Saturday, April 13, 2013

In the Depths of the Valley Chapter Two

Been having some internet trouble recently, and my writing has slowed. But here's chapter 2.

Chapter Two
I'm sitting at a round table in the lunch room with Mr. Calvino, a short, stocky man like myself. Mr. Calvino is older than me, balding, with tan, leathery skin and a large sagging face like a frog's. He is the Spanish teacher, though he fancies himself a comedian, much to the children's chagrin. Some of the farmers come and ask him for aid when there's a linguistic problem with the migrant workers. I watch him eat ravenously, stuffing his great maw with a vigor unique to short, stocky men who wish to transform into short, dumpy men. My food sits on its plate, where it belongs. Salisbury steak, rubbery in texture, slathered in a slimy film that is supposed to be gravy. Instant mashed potatoes hem in the mess, looking like calcified stool, canned green beans emerging from them, soggy, crunchless. Mr. Calvino is almost finished. He grabs a bunch of napkins and wipes himself off.
            "You gonna eat that?" he says, moving his fork toward my plate.
            "By all means, have at it," I say, holding up my hands. Mr. Calvino smiles his amphibious grin and plunges his fork into my Salisbury steak. He holds the entire steak up to his mouth and takes a bite, furiously tearing at it, the meat giving a tough fight. We are the only teachers in the cafeteria; most of the faculty eats during the first lunch period. I eat with Mr. Calvino because none of the others will. None of them can stomach it.
            "You seen that turtle-head Falcone around?" says Mr. Calvino in-between chews. Turtle-head is a term of endearment as well as ridicule, and he uses it frequently.
            "I have not," I say. Mark Falcone seems to have some integral part of his personality missing, and I try to stay away from him as much as possible.
            "He's gotta read a manual every day to tie his shoes. They're gonna make him teach keyboarding. Keyboarding! And this is the highest-paid teacher in the school. You ever looked in during one of his math classes? I swear, the students teach him, not the other way around."
            "That laugh he does…"
            "Heeyah, heeyah, heeyah…"
            "Yes, it's unnerving. I feel like he's an alien still learning how to act like a human being."
            "He's a good fishin' buddy, though," says Calvino. "Get a couple beers in him and he starts to act like he breathes air and drinks water and shits like the rest of us."
            "Comprende," I say.
            "Huh?" says Calvino.      
            "Where do you fish at?"
            "That landing off of 56, on Arnold's creek. You gotta get there early 'fore the hillbillies show up. I go up the creek a ways, put in around some big tree or other and wait for the fishes to start biting."
            "I imagine it's a serene scene, with herons and deer and other wildlife flourishing."
            "The other weekend I saw a dead baby beaver floating in the water."
            "Maybe 'flourishing' is the wrong word."
            "I think that big ogre kid traps them up around Wal-Mart, in that drain-off area below," says Calvino, his little eyes darting about.
            "I'm not sure to whom you are referring."
            "Big giant ogre kid that's always making jokes and fucking around during class. Finn something. Shaved head, ugly."
            "Mickey Finn? I think he may have a learning disability. He has trouble reading out loud."
            "Every kid here has a learning disability. We're all Special-ED teachers. I thought you knew that when you were hired." Calvino reaches out and slaps me on the shoulder. I look down at my plate and feel my stomach growling. Behind us a crowded table of girls giggles and screams. Nausea builds in my throat with every utterance of the adolescent females. Calvino grins his frog grin and shakes his jowls like a wet dog. He digs in his pocket and pulls out a candy bar that he shoves into his mouth. It all happens so fast that I am not sure whether he unwrapped it.
            "I would like to go fishing with you some time," I say, marveling at the words coming out of my mouth.
            "Sure thing, buddy, yeah, sure thing," says Calvino as his teeth grind caramel and chocolate. There are specs of chocolate on his chin, but I say nothing further. Someone beyond us is throwing food at another young person. Calvino and I do nothing, for this lunch period is chaotic, and we see no reason for change. I think of my conversation earlier and decide that I am finished. I nod to Calvino and carry my empty tray to the cafeteria women. They are large and hairy-handed, sexless in their hairnets, with muscled forearms, and they give me little courtesy as I dispose of my tray and head into the hallway. I run my finger on the cold, blue metal of the lockers as I trot to my office. Some of the children have placed large dents in the lockers, either with their knuckles or their heads. One of the Watson boys passes me, a pasty lout with a thick cranium and the long dragging arms of an ape, and I consider questioning him regarding his destination and purpose, but I make no move. He is a foot taller than me, reeking of some cheap men's fragrance that smells of alcohol and locker rooms. The Watsons take turns in detention and suspension. This one's name is Slick or Slack or Sully, I can't remember. Maybe he is heading toward the janitor closet to assist Janitor Bob; maybe he is sneaking out back to smoke. Maybe there is a teenage girl waiting for him in the cemetery. I don't particularly care.
            I take the turn to my classroom and crash into Miss Mendez. Her head hits my chest, and she falls back, my arms stretching out to grab her, and for a second we are like tango dancers, she suspended in my hands, a foot from the floor. Her head dangles, her white neck tilted back; this neck is freckled, slender and smooth. She weighs nothing in my arms, and I pull her back to her feet slowly, my eyes reluctant to leave that throat. I take my hands off of her and hold them up, the intimacy of the moment vanishing. I've touched her! I think, uncertain how to process the information. Perhaps I should have let her fall; perhaps I took liberty in catching her, violating the code between genders. My face must have betrayed my thoughts, for she spoke immediately.
            "You just kind of appeared there, Mr. Jameson. I apologize for running into you."
            "No, no, I'm so sorry, I shouldn't have turned the corner blindly. I hope I didn't offend you…"
            "Offend me how?" A hint of a smile appears on the right corner of her mouth.
            "By reaching out and catching you before you fell."
            "I would've been offended if you'd let me fall."
            "Yes, of course," I say, looking down, noticing the sorry condition of my loafers. Miss Mendez's feet are close to mine, small and clad in pretty white slippers.
            "Is something bothering you, Mr. Jameson?" she says.
            "No, Miss Mendez," I say, looking somewhere off to the left of her.
            "You can call me Loretta. Can I call you Will?"
            "Certainly," I say. You can call me anything you want.
            "It'll be Misses now anyway," she says, her face lighting up. She has the widest smile I've ever seen, and a doe's nose and oval-shaped eyes.
            "What's that?" I say, looking at her directly. There's a tightness rising from my stomach, into my throat.
            "I'm getting married!" Her hands clasp together and that stretched smile stretches further. She's wearing a yellow dress; it looks perfect against her light hair and skin. You should be saying something, I think, but I can't find the right words. Congratulations. No, that's not right.
            "He's a policeman," she says, misinterpreting my silence. "Doug Hepburn, I don't know if you know him. Hopefully he hasn't given you a ticket!"
            My palms are sweating. I stare blankly at Loretta Mendez, shocked and unable to move. She continues to smile like the prettiest thing that ever lived.
            I turn away from her and walk back the way I came. It won't be out by the dumpster but that's where I head, having no other place to go. 

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