Le Mort d’Arthur
Mr. Dilley’s bulk obscures the diagram of intersecting lines as he labels the intersecting points. The shoulder of his tweed jacket is smudged with chalk dust where he brushed against the chalkboard.
“With lines MG and VY being parallel and line CL bisecting the lines at a 70 degree angle,” he drones as he finishes the last label with a flourish, “indicate on your paper which angles are the corresponding vertical angles, alternate interior angles and alternate exterior angles, if, of course, there be any.”
A review quiz! We haven’t looked at this angle stuff for weeks, and now he throws in a quiz. I think I remember this, but I confuse congruent with corresponding; or are they the same? I hate this; I hate this; I hate this. Just don’t call on me when we correct it. I know he will! I hate geometry!
Muffled static erupts on the speaker over the door, as someone fumbles with the microphone in the office broadcast center. Mr. Lucas’ voice is faintly heard urgently speaking to somebody else out of microphone range. Mr. Dilley frowns at the interruption, and we students take a break from paper and pencil with audible sighs.
“Students and teachers,” intones Mr. Lucas hesitantly, at last speaking into the microphone. “There is … we ... we feel that an announcement needs to be made at this time. The president … President Kennedy was shot in Dallas just a few minutes ago.” There is gasp, a shout, a moan from various students as Mr. Dilley slumps into his chair like he himself were shot. “Everyone remain calm. He has been rushed to a hospital. We have no more details at this time. We will try to play the radio broadcast over the intercom to keep you informed. Please stay in your rooms until lunch. School is not over; no one is excused to leave the campus.”
The fuzzy radio news bursts through the speaker that rattles with the volume. They adjust the volume down and up and down until we can actually hear what the commentator says. “Dallas … President’s motorcade … Texas school book depository building … three shots … Governor Connally … approximately 12:25 p.m. … sniper… Mrs. Kennedy … blood covered dress.”
The class numbly stares at the speaker over the door as if it were a television set. We struggle to visualize the horrendous event 1200 miles away while the limited details are repeated over and over by this reporter and that witness. The chaos and hysteria reminds me strangely of the old news reels of the Hindenburg disaster or the bombing of Pearl Harbor I have seen on television.
I do not like Kennedy or his silly Camelot thing everybody is hyped-up about, but I certainly don’t want him shot. I am a sixteen-year-old Republican, born and bred, but I don’t want the President dead; I just want him voted out of office. What kind of person would even think of shooting the President, and who would be stupid enough to actually do that?
As time creeps slowly on, the radio becomes a blur of background noise. I am only hearing part of it. Girls are comforting one another while crying and blowing their noses and parading back and forth to the waste basket to deposit used tissues and grab a few more from Mr. Dilley’s desk. Mr. Dilley has said nothing about no one working on the quiz. Leaning back in his chair, fingers peaked at his chin like Dürer’s Praying Hands, he stares reflectively at the ceiling listening to the radio.
The other boys in the room seem stoic. I don’t know how I am supposed to feel right now, maybe they don’t either. What I do feel is empty, hollow, disconnected from everything around me: lost. Maybe that feeling is from shock or disbelief or maybe just plain sadness mingled with fear for what comes next.
Just after 11:00, the broadcast cuts to an official news release, and someone named Malcom Kilduff speaks into the microphone. Through the jostle of bumped sound equipment and garbled voices and an airplane fly-over he says solemnly, "President John F. Kennedy… died at approximately 1 o’clock … Central Standard Time today … here in Dallas. He died of a gunshot wound … in the brain. Dr. Berkley told me it was a …a simple matter of … a bullet right through the head.”
The bell rings. It’s time for lunch, but nobody moves. Mr. Dilley pulls himself up from his chair and walks to the door, and we follow like sheep. I shuffle through the hall of silent whisperings and exit the building into the cool air of a glimmering gold, fall day. So, what do we do now?