By Blake Bell
In the morning I wake up, fumble with my alarm, brush my teeth, put on the outfit I picked out the night before, and drive to my first day as a high school English teacher. The road is wet with morning dew, and the sky is cloud heavy. My windshield wipers need to be replaced, leaving foggy streaks across my windshield.
I am to be teaching four sections of ninth and one of tenth grade. I am nervous, so much studying, practicing, and planning. I have already met my office, department, and administration; I haven’t met the kids yet.
The teacher across the hall smiles warmly as we sip our coffee and wait.
The students arrive much like a summer rain that drips slowly, surely, then all at once – twenty-nine raindrops are blurrily perched in desks as I stare from the open doorway.
I imagine the drops bursting to give way to student forms as I close the door behind me and walk past a puddle of wide-eyed, calm, sleepy, and angry faces. The windows are wet now. Standing beside a smart board that reads “Welcome Students,” I place my open palm on the window behind me and turn to face my kids.
A flash of white light. A flicker of recognition, of intuition. I hear myself, as if from far away, shouting,
“Hold on to something!”
All begins to wind; I feel distorted, out of time. Finally, I am enveloped in nothing, and I go quiet, dark with lack.
I wake up feeling like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz and try to stop myself from laughing at the thought. I fail, and a light tapping on my right shoulder interrupts my dazed chuckling.
“Rain,” I say drowsily to myself.
“Not rain,” returns a young, plucky voice.
I turn to face one mostly unfamiliar. She had smiled at me on her way into the classroom, I recall. Her hair was long, dark, and braided. She was looking at me unsurely, decidedly unimpressed.
“How long have I been here?” I ask, noticing a couple of other students coming into view now.
“I don’t know. My watch won’t work,” she replies, seeming frustrated with my question.
“Well can you make a guess?” I say as more students approach.
“Maybe an hour or so.” Her answer seems longer, more distant than I feel.
I sit up and attempt to push my eyeballs out of their sockets to clear my vision. Looking around, only students are clearly visible. Everything surrounding us seems reflective, obsidian. Beautiful, I think.
I gather my kids around me and count them, twenty-nine. We are all here. I tell them to sit in pairs, all in front of me, so I can keep them directly in my line of sight. A horizon of teenagers. It might be beautiful, too.
I open my mouth to speak, and everything freezes. Twenty-nine faces pause. It is difficult not to giggle at some of their expressions, difficult not to cry at others. Such a range of emotions lay before me, but a figure moves behind them, taking some of my attention away from their fixed forms.
The figure is a human cut out of a night sky. The kind that hangs above bayous – dark, full, and sweaty. It feels feminine, but so does everything else at night.
She waves to me and a stream of words swims through my mind.
“Why are you here?” A simple question, but my thoughts scatter.
“What?” I stammer out. How inspiring, I think.
“You’ve come here for something. No one comes here for nothing. I know what you need, but you need to ask.”
“I came here…where is here?”
“You are here.”
“I came here on accident. I was about to meet my new students…” I gesture wildly at the frozen faces before me.
“Nothing comes here by accident, but it is true some do not intend to.”
Riddles are tiresome, I think.
“Ask me, or I’ll have to show you.” She pleads.
“Mankind?” I ask, sardonically.
Maybe this figure enjoys an Oedipal joke?
She laughs heartily, and for a moment I wonder if I broke though, but a slick tendril grows out from the chimera of her face and attaches quite securely to mine.
I see pain. Mothers crying, fathers yelling. Fathers crying, mothers yelling. Broken bottles. Grandparents in loose earthen graves. Younger brothers with heavy diapers. No one.
I see potential. Lightbulbs of understanding. One more chapter, one more verse, one more scene. Ideas making waves in an ocean. Connection, electric current between the past and the present. Reality and fiction.
“How will I know any of this matters?” I ask.
Her tendril slides off my face and rests on my hip, my own hand. I am staring out at a sea of confused, amused faces. It is beautiful.
“Welcome to English I,” I say cheerily, “this year will be spectacular, a bit peculiar.”