We’d heard that Leonard tried to off himself over the weekend so we were surprised when they still called his name during attendance on Monday. Like it seemed like there ought to be rules for that kind of thing?
Years later, rumor was that he got a job at Kinko’s and met a girl there and they got married, but they both just kept on working at the Kinko’s anyway. Every now and then you’d hear about someone going in to make some copies and there he was.
Then just the other day, another rumor: that he pulled that same thing again. Same way and everything. And this time he got it done.
The part I can’t stop thinking about—the part that sticks to my conscience, for some reason—is how Leonard used to be so sensitive back in Chem Lab, even before anything happened.
Like, for example:
There was always some all-caps warning at the bottom of all our lab worksheets that said, like, DON’T DO SOME SPECIFIC THING, right? And while Benny and me would try to be doing the steps of the actual lab, Leonard would fixate on that one line, the one thing you shouldn’t do. He’d say it over and over, like DON’T GOUGE THE SILICA WITH THE SPOTTER, YOU GUYS or OKAY BUT MAKE SURE YOU DON’T PUT THE LANES TOO CLOSE.
We thought it was funny—I mean it was every time—so we started messing with him, right? Like I’d go, I’M GONNA GOUGE THE SILICA, BENNY, I’M GONNA DO IT—just to help Leonard loosen up a little bit. I mean, we were seventeen. But he was, too, you know? But he never did loosen up. He just never thought it was funny.
Me and Benny used to bond a lot, back then, over the idea that people besides us couldn’t see the big picture. “The grand scheme,” we called it. That lab, actually—that lab is a great example. Leonard still seemed to think Chem Lab was actually important, right? But we knew the big secret, which was that it wasn’t. That nothing was—not in the grand scheme.
I mean, you know this now, I know this now—no big deal. But back then, when you’re kids, most people don’t really know it yet.
So we were big on the grand scheme in those days, me and Benny, probably because we were proud of being a little bit ahead on that. We certainly weren’t ahead on much else. So when it came to Leonard, maybe we thought letting him in on it might actually help.
Anyway that one day, the Friday just before Leonard did what he did, our lab was on something I can’t even remember what it was called, but whatever it was, the worksheet kept shortening it to “TLC,” right? Which we thought was hilarious, so we kept trying to tell Leonard that TLC was part of every step on the worksheet. Step 1, TLC, right? Step 2, more TLC. So I’d hug him, Benny’d hug him, we’d hug each other, we’d go around and hug the other kids in the lab, try to hug the teacher, then we’d come back and hug Leonard from both sides at once, you know? And after a while we were all just laughing so hard. I’m not sure I’ve ever laughed so hard, actually. Even the teacher was smiling. But I look at Leonard, and he’s over there still trying to go down the actual steps of the lab. Can you believe it? It was the most depressing thing I’d ever seen. So I told him.
“Leonard,” I said. “You gotta back up from it, okay? You gotta just back way, way, way, way up from whatever’s in front of you. Just get as far away from it as you can get—and don’t stop backing up until everything in your life looks so, so tiny and far away that none of it actually matters. Okay?”
I remember, I looked him right in the eye—and I think I remember seeing it click.
I said, “Do you see it now? Because in the grand scheme, Leonard, this—” I remember pointing around us at the room, the other kids, our worksheets. I remember pointing at Benny, who was wiping tears from his face. I remember thinking—honest to God—I remember thinking how happy I was.
I said, “—this is all there is.”
Molia Dumbleton’s short fiction has appeared in The Kenyon Review, New England Review, Best Small Fictions, SmokeLong Quarterly, Wigleaf, and elsewhere, and been awarded the Seán Ó Faoláin Story Prize and the Columbia Journal Winter Fiction Award, among others. She’s a member of the Curatorial Board at Ragdale and an Assistant Fiction Editor at Split Lip. She teaches at DePaul University in Chicago.