Kale's Sketches

by Chris Castle
He turned back to his beloved blackboard. His fingers moved up and down, the chalk his conductor, or so he imagined. He was the leader the pupils; the lumps and mouths, his audience. As he finished, he tapped the board two, three times on the full stop, so that dust smoked up and around him. He turned dramatically and imagined that the puff of smoke was thick enough to conceal him, and then he would burst through it, an academic illusionist, set to dazzle. The illustrious Mr. Jenkins!

“Kale, I want you to write these lines out a hundred times before you leave your desk. I know, seeing as you practically are deaf and dumb, you won’t read the lines before we start, so I will do so for you. It says: ‘I will not sit with my head in the clouds when Mr. Jenkins is kindly trying to explain the wonders of geography.” Mr. Jenkins stopped and looked at the board, almost sprinted back to it. “And, comma, ‘especially on his last day.’”

He walked back over to the boy and stood over his desk. Such a meek child. Pasty faced, always hunched over his notebook, like a prisoner squatting over his food. Like somebody permanently about to be beaten. Oh well, best not disappoint, and he firmly cuffed the boy round the ear. He waited. He waited for the delicious sound of whimpering, or the truly magical sight of a boy’s fresh tear. But again, like everything else with the wretched thing, nothing.

“Yes, Kale, today is my last day at this useless lump of a school. Onwards and upwards. You should see it, my own work room, lush fields, food you can eat rather than the filth you find here. And between you and me,” he leaned in close to the boy’s tiny, perfect ear, “The boys want to learn. Really! And if boys want to learn, Kale, well, I’ve got so much to teach.” He stayed by the boy’s ear, breathing, then quick as a flash, he licked the boy’s inner lobe, then rose up to his original spot. Nothing. The boy was astonishing in his aloofness. Jenkins thought for a long second what he could do to garner a response from the thing. But he shook himself out of it. Too close to freedom to get involved in any more silly business, he thought.

“You know what you are, Kale? A scarecrow. A living, breathing scarecrow. I bet if I could dump you anywhere,” he paused by the globe, spun it for dramatic effect.
“Anywhere in the world, say…Ecuador. Or…Kuala Lumpur, you’d just find a spot and flump yourself down in the corner.” Almost idly, he flicked his chalk, pinging it off the top of the boy’s head. Nothing. Extraordinary.

“Let me tell you about the driest place, Kale. No doubt you’ve never heard of the place. Because,” he leaned in close, “that would require you listening!” He bellowed. He staggered back, felt the veins in his neck rise, his face burned.

“It’s Arica, Chile. Every two or three years it rains for ten minutes and that creates floods and wonder. Just a few spots, here and there. Or Death Valley, the hottest place. In 1913 it was 134 Fahrenheit or 57 degrees. Quibto, Columbia, the wettest. So I could put you there and turn you to dust, to ash, to water. Which would you go for I wonder?” He walked up to the boy, kicked him hard on the shin, thumped him on the back. A pause and then the boy assumed his pose. “I think ash. So all they’d find is a hunched little thing and the ashes of his precious exercise book.”

He stepped away, exasperated.

“So no more of me, boy. Will you miss me? My knowledge, my boundless enthusiasm? You all say no now, but I wonder…a future without strict codes or boundaries. How will you fare then, I wonder?” He took a long breath, imagining the boys waving from their dorm windows, smiling, calling out his name. The image held in his head for a long while, and somewhere, deep and cavernous, his heart stirred at the idea.

“So anyway, no more of me.”


Jenkins turned as if a bomb had gone off in the classroom.

“What did you say?” he hissed. His voice was small then. Afraid? He cleared his throat and pulled himself back to his senses.

“What did you say?” He made to walk up to the boy, but found himself rooted to the spot. He looked at him. In some way, imperceptible almost, he’d shifted in his spot somehow. Jenkins edged back to his desk and the reassurance of the blackboard.

“Right. I think it’s time to extend the sentence once more. More words, more lines. What do you say to two hundred, Kale? Will that keep your tongue in place, do you think?” He turned to the board, remembered his flung chalk and reached down for the other half of the stick.

But there was no arm.

Jenkins looked down again, fooled by a shaft of sunlight surely. The chalk sat on the ledge, the board still, proud as always. But that was it. He could see all of it too clearly. There was too much…space. He turned to his left but again there was nothing. He turned awkwardly, bumped against his desk. He fell, without realizing, and looking down, he had no legs. He brought his face up, trying to understand. The boy, Kale. This was his doing. He made to scream, but his jaw shuddered against the dusty floor, for the body was now gone. And in the last moment, as he slipped into darkness, his last, left eye saw a pencil moving against an exercise book and then Mr. Jenkins folded into black.

Kale rose from his chair, rubbed his shin, stretched his back and tried not to think about the bruises. He looked down at his sketch of the spiteful, evil, rangy man; it was a good likeness, he thought. He walked up to the head desk, pulled an envelope from the drawer, folded the sketch into quarters, and popped it in. Then he pulled a small jar, no bigger than an inkwell, from his inside pocket and unscrewed the lid. He dabbed the liquid, one tear from each boy Jenkins had bullied, and ran it across the lip of the envelope. Then he closed it tight and turned it over. He thought for a long while, then scribbled the address. Death Valley, USA. He remembered the name because Kale always listened to what was said.

He walked the courtyard, the sun shining. He held the letter up to the strong sun and for a moment saw the sketch figure of a man crawling along a hot desert. He looked around, then. Boys formed at their formally dull, dreary, dormitory windows. They were smiling now, waving. Kale held the letter high and waved back. It was a perfect afternoon to celebrate the summer, he thought. He reached the letterbox and slipped the letter through the mouth. For a second, the letter fell long and hard, and the sound was a little like a scream, but that was just an echo from inside the box. Then Kale turned back into the sunlight, his exercise book under his arm and sought out his friends.
© 2010 Chris Castle. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Chris Castle lives and works outisde of London, England and has had 300 odd pieces published in various places, including several works published with Black Lantern Publishing. His main influences include Ray Carver and the films of Paul Thomas Anderson.