The kids leave in a belch then everything’s quiet. Just Mr. May at his desk (oval) rubbing his temples (tense), clearing his mind (disemboweled). There’s a lone, acrid leaf of spinach in his Tupperware and, removing it, he catches himself thinking, If only I had a wife, then I’d have someone to send me to work with a real Panini. A Panini? Jesus, he says aloud. My wife would be a strong, working woman, he thinks, or, forces himself to think. Yes, that’s right. I’d pack her lunch. He drums his thumbs to some song he heard in the car this morning, a tween singing 21st century blues. Thumbs rocking, he pretends the heap of papers he’s using as a bass drum is just that, nothing more—definitely not last week’s creative writing assignment he’ll most likely (in part because he’s alone, but, also, because he perversely enjoys reading students’ papers aloud and sneering after every cliché) spend most of his weekend grading.
“Mom, hi,” he says on the drive home.
“Honey. It sounds like you’re in a cave.”
“I’m driving home, mom. It’s the Bluetooth, remember?”
“Yeah, yes. Did you have a good day today?”
“It was fine. Listen, did you talk to Bryce about this weekend,” he says, driving by a carwash fundraiser while presenting his middle finger to three blonde students. Just as he realizes they’re kids from his school, his mother clears her throat and the sound is both thick and disapproving. Thickly disapproving. He wonders if she knows what he just did.
“He said he has to cancel,” says his mother. Without a phone to his head, hearing her voice (omnipresent) makes him feel vaguely religious, like the time he offered his coat to a homeless man. Though—after taking one look at the topography of stains on the collar—the man refused it, May still felt good about the offer. Driving home today he remembers how great that instant burrito tasted that evening, after an afternoon of unadulterated selflessness.
“What?” he says to the car’s interior.
“He’s got a Young Professional Convention. He just can’t make it,” she says.
“A professional flake,” he says, softly, his car jittering over potholes.
“What’s that, dear?” Her voice is louder now.
“Why couldn’t he call me to say that?”
“He’s there already. Apparently there’s security. He could only make one call.”
May sighs and tastes the morning’s coffee/pizza combo. “Security?” he says.
“Idea protection. They don’t want things getting leaked.”
“Both my sons, public speakers.”
He pulls onto his street, says, “Bryce’s not exactly teaching high school English, though.”
“I find it very hard to figure out what he does,” says his mother. “But the money is—”
“I’m home, mum-mum. Car is turning off in 3, 2-”
In his bedroom (11’x11’) his satchel vomits a pile of papers onto his bed sheets (don’t ask). A moth careens out of his wound of a closet, flying as though tracing a mountain range over the ungraded assignments. May evaluates his options for both tonight and tomorrow. Originally he and his younger brother were going to participate in the state’s Committed Kayaker Race. But now, his only viable team member unavailable, all of Saturday afternoon and night are shot. Not to mention tonight—a gaping cavity of availability and nothing to fill it.
His loneliness is translated by weekends.
The inside of his refrigerator looks like the morning after a good party. When he closes it (dissatisfied) it throws a whiff of what smells like, to May, running uphill. Nothing good to eat, he says aloud. Maybe I’ll surprise my parents with an overdue visit, he thinks as he delivers kale chips to his meaty tongue. His ears overdubbed with crunching, he thinks, no, that would be too obvious, they know Bryce cancelled on me.
Holding the empty chip bag he feels his hunger like a tree getting chopped feels its roots.
Now he’s back in his bedroom with salt on his lips. The papers are there, whiter than before, he thinks, like a threat or something sassy. Just one for now, I’ll just read the first one. He holds the paper by the corner, keeping it away from his body like it’s something dead, and sees the name shit-scribbled across an otherwise typed paper: Jake Throthren. He sighs. Of course, he says, lowering the paper to his knee.
In the fall, during a lunch break, Jake came into May’s room and projected onto the wall a GIF he created the previous night. Naked, with nothing but a grape leaf over his loins, May (whose head was superimposed over a Greek ruler) sat reclined, his belly more bulbous than in real life, getting fed grapes by a maid. In a series of rough cuts his belly grew with every grape ingested. The students entered class that afternoon before May, already sore from laughter by the time he arrived. When May retaliated by saying (in front of the class), “Mr. Throthren, your paperth alwayth get thitty gradeth!” the principal responded with a not-so-ebullient sit-down meeting.
Well, the past is the past (and my free Netflix trial is up), he thinks, now holding the paper in the wide lens of his eyes.
May 1, 2014
Meet Me at Olive Garden
“Hah!” yells May.
Outside the miniature house the sun glows on the green lawn. I am inside but think I maybe dreaming. I look out my window and see my only reflection. Also the neighbors’ gargantuan houses. But my house is miniscule and my reflection in the window proves this to me.
“What novice anarchy!” says May, letting his red ink dictate.
Suddenly there is a knock at my door and it sounds like lovemaking. (1)
“What! If he seriously thinks that counts as his simile, then, well—” he says, the margins becoming red.
And I think wow, it has been some time since I did that!
But then again I think wow, this could be my neighbors coming to finally get me. Do they really want to drive me out of town just because I’m a teacher? Easier said then done, I always say.
“Argh! Cliché!” says May, drawing faces (grieving) next to the paragraph.
I try to keep quiet. I’m a fox in a field of hunters. (2)
“His metaphor? Pull my eyes out now!”
But the knocking is ecstasy in my veins and even though I’m scared I can’t help but get rather joyous. It sounds like 1,000 pounds of thunder pouring from the heavens. Its so loud. They must know what I did to that man, that’s why they’re here…
“Oh, no. Is he really doing this?”
I open the door and see no one. The sky is deep blue and the clouds could be gelato. Just as I’m about to close my door I notice a letter on the brown straw mat.
May brings the paper closer to his face.
The paper is light in my grip. I close the door. On the piece of paper is a pair of lipstick red lips. I don’t know why but I bring the paper up to my nose. Maybe I just want to smell the person’s lips? I don’t know!
May remains motionless, silent.
The paper smells like a prairie and suddenly I am transplanted to a time where I loved Rachel and she made love to me outside.
(Though unaware) May’s pants begin to tighten.
But no! Now I’m back in my tiny house all alone with not even the pounding at the door to entertain me with. Just as I’m about to recycle the paper I see ink on the back and it says MEET ME AT OLIVE GARDEN. That’s funny I think to myself. Usually I’d never step foot in an abdominal place like that. But for this person I will make an exceptional.
Now May is tensing and releasing his free hand; closed, open. Go! he thinks.
I normally would drive myself but lately I’m an idiot and drove my Malibu into a pond.
“A teacher with a Malibu? Wait. That grimy—” but he doesn’t stop reading.
I call Geoff and he’s home so he takes me and drops me off at the narrow entrance. “Thanks!” I annunciate to him as he glides into the distance. The sky looks like the ocean. So I go inside the vacated room and can’t find any staff. That’s weird I think to myself. I seat myself and when no one serves me I get up to leave. Just as I get out of my chair I see her, her brown hair like bear fur and her eyes so brown like a wood door to my soul.
May is basically touching the paper with his eyelashes.
“Hi,” she sighs. Suddenly I’m nervous because I already love her so much. I can feel it in my body = all my problems getting obliverated. “Hi,” I roar. “Can I sit with you?” she moans.
May lowers the paper from his face (glistening) and brings a finger to his lips (salt-dried). His hunger resumes in isolated pockets, each one stronger, deeper than the last. The neighbors below him are playing a WWII video game and the cries of dying men come through the floor. Sitting there, on the edge of his bed, hearing college students congratulate one another on their sick kills, the blood flow to his feet lessening, he decides to stand up, to start something—a stretch (okay, that’s a start), then two light slaps on his cheeks before he leaves the apartment.
In his Malibu he heads downtown, coming already upon his favorite restaurants. Two women, laughing (of course), exit Le Boeuf and cut a left down the sidewalk. He drives further. In front of Organza are four tables, all filled with couples or groups of people, talking and eating. Seeing them all in their togetherness is, for May, disgusting. Now he’s accelerating, motoring past the main strip into chainland: an Applebee’s next to an Arby’s, a Buffalo Wild Wings facing a Burger King (are all chain restaurants organized alphabetically?). Further ahead he sees the entrance ramp to the highway east. For a moment he is sure he’ll get on it and drive through the night until he reaches the Atlantic. But, as he approaches the pocked ramp, he sees an Olive Garden and can’t suppress the rush of romance he gets looking at the plastic vines dangling over the entrance.
He parks his car and the sign’s purple glow bathes him in Merlot.
Remembering Jake’s story, he expects to enter the place and find it empty, the only table in the entire room set with a candle burning. But it’s Friday and it’s busy and he stands in line behind a family waiting to be seated. The hostess looks past them and finds May standing, alone. How many, sir? she says, smiling.
She looks surprised and this pleases May, glad to know he doesn’t exude the desperation he feels. As she leads him to his seat he tries his best not to look at her buttocks and succeeds for exactly three seconds. The way it warps out from her apron reminds May of his Aunt Peggy cooking tenderloin, singing Sinatra. At his table (near the bathroom) he tries to make conversation with the hostess. Black shirts on women, I think, are simply special, he says. She gives him a look like, that was creepy enough, with her chin burrowed into her chest and her eyebrows arched.
Your server will be right with you, she says, leaving.
The menu is laminated. The font is set in a type redolent of Roman gift shops. Certain things here are plastic he wishes were not. What surprises May, however, is that none of this is bothersome.
There is still that slithering romance all throughout his groin, chest and cerebrum. He’s sure that if he sits here — maybe lingering over a fine wine or espresso — she will find him. She is close and, if not already here, will soon arrive. She will enter the same doors as he and be led, unsure at first as to where, but will catch on once the hostess gestures at his table. Standing before him, in a dress surely purchased on Oxford Street, her hair in a French bun, her earrings so threadlike they drape like extensions of her hair, she will smile.
Sit, my love, he’ll say, or, no, that’s too proper, he thinks. Pull up a chair sugar (!), no, Jesus, I’m not a greaser. She’ll just want me to act like me. Okay, that’s easy.
Hi, he’ll roar.