Tears of the Class Clown.
By Wayne Hills.
Emmett Wynn was the funniest kid in school. Shorter than the others, he’d learned to rely on his wit to get into cliques that would have otherwise ignored him. Always ready with a quip, pratfall or mimed gesture to make the class crack up.
He loved school, not for the lessons or comraderie of his fellow students; but for the safe refuge it provided from his home life. His alcoholic parents neglected him and abused him. His father beat the young boy, saying he was “only half a child, a runt who would never grow into a full man.” Whenever Emmett cried, the thrashings would become harsher. His mother’s advice, “grin and bear it,” became his motto for dealing with life. He learned to smile and take the pain, to hide within himself, even as he absorbed the blows.
All through his education, he was always either first in line by height, or one from the end by name. Until a foreign exchange student, Chizuko Ying transferred in during his senior year in High School.
Slightly shorter than Emmett, he had her all to himself when lined up by size. She was his private audience to entertain. Emmett’s outgoing personality, and well-practiced gags, quickly won over the new classmate. He amused her with jokes that his classmates had long grown tired of. She was a blank slate. Beijing may have had comedians, but they didn’t know American grade-school humor. Ancient knock-knock jokes were gold, although some were lost in translation, Chizuko never understood, “Orangen’t you glad I didn’t say banana.”
Emmett’s locker, just across the hall from their homeroom, was close enough to their place in line, that he could leave it open until it was time to file in for roll call. He’d keep his tricks there to amaze Chizuko, juggling bean-bags, balloons to tie into complex shapes, a never-ending ribbon of colored scarves that he would pull from various hiding places. She would laugh and cover her mouth in the feminine way that her culture demanded.
When sorted by surname however, there was one person that stood between them, Billy Yantzee. A blonde-haired, blue-eyed natural athlete; Billy was king of the school. And a bit of a jerk. He reminded Emmett of what his own father would have been like in school. Everything handed to him because of his popularity, no empathy for those not blessed with the natural gifts of size and strength. Billy was a foot taller than Emmett, whenever he tried to catch Chizuko’s eye, Billy would simply turn his body to block out his smaller classmate.
On the day the senior prom was announced, Emmett hatched a plan to ask her to go. He’d cover the inside of his locker with colorful polka-dot wrapping paper. In the top, well out of sight, he’d hide a surprise.
First period was homeroom; the students would line up and wait for the teacher to open the door. Emmett’s plan was to get there early and ask her before they went in.
When she arrived he’d say, “knock-knock.”
She would reply as she always did, “Who is there.”
Hey, maybe that’s why she doesn’t get the banana joke; Chinese don’t believe in contractions, he thought.
He’d deliver the set up line, “I’m going to the prom with…”
She’d repeat the line followed by the requisite, “… who?” She would be asking him out! He’d pop out the flowers, and her heart would be his. It was brilliant.
This gave him all day to bask in glory of his success. She’d be enamored of his wit. She’d bat her long black lashes as she hid her mouth giggling that perfect high-pitched sound that he loved to hear. It made his stomach feel kind of funny when she did it, he didn’t know why. He just knew he never wanted it to stop. He even had follow up knock-knock set-ups.
He’d say, “I’m riding in a limo with…,”
“I’m dancing every dance with…,”
“I’m getting naked with….” Of course, this one he only thought about at home in the shower. He’d never be so crude to ask her out loud.
That morning, as the other students slowly filled the spaces behind him, he heard her familiar laughter approaching from behind. His broad smile of delight melted when he saw Billy holding Chizuko’ s hand as they rounded the corner down the hall.
Billy, freakin’, Yantzee? How could she go for that jerk?
The couple stopped in line by Emmitt. She gave his rival a kiss on the cheek, Billy smacked her ass, which set off another wave of giggling. He shot Emmett a wink and walked toward his place at the opposite end of the line. Emmett smiled at her. Chizuko lowered her hand to reveal a smile, although her’s wasn’t hiding pain within, it was genuine happiness.
“Knock-knock, Emmitt.” She asked.
“Don’t say my name, just the knocks.” He corrected her gently so that she delivered the line properly. If you’re going to try to be funny, follow the goll-darn rules.
“Oh, sorry. Knock-knock.” She repeated.
Not really wanting to play along, his heart beginning to crack, afraid of what her set up might be. “Who is there?” Purposely un-contracting the, ‘who’s’, hoping there was still a chance to capture her heart with her own words. She didn’t catch the attempt.
“Chizuko going to the formal dance with William.” The accent that he had found so endearing now sounded like dubbed anime.
Her statement cut into Emmett. He fought to keep the smile on his face as the tears welled. He pushed them back, grinning harder to keep them at bay.
“Here at school he’d finally felt the pain like he did at home. Only this was internal, her words, like the punches from his father, hurt him but he couldn’t let it show.
Keeping the lips pinned upwards into the smile he’d been training his entire childhood to hold, He crossed the hall and opened his locker. Chizuko saw the colorful paper and her expression changed to wonder when he pulled the magician’s bouquet from its hiding place.
“Knock-knock.” Emmett said.
Emmett bit the corner of his upturned lip as the pressure built behind his eyes. “I’m happy for…”
When she asked, “…who?” He handed her the flowers and said:
“For you Chizuko. I’m happy for you.”