by A.K. Riddle
The Professor looks like a resurrected and plastic surgeried John Lennon. The Professor has a dog named after his ex-girlfriend, Layla. But his wife thought their pooch was named after the Eric Clapton song. The Professor is married but doesn’t wear anything on his left hand except for a black friendship bracelet, if that counts. The Professor always wears long sleeves to work because he has too many regrets and unremovable tattoos on his arms. The Professor has high blood pressure, but still invites his friend, The Janitor, to eat greasy pizza with him for breakfast in his classroom everyday.
They talk about politics and conspiracy theories over knockoff brand Dr. Pepper. The students would start parking their cars in their usual spots in fifteen minutes. Ari, Jacque, and Eli would arrive five minutes after the second bell like always. Run to first hour in a pant, leaving their lockers half open, and slip into the classroom silently. They were lucky The Professor never gave out tardies.
The Janitor wipes pizza greased hands on his denim — the same outfit he wore everyday. He carried a mini toothed comb and harmonica in his back pocket. He was a hippie fifty years ago. The Janitor said goodbye to The Professor and began his usual vacuum and whistling rounds as usual and left the English room.
The Professor put lotion on his chapped October hands and fingered his calluses. He played guitar and sang lead vocals in a shitty rock band when he was a teenager, when he was young, only 17 on his body. Summers were spent in his car or in his friend’s old piece of junk. All rust and gasoline, chewed up dog toys. Two boys in the front seats puffing away at green cigarettes that made them laugh at everything. Sunset watching in the Chuck-E-Cheese parking lot after blowing all their money on the games inside. Pink Floyd playing as static through the car radio.
We’re not going to college! scream disappearing into clear air. The taste of sweet youth buzzing through teeth.
His friend laughed and passed him a bag of Cheetos.
I told my mom I was gonna major in female science.
What’d she say?
Nothing. She just got up and left for church.
His friend spit out his cigarette. You skipped out on church?
Fuck church. The only religion I believe in is Led Zeppelin.
The reason why The Professor was an enigma at the preparatory school was a mystery the students and other teachers just poked guesses at.
Me and Trevor left a jar of cheese balls on the front step of the The Professor’s house last night.
Were you drunk?
No you shithead. Well maybe, but that’s not the point. It was an experiment.
We went back this morning to see if he took them.
He’s forty. Why doesn’t he have any children?
Is he even married?
Well, he doesn’t wear a ring.
Isn’t his wife Chinese?
I think so.
Maybe it’s Chinese custom.
No, not wearing a wedding ring.
I do notice he always wears a black bracelet on his left wrist.
Maybe it’s from the ex.
On Friday, The Professor wore round eyeglasses that made him look like a balding Harry Potter. The students spent the first five minutes of first period exchanging whispers about a possible eye disease he had.
Guys, I heard him tell the janitor he was going blind.
The Professor came in five minutes after morning announcements with a plate of pizza in hand. Typical breakfast. There was chalk on the butt of his black pants.
What’s for lunch, Teach? It was Trevor, always the first one to poke toes into cold water.
The Professor held out a plastic baggy.
The student made a twisted face. Ew.
The wife made em’.
Well… she boils the eggs in tea and I’m not too sure about the rest. It’s a special Chinese recipe.
I don’t think he knows how to cook, Trevor whispered to Bree.
On Friday, the wife slept early. Dinner was a sad feast of fancy ramen. A sick combination of egg, butter, and parmesan mashed into the noodles. The wife learned it from a Facebook message her mom had sent her. The Professor laid in bed with bloodshot eyes to the ceiling. Tired but bored. He suddenly remembered that his wife hadn’t kissed him for the past two years, and that made him restless. The Professor got out of bed and went downstairs to the small kitchen. He wanted McDonalds. The patio door was still open. He considered going out it and walking half a mile to the McDonalds next to Staples, but decided not to after opening the fridge. Heineken. Jello.
He sat down, opened the bottle then the Jello with his crooked teeth. Got out his MacBook and went into private mode on Safari.
Not what he was looking for.
how to divorce somebody
A wikihow website. Quick scroll.
Step 3: make copies
Back to the searchbar.
He owed it to Trevor for honing his Internet skills. Teach, you gotta type it into Google, not the search bar.
And you’re supposed to use spaces.
girls in hayport, wisconsin
Girls in Hayport, Wisconsin.
The English teacher ought to use proper English. It was a reflex.
Search results were depressing. Alicia Hoffman goes to state for basketball. Jaida McCormick wins drawing award from local art museum. Katie Crown receives gold medal for best groomed cow at county fair. He wished he could crumple up the online pages and chuck them in the trashcan across him.
Back to .
He sat and thought what to type in next.
Trevor and Paul. The computer lab. Eighth hour. STOP TYPING MY NAME INTO GOOGLE YOU FUCKTARD.
It pulls up my damn Instagram. If my mom, our SCIENCE teacher, finds out what kinda shit I post I’m dead as fuck!
Trevor came in handy somehow. That asshole.
Click on the first link.
A picture of her and Jordan at the bowling alley. Caption: ballin with the bestie *heart emoji*.
A picture of her eating a french fry at McDonald’s. Caption: FRIDAYZ.
A ten second clip of her laying down on a bed sticking her tongue out and crossing her eyes. Caption: bored.
He stayed up until 3:02, looking at all 114 pictures.
On Sundays, The Professor takes his dog, Layla, for a walk in the park at 6 AM, when it’s still dark outside. He does not take his wife with. He is wearing a camouflage jacket because it is fall and makes him feel like Henry David Thoreau.
Trevor and a couple of his stoner friends stop cracking sex jokes and notice The Professor. They’ve been here since last night, hiding behind the playground’s rock wall, smoking to celebrate the first three months of school.
Guys, is that Teach?
I think it’s him guys. Look. I’ve seen that jacket hanging on the back of his chair during school.
I fuckin hate camouflage.
Brutal autumn sun starts spilling its yolk onto his shadow. Walking in the park helps him blow off steam. He’s relaxed except for the fact that he misses Gianna’s face terribly and can’t wait for Monday to come.
On Sunday, the Professor’s wife hangs up the laundry on a wire outside. They are too poor to afford a dryer. When The Professor gets back from the park, he gets out his laptop to continue writing his unfinished shitty novel. He only wrote one pithy honest sentence that day.
I don’t know why I got married.
The Professor remembered when he was a young teacher and could fuck around as much as he wanted. Now, he was a bird chained to the earth. A graying man chained to his young and boring wife.
He walked to the window, miserable, and eyed the teenagers biking outside. The Professor didn’t take his antidepressant medicine like he was supposed to. He’d been to the therapist only once because his doctor referred him to one during his checkup. The Professor eyed the therapist the entire session and declared he was not insane more than fifteen times throughout their conversation. The therapist believed him, but still recommended he take medicine because he was an alcoholic.
Wasn’t I an alcoholic twenty years ago?
Then wasn’t it a problem then? Why is it a problem now?
Forty-six year olds don’t drown themselves in alcohol just because they can’t cope with adult life.
What the fuck are you tryna say Doc?
I mean, it’s not normal for the average adult to behave like a teenager.
You’re not a teenager anymore. You’re forty-seven.
It’s Monday and time for The Professor’s lunch break. Instead of eating lunch, The Professor is sitting in the Principal’s office once again, just like the two other times he was fired. He repeats the same verse in his head while he waits, I hate Shakespeare, I hate Shakespeare, I hate Shakespeare. He can’t keep his thoughts calm because this is another storm he has created himself and doesn’t want to admit it.
Arrested for DUI, assault, and battery.
I didn’t break her TV, officer.
I didn’t know she was sixteen.
Dear Mom and Dad,
Fuck you. I’m in the middle of nowhere. I ran away because I need some fucking space. Don’t worry your assess I’ll come back sometime.
Professor, the principal starts.
He fiddles with his callused fingers. He wants to play guitar — right now.
Can’t find Hamlet on YouTube for free. I’m not paying 1.75 to rent the damn movie.
Does anybody know where I can download free movies?
Teach, isn’t that illegal?
Does anybody know how to download illegal movies?
Five hands up.
Knock. Knock. Knock.
Trevor had to wait for a solid minute.
Door opens a little.
Teach, I gotta burning question about this essay. What exactly am I supposed to write for the conclusion of The History of McDonalds? Because I mean McDonald’s definitely ain’t going out of business anytime soon, if ya know what I mean.
A long nod.
Trevor saw something in his mouth. The Professor saw him eyeing his teeth and shut his jaw in reflex.
Overheard conversation in the boys’ bathroom.
Guys… you won’t believe what I saw in Teach’s mouth.
Oh God, please don’t tell me it’s that stupid tea egg shit he eats everyday.
The Janitor’s pizza?
No. It was chew.
An hour before he got fired, The Professor had Gianna in his room for half an hour with the door shut.
She sat on top of her desk, hands between her schoolgirl thighs, swinging her feet and waiting. He was finishing watching a news clip about the town election. A pile of unfinished grading sat untouched on one corner of his desk. Essay grades were due last week.
Alrighty Gianna, I called you in here to discuss your English grade this quarter.
She fiddled with her fingers like The Professor did when he was anxious. He noticed this and felt more attracted to her for some odd reason.
I know it’s not looking so hot.
I knew you would say that. So, I was thinking you might want some extra points.
Special offer just for you.
What is it?
Come water my plants during winter break. I’ll even pay you twenty dollars.
This is a weird offer, she thought, but I like money.
Um, maybe, I’m not too sure yet.
He went cold when she hesitated. Rejection was not a game he liked.
Sure. Let me know what you think!
He was always too enthusiastic at the end of his sentences.
She stopped at the door.
Actually, I think I’ll take up your offer. I mean like, I don’t have any plans for winter break yet.
She ran to the girls’ bathroom and started crying. She didn’t know why.
When she came out, she saw Jordan in the hallway.
Hey Gianna! Where were you? You missed the entire study hall!
Nowhere, I was just asking The Professor a question about tomorrow’s test.
For half an hour? A smirk. Were you copying down the answers?
Gianna ignored her.
The school board has decided your dismissal is a result of repeated violation of handbook conduct and several reports about your behavior.
Charlie Brown. Blahblahblah… blah blah…
Several reports of swearing in front of students.
Your inappropriate action towards young students, specifically, female students.
Coping mechanism: tune out when stressed, but keep on nodding head.
Roxanne / you don’t have to put on the red light.
Seniors, always remember, fuck the po-lice.
We found several empty whisky bottles in your desk drawer.
Those days are overrrr
A statement from the science teacher concerning a remark you made about her hairy legs.
You don’t have to sell your body to the night.
Gianna in a field of roses.
…misuse of school computers…
Gianna in a red dress during homecoming.
…several search results for illegal films and students’ names.
Therefore, we think it is best for you and this school that you should be dismissed, The Principal stood up, Professor.
It was a shameful and cold walk from The Principal’s office to his car. The Professor did not bother to go downstairs and clean out his classroom because he thought some of the junk he once possessed might come in handy for the next grandma that will teach. Chalk and stuff. She will probably not draw smiley faces when she was drunk or write sloppy notes on essays. She will probably be on time and bore the students to death. He could imagine Trevor sleeping on his desk and Gianna texting under her desk. He missed his students but they always caught him somehow. Snake falling into a snare laced with fruit. He imagined Gianna coming to his empty house in December and watering the roses in the kitchen. She would forget to lock the door and drop the mail on the living room table like he told her to.
The Professor got in his old car. All rust and gasoline, a chewed up dog toy. The moving boxes were shoved in the half open trunk and the wife that didn’t speak English was left in the garden. She was still pulling weeds in her pink nightie. Out of all things that could be remembered, he remembered a Monday afternoon junior year of college. He was supposed to be at class but was skipping with a freshman, named Theo and a senior named Wren. Him and Theo were sleeping in until they got a phone call from the police station from Wren saying that he strangled a cat and got arrested for cruelty to animals. Said he did it because he felt heavy and was bored. Wren’s parents refused to pay his bail, so Theo and The Professor had to. When he got out, they drove to McDonalds in The Professor’s car and ate Big Macs in the ball pit.
In the car, The Professor got the map out of his glovebox because he did not believe in smartphones, and searched for another small town to move to. One that didn’t know his name or what he did. There, he would live like he always did and never change.