Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Carver Beats the Devil

Reverend White blinked.
"What did you say?"
"I said the woman smiled widely then moved quickly--"
"What---excuse me---what in his name are we all doing here?
Am I wasting my time?"
He stood up. The class shuffled around to look at me.
"No, sir, no--"
I looked down at my page. I was scanning through it to see what I'd done wrong. Bill, the 42-year-old geography teacher from Maine, smirked. I glanced at Janey. She looked shocked.
My pulse was racing. I couldn't focus on the page. I used my finger like a ruler beneath the line.
"The woman smiled and moved down the hall. She was beautiful. She had auburn hair. She grabbed the handle of the car door. She felt tired. She---"
I heard a loud sigh. I heard Reverend White cough. He looked at me. Some members of the class started sniggering.
I couldn't hear what he'd said. I was in two minds about getting him to repeat himself. He shook his head. He seemed to be spitting his words.
I said I didn't know what that meant. Everyone was laughing. I tried to detach myself from it. Like I was in a different room. Janey was staring. She shook her head and then looked back down at her notepad. I kept reading.

I guess I was surprised when she didn't wait for me after class. I wondered what I'd done to upset her. As I moved through the campus I could see her talking to Bill near the parking lot. They were exchanging pleasantries. Bill looked over at me and smiled. I didn't know why they were talking. She'd told me she hated him. She said he looked like a basking lizard in a safari suit. I ran over just as she was about to get in her car.
"Hey, Janey---"
"I don't want to talk to you."
"What? What have I done?"
"You always do this. You insult his name and you pretend nothing's happened. Well I've had enough. You're acting like you've never even heard of 'Elements of Style'. Have you even read it?"
"I have..."
"Oh yeah?"
"What do they say about adverbs".
"They say you should use them sparingly---"
"You don't fucking learn, do you? You just don't fucking learn."
I didn't know what I'd done wrong. I tried to apologise but she slammed the car door shut. She reached over to the passenger seat, picked up a book and wound down her window to shove it into my chest.
"Read it and then maybe we can talk."

I don't know how long I was in the parking lot. I leafed through the book. I didn't know whether it would give me the answers. I watched the last of the students drive off. That's when I saw him. That's when I saw Reverend White.
To this day, I don't know why I acted like a man possessed. It was something about the way he moved. I waited for him to pass, then began walking behind him. Even then, I could have left it. But I held the book tightly and I pushed it out towards him. Like I said, I wasn't being myself. I could hear him mumbling to himself.
".....they listened....they ate what they could...."
For some reason these words pushed me over the edge. It was like they signified something I could never have. I pushed him in the back with the book. He stumbled foreward and tried to stand up but I kicked him down to the floor with my boot. He swiveled round on to his ass and sat there, stunned, his eyes almost popping out of his head like a cartoon character.
He went to get up.
"Don't fucking move!"
My neck muscles were taut, my mouth was dry. My hands were shaking.
"What's come over you?"
"Can't you remember? How you just humiliated me in class? My girlfriend doesn't
even want to talk to me any more."
"I don't know anything about that."
He moved to get up again.
"Don't fucking move!"
I was shouting. I kept shouting. I wanted him to know how angry I felt.
"What the jeepers is wrong with you?"
I pushed him back to the floor with my hand. He tried to struggle. I battered him around the head with the book. He squirmed slightly. He seemed to think about getting up again and then changed his mind.
"What's the issue here?"
"The problem is you fucking humiliated me in front of my girlfriend."
He sighed. He paused and slowly rubbed his head where I had hit him. He looked me over.
"I'm sorry. Some students take to it, some don't. I just find a lot of your words---"
He was unexpectedly silent. He was choosing his words carefully.
"I find a lot of your prose---"
"What are you going to say?"
"I can't say it. I can tell, with you in this kind of mood, that it's not a good idea for me to say it."
"Tell me."
"I find your use of adverbs......just....so.....Swiftian."
A pause. I heard a church bell chime in the distance.
"I can't believe this. I can't believe you're telling me this."
I looked down at my feet. They seemed like they were a mile away. I peered out across the car park. No help anywhere. All these conflicting emotions swelled up inside of me. I ended up dropping to my knees. I'd lost all my strength and I leaned in towards him.
"I'm sorry."
I can't work out whether he'd really forgiven me. Truly. I started weeping. I sat there for half a minute and I was crying with my chin pressed against my chest. Suddenly I felt his arm around me. I was warm. I began weeping into his chest. I was a child. I could feel his breath like a lover's kiss. And he said the following words. I'll never forget them.
"Carver will show you the way."
Undoubtedly the best advice I've ever had.

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