Padmore Fenwidgeon sat in the corner, but he was all over the room. Terrible and abbreviating (everything you did felt small and purposeless in comparison), he kept all the secrets of the world to himself as far as you could tell by looking at him. But for some reason he positively boiled onto everything everywhere. He slouched and wore a greasy smile after lunch and you simultaneously got the impression that he was in grade school, high school, and college all at once, besides being a hobo. Someone must’ve dropped him, when he was tiny, into a mud puddle with some time-splitting dimensional converter, forgotten about him, and then came back to find some chaotic devil swirling through and beyond puberty. Shouting inanities the way you’d yell a swear word.
I met him in some way I can’t remember now, if it was even an event to remember. It wouldn’t surprise me if he had merely bled out of wherever he was and fell into (or onto) my life. Anyway we seldom spoke at first but I think he knew everything about me, just for kicks. He collected people. At the time I was one of those smart kids who looked perpetually uncomfortable, with “mousy hair” and little color in clothes or personality. Padmore knew all the little things that made me me, though. The condiment “stash”, the stolen sneakers, my silent weekly obsessions revealed through the pictures I slipped in my binders. I don’t know how or why he knew, and I would’ve cared if it wasn’t Padmore. But he was allowed, just because there was no way you could tell him it wasn’t allowed.
As it is I changed when he arbitrarily decided that I was to be something important. I think I had it (what’s “it”?) in me all along, but Padmore’s provoking was such a careening catalyst.
The first thing I can remember about him was how he complained about his name. He was wearing orange tshirts all that month (“a personal Lent for October”, he told me later). That’s how I remember:
“It sounds like I’m some type of frothy British tooth-child, destined to have a broken nostril and to be adorned with tea stains.”
And he grabbed Jake’s coke and turned it down the front of that nice orange.
“Like that all over my damn skin.”
Then he disappeared for a few days.
Whenever I had classes with Padmore Fenwidgeon after that I sat near him and pretended to be an extension of him. Those classes I was suddenly something looser, something dyed. I didn’t feel fake; I felt liberated.
Padmore (who was always Padmore, never Pad or Paddy or More or Anything Else) drew pictures of the teacher and asked strangely articulate questions in offensive juvenile tones. When he said anything it felt like you weren’t supposed to hear it, that you were eavesdropping on something intensely and pointlessly private. The class would collectively not listen in that tense way where every word sticks to you just to spite you and oh god did that boy hate it and love it and you know, I was jealous. I wanted to be the funk in the corner that he was. I sat there with him but I was always the mop, prodding him and absorbing his filth. And I don’t mean filthy filth, I mean that kind of ruckus that lies scattered across a ten-year-old’s room, dolls and crumpled shirts and paper airplanes and maybe bug wings or some mock dead things. Padmore played.
Which is exactly what I didn’t know how to do.
“You’ve never climbed onto the roof?” Padmore asked me one morning at the end of Biology when the rain was smacking against the windows just so hard. He knew the answer and said it so I knew he knew.
“Why would I…want to?” I returned, bored and leaning onto one hand with my fingers curled into my lips, yellow lines on my forearm from where Terri had described another life with a highlighter.
“Because it’s there!” Padmore retorted, slamming in slow motion onto the much-too-small desk. I wanted to smear him up.
“Just like how Oven was ‘there’ and Meatcakes was ‘there’ and --” he stared at me with the best furious expression. I loved it and laughed.
“YES! That’s exactly it! Cameralove was there too but you didn’t listen and where are you now!” He pointed at me and turned everything all around.
“I don’t see Oven or Meatcakes around anymore”
“That’s because they’re not there anymore!”
“Neither is Cameralove!”
This is what we did: sticking labels onto people so nobody knew who we were talking about and we could yell it and Oven and Meatcakes and Cameralove could be in the same room, even, and they wouldn’t know because these words had no connection at all, no, none because we were OBJECTIVE UNIFIERS AND DISSENTERS as always (that was my phrase from some old life).
Anyway the roof.
“We should go up.” Padmore told me stubbornly
“Now?” I asked meekly.
“Now.” Padmore said resolutely.
“The bell hasn’t even rung yet,” I remarked adverbly.
“Collateral,” he added, making no sense again but leaving no room for me to argue. We sat with our heels pumping, eyes between the teacher and the clock and whichever went first…
Ms. Teetreen passed to some confused classmates (who were actually working, the fools) and we jumped, threw our bags about our backs and hustled out of the door in complete silence (relative to the din of busywork). I had no idea where we were going because I didn’t even know there was a way to get onto the roof. Padmore turned this way and that way and kept saying, “You can see all of Heavendale Heights from up there, the whole thing! Every house and shop and even some of the druggies in the woods!” It sounded thrilling, but a quick glance at my watch told me there were three minutes left before the bell and be careful which classrooms we pass!
“It doesn’t matter, three minutes! Three minutes and then five minutes of pure granulated freedom, not from concentrate,” he said ethereally, swinging about a pillar and into the face of a large metal door labeled “AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY”.
“Is it locked?” I asked, nearly dumb.
“Of course.” I got a look like I had asked for the first letter of the alphabet, or my own name.
“…Do…you…have a key?” I ventured.
“No.” Same look.
“…Then what are we doing!” I flailed my arms and smiled in spite of myself.
“I never said this was the right door; I just said ‘this’! It was in the way!” And we started off again.
The bell rang and throngs of high schoolers erupted from every concrete orifice. It was strange being outside of it, witnessing the utter silence of ten seconds earlier turn into a seething mass of sexual tension (You know it. You know it.)
But Padmore had found what he was looking for, that being Mr. McKenner’s room. Confused and blinking, I followed him in. He flashed a very “usual business” smile to Mr. McK, who was a young jaunty lacrosse coach combination history teacher with some bad teeth and a good iron (“his shirts are to die for,” I heard a saucy English teacher say once).
“Wait, what are you doing taking some girl up there for?” Mr. McK asked teasingly, peering up from behind a day-old newspaper all folded funny against his propped up knees, “she your lady-friend now?”
I laughed, because I wasn’t, and it was funny to hear someone say “lady-friend”.
Padmore got quiet and angry and stared practiced death. “No.”
I thought I should’ve felt more awkward.
Then he grinned, and we were out.
I can’t remember what the ledge was like but it was awfully easy to get up there. I can’t remember what it was really like once we finally stood up, either, but I do recall knowing I had done something both supremely stupid and supremely fulfilling and supremely disappointing all at once. I stood next to Padmore, getting soaked in the storm and nearly knocked over by the winds and I knew I was just along for the ride, he could take anybody up here and it wouldn’t matter, I was just today’s choice, today’s lucky winner. Because I pretended well.
So I started crying from the realization that I was just so disposable, and I was so overwhelmed by everything I was feeling and seeing that I must’ve repressed it because I remember everything from before and everything after but nothing while we were up there besides my decaying emotions. I remember being wet and winded on, and crying and hoping Padmore didn’t notice, hoping that the rain hit my face hard enough. I can’t remember the view or the texture of the roof or anything. Those important objective things you can tell people.
I remember my English teacher shrieking at me for being wet.
And I know I didn’t eat lunch that day.
I seem to recall going home and crying some more, but I’m not sure.
The following year Padmore had moved on: he sat with new people who didn’t know his quirks and regarded him as new and essential to every party and good time. I still had some classes with him but I never said anything to him, or he to me, and I felt the weight of what happened on the roof mature and age into some unfathomable cheese.
I guess you can’t just hold that kind of person down, or back, or inside or just here. Because he was bound to move. His energy could only bounce off me and the others so long before it threw him out of this orbit and sucked him into a new one. You know. Magnets or physics and all that stuff I supposedly learned.
There is something I want to do, though. I would like to go back to school this summer and climb out Mr. McKenner’s window and see exactly how we got up there. I would like to notice what color the roof is, and if there are any indications of Padmore’s frequent visits. And I’m dying to see if he was right about being able to see all of Heavendale Heights.