Pets



When the officer first came to the door of Miss Epps’ fifth-grade class, Cam hoped the policeman brought word of his dad. Even bad news was sometimes better than no news at all. Like the time his dad was missing in New Jersey but was found in Nevada and had to go to jail in Maine. Miss Epps walked to the door and exchanged whispers with the officer. She pointed at Cam and shook her head. Cam opened The Red Badge of Courage and pretended to read. Even only skimming the words, the sentences absorbed him. The lights above became the hot glare of sun on the battlefield. The snickers of his classmates became the murmurs of anxious soldiers.

Moments later, Miss Epps touched his shoulder. “Cam,” she said, “he wants to speak with you outside.”

In the hallway, the cop’s mouth opened and closed, but Cam didn’t hear him. He could only see as far as the officer’s glinting teeth and bright blue shirt before everything blurred on account of his tears. He waited for the cop to call him a sissy wimp, but the officer said, “I’m going to go out on a limb and guess you’re not the playground bully your friend’s mom made you out to be.”

“I don’t go to recess,” Cam said. Sometimes the guidance counselor, Miss Sparrow, called Cam into her office and asked him to sketch his feelings with colored pencils. Other days he went to Coach P’s Real Men’s group. Coach P spiked his hair with gel and wore a leather jacket. He’d once belonged to a motorcycle gang called the Iron Horsemen but had straightened out and gone to community college. Now he ran groups for at-risk boys.

“Did I break the law?” Cam asked

“Hardly,” the cop said, chuckling. “But while I’ve got you out here, let me ask you a stupid question. Anything going on at school I should know about?”

Cam thought for a while. A few kids chewed dip. He’d spotted pretty Miss Epps getting a kiss on the cheek from Principal McGinnis.

“Good or bad things?” Cam asked.

The cop said, “Either.”

“I don’t think so,” Cam said.

The cop put his thick hand high on the back of Cam’s neck and guided him into the classroom. Inside, Cam sat in his chair and reached into his desk for his lucky rock. Sharp and grey, it was flecked with metal that shone like gold and was maybe precious. Cam stroked its surface and squeezed its sharp points into his palm. In the hallway, another boy, Tommy Peacock, trembled in the policeman’s shadow. They were out there talking for so long Cam almost forgot about them.


Tommy Peacock could roll his eyeballs into his head, disappearing his pupils. He could dangle a rope of spit down past his chin before slurping it up. Once Cam had heard Tommy burp the Pledge of Allegiance to two girls in Ms. Waddell’s class who insisted he try out for Star Search. Unlike Cam, who was pudgy and shy, Tommy was as tall as a radio tower, always broadcasting noise and signals