This project is (eventually) peppered with swearing and references to sex, so if that’s not your cup-of-tea, then please go in peace.
The Teachers Pt 1.
Sunlight heaved itself through soupy clouds and dirty windows. Sodden and besmirching, it was still bright enough to make them squint. They were a star-fish stain on the carpet and a bleak shadow spread over the edges of the sofa, the smeared remains of alcohol and righteousness. Summarily fired for that which had been labelled “unprofessional conduct,” they had gone to the bar closest to the school and simmered together over glass after glass of vodka before they’d become a sloppy, if strangely fluid, people-shaped stumble back to Devon’s apartment.
They had proven the power and truth of Newton’s Third Law many times on the walk. The experiment began when they both tried to exit the bar’s narrow door at the same time and crashed into, thankfully empty, tables as they bounced apart. Once they finally figured out how to leave, Devon listed to starboard and his right hand found her left shoulder to keep himself upright. When he pulled his hand away, it set Maggie off balance in a tilted curve forward so she had reached out backwards in the hopes that he would grab her hand before she fell. He did his best to brace his arm once their hands were together and Maggie pulled herself through to upright in a way that made her legs kind of sway into Devon’s. He then had to brace himself on a store window only to push off from it back into Maggie. She rippled clumsily away, caught on their joined hands and ricocheted back… And so on.
Even through her drunk, sad, angry, slightly embarrassed, and tired, Maggie had filed away the sensations and multi-dimensionality of their movements. She collected them inside her body and with that part of her that has always stood outside of everything else to observe the ebb and flow of motion and connection in the world. If she ever got to choreograph again, their drunken duet of wobble would make such good creative fodder.
No one in the principal’s office had even been sure that their contracts permitted such a precipitous sacking but that would be for the union rep and likely lawyers to sort out. Maggie and Devon had simply done what they felt was right and had wound up doing it separately for a while, unaware of each other’s efforts, until they’d wound up joining forces. They’d barely spoken for most of the many years they’d each been working at the enormous high school. And yet here they were, bound through their otherwise divergent life paths to a set of values that had simply not allowed them to accept that “professional conduct” meant walking narrow and prejudicial lines about sex, sex orientation, sexual preferences, or gender identifications. Neither had felt there was anything that could ever make it okay to compromise the privacy – and even the safety – of the youth in their care.
Devon’s sore, bloodshot eyes tracked a single raindrop as it moved down his living room window. Through the slow-motion of his thickening hangover, he thought about its path through the dirt on the glass, about adhesion and gravity. He thought about what the dirt might be made of. This part of his apartment faces east, gets morning sun, sits just a block away from a major thoroughfare so there would be Co2, and maybe oil residues, all affected in myriad ways by the heat of the rising sun day after day. There might be fine plant and animal detritus from the park a few blocks south-east, blown this way by dry north-west winds. There might be molecules from things that exist on the other side of the planet because molecules travel in ways he still doesn’t understand. The raindrop is also a herald, he thought, that the clouds will soon unleash the weight of water they have collected. Perhaps not, though. Perhaps that was a rogue raindrop, the only one from that cloud to have gotten heavy enough to fall.
He felt like utter, unmitigated, unending crap and furrowed his brow deeply in consternation as he looked down at Maggie on the floor. How had she ended up on the floor instead of the sofa and he on the sofa instead of in his bed? Come to think of it, he wondered, the furrow of his brow now painful, how did I not offer her my bed? Failures of chivalry all over the place, but mostly a failure of good sense to make sure everyone was as comfortable as possible at the tail end of a rotten day and lot of alcohol.
“You told me to remind you that I preferred the floor, that I chose the floor.” Her voice was a painful rasp of air through what actually sounded like dry lips and a furry tongue. She stretched her arms way over her head, her legs straight below her, and curved her toes down toward the floor. He turned his head slowly to look at her and the rounded shape of her foot, the extension of her body, compelled him to curve his own toes and tilt his head from side to side which caused an agonizing but still-needed pull in his neck and shoulders.
“Did I tell you to explain to me why I didn’t then choose to sleep in my bed?” His voice sounded worse than hers.
"Yes,” she said after a slow breath in and a slow breath out, her body still a taught pencil, “you muttered something about solidarity and said you didn’t feel right sleeping in the bed if I was going to sleep on the floor. I told you that was ridiculous. You said ‘probably.’ And then I’m guessing we both fell asleep.”
“Okay.” He watched as she let go of the stretch, her thighs rotating outward in their sockets in ways that made the black and white herringbone pattern of her pants seem to move with a life of its own. Her toes relaxed and her feet splayed. Her knees were now soft and her arms came to rest down by her sides. As she turned her palms upwards, he heard the sound of the blue-stoned ring she always wore on her right hand, middle finger, click on the hardwood just outside of the range of the carpet. She breathed slowly in and out again. And then again, her exhale a fraction longer than it had been before. He realized he knew it was longer because he was counting the lengths of her inhales and exhales and then they perhaps both drifted off because he lost count and the next thing he heard was Maggie saying, “bacon.” In earnest and part command, the word sounded reverent in her wasted voice.
“I actually do have some,” he said as he turned from his back to his side, brought his knees toward his chest, and looked down at her, “but we should probably hydrate first.”
The ceilings in his apartment were high, the windows tall. It wasn’t a large amount of overall floor space, but the loft-like energy of it made it feel open. Somehow that sense of openness helped Maggie’s hangover. It soothed the fear and sadness that rested heavily underneath. It might even be despair, she thought, and not because I might truly lose my job. She just kept thinking about the kids, about their stories and struggles and about the tenderness and support they showed to each other. The safe space to just be that she and Devon had tried to hold for them was simply gone. Before long, so many of them might be exposed in the very ways she and Devon had been trying to avoid. It would be so much worse for some than for others.
Devon saw the tears slip from Maggie’s eyes. They fell slowly, thoughtfully, one after another as though she were herself backstage, in the wings, giving them their cues to go. On one side of her face he could see that a path had been forged for them to slip into her ear. It looked like maybe, on the other side, another trail governed by some combination of texture, hair, and/or oils on her skin was leading them over the top of her cheekbone and down the top part of her cheek to either find the floor, he thought, or perhaps collect into a damp salty spot in her hair. These were not rogue or solitary tears. Her whole cloud, it seemed, had gotten heavy enough to fall.
“It will take them a while to figure out any of the names, remember? We were lax on our paperwork for a reason and the drop-in aspect of it will make it even harder.”
“Yeah,” she murmured. He dragged himself to upright, braced his feet on the floor by her thighs and noticed that he was only wearing one of his socks. The first few stripes of a crumpled, sock-shaped rainbow peaked out from under the sofa at him.
“Do you happen to know why I am only wearing one sock?”
“You made a sock puppet.”
“I made a sock puppet,” he said evenly.
“The sock puppet did a pretty scathing and hilarious impression of Principal Jenkins equivocating about small-minded bigotry because 'rules are there for a reason.'” Devon didn’t really know what to make of this new piece of information so he was quiet for a moment. He decided to just move the hell on.
“Water,” he said, “bacon.”
“Did your brother get you those socks?” She asked as he pulled the rest of the rainbow from beneath the sofa and returned the sock puppet to his foot.
“Yup,” he said, “utterly cliché for your gay brother to give you Pride socks and that’s exactly what he said when he gave them to me.”
“Interesting that you were wearing them yesterday.”
“A detail for the memoir, I suppose,” he said, “that no one will even believe because it’s just too on-the-nose.” She smiled and like the earlier compulsion to curl his toes as she curled hers, he smiled too.
“Water,” she said, “bacon.”
THOUGHTS ABOUT FICTION & FEEDBACK: My human child and my fiction babies are the softest parts of my soft underbelly. All I want is for them to find good ways to be out into the world. I am also, always, at least a little terrified when they do. My teenager gets to make a lot of his own decisions about this process. My fiction must always wait for me to do the legwork.
Parts of this particular project began in a political place, so in addition to more garden variety fears about writerly suckage, I wonder if I have – in any way – overstepped my cisgender, straight whiteness, and/or relative financial securities in a haze of myopic privilege. My underbelly is always afraid I will offend people.
BOTTOM LINE: I will delete hateful comments without compunction, but I welcome meaningful, educative feedback, ideas, suggestions, and dialogue. Best, S.