Over the weekend, the math teacher had been dismissed, and the rest of the faculty only learned on Monday, when the vice principal introduced his replacement. He had written his own resignation, and he insisted to anyone, when he was willing to talk, that it had been his decision. But everyone knew he had been pressured; they only wondered what it was that kept him silent.
His replacement had never taught before, but he dressed better, had more self-confidence, and for once math classes appeared silent and busy. But others began to compare the schoolâ€™s well-advertised hiring standards to the new teacherâ€™s local college diploma, and wondered how he had such an in.
In his studio, the artist would be garrulous and would talk without gesturing, keeping his hand to the canvas and not averting his eyes except to clean his brush. He would speak steadily at any length or fall silent, saying that question is too difficult while I am painting, in the same slow voice. In front of the cameras he seemed innocent, and spoke too fast, with sudden facial expressions.
He had been living abroad but had never been able to learn the language. The slight puckering of his upper lip masked his missing front teeth, and his smile exposed them. Between two speeches, a librarian read translated a newspaper review of his paintings from another show, earlier that year, in that country.
“I’m going to be a father!”
Had he never noticed how red his grinning brother’s face was? And stretched out all bumpy along the short length of his head. An old road with stones exposed and scars in the asphalt. At fifty, a new father, for the first time. And just three years ago the last divorce. This new one was young, sheâ€™d been driving a taxi when he met her, riding from the airport, returning from two years abroad. In two weeks they were spending a lot of time together, and only a month later he moved out of their mother’s house, and moved in with her.
The neighbors’ fight this time was violent. There was lots of noise and yelling. Even banging and stomping. She could hear it through her closed door. She turned her music off.
He lived across the hall and one door down. She couldn’t sit still. He looked so large and unmanageable. He didn’t keep himself clean. Would he hit her? The girl was screaming. His girlfriend, she recognized the voice, a little mousy one, she’d been around, always squinting. Hadn’t she been gaining weight? Could be pregnant.
She had been on her feet forever. And she was so tired and everything was against her. Doing the least things she had to lift her own lead weight. Her head hurt. Standing behind the counter, brewing coffee, was torture. She would trade one foot against the other, shifting, leaning. Couple customers, it wasnâ€™t seven. Quiet, thank god.
A man came in with a gust of leaves; and the door thudded shut. He sat at the counter. Hands on either side of his cap he started talking.
She asked him to move in. They’d known each other a week. She was bored at home, tied to the kid; he had debts and no job. It seemed like the best solution. Someone would be home, she could go play.
But then he got boring. He didn’t want a job. Or he said he did, but he wouldn’t make a resume, he wouldn’t make phone calls. He’d sit at home playing world of warcraft.
They could hear the crowd noise change. The musician did a test strum, approached the microphone. The auditorium had been about half full when they had left; better than expected. They evaded the dressing rooms, they found the empty room with the snack table.
There was a couch, and they fell on it together, one hand grabbing at her waist. She pushed it away, I have nothing to clean the, do you want to get all bloody? Her soft smile condescended. She put her cold hand against his belly.
Three students were sitting at a wide table, well apart. Their books were open, and they had notebooks too. They had been laughing about something, it was spring outdoors and they had the wide windows open. There was a stream of fellow feeling flowing in the room.
The one with the knit sweater went to make more tea. The other two caught themselves smiling at each other. There was another stream, running under the stream that had borne the laughter in, only the other flowed slower, deeper, and in a different direction.