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From our archives: This is a provocative short story about the perils of teaching English to new citizens.

glass West of World
Christopher Daniels
She had not told any other students, as far as he knew. Of course, she might have.

Lazlo Happenstance was sitting carefully, his legs tucked. He could feel the carpet under his legs and under his seat. Even though he was wearing a pair of thick corduroy trousers, the fine strands of carpet poked at him like wire bristles. He knew from his high school physics class the principle behind the bed of nails. That, if you lay down on a bed of one nail, it will most certainly impale you like a fruit swizzle stick in a tropical drink. Of course, once the entire surface of the bed is covered in nails, the distance between all of the points of pressure evenly distributes your weight and all you get is a back full of harmless nail-hickeys. If one imagined, he thought running his tongue over a filling that was coming loose, if one imagined all surfaces to be the same as a bed of nails (which of course in theory, they are), one would most likely get little sleep.

The voices on the other side of the door were not entirely unimportant to him. He could have, if he made the distinct effort, could have made out every syllable uttered. After all, they (one person unwittingly, the other quite wittingly) were not making an effort to conceal their words. And the situation naturally dictated that, if certain facts came to light within the course of their conversation, the intonation, volume, and pitch of their voices would automatically rise. Certain words, which were yet to be uttered, Lazlo guessed, based on the fact that the voices were still at the what-could-be-termed "calm" stage, certain words that could have left either person's lips would automatically rise like a kite, taking all of the words that followed behind like a tail.

But he did not make that effort to separate the voices. Nor did he try to catch the odd word here or there. Instead, the greater part of his mental (and, let's face it kids, physical) energy was employed in the act of consciously not-separating, and not-listening, for if one does not think about the bed of nails, he tongued, one will most likely get better sleep. But he did listen for the kite taking off, and the other words that would follow along like fiery ribbons attached to a string.

But the kite remained firmly grounded, the voices smooth as cream cheese. The wire bristles poked. The filling wobbled when he pressed down on it with his tongue. He found that the more he pressed on the filling the greater the pressure he felt underneath his seat from the carpet strands. He conducted experiments for a few moments, all utilizing or ratifying the theories of inertia, propulsion, and even a little bit of gravity thrown in for good measure. Theories he had had little understanding of before, such as the ones he was proving and ratifying at the moment, now came to have the utmost urgency in the continuation of his existence. Push, pull, push, pull. Poke, poke, poke.

He thought of sitting in his car, that very morning, and how he had so sillily neglected to be concerned with these basic physical principles.

Sitting in his car, that very morning, he had neglected to call his dentist. For a few moments, he thought he might rush up the stairs again, phone the dentist and be back before he would be irreparable late. Only he thought then of this, thought of just going on his way, getting on Lake Shore Drive at Montrose, and muddling through the more-than-likely delays caused by the more-than-likely construction more-than-likely blocking off an entire lane or god help him, two lanes of traffic. By the time he had thought of both possibilities, he looked down at the clock on his dashboard and three whole minutes had elapsed. Three minutes in which he could have gone upstairs and completed his task. Three minutes and he would have had an appointment to get the loose filling re-filled. If he had only gotten a cellular phone months ago, which of course, he had staunchly refused to carry (ever), he could have already been on his way to wait behind the queue of cars. After these thoughts passed out of the front of his brain, he looked down at the clock once more, seeing this time that three more minutes had passed. He tongued his filling, and hoped he was not just slowly driving himself crazy.

He shook his head. The day was clear and cold, December in Chicago. No snow though. The ignition was on, and his hands stubbornly refused to put the car into drive. The car's heater had even begun to fog up the windows, as he had been sitting there now for nearing a full ten minutes. His hands refused to grip the gear shift until he admitted that he simply did not want to go to teach any longer. Simple as that, he exhaled, the sudden gale of relief fogging the windows even more. Once he had uttered the phrase, however, he found his right hand stealing over to the bright bulb of the shifter. Betraying him.

The car moved toward the on-ramp. Lazlo turned on the radio, punched the second preset, waited for traffic report, and thought about dying. Specifically, he thought about who would be there when he actually did die. And even more specifically, he wondered about the person who would lift his body from wherever it may have fallen, clean him up, and roll him into dark plastic bag he knew would carry him out of his life. These minute details, the person who would be marking his time of death, for example, had been occupying his thoughts while in his car lately. He found himself driving faster each day, risking certain speeding tickets and rarely going below the speed limit unless forced to by the congestion of traffic, because the thoughts only stopped when the car did. Ever since these specific worries had started, maybe three weeks ago, Lazlo had even found himself silently rejoicing when he pulled up in front of the University.

The traffic report outlined an easy trip ahead. No delays on the expressway - all the way through 64th. He pushed down on the gas, and weaved around a dawdling Honda. He wondered if the person who found him would be a total stranger. Or if the person would be calm, reassuring to any witnesses, family members, or gawkers. If the person who found his lifeless lump of a body would even know where to look for a pulse, or would possess the good sense to make sure Lazlo's eyes were closed. Or would this person (he or she, he had no idea, nor any idea whether such a distinction should matter to him--should he be embarrassed, ashamed, aroused by the answer?) touch him like he were radioactive garbage, a sickening thing, as he was loathe to admit he might do himself.

He found himself stuck behind a grey, dirty Toyota, a woman at the helm. The thoughts of death somehow had distracted him enough that he had been lulled. He looked for a way to pass, but cars were passing quickly by on both sides, and no opening presented itself. His hand shifted down into fourth, the inevitable grinding of gears matching that of his teeth, a habit most likely the cause of his loose filling. He tried to form a mental picture of a woman finding him, because, he reasoned, a woman naturally embodied characteristics he thought of as 'compassionate,' and the one thing he could decide on was that he definitely wanted to be in the hands of a 'compassionate' person. The Toyota slowed further, and Lazlo looked once more for an opening on his left. The lane was clear, and he edged over, ready to stab the accelerator. The woman who found him would have chestnut hair, like Donna Reed. She would be motherly. A tear wouldn't even be so far out of the question (would it?). The Toyota drifted left along with him, and he, annoyed, dropped his speed further and turned the wheel more sharply. A glance at the rear view mirror revealed that he had two wide open lanes, if necessary. Just a tear shed for the loss of another member of the human race. For the unfortunate fragility of the human form. The Toyota stubbornly kept going left. What the fuck? He gritted his teeth and shifted down again. For the ashes we all return to. For his pathetic form. Fuck, what the fuck was this stupid fool doing?

He looked up at the back of her head and saw it lolling to her right side. Which looked odd. Since she was turning left and all. He straightened his car and the Toyota continued on its way leftward, slower and slower and now he was almost able to get right of her when he came to the realization that she was not going to stop of her own power, but rather was going to be stopped by the certainly unmovable force of the expressway median. He edged around her and caught one quick glimpse at her face, her tongue lolling out and her right eye much larger than her left, but neither one looking at him. He was certain she could not see anything out those eyes any longer. Two phrases popped in front of his own eyes: Heart Attack / Stroke. Didn't matter much which one was the correct choice.

The Toyota struck the median a few meters breadth (if one looked at their hearts on a plane, automobiles, bodies, and medians excised from the picture, less than two meters would have separated them) from his own fragile body going something like thirty miles and hour, and crunched to a cartoon-swift stop. He watched, in a series of mirrors and windows from one to the next, the images of this car slamming into the stone barrier. The front of the car collapsed like an accordion. The woman did not come flying out of the windshield, leading him to believe that she had probably had the foresight to seat-belt herself in. He slowed and pulled over a few hundred yards up to the right hand shoulder and watched steam curl out from her radiator. The woman did not stir. Neither did he. He thought that perhaps he knew how to take a pulse. He had a watch in his pocket and could mark the time of death. A pen light in the pocket of his coat that he could use to look into the surely dialated, un-staring pupils, a procedure which he had seen performed by every off-duty doctor on every medical TV drama since he was six years old. If she was still alive, he had no idea how to perform CPR. He could talk to her. If she were conscious, which was most likely not the case. He watched two men jump out of a truck. One pulled open the woman's door. The other produced a cell phone from his front pocket. Steam curled. Two cracks stretched across the woman's windshield and met somewhere just above the rear-view mirror mount. Lazlo tongued his loose filling.

Cars pulled slowly around the Toyota, the back end of which was blocking the leftmost lane, the right back bumper hanging over into the next. The first few inched their way past, trying to get the best possible view of what was going on, before re-accelerating and going on to work. The cars behind the wreck had already begun to swarm, and Lazlo watched the gaper's block form, saw the twenty minute delay actually happening, from just beyond its borders. A static hum began to rise in pitch, getting louder before Lazlo realized it was the sound of horns honking, cars idling, and the attendant ambulances and police sirens all building together. They formed a sonic hum, not unlike a hive of bees on a hydrangea bush. Lazlo could see the two men were not going to move the woman, most likely out of fear of breaking some vertebrae, or perhaps because she was already dead as stone. The steady hum rose in Lazlo's ears, along with his own internal buzz telling him he should probably get out and help, or maybe not, or maybe, maybe…

"Maybe I should what?" The voices had jolted Lazlo back to the present. Quite literally jolted him. As in the jolt one gets from falling lightly asleep until the inevitable falling dream lurches one out of that light sleep, and into a frightened, confused, real-time state. Which was strange, because he had actually felt like he was back in the morning, and back watching the accident. Perhaps the sensations of the carpet, or the intense need to not be in the place he was in at the moment, had conspired together to very nearly lift him out (bodily, he thought--i.e. physically, as in lifting him out like one would lift a puppet from the floor of a stage, but that being a rather tired metaphor, he decided to stick with only the clean sound of the action itself--lift him out {clean-sounding, i.e. as an action, isn't it? Try saying it yourself, and you'll get the feeling}) of the cliché he was in. Or rather the closet. But he preferred to think of it more as a cliché, as that was more precisely its description.

And now, no matter how much effort was put into the not-separating and not-listening, he could hear them that much better, because the kite (and its metaphorical implications, of course) had begun to take off (i.e. no longer were the voices in their cream-cheese-smooth state).

He tongued his filling again, hoping it would distract him. The wire-like bristles of the carpet poked his rear. Physics continued to perform admirably, but for Lazlo it was simply going through the motions now, rather than actively holding his interest.

The door thumped. Perhaps a fist. Perhaps a body. He couldn't have known for sure from his side. More than the force behind the impact, he was intrigued by the thin gusts of light that rained in from around the middle of the door frame. More physics. The door thumped again. When not thumped, only the outline of the door was haloed in light from the other side. When thumped, however, the light curved in at the middle, stretching arcs of light from the space where the wood bowed. The middle point being the weakest point, or the point of greatest flexibility, rather than the ends which would hold fast like wood should. He wished he could turn and see where it hit the walls, but the thumping had stopped (and it would be rather hard to gauge something like that, now wouldn't it?), and even the voices had stopped.
He breathed for what seemed like the first time in ages.
"I am sorry," he heard through the door. This he heard only because he had relaxed.
"The fuck you are sorry."
Another thump, a big one this time, the arcs of light nearly making a complete circle around him.
"Don't." this was the male voice this time. Followed by a hushed flurry of Portuguese. Which Lazlo did not understand, but could imagine the meaning of. "This is no good."
"You are no good." This was her voice.
"The neighbors will hear."
"So they hear. Let them hear you hit me." One more thump, but a soft one. Perhaps a warning.
"I am working all day and you yell at me…" more Portuguese, as if the language was a salve, able to bring down the maddening itch of volume in the conversation.
"English please! English please!"

Lazlo now had to listen. He had made the fatal mistake of tuning into the couple's frequency, and could not work his way back out again. Like one of those black and white optical illusions that looked like gibberish at first, but soon spelled out a word like JESUS or BEER that one could never not see again.
"Don't," the man said. "Don't. Don't say that."
"You say it to me all the fucking time." She over-enunciated "fucking," with the emphasis on the second syllable, and Lazlo almost slapped himself in the head. He stopped himself just in time, as he would have most certainly been heard right then.
"Don't curse. You don't learn English to curse."
"Yes, I Fu-cking do. I Fu-cking learn to curse." The word, the almighty of mother curse words Lazlo remembered hearing first at age 6 from his sister, swam around in his brain and made him feel nauseous.
"You hurt me with these curses."
"Fuck you." Lazlo felt himself starting to sweat. He felt as if he really were on a bed of nails now, only his certainty of its theoretical safety was of little comfort now.
"Stop now."
"Fuck you. Fuck you. Fuck you---Fuck, Fuck Fuck…"

"Fuck," Lazlo said, rubbing his hands together to brush the chalk from his fingertips, "is probably an inappropriate word for an essay."
"Inappropriate?" This came from Alda, a Lithuanian girl who, at eighteen, was the youngest student in the class.
"Inappropriate. You shouldn't use it in an essay you're going to write for school." He said that perhaps a bit more harshly than he had intended. The car and the woman and marking the time of death were all still perched on the ledge of his mind.

"But," Maria said, "everyone says it. And I read this Raymond Carver story." Holding up a neatly stapled stack of xeroxed sheets Lazlo had copied as an example for their latest assignment. "He uses it too."

Lazlo felt a sharp pricking at his back, and realized he was leaning against the chalkboard. A small pushpin, used to hold up a sign that said "English, Please!" and bore the picture of a rather famous red muppet, mouth agape, was poking his in his right shoulder blade. He moved away and brushed his hands again.

"That's true. In stories, it is perfectly acceptable to use all kinds of grammatical mistakes. You can use sentence fragments, run-on sentences. Remember run-on sentences from last week?" Heads nodded. "And you can use bad language. But not in essays. Essays are supposed to be for a university audience."
He felt, rather than heard, Maria snorting on that one.
"However, for narrative essays, like the ones you did for this week, you can use bad language, or curse words," he turned and wrote curse words on the chalkboard. "If it is in the point of view of the character, or in dialogue. Remember 'point of view?'" What was the point of view of that woman in the car? What had she seen? Could she have seen him go on his way? Could she have watched his car slink off like a dog?

Half of the heads nodded. Maria sat, with arms crossed. When she crossed her arms, for some strange physical reason, her cheeks puffed out like a squirrel. She also had the habit of crossing her arms under her large breasts rather than across them, almost as if she were either supporting their weight or aiming them. "Well, maybe we will hold off on the argumentative essay for a little while longer. I'll read these and bring them back to you next week." However, he seriously doubted they would be ready next week either. Every time he brought up the topic of a serious essay, the students acted as if he were a martian explaining the principles of light-matter space travel.

After class, Maria had walked up to his desk and asked him a few innocent questions about their essays. As soon as the last student left the room, she crossed her arms again.
"Are you coming over today?"
"Of course." He grabbed his bag and filled it with the stack of narrative essays on his desk. She watched the stack the whole time, her arms crossed, breasts looming.
"And you'll read my essay first?"
"Sure. I'll try to. I have a few things I have to do."
"Read it first," she said, moving close to him, laying a hand on the crotch of his thick corduroy trousers.

She gave him a squeeze, somewhere between hard and soft, and turned to grab her own bag. He watched her leave, her slight plumpness in all of the right places, her straw-blond hair twisted into its own knot. He sat back down to wait for his instant erection to subside, before going upstairs to the common room that served as an office for the ESL teachers.

The one way I wanted to go, I couldn't. I wanted to be a schoolteacher in Chicago. Even though I had a master's degree from my own country. I have to go to school for six fucking years if I want to be the teacher here. But even before that, I have to take English classes to make sure I speak well enough. My husband goes to school to be the doctor and I go to school to practice English. When they say I am good enough, then I can go to school for 6 years.

I start school six months ago. I take 3 classes every week, each one of them is one hour long. I sign up for Conversation 1, Writing 1, and Conversation 2. All of these classes were so stupid. All of the teachers are so cute and happy. They talk to us like we are children. Even the rooms look like kindergartens. Every wall has a picture of some cartoon character or moppet opening their fucking mouths and to telling us to speak English however I want to say "Easy for you!!!!"

The first day of class, I meet my teachers and my Conversation 1 teacher is Julie. She told us she is 23 years old and very pretty. And she talks to us like children. The first day she give us markers and paper and say "Draw a picture of yourself." So I say "why?" She said "because I want to remember you." So I say, "remember my name. It's Ifatha." She looks at me for a long time and says, "Just draw." Okay, so I drew the picture of my dog. She looked at it for a long time and said, "That's a very pretty dog." I said "Yes, of course."

The second day of class I met my writing teacher…"

Lazlo stopped there and put the essay at the bottom of the pile. So it was going to be one of those days, he thought. He leafed through several other essays, most of them focusing on either a childhood accident the writer had thought (at that time in their youth) was the most terrifying incident a child could ever encounter, or else talking about when they got their first dog. He wished he could get something more interesting than that. Mining these essays for gold was proving increasingly fruitless. One student was from Iran, and all he wrote about was when his little brother fell and cracked his head open on a coffee table. Alda, the Lithuanian girl, wrote about wanting a pony when she was little. All of these interesting places and their lives were just as boring as his had ever been.

All he looked for, all he ever really looked for was some sort of assurance that his life would be worth something. That he had made a difference, or altered another human's trajectory in a positive direction. That he would be mourned. Perhaps by a student who had opened up at the bidding of one of his assignments.

He eventually picked up Maria's essay once more, and continued reading.
The second day of class I met my writing teacher. He is not so old. Older than me. But the first day I think he is very cute because he has on this scarf. A red scarf. And he keeps it on all class. He just looks so cute like that, with a scarf. The other students say he looks stupid, but I think is cute. He asking us to write about what we did every morning. He say "We will write many essays this year. You're writing will improve very much this year. You will be ready for university class next year."

The first class I like of his so much I stay after class and talk to him for a long time. We go out to get coffee at Starbuck's and he's so cute, keeps scarf on all the time. Very cute guy, but he looks even a little older when I am so close to him. I see his hands. They are very skinny and he has very long fingers. His knobs are very big, so he don't wear any rings. He laughed a lot and talked very clearly for me. I like him very much. The next week I write him a note, "I like you a lot." I put it on his desk before the other students come in and wait. Everyone come in, and he look at the note. He doesn't look at me, so I think maybe I forgot to write Maria on the bottom. But after class, he come up to me. Because he likes me too. He says. So we go to his apartment after class. It is a very big apartment. Very big couch. We fuck on the couch and it is great. He is very big and hard for a very long time and it is great. Every week, after class, we fuck on his couch.

Now, various things fell upon Lazlo's mind at this point in his reading. Destroying the essay came first. Leaving Chicago second. Suicide lagged in at a dog-distant third, and was altogether withdrawn when he realized the situation was still not yet fatal, nor had he the balls to put a gun in his mouth even if it had. She had not told any other students, as far as he knew. Of course, she might have.

He looked at the clock. Fifteen minutes before he had to pack up and see her again. Before Rosalynne, the head of the department, shuffled by in her long India-print skirt and Birkenstocks, he returned the essay to the bottom of the pile.

"How are they?" she asked. It was the same question she asked every week.
"Getting better." It was the same response he always gave. He watched her dark face and eyes and wondered if Maria had leaked word. He had heard of people getting fired doing what he was doing, every week, on his couch. But he heard many more stories of people getting away with the same behavior. After this brief weighing of conscience, Lazlo decided that he couldn't be that unlucky, and that Rosalynne had no idea.
"Well, we're scheduling a staff meeting for next Thursday after the last class. Can you make it?"
"Of course," he smiled. "Be there with bells on." And he was being honest. He was looking forward to it, he thought as he tongued his filling, because he loved to hear all of the war stories the teachers would fling as soon as they set down to coffee.
"You know," she said, "it's not easy to teach writing. I hate doing it."
"Naw," Lazlo replied. "It's easy. It's easier than conversation or communication. At least you can see something concrete."
"I guess. Are you doing serious essays yet?"
"Not really. We're still…" he thought of Maria, "…they still need to work out some kinks in paragraph form and such. Pretty soon though."

She stepped out of one sandal and rubbed the back of her leg. "I'm just curious because I've been getting some directives from the foreign student department, saying that it's a real problem when they get up there, into classes. They want to make sure the students will be ready."
"Oh, they will be. Don't worry."
He turned back to the essay because now he had to read the rest.

Every week, after class, we fuck on his couch. It is better every time. I buy much different kinds of sexy underwear and wear it to class. All class I feel very sexy. I have this warm feeling in my stomach and my bottom. I want to burst out of my clothes and grab him on the desk. I can't wait. But I start to get very upset. He fucks great all the time. But his teaching is terrible. Every week he keeps say, "Next week we will study the University Essay," or something. But next week he ask us to write personal essays always. Stories about our lives and stupid essays. I start worry that he will not teach me to write a good essay. I even ask him while fucking. I ask him when will we study real essay? He only says "yes" and doesn't stop. And then he doesn't teach us this real essay. So I always write stories about my life. When I was little girl in Sao Paulo and my brothers and sisters and my dog. I was worried I will not learn to write a proper essay. If I do not write a proper essay I can not get into school and then I cannot teach. I am very worried about this!

My husband Vila comes home and he asks me what I am doing in class. I show him these essays and he always ask me "why do you write about these stupid things? Write about the internet, or Israel, or about economics. Don't write about your old dog." I start yelling at him in Portuguese and he tells me "English, please!!!" He wants me to be perfect English speaker so the I do not embarrass him with the other medical students. Or some doctors. He is very strict. "You have to be a new American!" Vila was a very good husband before, in Sao Paulo we used to fuck every night. He used to tell jokes about old men who could not fuck. We talked about living in Chicago, and, him a doctor and me a teacher. But, now, we never fuck. He is not home until late every night. And he also has to leave at 6 0'clock every morning. So I don't see him. When I do see him, it is always "English, please!!!" Also he is getting fat, because he eats at McDonald's every day. And he does no exercise. And winter it is so cold every day in Chicago and there is so much snow, so he does not walk anywhere. We used to go for walks every night. Not since Chicago, though. He is boring me now. I hate to touch him in bed. I sleep far over on my side. I hate him!!! He is like a child again. That is why he likes school so much. He liked to please mama so much when he was small child. Because she was so hard to please (every man, always the same hard to please you mama). But my writing teacher, he is thin. He is never tired so he can not sex. He comes every week. He makes so much noise in the bed. I sometimes have to cover his mouth with my hand so the neighbors don't hear. He is so older than Vila, but in sex he is like a little boy. I let him tie me up once and he looked like he almost cry. Sometimes he does cry, like I am his mama. Sometimes he ask me to spank him. Because he is a no good boy. I spank him and even pull out Vila's belt like my mother used to take out my father's belt and ...

A warmth welled in his stomach. He knew a little about her husband, but only snippets. Only brief complaints the verbal equivalent of one of her classroom snorts. Lazlo looked at the clock once again. He was already three minutes late, so he threw the stack of papers in his bag and shrugged into his black coat, and stuffed Maria's essay in his right front pocket. He started the engine, let it idle until the car was warm (during which he glanced again at the essay).

spank him until his behind is all red and he is making so much noise. I have to put a pillow on his face. But then we fuck and he is very good and hard. And I think maybe I am in love with him.

Tucked it back in his pocket. The car lurched forward from its parking spot, narrowly missing a speeding Cutlass. The thoughts warmed him all over, and he had to crack open a window a few inches to let out some of the steam. He wasn't at all sure he wanted this woman to be in love with him (he being in love with her, now that was perfectly permissible--that was changeable, a variable of mutable and unknown quantity; but she loving him, that was something that he had no control over, nor could he know the extent to which it had taken root).

The reason he had decided that he didn't want to teach anymore, and the reason it had been such a chore (the thought occurred to him only on reaching the last paragraph of her essay, the last sentence piercing his heart like an arrow--no, again, an arrow too cliched) as of late was that teaching was too much like loving. He had to love these students he had all the time. And what he put forth, what was issued from his side was changeable, could be altered like the flow of water from a spigot. But what came back at him, he was never able to judge: would his face be doused in a fine mist, or his body flattened by the force of a firehose. On paper, in writing, it was all contained, or so he had always thought. The paper was itself a funnel, so that everything came at him nice and neat and at an acceptable volume. But now--he was flattened by her essay. Impaled by her words. Her words, he said aloud, were taking over his reality. He wanted to keep driving, past her turnoff, onto the interstate, on to somewhere with a coast where he would board a ship and live in its hull for the rest of his life, eating stale crackers and thinking.

But he did not even continue past her exit. He lowered his speed (relieved that the essay had at least kept him, for the first time in months, from thinking about that person who would find his rotting corpse) and pulled off. Past the empty park on the corner, the looming specter of the Henry Horner housing projects not so far off in the distance.

He put his bag under the passenger seat. The snow had not started yet, not for another week or so. But the cold had begun in earnest. Lazlo could see the white frost on the tips of the grass blades. He was parked in front of her apartment building, looking straight into the third floor window in the back of the courtyard. White curtains blocked his view of her living room, although her shadow (or what he assumed was her shadow) passed by twice. He read again.

And I think maybe I am in love with him. But last two weeks he does not want to sex. He does not want to do anything but be spanked by me and the belt like my mother. I like it too. But I want more than that. I want more than spanking, and I want more than these stupid essays about my old dog. I want to fuck, and I want to write a proper essay.

With roughly a page or so left, Lazlo folded the papers in half and put them in his pocket. Never so clearly before had anyone told him what to do in his life. Never had anyone laid out so brilliant and simple a plan of action that he could follow. The warmth from the heater had steamed the windows, and the warmth from the typewritten words had wrapped around his arms and legs like he was being born again (not, it should be pointed out, "Born-Again," with the stigmatic hyphen, but born again as in being pulled out by his arms and legs from the giant vagina of life, being pulled into a new world with chances and unconditional love and a clear patch of experiential road and an unlimited tank of spiritual, yet secular, gas). He opened the door and stepped out on to the curb, his chest puffed, ready to shoot out of the great hole of love.

"You're not a man."
These were the words dragging Lazlo back down the tunnel and once more unto the closet.
"You're not a man."
"Please, I want you to relax."
"You are not. You were once. But now you are not a man. You are just a…" the word stuck in her throat, and Lazlo pictured it there, the curved edges of the typescript, the hanging edge of the letter 't', the 's's sharp tail hook, "…student."

Something about her words, a sense of concreteness, as if she were speaking in word balloons, grabbing the letters from the balloon pouch, and flinging them like Chinese throwing stars at her husband. Lazlo even imagined her missing the mark at least a few times and the words imbedding themselves into the other side of the door with sharp thwock-thwock-thwock's. Times New Roman consonants and vowels--thwock-thwock-thwock! Especially nasty x's, v's, and the seemingly innocent, yet quite deadly, q. Thwock! Her words were weapons, had always been. Only now the once clichéd metaphor that Lazlo would have never (ever) used on his own (but now was forced to, let's face it, because it was becoming true as hell), had taken form in his head. Without light, without anything but the soft, dark, warm womb of the closet surrounding him, her words had begun to take over reality.

Upon entering the apartment building, Lazlo left his coat on, still cold from the brief walk up to the foyer door. She buzzed him in the front gate, but the door to the building itself had no lock, only an empty circle where the door handle should have been. With a light push the door swung open, and Lazlo progressed up the stairs. The hallway was unheated, the windows wide open for some strange reason. Were the neighbors afraid of hallway germs, perhaps? Or was it a method of management, keeping everyone inside, not trampling the thin, rubbery carpet that led up the stairs?

Because of what he had read in the essay, he had been trying to compose a sort of speech while tramping up the stairs. Something about writing, or about love, or about the necessity of adultery. But the thoughts jumbled about his head, refusing to take form. He was thinking in her words now, her typewritten phrases that he had no control over. Possessed no funnel to correctly place them together side-by-side so that they would pierce her heart like (god help him, another cliché, but he couldn't help himself, he couldn't help himself from thinking in anything but cliche) the arrows of Cupid.

The radiators clinked and clanked from behind the front door. He heard her footsteps, and her hand turning the knob. Cars passed by outside, the engines whined through the open hall windows.
"You are a little late, No?" she asked.
"Only a little. I was reading."
"Oh, and you finish?" Her stare, which was searching for an answer, nearly knocked him down.
"Finished. Wonderful. You are…" he searched the cliches in his head and came up with nothing. "You are just so wonderful." He looked for approval in her gaze, but couldn't tell what actually was there, because her eyes still pinned him against the wall, helpless and struggling under the force of her…what was it, he could not even tell properly. She had changed her expression only minutely, loosening a fraction, hardly letting up, but Lazlo was unable to tell whether that was a good or bad sign.
"Maybe you should…" She stopped, not moving aside to let him in the door. He was waiting in the hall, coat on, scarf still tied. She crossed her arms, levelling not only her gaze but also her breasts at him, perhaps for extra scrutiny. "You finished? So you came after you finished?"
"Yes I came after I finished." He smiled still, a smile the depth and breadth of which he had never experienced before. A smile of gargantuan proportions. A really, really huge smile. A huge smile. The cars whined by the windows, the radiators played the clanking symphony, and Lazlo smiled like (for lack of a better term) an idiot, waiting to be let in.
"Then come in."

Quietly, quietly, he pulled the essay from his pocket with his right hand, the left digging in the opposite pocket almost simultaneously, and with equal stealth, for the pen light he had thought earlier to use on the pupils of the Toyota/heart-attack woman. To see if she had passed away. To see where she had gone. To light a way.

He looked at the essay, holding the two folded sections apart and read, the words separated from him by a door now inside the womb with him, and he powerless to do anything accept read them. The light pulled the words from the page before his eyes, turning the word parses into thoughts, thoughts into pictures, pictures and words taking over his own tongue, his own thoughts, dragging him along into the light of a new world.

I want to fuck, and I want to write a proper essay. These two things have power in my life right now. These things I want to do because I can, not because I have to, or because someone expects me to do these things. Only these are not possible, I think. Because I think that my teacher is not power enough. Maybe these men are not power enough. Always crying for mommy. Always wanting to return to the baby. Even get sucked back up and be born again. My husband want to be perfect and be a good little boy student and my teacher wanted to be a little boy again and wants me to be mother to him and tell him what to do. I can't do these things myself. I can't be mother everytime.
"You must be calm. You must relax."
"I am relaxed. I am calm. I will not be your mother anymore."
"I am tired of this." Footsteps, creaking. "I am sick and tired of you and of…"
I can't be mother everytime. I can be only teacher to both of these children. I am sick and tired of waiting for these children to be their own men. I am tired. I am sick. So I am going to make them realize this only one way. I will make them recognize each other. The only way I can make them grow up is to make them see each other like the children they are. On one day I will tell my teacher to come over and I will tell my husband to come home early and there they will meet. They will have to grow up. If they kill each other, then they do. If they kill me, then so much the better. I am tired anyway. I want to be free of them both.

"You do want to know what I've been learning at school?"
"You do want to know what I do after class?"
"What do you mean?" A smattering of Portuguese.
"English, please! Do you want to know?" A string of what could only be cursewords.
"What are you talking about?"

Finally, I think that my teacher will come in, after finished my essay and he will see me and he will tell me he loves me. I think this will happen. Then we will kiss and during that kiss we will hear footsteps on the hallway stairs. The steps will come up one flight, and we will kiss. The second flight, and we will still kiss, but he will look back at the door just a little, and he will wonder just a little, and then he will relax and kiss me more. Only they will go past the second floor and then we will stop kissing, and he will look at me like a crazy man for a second. He will silently say "Who is it?" and I will say nothing silently back. Then the footsteps will wipe themselves on the mat out side the door and he will start to sweat, in his scarf and coat. Then the door handle will turn just a little and he will look around the room. Only the room has nothing in it, so he will then go running, but quietly running, into the bedroom. I see a lot of movies here, and I guess he will go into the closet, because that is where the man always goes to. Under the bed too, but we have our bed on the floor, so that is not possible. But my husband will find him, because I will open the door and say here! Here is my writing teacher! He fucks me after class! Ever week!

"Are you out of your mind? Calling me here and saying you have emergency?"
"Yes, I am out of my mind. Yes there is emergency."

The words take over. Illuminated by penlight. Someone will find him. Someone will find him. Will take his hand. Perhaps even shed a tear. He will be remembered, if only for a moment. The bed of nails, her words a bed of nails. Comfortable at first but stretching into a larger mass of pinpoints, poking through the fabric, through the paper.

And my husband will open the door and he will kick my teacher. They will fight. But my husband is much stronger. Vila will choke him and kick him and keep doing fighting until my writing teacher is dead. Or my writing teacher will take a candlestick and hit Vila, maybe too hard so that he will explode his head and my Vila will die. Perhaps they will die, both of them together, but I don't think that is possible. Probably Vila will kill him, or maybe only injure him so badly he must have surgery. My writing teacher, he is no fighter, however which is not a bad thing. However, Vila grew up on a farm. He studied all the time, but he did get strong on that farm. His brothers were stronger, but he learn to fight just by being bloodied every day by them fists.

The doorhandle. Praying forgotten prayers, which remain forgotten anyway, so they are made up on the spot. Lazlo. Found. Time of death? Cause of death? A bed of Nails? Who would believe it?

But maybe this won't. I think maybe what will happen will different. Because that fighting is movies and television, but life is more like something different. I think, when Vila opens the door, he will see my writing teacher. He will grab my writing teacher and drag him outside the front door. Vila will bring him to the open window, and pick up my writing teacher by the back of his coat and by the back of his belt. He will lift him through the window, and my writing teacher will fight, because he is a passionate man. Maybe he is not strong as Vila, but he is a passionate man and that is okay sometimes. So he will kick and hit and try to get out, but strength will beat passion and he will push my writing teacher out the window. He will fall out and fall down seven floors, maybe someone will see this. He will be very scared and I will scream, even though I know it was going to happen all the time. I will scream as he passes each floor, and Vila will lean in the window after him to see him fall. I will scream, but listen for a sound of my writing teacher hit the ground. But he will not hit the ground. Because this is real life. He will be changed. Into a bird. A blue bird that will not hit the ground like a tall, skinny, clumsy, scarf-wearing English teacher, but will fly up and catch the wind and fly up through the wind until the sky accepts him with arms open. A blue bird flying up to the sky's arms. Vila will be watching this English-teacher-passion-bird fly away and he will not understand, until he feels me push him right through the window too, and he will fall to the ground, but instead of a mama's boy Brazilian thump, he will also turn into a bird, a black bird, and fly up the arms of the sky, however in the other direction.

© Christopher Daniels August 2002
email: chrisdaniels50 at hotmail.com
14 Hiragidani-cho
Kyoto 603-8003

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