|Posted: 11 October 2005 at 9:09pm | IP Logged
hi i'm not a very experienced writer like some on this board, so i was hoping to take advantage of y'all's expertise and get some feedback on this short story. It's for a creative writing class i'm taking at my community college. its about 2500 words and it's my first attempt at a piece of prose this long. let me know what you think...and don't hold back--let me have it! thanks!
Araby sketched Oglethorpe in his underwear, briefs specifically, and marveled at his masterpiece. The physique was a little too flattering (old Oglethorpe was so obese, it was nauseating), but the guy was his boss after all, and he didn’t want to bite the hand that fed him.
But he doesn’t feed me, Araby thought, Uncle Sam feeds me. This guy is just a pain in the ass.
It was true. Mr. Oglethorpe was the principal of Lloyd Benson High, an intolerable man who smelled of Old Spice and 99 cent cheeseburgers , even in the morning. His administration was a Reign of Terror for the faculty, after the passing of old Mr. Wilkins. Wilkins died in his sleep, which was the prediction, considering he slept all the time. He was a good boss, and the kids loved him. He smiled and signed papers, and he slept and then he died.
“Can you believe this idiot runs things?” Araby whispered to Garza, the new history teacher, a kid no more than twenty-two, just out of college. Araby placed his hand over his coffee mug, feeling the rising wisps of heat seep into his skin, leaving a trail of goose bumps along the length of his arm. He and Garza were sitting at the very back of the school library, which was a coveted spot for these mandatory faculty meetings. “I couldn’t believe it either, when I started working here, when I was a college kid like you. I thought, ‘This fat ass has my life in his hands, in his goddamn hands .’ He still lives with his mom for chrissake.” Araby wasn’t sure about Oglethorpe’s living arrangements, but he liked how the mom part sounded.
Garza smiled politely to acknowledge Araby’s remark, but he refused to break his eye contact with Oglethorpe, keeping up the “I‘m-here-and-I‘m listening” act, an uncanny talent reserved for the young or the inexperienced. Garza was new to this, and still eager to impress. And so goddamn young, thought Araby. He decided right there that he hated him.
Araby got up from his chair, and excused himself from the meeting early, on the pretext that he had to use the restroom. He slipped out the door and closed it softly, trying to avoid being noticed. Walking down the hallway, he was overtaken by Ms. Villanueva, the librarian, returning to her office.
“Good morning Mr. Araby. How was your summer?”
“Too short,” Araby gave the standard teacher reply. He stopped, giving her a nervous smile.
“Isn’t it always?” Ms. Villanueva replied, her arms wrapped tightly around two thick textbooks. Araby could never talk very long to Ms. Villanueva. Her face was distracting--the moles and little craters and wrinkles were repulsive, but, yet… there was something... It was the ankles. What ankles! Beautiful ankles. He shivered just thinking about them. Araby always looked down after meeting her stare, and the cuffs of her pants rose high above the watermark, revealing skin the color and texture of calamine lotion, so soft and soothing, only hinting at the preserved perfection beneath her old-lady denims.
He paused and she bit her lip. There was nothing left to say. They both kept walking.
I can’t do this anymore, thought Araby, as he walked toward his classroom. I hate this. Sure, the kids are all right, those snot-faced little sh*ts, and sure, teaching is an honorable profession, but really, what the f**k am I doing here? I used to be young. This would be the last place I’d want to be. I could have been a pilot. In the special forces. Flying a big bird, a cargo plane, singing into the desert, where the heat kills before any goddamn raghead would. And I’d float down Snickers bars tied to tiny parachutes for all the little raghead kids, and it would be okay, because those poor bastards don’t know any better. Araby was now in his classroom, eating a stale powdered sugar donut he found in his car that morning. He poured himself a cup of coffee from his coffeemaker. And it’s come to this, he thought. I’m practically forty years old and I’m drinking coffee like any old man, figuring out my lesson plans like every week for the past ten years. And I’m complaining about it, just like an old man would.
Just then, a rattle at his door pulled Araby out of his reverie. The door always made that sound either when someone knocked or when someone was exiting the entire building. Doors have a funny way of communicating with each other, and, knowing full well that no one would come to visit him, Araby walked into the hallway, curious to know who was at the receiving end of the hall exit.
Three boys, probably seniors, were walking stealthily out of the building. A few feet behind them was another boy, somewhat younger than the rest, signaling furiously to the others to hurry up, that the coast was clear. The younger kid turned around ever so often to monitor the security guard, a wonderfully stupid man who was hired because he played high school ball with Oglethorpe in the 70s.
Araby‘s first instinct was to notify the guard. He knew they were skipping class, but he thought better of it and decided to let them go. The attendance lady will get them sooner or later, he thought, just like she got me years ago. It won’t last, their little tricks, their games. Nothing lasts.
Araby rubbed his arms, hoping to get some fleeting reassurance from their smoothness--he never did have much hair, and his decades-long cigarette habit seemed to have no ill effect on his skin, or anywhere else, for that matter. As he moved his hands up and down absently, a circus of thoughts paraded through his brain. Then, everything, Oglethorpe’s fat, the young kid’s nervousness, Ms. Villanueva’s ankles, everything whirled through Araby and came to a crashing point--
Just leave, Araby told himself. Go home. Hell, go to Mexico. Mexico with all the dirt and the sun and the booze and the children beggars with chocolate skin selling boxes of Chiclets, little bits of colored gum that you couldn’t chew for very long until you just had to swallow them, they were so damn small. Si, senor. Gracias, senor. Que Dios te bendiga, senor. Yeah, take all my money, you cute, poor little bastard, and keep your damn Chiclets, too. Yes, Mexico, that’s it, that’s what I need.
And now it was the voice of impulse that spoke to Araby, chattering “Mexico” incessantly in his ear, filling up his head, pressing at his temples. The monkey latched eternally to his back that begged for cigarettes now added escape to its demands. The voice didn’t have to yell; the monkey didn’t have to scratch--Araby found himself handing the toll fee at the Progresso-Weslaco bridge by noon.
No one had to remind him where it was. Araby had parked his car and headed straight for the only bar he ever drank at in Progresso, the Ay! Jalisco. He and his friends had shortened it to A.J., and the place became a fixture for weekend excursions and unofficial school field trips. The familiar smell of piss and fried cheese awakened something in Araby as he opened the door. He flung himself onto a barstool with glee, as an excited child would mount a carousel horse. In his giddiness, Araby heartily greeted the bartender-- “Don’t you remember me, Paco, you old cabron?” His actual name was Andres. Andres pretended to recognize him, even though he started working only yesterday. Araby rocked back and forth on his barstool, almost singing his order--a cuba libre and an ice cold Corona with a slice of lime. “Por favor,” he added emphatically. Araby drank in everything quickly, but the single donut in his stomach wasn’t enough to absorb the alcohol, and he soon found himself sucked into a stranger’s conversation.
The man sitting next to him at the bar introduced himself as Umberto Malovais. He had a broken skin tone, brown with spots of sweaty white and red, that told of merciless, sun-beaten days. He was fat, but the firm kind of fat, the kind that gained respect from those who were smaller or fat in a flabbier way. His moustache was limp with sweat, and a long tongue of perspiration ran down his white, button down shirt. Malovais was clearly a serious drinker, but not a drunk, as his steady eyes and talk proved, despite the array of empty bottles and glasses before him. He offered Araby another round of drinks, which was gladly accepted.
“Dime, compadre, what do you do?” asked Malovais, a luring grin hanging on his face.
“Teacher,” replied Araby comfortably, now leaning up against the bar.
“Ah, profesor. Bueno, pues. El profesor gringo.”
“And tell me, profesor, you can’t make very much money, no? El profesor is like us Mexicans. No money for nice car, nice T.V., nice wife, no?”
“No, no money.” Araby agreed laughingly. Malovais started to blur slightly, and whatever he said sounded wonderfully sensible.
“No wife?” Malovais repeated, trying to dig into Araby with his casual questions.
“Oh, yes wife. Nice, bonita wife,” Araby lied.
“Bueno, el profesor tiene mujer. My friend has a woman. So he is happy, yes?”
Araby paused. He thought Malovais’ question too rude to answer. Who the f**k does this guy think he is? Asking me about happiness; he doesn’t know a damn thing about my life, about what makes me happy.
“Si, senor, I’m f**king happy. Feliz is the word. As in Feliz Navidad. Might as well be Christmas, I’m so damn happy.” Araby was starting to blabber like an idiot, and he knew it. He knew that he should leave before anything stupid happened , but he wanted to stick around long enough to see the cards up Malovais’ sleeve. Araby liked card tricks.
“So you are happy,” Malovais talked slowly and seriously now. “Que bien. But you see, compadre, there are some who are not so happy. My people, some are very poor. They want to cross the river. Pero el rio no sirve. It is dangerous to swim now. They get shot at, drowned.”
“Drowned,” Araby echoed, as if that one word were enough to revive all the forgotten corpses tangled beneath a mess of riverbed weeds.
“Yes, profesor, drowned. And you, you profesor, look like a good man, who will help my people. Good American.” Malovais emphasized the American with a smile, saying it almost mockingly, and Araby took the bait.
“What are you saying? What can I do?”
“Bueno, amigo. You are profesor, and me, Malovais, es un smuggler. But I don’t do drugs. You see, I carry people across the border. And you can, too. You are gringo; they won’t ask you questions. They won’t do no checking.”
“And this pays well?” Araby asked as the monkey started to scratch again.
“Si, that’s what I mean, compadre. You want profesor pay, go ahead. But you make smuggler money, and you can make your mujer very happy. Nice car, nice T.V., you see?
Araby wasn’t listening. His mind started to shift from possibility to possibility. I wouldn’t have to deal with Oglethorpe anymore, Araby said to himself. Hell, I could be different. And I’d be doing something for those poor bastards other than buying Chiclets. I’d cross the border as easy as you please. Yes, sir, I’m an American citizen. No, nothing to declare. And I’d wear shades and I’d grow a nice Malovais moustache. The border patrol officer would know exactly what I was doing, but he wouldn’t say a goddamn thing, because he knows as well as I do that we need the Mexicans. I need the Mexicans. And they will need me. My beautiful chocolate-skinned Mexicans. And one day, years from now, when I’m retired, I’d get a whole collection of unaddressed letters. They’d be thank you notes scrawled in pencil, in broken English, for what I done for them and for their kids. And maybe some of the real pretty ones would sleep with me. My own Mexican woman, all to myself, with her hard lips and hard caresses. And I’d cart across millions of them-- women and men and babies and grandparents; I’d cross all of f**king Mexico. Who knows, maybe I’ll be carting across another Caesar Chavez. Caesar f**king Chavez!
“You think on it, amigo. I can make you good deal, a real good deal.”
Just then, something strange started to happen. As Araby lit his seventh cigarette of the day, his mind started to clear up. He had reached the crest of the fantasy that he forced to work in real life, but he couldn’t ride the wave. The surge was too much; the possibility of all the water crashing on him was unbearable. He couldn’t do this. If he hurried, he could still make it back on time and say he took his lunch break a little early. He wouldn’t have to waste a sick day. He wouldn’t have to explain and apologize to Oglethorpe for walking out on a meeting.
“I got to go home,” Araby told Malovais dejectedly.
“But I make you a good deal.”
“No. I can’t”
“ A good deal.” It seemed as though Malovais thought by altering his inflection he could convince Araby to go along with him. But Araby was congealed in his fears, and no one could move him.
“No, dammit. No. I gotta go home to my wife.”