After Lila dozed off after our visit, satisfied, I sauntered to the kitchen to cook some eggs and sausage. I often cooked naked in the middle of the night and was scalded and singed in the worst places. Lila walked in, saw me and convulsed in laughter at once, this grotesquely beautiful and jagged gesture of elbow jerks and gasps. It was a direct contrast to her lissome underwater movements in bed with my finger on her clitoris. She fell on her knees laughing and gave herself a giant purple bruise. Then she caught her breath.
“The fury you’re cooking those eggs with, Craft, with your pecker swinging around like that.”
“I think it’s doing more bouncing right now. It doesn’t really have enough rope to swing.”
“Quick! You got any decent paper?”
She ended up using some blank poster board and a thin Sharpie I had sitting around. I’d never seen someone draw that way, so quickly, without pause or hesitation, it looked like she was playing the violin. When the toaster bell rang, the sausage brown, the eggs fluffed, she stopped, and there I was on the thick glossy paper, a figure of some beauty, unrecognizable to my eyes at first. Something familiar emerged in the posture, frantic and slumping, which made me weep for the first time in years. I was so grateful in that moment. I didn’t think she’d go home and, say, at dawn, hang it directly over the pink canopy bed she’d had since she was six.
“Craft, old pal, I’m retiring next year otherwise I’d quit,” Tim said in the car, “but the dickheads are going to fire you when you get back to school. I was in fuckin’ meetings all day about it.”
Tim offered me a cigarette which I declined.
“For perfectly legal sex? Tenure?” I reasoned.
“She didn’t tell anybody, just left a note that said, Gone to Peru.”
“So what? I’m responsible?”
“The parents are saying you preyed on her, got her drunk and, you know, raped her.
Lila had written a title on the back of the drawing apparently, one which I thought lacked subtlety: Mr. Craft, December 19th.
“So she renders her nude subject sympathetically, the man who allegedly just raped her, then flees to the jungle? What is this, Conrad meets D.H. Lawrence?”
“I hear you, but man, they built the library, the new gym, and they bought all those video cameras everywhere. The hallways are full of ‘em.”
“Can we get in touch with Lila?” I asked.
“No. They’ve exhausted the usual channels apparently. I fought like hell for you in there. I said it was crazy what they were doing, that they were way the hell off base with their logic, but—”
“But burn the witch.”
“Hey Bunko, I started spiking my coffee second period this year. I’m gone in eighteen months. I can’t wait to get rid of this piece of shit and ride my bike everywhere, man, fuck my wife all the time. I’ll never leave my little square mile except for
I looked up at my second floor brownstone apartment, my doors and windows, sinks and rugs, clogged drains, countertops, the rooms that held Megan’s and my life together briefly. There had been fire up there, but not much naked rain. Tim lit another cigarette and I snatched it out of his hands, opened the passenger door, and stamped it out, flailing and cursing. Suddenly it felt like walking upstairs and unlocking the door, switching on lights and brushing my teeth would be a lie, of what kind I didn‘t know—my story had become foreign and fog filled, eerily alliterative. An urge came over me to gather what I could and pack my ancient Subaru (Tim and I were vying for oldest living non-refurbished car, Tim’s Tercel was at twenty, and I was only two years behind), and drive into the night, find a motel hours away, for drug fiends and petty thieves, wake up and drive again, any direction—but I could only choose one, which would of course make all the difference etc. I shut the car door and leaned into the open window, gazing at Tim, but I had nothing to say.
“Don’t hang your head, Craft. And don’t watch the news tonight. Nothing good about you.”
“Tim, you know I don’t watch the Ten O’clock News.”
Staggering up to my front door, I tried to control a cough, as if opening the door to a room holding a wake attended by six people. Home again.
My ex-wife Megan taught in our department, though I knew her first as my student, from my third year teaching. She was a decade younger than me to the day, a happy fact she pointed out when she turned
When Fillman hired Megan ten years after she left my class, and it became public knowledge that we were seeing each other, that is, spending time fulfilling various mutual and now legal fantasies, the whole school got behind what was perceived as a great love story, a kind of sweeping epic, inspiring, until she screwed three other teachers, one P.E., both of them dripping with sweat, I imagined. She tried to seduce Tim too, but he said no thanks; that he wouldn’t allow himself, though recently divorced from his wife, our colleage, Stella, to penetrate any ex-students or present colleagues in that orifice, ever again.
That everyone in the school knew, and that I chose to stay with Megan, altered the way I was perceived at Earhart beyond repair. Her infidelity, in my mind, wasn’t horribly shocking, and at night in bed, when I lay there alone with my thoughts, I didn’t really disapprove of what she’d done. The fact that she screwed them less than five times each and tired of them so quickly softened the automatic ego blow that comes with discovering your wife nearly choking in a cock parade. I never fully embraced the concept of monogamy with Megan to begin with—it seemed to sever far too many outlets, blot out too many chances to live. I was so much younger. Since I only practiced fidelity in action and not theory, I would say it’s a viable interpretation of our never-love to say I was just as unfaithful as she was.
At first the pity and disdain that was directed towards me from the faculty, now that I was the cuckold, made my job nearly impossible. One lonely Friday night though, I swelled myself with wine followed by I don’t know how much brand-less drugstore Irish Whiskey! and fell down the stairs of our building, ending on my back in the street. I could only lift my arms and wiggle my fingers at first, but I knew I still had use of my legs, just not at that moment. I pissed myself, at first feeling disappointed and self pitying, followed quickly by wet acceptance. No one walked the streets, no noise except the ever-present hum and chink of the colossal Anheiser Busch Brewery in the distance; it was just me and the changing traffic light—green.
It took hold of me, there on the pavement, that I had been set free, to be pathetic in the eyes of many, yes; but Megan’s generous, loose panties just took my interior world, my conscience and lack thereof, and projected them onto my reality. If she needed a particular brand of human heat, who was I to deny her? Who was she to deny herself something she wanted, perhaps needed, especially when the only thing stopping her was adherence to something that only holds value if you value what it stands for, which we did not.
I never took any lovers, not because I was married, but because all I wanted at the time was Megan; or at least the idea that Megan would thrive enough to connect me with her growth and relative freedom, and would therefore keep me around to fuck, drink and grade papers with. The only appeal I’ve ever noticed arousing in women if for the ones hovering, pointing, at the edge of a cliff, or just suffering from idiot hope.
Tim beeped his broken horn half way down the street and drove back to his full life, leaving me holding the previous day’s Post Dispatch. A small story, but on the front page nonetheless, the headline, “Metro East Third Grader Trapped on Terrorist Watch List.” He was a typical looking eight year old, blonde with balloon cheeks and a rabbit smile. There he was, an alleged killer, little Brandon Murch of Waterloo, IL, and I couldn’t even manage a chuckle, because something—that switch that if flipped used to cause a guffaw to slip out—had simply gone from me. The joke was dead. I felt the titan, Chaos, its teeth and tongue, so real, draped over everything, as it always had been. How was I coming to the party, or the wake, so late and sober? Iverbe’s son was somewhere, suffering. Who was this man? In the instant I turned the knob on the front door of my apartment, I knew I mustn’t ask that question again, mustn’t think anymore. I’d spent my life asking questions, most of them rote, not even my own, mindless, through a can and string tied to nothing. And the endless cogitating, more a nervous reaction to life than genuine contemplation. But suddenly, even though very little was understandable, my life seemed on the verge of—at least forming a confederacy of fractured parts that if assembled properly would, potentially, unite as a broken being.
I burned to bend time backwards, hear my brief exchange with Iverbe again, Iverbe and I, lifted out of ourselves, his voice slowing my mind, his message ringing in the air between us. My boy.
I put on my pajamas and mashed my pillow under my neck as soon as the sun went down. At first light, I would drive a thousand miles to Orlando/Kissimmee/St. Cloud well rested, and somewhere along the way clean out my savings, which would buy food, gas, and every-third-night at a Motel 6 or its equivalent for a year if need be. I’d decoded what Iverbe told me instantly at the hospital, though I pretended to understand nothing; I was raised on a steady diet of Uncle Walt, so it was clear that I was headed to
Squirrels were screeching at each other on a branch outside the window next to my bed just before the sun came up. No dreams of my imminent journey, or Iverbe’s ghost, who was still flesh and blood in my thoughts, just ordinary dream confusion, running and fear, opaque symbols, sprinkled with moments of recognition. Like every other night basically. I walked directly to the kitchen and ate a Clif Bar in five bites. Two jeans, two slacks, two polo shirts, two flannel shirts, two T-shirts, penny loafers, seven pairs of socks, seven pairs of jockey shorts, Timex, rest of the Clif Bars, wallet, glasses, travel coffee cup, baseball cap, glove and ball, toothbrush, toothpaste, fleece pullover. Coffee and the rest could be found somewhere other than
The Subaru scratched its way to life almost immediately. Not until I backed out of my parking spot did I even realize it was Christmas day. It was mild and damp outside, no poisoned black snow piled on the sides of the streets like many Decembers. This Christmas was going to dry out and sit right in the middle of perfection, the way only a traveling day can, through southern Illinois, the corner of Kentucky, over the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, the great length of Georgia, ending with a test of conscious strength to finish the job--straight into the Orlando/Kissimmee/St. Cloud early morning night.