(Palm Sunday: III/IV) Mr. McGruder’s Question

Jane’s arm is bloody.

“This is what happens when you stay up too late playing with sharp objects,” Martin points out.

Jane frowns at her arm.

“It wasn’t a sharp object,” she says. “It was a sharp history. I think it was about Mr. Kong. And it was an accident.”

“Bed,” Martin says.

But Jane has already gone back into the pile of Necessity fragments, drawn by a crimson glimmer, and she’s triumphantly holding up a piece.

“Ha,” she says.

“You’re getting blood on the 80s,” Martin whimpers.

It is 1979.

Mr. McGruder is walking home. He is not paying attention to the road. He is not paying attention to the sunset. He is not paying attention to the labored sound of monstrous breathing or the distant heavy footsteps. Instead he is preoccupied with his own thoughts. He walks right into the ragged thing.

“Oh!” he says.

He adjusts his glasses. He looks at the ragged thing.

He frowns.

He takes off his glasses. He cleans them. He puts them back on his nose. He looks again.

The ragged thing breathes.

Then it hooks him with its claws and Mr. McGruder releases a shout.

“Ow!” he bleeds.

Begs Mr. McGruder: “This isn’t where I’m supposed to be. I’m supposed to be at home.”

And he hears the breathy whisper of Ii Ma, How—

That is when Max slams into Mr. McGruder and knocks him free.

“Cool!” Jane says.

Sid looks at her. He practices his guilt-inducing stare.

Jane is immune. “Kapow!” she declares, in honor of Max.

It is 1979 and the sun is at the horizon and Max is an angsty teenager in jeans and a shirt. His instincts, honed by years of sullen teen apathy, had told him,

Look away. Don’t mind the guy and the ragged thing.

But Mr. McGruder is his homeroom teacher and he is always giving Max detention and people are loyal in the oddest ways.

Max knocks him away.

And there are claws and there is blood and Max hears the insidious whisper of Ii Ma, How could you betray your wife?

It is very easy for Max to answer this question. It is not normally possible to avoid exile in the land without recourse with a single syllable—not even Mu!—but Max manages it with, “Huh?”

And then the ragged thing is gone and Mr. McGruder is sprawled out on the ground in a dead faint and Max is bleeding.

Max pants.

Run away, his instincts tell him. But he ignores them.

He hefts Mr. McGruder against his shoulder. He can’t get his teacher over his shoulder, but he can sort of support the man.

He begins walking.

He staggers once. His vision blurs. He starts to fall. He whispers, “Sid.”

And Sid is there; and Sid catches them; and Sid stands there looking at Max and Mr. McGruder with an alien and strange expression in his eyes.

“You know,” says Max. “I’d decided that I’d made you up.”

“Six years is a really long time to be mad about a technical foul,” Sid points out.