a lamb to his left
Malcolm had spent barely six weeks at Brooklyn Tech; the building was so large, and his obedience so great, that he once spent an entire period taking notes before he realized he was in the wrong class. The halls were all elbows. One time, between classes, a white kid with a shaved head put his hand out to dap. Malcolm slapped it and shouted. A thumbtack was buried in his palm. He tried to find the dean, got lost in the halls, and went to class ten minutes late, only to be reprimanded in front of everyone, and sent to the dean ‘for tardiness.’ He sat in the office with his fist in his pocket, blood seeping through his fingers, while the dean spoke of self-respect and the Mets bobble-head, on his desk, nodded up and down. But what he remembered best was his excitement when he first saw that hand.
The crucifixes on the walls and the Lord’s Prayer recited over the speakers were the only differences between the schools. The prayer had been pre-recorded. It was the exact same each time.
At lunch he would go up the street, to the church, and sit in a pew with his boots on the kneeler, eating from a brown paper bag. Ham and lettuce on white bread, an apple with a bruise. As he ate he watched the faces of the old women soften as they came in, closed their eyes, and kneeled. Some of them had rosaries dripping through their fingers; others had granny carts, with boxes of pasta, cans of corned beef, cartons of milk with photos of cows.
He didn’t speak much with the other kids. “Yo, Malky,” said a boy named Michael one morning. They were under the Virgin Mary, waiting for the doors. Michael had a long, skinny face with shadows in each cheekbone. Malcolm turned up his music and pretended not to notice. To show himself he didn’t care, he beat his head to the song, “Where Is My Mind,” hooked his thumbs in his pockets, and tapped his fingers, to the beat, on his thigh. When he looked up, Michael was mockingly doing the same.
After school, on his mother’s computer, he read about the saints. He read that St. Francis was so at peace with nature that doves would sit on his shoulders and babies would quiet at his touch. One time he embraced a leper. In the bathroom stall, with his pants around his ankles, and the door bolted shut, Malcolm read that,
A Freesmason decided to make a mock confessions to Padre Pio of sinshe made up. As he began to confess these sins, Padre Pio stopped him, and then told him his real sins, as well as the time, the place, and how he committed them. The Freemason wept. Then he converted.
on a Catholic priest’s blog, between advertisements for Local Brooklyn Women, and Sick of Pop Ups? Download This. To get through to this blog, he had to click through each number until he found the desired letter, a task so arduous he took it as a God-given test of his piety. Sitting on the toilet, day after day, Malcolm developed a hemorrhoid.
Religious Studies was his favorite class. He took such pleasure from the drone of Delmonico’s voice, from the rap of the radiators beneath the windows, their wet breath whitening the glass, from the dribble of sun on his textbook and fingers, from the saints’ pale faces printed on cheap, oily paper, from the mustaches and genitals drawn on these faces so forcefully by the book’s prior owners that he felt them through the page, like braille, that gradually, some classes, he fell asleep. When called on, Malcolm was so knowledgeable that he knew exactly how to answer wrong.
One day, after school, the trees striking long shadows across the red pavement, Michael stopped him on the steps. Students cascaded down the stairs around them. “You smoke pot?” he said. Malcolm nodded. Michael laughed. Then they were quiet.
Malcolm’s apartment was five stops away; his mother was at work. They shut the black metal cage behind them, and went up the stairwell, with the grated steps, the stuttering light, the flowered wallpaper that curled in the corners. In the living room he told Michael to wait. He went to his room, found the papers, the lighter, the leaf that he’d seen on the street and thought looked like pot, and came back out.
“Is it real?” Michael asked.
“I think so.”
“Where’d you get it?”
“I found it.”
They ground the leaf, rolled the pieces in the paper, and smoked on the rooftop, over the street, sunset running from the horizon like blood from a slit. They coughed themselves blind. Then they lay down on the cornice.
“I’m so high.”
“I think this is the highest I’ve ever been.”
“Me too,” said Malcolm, who had never smoked weed before.
Dean Jamieson is from New York City. His work has appeared in the Masters Review, Heavy Traffic Magazine and the Coachella Review. This piece is excerpted from his novella, A Lamb To His Left.