Tuesday, April 15, 2008

On The Steps Of St. Something

Hi readers! For the next few days, I'm going to be posting a story titled "On The Steps Of St. Something." It first appeared in Blue Mesa Review. Thanks for reading!

On the Steps of St. Something

Once I believed that I heard the voice of God through the Texas heat. It was August, a month of dying grass, endless sun, rodeos, long nights. I was drawing on the sidewalk with a rock and a voice from the sky yelled, "Out of Chute 3, it's John Roberts riding Black Thunder." I was disappointed that this didn't seem to apply to me in any specific way. Even then, I was looking for signs on how to live.

The last time I went home with a stranger, All Hallow's Eve the year I was twenty-nine, was no exception. I spent many hours grading freshman essays in the commons at the community college in Detroit where I teach comp. Students passed, some holding hands with children wearing Halloween costumes. My office has no windows, so the only movement in the room is the screen saver, a beautiful aquarium motif. I love aquariums, but fish are another story altogether. Years ago, I wanted to recreate the ocean floor without fish so I poured ten pounds of dirt into a tank and waited for it to settle. For three months, I had fifty gallons of dirty water in my bedroom. All mistakes should be so obvious.

So I prefer to sit in the commons where I can watch the piles of dead leaves swirl and afternoon fade into evening, the change bringing a coldness so biting that I couldn't have predicted it when I was young. About midway through my stacks of essays, I came upon the following sentence: "I had to dig a profound hole." I thought of this particular student, a middle-aged man with a closed head injury and a newly acquired thesaurus. He did not say what he meant to say, but I did not mark him down. I knew what it was to dig a profound hole. I had broken up with my boyfriend and found it impossible to sleep alone at night. My doctor prescribed sleeping pills, but refused to give out any more until I saw a psychiatrist. There were, he feared, dependency issues.

My first thought in reaction, "Yes, and?" would not have reassured him. And no matter how much I loathe the thought of talking to strangers when I'm sober, I needed the pills or I ended up sleeping with people I let pick me up in bars. I had no more pills left. I'd made an appointment with a psychiatrist the next afternoon, but that left the one night with nothing.

When I go out with the purpose of picking someone up, I try to avoid bars near campus. I believe in keeping the teacher persona pure, but sometimes the other stories leak in. Once I loaned a lit student a copy of a collection of Joyce Carol Oates short stories, forgetting that the inscription said, "To Alexa, that gorgeous nymphet of my fantasies." I remember that particular person's fantasies, imaginative and vile, and let the student keep the book.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Sometimes you meet people and you feel like you've known them for a long time." John Cusack

Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: Lubbock (On Everything) Terry Allen

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Tuesday!


Sheila said...

Awesome. Can't wait to see you in class tomorrow. Lot's to tell you.

Anonymous said...

RIP John A. Wheeler, coiner of the term "Black Hole." A profound hole, indeed. --Niels Bohr

Charles Gramlich said...

Great description of Texas heat for sure. I like the breaking point here.

Lana Gramlich said...

"For three months, I had fifty gallons of dirty water in my bedroom. All mistakes should be so obvious."
*LOL* Amen, sister!