copying anyway. My projects looked nothing like Chill’s no matter how heavily he influenced me.
Ms. Surette was the other reason the art was a great way to start your day.
There are three types of teachers. First, there are the teachers who just want to do as little as they can and go home. These are the ones who give you an assignment at the beginning of class that will take you the whole class to complete. They sit and mark work from their other classes so that they will have their nights and weekends free. They’re easy teachers to have; as long as you’re quiet, you can do just about anything you want with that hour—after you get the assignment done, of course. We’ll call them type ‘A’.
Then there’s type ‘B’. The ones who end up teaching, who think themselves better than it and are bitter at everyone for them having to do this job that’s so obviously beneath them. These teachers pick their favourites, which are always the ones that are easiest controlled, and grind the rest down, crushing every dream you’ve ever had before the “real world” does it.
Type ‘B’ are the ones that sparked the stereotype “those who can’t do teach.” They’re not the majority but they do the most damage, sticking with you, as a little voice that cuts you down every time you dare think yourself worthy.
Finally, type ‘C’. Ms. Surette. A teacher who loves teaching.
A teacher who talks to you, not at you. A teacher that tells you you can do whatever you want to if you put your mind to it. A teacher who understands that, “the real world” that we’re supposed to be frightened of, doesn’t have wedgies, swirlies, people threatening to beat you up, constant put downs, unbearable pressure from all sides to conform.
“If you can survive until university with just a little bit of yourself still intact, the “real world” will be a much better place than the one you’re in now.” Ms. Surette said.
Ms. Surette was big on the ‘staying true to yourself’ thing, which is why she liked Chill so much, because, Chill, was Chill. She also liked him because he was a heck of an artist.
“Chill,” she said looking at his rendition of the bowl of fruit that she’d had us painting all class. “I want you to work on something else this semester.”
“Sure,” Chill said.
“You haven’t heard what it is yet.”
“That’s okay,” he said.
This made Ms. Surette smile. She had told us once that when opportunities and challenges arise,.“...saying yes opens doors; saying no closes them”
“Does that go for drugs, too, Ms. Surette?” Pete had asked, or Pete Moss as we called him since, for a dollar, he drank the water we rinsed our brushes inIt had turned his teeth and tongue green for a week. His comment got a small laugh from everyone.
“Yes,” Ms. Surette had replied, silencing Pete and the class.
“The challenge and opportunity there, is for you to show your willpower, your ability to think for yourself and not give into the pressures around you. And to keep all your brain cells intact. And you should say yes to all those things.”
“Yeah, Pete Moss, you don’t have any brain cells to spare,” I had said. The class laughed. Pete Moss showed me his I.Q. score by holding up a middle finger in my direction.
Ever since that day, Chill agreed to do whatever Ms. Surette asked of him, often before she could finish asking.
“Because,” Chill had said, “if she’s asking it, it’s going to be a challenge or an opportunity.”
And in this case, it was both.
“The school is going to be doing a mural this semester,” Ms. Surette told him, “I’d like you to design an entry, something that will inspire your fellow students. Are you interested?”
“Yes,” Chill said.
“You’ll be going against the seniors, but I think you’ve got a great chance, if you work hard at it, and I know you will.”
Chill humbly lowered his head while nodding thanks.
“You should do a self-portrait,” I told him. He didn’t hear me. He’d already taken out his sketchpad and started to work.
What he didn’t know, what neither of us knew, was that his true inspiration had yet to arrive, but when it did, it would change the face of the school in ways no one could have foreseen.
Copyright © Colin Frizzell 2006. All rights reserved.