Story #1 by Matthew Sharpe

photo: Matt Gunther

photo: Matt Gunther

I noticed him on the first day of school. He sat in the back wearing a black sweatshirt with the hood up. I couldn’t see his face. I was too scared to ask him to take off the hood. I love history and I’m good at getting high school kids to feel that they are a part of it, but sometimes all the other stuff, the stuff that teaching is really mostly about—the suffering of children, their crippled desires, their confusion and rage—is beyond me, and I come home and have a glass of white wine and a second one and a third, and I believe I have no business being a teacher. This kid wore the hood every day—his other teachers I guess were also too scared to ask him to take it off, or they didn’t care. Midway through the second week of school, I stayed in my classroom until after nightfall to grade papers and prepare for the next day’s lessons. I was driving home to several of my favorite glasses of wine when I saw two dots of light hovering in the middle of the road. I thought they were fireflies and only about a second before I hit them I slammed on my brakes because it was him standing there. The fireflies turned out to be his eyes, which were surrounded by his black hood, which was indistinguishable from the black night. I got out of my car and felt I was being pulled toward him. He had not moved from the middle of the road. “It’s okay, Mrs. Townsend,” he said in a gentle voice, “I won’t hurt you.” Then I was driving through the night with him in my passenger seat, seeing a sliver of mocha skin beneath his hood whenever we passed under a street light. “Teachers are undervalued in this country,” he said. “Politicians and captains of finance say they care about education but they don’t respect teachers and no one is willing to figure out how to pay you in proportion to the importance of your work. And here you are working so hard you don’t even have time for love. But that doesn’t mean it’s good for you to drink so much white wine at night.” We reached a ridge in the road, beneath which was a valley so dark I could barely see it. “Well, this is me,” he said. “Let me drive you to your house,” I said. “That won’t be necessary.” He got out of the car and so did I. “You want me to take off my hood?” I nodded. He peeled it back. I got close to him so I could see him in the dark. He had smooth skin, an angular face, and lustrous black hair, an astonishing beauty, as I had often imagined my boy would have been had I not aborted him seventeen years ago, when I myself was in high school. He kissed me, on the lips, not an erotic kiss, exactly. Next thing I knew I was standing at the front of my classroom, midway through a lesson on westward expansion in the 19th century. I pointed to a large U.S. map on the wall, circling with my finger the big, dark swath in the middle of the country that used to belong to France. And I was laughing, because there he was, in his usual chair at the back, dressed in a white powdered wig, red waistcoat, and red leather breeches, which is to say, he was Thomas Jefferson signing the Louisiana Purchase.

Very short stories r us:

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