Happy [late] birthday to one of the sweetest, most kind hearted dears I know, thekingslover. I hope the day was wonderful for you, bb. <3
This fic takes place sometime after s8. Fluff, 1k.
So there’s a blanket in the trunk, and a bottle of wine in the backseat, a picnic basket settled between them in the front, and dusty purples and brilliant oranges smudging across the horizon in front of them. It feels a little cliche, but then it’s a fucking relieving kind of cliche - sans monster guts, or creatures that want to shred them to bits - so Dean feels settled, happy actually.
“You won’t tell me where we’re going?” Castiel asks, averting his gaze from the passing scenery outside to glance at Dean as he guides the Impala down a long stretch of highway out in the middle of nowhere.
“I told you,” Dean says, flashing Cas a smile, “we’re going on a date.”
The former angel frowns, and if Dean didn’t have the road to concentrate on, he’d kiss that spot just between Cas’ eyebrows that forms into a deep vee whenever Castiel is concentrating or acting like the world’s grumpiest bear. Later, he thinks.
“Listen,” Dean offers, “I feel like a crap boyfriend because we’ve been you know, whatever, for how long now and I’ve never actually taken you out on a real, honest to God, date. So I decided to change that. Can you just trust me?”
At this Castiel’s lips twitch, a prelude to a smile, and even though it’s been years, Dean’s chest still feels tight at the sight. “I trust you,” Castiel says.
When I was in third grade I was in the last year of elementary school. Our school had four long hallways arranged around a courtyard. From within this we could see, above the magnolia trees and their waxy leaves, the four-tined tower of a gothic cathedral. This enormous replica had been set on a hill in Northwest Washington D.C. by well-meaning Protestants. Whatever the architectural merit of this incredible anachronism, when the setting sun drenched its every limestone block in light the color of lox it was easy to imagine God passing the night here by accident.
The grass in the courtyard was cropped by three tame sheep and an old nanny goat. The school’s library had bay windows that gave out onto this yard. If we read there on windy days we could watch tufts of wool carried off by the breeze. These would pass through the oblique columns of sunlight that speared the shade of the magnolia trees.
On the first day of May every student would assemble in the gym. The maypole would be let down from the pine rafters by a system of pulleys until it lay across two balance beams. Two dozen third graders would line up under the pole, raise their shoulders beneath its length and lift it from the beams. Two teachers, fore and aft, would thread the pole-bearers through the hallways—every door stopped open in advance—out to the courtyard and its prepared notch in the turf. The maypole would be raised and we’d dance around it. Over and around each other until the bands of colored silk we held above our heads had been braided down the length of the blonde pole.
The teachers would applaud and then drag large dairy cans over to the school’s five butter churns. The strongest man at our school, a math teacher, would heft the cans of cream into the air and fill the stoneware churns. We’d take turns jumping on the wooden treadles that, by an oscillating arm, worked the plungers up and down inside the churns. Our enthusiasm was boundless and soon had produced fresh butter to spread on our lunches of saltines eaten with grape juice.
After lunch the school’s nurse, a broad shouldered woman with only one thumb, would heft a terrifying electric razor to shear the sheep. This razor was black and the size of a man’s shoe. It let out a snarl that resonated off the courtyard bricks and seemed to absorb all other sounds into its hypnotic drone. The math teacher held the bleating sheep in a variety of cunning poses that immobilized their four limbs. The nurse worked the huge silver mouth of her razor through the wool. Great yellow pads six inches wide would rise from the sheep, buckle into an arc and spill into angular coils beside the math teacher’s knees.
We’d carry the oily shearings over to blue zinc washtubs. We’d pile the wool so high in our arms it was impossible to keep the tickling threads and their intense smell of shit out of our noses. We nearly always sneezed as we bent to drop the raw wool into the steaming basins. We’d take turns working the wool into the soapy water with garden forks. Each batch was rinsed in a final tub whose level overflowed the lip. The water in this tub was continuously replenished by a green garden hose whose mouth was clipped beneath the surface. We ran the wool from this last tub through a mangle. We carded it as best we could and then stirred it into simmering cauldrons of dye. The wool—indigo, carmine, goldenrod—would be spun into skeins and sent down to a basement room near the boiler. There, an art teacher would feed them into her loom and, over the next year, weave one of the tapestries that covered the cathedral’s interior walls.
Soon after this I started taking entrance exams for prep schools. These were private boy’s schools that ran from grades four through twelve. A prep school is in an obvious sense meant to prepare students to go to college. But each also makes a tacit promise to place students on a trajectory ending in positions of control and authority within white society. I took four exams for four schools. I worked diligently on the first but when I took the second, third, and fourth I discovered that each was identical to the first. I wrote “I took this test last week, call them for my score” on the top of the Scantron cards. I was accepted by only one school and I went there in the fall.
This school was on close to eighty acres of land, just north of the city. Grades were called ‘Forms’ and each was designated a roman numeral. My favorite class was art. The teacher had a closely cropped ginger beard and could draw perfect freehand circles of any size on the chalkboard. He had a large collection of narcotic music from the 1970’s. After he’d given us something to do, like copy an upside-down Picasso etching or draw our eyes by gazing into special mirrors that magnified our faces, he would lay a Tangerine Dream or Vangelis LP on his record player. Once he’d made the rounds, looking over our shoulders as we drew, telling us how much pressure to apply on our pencils, he would flip the record over and saunter to the classroom’s bay window. No matter the weather he would light a menthol cigarette and cantilever half his body through the frame in order to smoke it.
The lower school had a classroom filled with books for the younger grades but I quickly found the upper school’s library. It was a triple-height room with wood panels and marble busts of famous authors atop of each riser of books. The decimal system was used on the spines of the books but if you asked the librarian where a particular item was he would say something like “Shakespeare Seven.” This meant you should look on the seventh shelf down from Shakespeare’s bust. These busts were like everything else at the school: the middle class idea of an upper class thing to do. The busts had been badly carved and their blurred execution made each look like a rubber Halloween mask stretched over a fencepost.
I was not allowed to check books out from the upper school’s library, but I soon found you could drop the book you wanted to read out one of the windows and into the juniper bushes below. This circumvented the anti-theft panels at the library’s only entrance. After you’d finished all you had to do was slide the book through the night return slot when no one was looking.
One of the books I read in fifth grade was by Edmund Wilson. It was called To The Finland Station. The book is a history of socialist revolutionaries and it was the most exciting history book I had ever read. Wilson’s writing was like discovering the water you had been drinking all your life was the diluted version of a purer and more refreshing liquid. And Wilson gave you this essence for free, rolling down each page by the gallon. Told through his voice, everything about Socialism seemed fascinating and inevitable. The next book I dropped out the window was a paperback copy of The Communist Manifesto and 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, bound as one.
I had already been teased about being fatter than most of the other students at the prep school. It didn’t especially bother me. I was frequently told by teachers I ought to play football. They always made a gesture towards my body when they said this, an up-and-down motion of presentation with the open hand. Something a salesman might do to a bolt of fabric. I preferred to play tennis. The athletics director was a young and lanky man named Mr. Winkle. He wore a silver whistle and burgundy tracksuit to every occasion. He’d once been reduced to helpless laughter at a lacrosse practice by a student named Mike Hunt (this was the latter’s introduction to the joke.) He was frustrated by my decision to play tennis, but eventually lost his ardor for solving the problem. I was happy to be in distant communication with another person across the school’s clay courts.
A student named Crispin sat next to me in History. One day before class started he saw me reading the library’s copy of The Communist Manifesto. He began to tease me about it. I tried to explain about Wilson and Wilson’s language but the joke was already in the air. Crispin was soon bouncing lines off four or five other kids. One of them said the phrase ‘Red whale’ just before the teacher stood up at his desk to start the class.
The next day, when I walked into the history classroom, Crispin rose, clicked his heels together, shot out his right arm in a Nazi salute and said in a loud voice: “All hail the Red whale!” Everybody laughed. I was extremely embarrassed to be the center of attention. My instinct was to explain, absurdly, how stupid it was to use the Nazi salute as part of this insult. But the joke caught. For the next two or three months, everywhere I went somebody would shoot his right arm out and yell “All hail the Red whale!” I began carrying a portable CD player in the outside pocket of my blazer so I could listen to something else as I walked between classes.
I thought that it would be like any other joke. I’d been taunted before and assumed the line would lose its edge with age. I found instead that once the joke had spread to thirty or forty people it ceased to be a joke, and became something closer to ritual. Kids stopped in their tracks when they saw me. They became solemn, threw out their arm, and with no attempt to be funny, shouted the line. They kept their arm raised and waited for me to acknowledge the greeting. After I’d nodded, as though the Nazi salute had only been a wave of the hand, they walked on. It felt very quickly as though I had been snipped from the school’s social fabric and become its designated outsider.
This was the first time I felt the desperation that waited in the basement when the upper floors of oneself begin to collapse. I was not stung by their dislike for me but by the fact their dislike was becoming less and less foreign to how I thought of myself. Their scorn, I learned, did not require my agreement for it to become one of my own, domestic feelings. The shame at being a person who was given a Nazi salute everywhere he went made it very difficult to ask an adult to help me. The last act of this story would be funny if it hadn’t actually happened.
The Jewish students in my form, who greeted me with the Nazi salute, began calling me an anti-Semite. They’d heard Stalin been planning a purge of every Jew in the Soviet Union at the time of his fatal stroke. This news of my anti-Semitism filtered back to the parents of most of my friends, who then began to discourage their sons from talking to me.
In the end, I became desperate enough to ask for help. I went to see the headmaster of the lower school (forms I-IV.) I made an appointment with his secretary and was shown into his office one afternoon. This was Mr. Williams. His father had been the Ecuadorian ambassador to the United States. So far as I could tell only two things gave Mr. Williams pleasure. The first was proving the quality of his father’s Panama hat, which he displayed on a bookshelf in his office. He did this passing the white hat unharmed through a napkin ring, kept next to the hat on the same shelf for this purpose. The second was proving his navy uniform still fit by wearing it each Halloween.
The only art on the walls of his office was a framed Looney Toons poster commemorating the death of Mel Blanc. In it, every cartoon character Blanc had voiced stood with eyes closed and heads bowed, some in tears, on the stage of a theater. Forty cartoon characters crowded in semidarkness and in front of them, a single microphone held by a bright spotlight. The word “Speechless” had been written across the bottom of the image in the same calligraphic font as “That’s all Folks!” I told Mr. Williams my story. He nodded as I spoke. He asked me questions about when it had started, and by whom. His manner was very calming and I began to relax for the first time in weeks. I felt a growing confidence this man would intercede.
When I finished my story he leaned back into his chair, crossed his long legs, and said he was going to do nothing. He was at pains to point out that I couldn’t have known The Communist Manifesto would cause these difficulties, but he did say “This is your problem.” He made a strange, openhanded gesture towards my feet as he said this. His told me if I wanted to fix my problem he would suggest a solution. He said I ought to stand up at the end of the next school assembly and deny I was a Communist. He said the only way I could extricate myself from the mess I was in was publicly to deny that I had any adherence to Socialism.
And so, at the end of the next assembly, I raised my hand and was called on by Mr. Williams. I walked from my seat to the spot at the front of the room where Mr. Williams was making the same, openhanded gesture. I stood there in front of a hundred and fifty kids and recanted. I said I was not a Communist and that I had no connection of any kind to Josef Stalin. I said I was sorry I had given people the impression that I was, or had. The last thing I said was to ask that nobody applaud me. One or two students clapped ironically as I walked back to my seat. The Nazi salutes continued for several weeks after this, but I began to notice my teachers telling the kids to knock it off.
I’ve come to think of this experience as the narrow edge on a wedge, one of several that have separated me from all the other lumber being floated downstream. Lumber moving towards a sawmill that none of those who bullied me have escaped.