Hudson School–Chapter 3
by SK Figler
Copyright 2020 by SK Figler
The skinny lady with short gray hair like a helmet and high heels takes us up some wide stairs with a fancy wood bannister. She’s ahead of us saying things about rules and meals and cleaning ourselves and our clothes, all without even looking back at us. Henry, ahead of me, says, “W-w-w-w-w” and stops trying. He tries again, “W-w-w-w,” and stops again. He tries one of his tricks, skipping the word he’s having trouble with. “Are you t-t-t-t,” big breath, “aking us?”“What did you say?” says Miss Cole, still climbing. That’s what Dr. Israel called her.
I say, “Henry wants to know where you’re taking us.” He doesn’t like me or anyone speaking for him, but I wanted to know, too.
“To the room where Henry will be living, of course. When we leave him there, I’ll take you across Quaker Ridge Road to where you will be living.”
“Why can’t I live where Jacob is living?” Henry says, loud and quick.
“Well, that’s too bad, because you just can’t. Those are the older boys over in Boys’ House. You’re with the younger boys here in Main House. That’s the way it is at Hudson School. It’s not like at home, wherever that is.”
“Rockville Centre,” Henry shouts.
“Keep your voice down, young man. This is not a gymnasium. Anyway, Dr. Israel said that’s not your home anymore. And it won’t be because your mother has sold it. This will be your home for at least a year, a school year, that is. Which is about all a body can be expected to take.”
Henry’s eyes are big, and his mouth is open. He’s breathing hard. I put my hand on his shoulder, but he doesn’t seem to feel it.
“Here we are,” Miss Cole says and breathes out like it was a real chore. She puts a hand on Henry’s head holding him there. “Jacob, is it? You go on down to Dr. Israel and tell him I’m too bushed to take you across. He can do it or tell Scruggs to. Tell him he woke me up from my afternoon nap, if he gets his back up.”
“Why can’t I stay here with my brother?” That was your actual question as I recall. It’s simply not the way things are done here. Rules. And rules are rules. Let that be the end of it.”
“But. . .”
“You can argue with Dr. Israel on his time if you want. Go on now, Jacob, and I’ll settle Henry in. Wait, where’s your luggage, your clothes?”
“We didn’t bring any,” I say. “We didn’t know we were staying. She said it was just a nice drive in the country.” I want to say Mother lied to us, but I’ve probably said enough already.
Miss Cole stares at me like I must be lying. Then she says, “Big surprise for her kiddies, huh? Well, I’ve been teaching here for a number of years, and I can’t say I’ve heard of that. Another thing to discuss with Dr. Israel. I’ll ease little Henry into the Hudson School way. Go on now, big brother. Just look both ways before crossing that road or you’ll wind up a smudge on the highway of life.”
I look at Henry. He’s standing there under Miss Cole’s hand like a little soldier almost at attention, as close as a seven-year-old can get to it. He doesn’t fight or try to stay with me, and he doesn’t cry. Henry hardly ever cries. He takes whatever comes at him, not wanting to “make a scene,” which is what Mother calls it.
“Your mother called,” Dr. Israel says, opening the big door and pushing me with him out to the curving drive where Mother told us to get out of the car. “She said your things will be up on the evening bus from the city. Wonder why she didn’t bring it up with you boys.”
“She didn’t want to spoil the surprise,” I say.
He looks down at me like maybe I’ve said something wise. Or smart-ass, which is the way Father looks at me when I say almost anything. We wait for a delivery truck to pass. He takes my hand to pull me onto the road. “This is Quaker Ridge Road. Never never never cross it without myself or a teacher present. Do you understand?”
Of course I understand. He wants me to say so, but I just nod. We finish crossing the road into a little parking lot with two cars and an old open back truck. It’s a Model A Ford. The Model T came before the Model A. I twist my hand out of his. He puts his on my shoulder and squeezes as we walk. Maybe some kid got killed crossing the road.
“It looks like a country road, but there is a lot of traffic you wouldn’t expect and sometimes it’s hidden beyond that little hill. He points to the right, and just to prove it, a car appears. Dr. Israel blows out a big breath.
We’re in front of a long three-floor building with Ts at each end. It’s brown and has small windows all along, the top ones sticking out of a steep roof. An older boy with curly orange hair leans on an upstairs window ledge and watches us. “Hello, Kirk,” Dr. Israel yells up to him and takes his hand from me to wave. The boy pulls back into the dark.
“Kirk’s father is a sub-ambassador to Syria. Do you know what an ambassador does, Jacob?”
“He’s someone the United States sends to other countries.”
“Very good, although there’s more to it than that. Are you sure you’re only twelve?” There always is more, I think but don’t say. “If the Republicans defeat Mr. Truman, Kirk’s father will return, and I’m sure Kirk will be much happier.”
We go into the building. It’s dark and feels empty and not as fancy as the one across the road where Henry now lives. “It’s usually much livelier here with all the boys,” Dr. Israel says. “You’ll see tonight when they return for evening meal. They’re off on a field trip to the zoo. We hope sincerely they haven’t harmed any animals.”
“Why would they do that?”
“Boys will be boys,” Dr. Israel says, almost whispers it like he’s ashamed that that’s his answer.
“We like our boys to have fun at Hudson School. Our motto is, “Fun in its proper time and place.” One of our mottoes. Let’s see. Mr. Livesey should be at home.” He reaches to a high white button on a brown wall. A buzzer bell echoes through the hall. Dr. Israel yells, “Mr. Livesey?” like it’s a question, holding the “ey” so it echoes.
He taps a foot for a minute or more and reaches for the button when a man comes trotting toward us out of the darkness. He slows and walks fast leaning forward as he comes close. He is pudgy and has a saggy hound-dog face. “Beg your pardon, Dr. Israel. I have been discommoded all morning. Must’ve gotten a bad piece of lox at breakfast. Has it not attacked you? My tummy isn’t what it used to be.” He pats it, smiling at Dr. Israel. I don’t see how a piece of lox could attack anyone. Mr. Livesey seems a strange man. He hasn’t even looked at me, just stares at Dr. Israel waiting for his pardon.
“I’ve brought you Jacob Braun, Mr. Livesey, two weeks late for the start of school, but better late than never, right Mr. L?”
Mr. Livesey finally notices me, but he doesn’t hold out his hand, so I don’t either. He seems a little upset that Dr. Israel has brought me to him and doesn’t know what to say about it. If he doesn’t want me, that’s fine. It’ll be the best thing that’s happened all day. He still doesn’t say anything, just looks down at me. If I were a dog, I’ll bet he’d talk to me and pull my ears.
“Jacob’s brother will be living in Main House. Their trunks will be brought around later. Please have Scruggs put another cot in Master Rosewall’s and Master Tysander’s room.”
“Master Forrester is in there as well,” says Mr. Livesey.
Dr. Israel sighs. He says, “Right, right. Well, it’s the biggest room we have. It will be tight for awhile, but I’m sure vacancies will occur as the school year rolls along.”
I think the last part is meant for me, though Dr. Israel said it to Mr. Livesey. But I wonder why vacancies would occur. Dr. Israel says very seriously, “I’m sure you’ll love your stay with us at Hudson School, Jacob. Don’t worry about starting late. The other boys will be happy to help you catch up. Everyone is very nice and helpful here. He looks around in the dark, no lights on, just the daylight through some windows and the glass-topped door. “Master Jacob is in your capable hands, Mr. L.” Dr. Israel’s face makes me think he isn’t sure about what he just said.
“Why can’t Henry and I sleep in the same room?” I say to both of them. “We’ve always slept in the same room.” I don’t tell them about summer camp when we were in different bunks.
Dr. Israel says, “It will be an adventure for you both. Mr. Livesey will explain the Hudson School way, won’t you, Mr. L?” Dr. Israel turns and is gone. Mr. L has said hardly anything the whole time. His face looks like the dog my father had for a little while. He and Mother argued about the dog most nights and weekends except when they weren’t talking at all. I liked Sparky. When he got excited, he made a sound like a freight train whistle.
“Mr. Livesey says, “I have to go to the bathroom again. I’ll be right back.” He turns and walks down the hall where he came from, taking quick little steps.
“He’s got a bad gut.” I spin and my hands go up in fists. The orange-haired kid from the window is sitting high on stairs half in the dark. “Mr. L is a bozo. I run this joint and everyone knows it except the grown-ups.”
I can’t see his face, just the outline of him, but he’s bigger than I would’ve guessed just seeing him in the window from the driveway. His shoes are in a little light. They’re a color my father called oxblood, and they’re polished with tassels. One of his legs is bouncing fast, the heel hitting the carpet like a machine gun. “I got three rules,” he says. “Rule number 1, guys do what I say. Rule number 2, guys don’t spill to anyone. Whatever I say or do is between me and whoever. I don’t use lieutenants. Rule number 3, remember 1 and 2, or else. I know you’re gonna play by my rules, kid, everyone does.”
In the dark I can’t tell if he looks tough, but he’s big, and a big arm is stretched toward me, not to shake hands, but to point three counting fingers at me. The nails are ragged, bitten down as far as they can be bitten, just like Henry’s. I’ve only been in one fight and got beat up pretty bad, but I survived.
A door opens and Mr. Livesey comes quick-stepping down the hall. I look toward the stairs again, but the kid is gone. “Right as rain,” Mr. L says trotting up to me. Let’s meet Master Kirk.”