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Archive for November 2007

Goodbye, Mr. Skinny

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“Femur. Say it with me.”

Feeeemur,” said the class. Mr. Sandison took his finger off of the skeleton’s plastic thigh, pointed at another leg-bone. The arm bones of the skeleton clacked against its ribcage, its feet swaying just off of the ground.

“This is the pelvis,” said Mr. Sandison.

Peeeelvis,” said the class. The lights were fluorescent, working brightly in water-damaged ceilings. They made the room seem yellow against the gloom of the day.

The kids, third graders, were restless, watching the clock, tapping pencils, closely examining the half-erased scrawl on the blackboard; doodles, ghostly math, and “Parts of the Skeleton,” in Mr. Sandison’s messy chalkboard hand. Lunch was impending, like fingers curled around a door.

A boy, Timmy-Jimmy-Billy-Zach-Wiley-Griffon-something, reached out and yanked a girl’s hair. The girl’s name was Martia.

“Stop that,” said Martia, without taking her eyes off the front of the class. She had a piece of paper in front of her, and was actually taking notes, which at first had made Mr. Sandison smile. He didn’t say anything to Timmy-Jimmy-Billy-Zach-Wiley-Griffon, because, he’d learned after six months of substitute teaching, showing emotions or purposes beyond I am here to teach you things you don’t understand or care about would be like throwing chum into the water.

“Tibia, say it with me,” said Mr. Sandison. Tibia is part of the leg, right? He thought. Mr. Sandison had a master’s degree in English Literature.

Tiiiibia,” said the class, except for Martia. They wrapped their legs around their chairs or kicked at the front legs of their desks. The classroom smelled of dust and spilled juice, faintly of floor wax. Martia raised her hand.

“Yes?” asked Mr. Sandison.

“That’s not a tibia,” said Martia.

“Oh, er—”

“It’s a fibula.”

Fiiiibula,” said the class.

“Oh,” said Mr. Sandison. “Well, I—” the bell rang, and the kids rose with a singular force and ran loudly to the cloakroom. Martia followed, walking. Mr. Sandison stood up, a the familiar claw of pain in his side, like a slug of hot iron. It felt like being shot, he thought. He’d read about being shot. He mopped his brow, and opened his briefcase. Out of this, he took a bagged lunch and a bottle of useless Aspirin. Schedule appointment today, his brain told him. He took a sip of coffee from an orange impact-plastic thermal cup. Grimaced.

Furious cheese- and candy-related microeconomics began at top volume, kids hawking their wares like vendors in a Souk, running around to find the going rate of ham or apples. Martia opened a thermos and drank soup, looking at her page.

The bell rang again and Mr. Sandison dug a roll of butcher’s paper out of the corner of the class, brought out buckets of smelly markers and pencil crayons. He massaged his temples.

“Free time,” he said. Twenty-five pairs of hungry eyes locked onto the buckets, shining with ideas of ponies and gore and laser beams and tanks and hockey and dolphins and Master Chief. The sound and motion broke again. Christ Jesus, thought Mr. Sandison. He rummaged through his bag and found a battered copy of Canterbury Tales, picked it up, and opened it. The pain made his eyes swim, and he skimmed over the page, absorbing nothing. Kids fought over who would get the grape marker, debated on what green was supposed to smell like. Martia picked out two halves of a broken black pencil crayon and spread out a roll of brown paper in the farthest corner, by the book carousel.

She started drawing lines and curves, quickly, purposefully. Two boys lying beside the couch waged an elaborate artistic war, massed troops supported by dinosaur-cyborgs, death indicated through dotted lines and clouds of scribbles, pools of blood springing from above and below. Mr. Sandison toured the class, his hand on his side, sweating.

Some of the girls drew abstract shapes, coloured them in, moved on. Calls were made for more paper, and an hour and a half passed. Martia finished a front-view of the skeleton she was drawing and began to label it. The recess bell rang and kids slingshotted themselves outdoors, open coats trailing like wings.

“Mr. Sandison?”

“Yes, Martia?”

“Can I stay indoors to finish my drawing?” she asked, a pencil crayon in each hand. The head and shoulders of a 3/4 view were visible, half of each scapulae and the sternum sketched in, the ribs sweeping curved lines.

“Okay,” said Mr. Sandison. He put down Chaucer and limped to the staff bathroom, closing the classroom door behind him. The water in the urinal was pink when he finished. Make follow-up appointment with doctor, said his head. Today.

He paused at the door, his hand on the knob. Martia was standing inside, near the front of the class. She held the plastic hand of the skeleton in both hands. Her mouth was moving, pausing, smiling. The bell rang. Mr. Sandison opened the door.

“—like Griffin either, Mr. Skinny” she said, started, and looked up.

“Hi, Mr. Sandison,” she said.

“Hello, Martia,” said Mr. Sandison. He limped to his desk and sat down heavily. A tide of screaming children broke on the room, and he wrote small notes to himself, spun his pen on his fingertips, made attempts at Chaucer. Martia returned to her drawing, and had both views plus a detail on the right hand finished and fully labeled in another hour.

After final bell, she waited in her desk, taking a long time to pack up. Mr. Sandison arranged the desk, put his things back into his briefcase, and stood up. He felt like a pumpkin being carved, stringy bits scraped at, ripped out whole. There were long sweat stains under his arms. Martia made to leave, paused at his desk.

“Mr. Sandison?” she said.


She pointed at his stomach, around the kidneys.

“The doctor left the scissors in,” she said, and smiled, little white bones shining under the light. She walked toward the door, pausing at the skeleton.

“Goodbye, Mr. Skinny,” she said. “See you tomorrow.”


Written by wholewheatwords

November 26, 2007 at 6:39 pm

Posted in prose

Two People; A Room

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The toothbrush hung at my lower lip. I looked into the mirror.

“What did you just say?”

“‘Hateful are mirrors and parenthood, for they multiply the number of mankind,'” he said, and smiled. It was a smile I don’t like to use, my big lopsided grin, teeth like cough drop tabs, wide gaps between them.

“That’s what I thought you said,” I said, and went back to brushing my teeth.

“That’s Borges,” he said.

“Hm,” I said.

“I came here to talk,” he said.

“Fuck you,” I said, around bristles and foam.

He laughed. “Not your choice. We’re going to talk.”

I spat into the sink, rinsed out my mouth. “About what?”


“Mm. A pep talk, then,” I said.


“It’s never a pep talk.”

“That’s not what I’m about,” he said, cracking a knuckle. “I’m here to tell you that the offer still stands.”

“I refuse.”

“It still stands. I can tell you how to do it with certainty, if that’s what worries you,” he said.

“It’s not.”

“Think about it. What oth–”

“I have. I have thought about it,” I said.

“I was being rhetorical. What other act carries this power? I coul–”


I was fucking being fucking rhetorical. I was asking a fucking rhetorical question,” he said. “And no, birth isn’t a certainty, birth isn’t a hundred per cent. All kinds of things can go wrong with birth.”

“Things seem to be working out fine,” I said.

“Birth can be reversed; this can never be taken back. It’s graven in stone. That’s what you want, right?”

“No,” I said.

“Bullshit,” he said. “I know what you want. This is phlegm in God’s eye. I know you want that.”

“I don’t believe in God,” I said. “And I think I’ll keep on bumbling along, thanks. I have my stuff. I have stuff that I do.”

He laughed. “I have my stuff, what a fucking joke. You call that something? You call that anything? Do you have any idea of how people see you? Do you know what they say about you when you tell them that? They laugh with each other. You’re a fucking joke, man. They howl. I have my stuff.”

“It makes me happy.”

“Fuck you it makes you happy, it makes you miserable. You hate most of it and don’t even try to deny that. You know that’s true.”

“You’ll always be dropping in like this, uninvited, won’t you?” I asked.

“Fuck you I’m uninvited. I know what you want,” he said. “And yes, until I win, yes. I will.”

“That’s your only goal, is it?”


“Then you’re just a machine.” I opened the door of the medicine cabinet, pointing the mirror towards the bathroom door. I put away my toothbrush.

“So are you,” he said into the door.

I shut the cabinet, looked him in the eye. “You quoted him wrong,” I said. “‘The earth we inhabit is an error, an incompetent parody. Mirrors and paternity are abominable because they multiply and affirm it.‘ Bye.” I turned out the light and closed the door behind me.

Written by wholewheatwords

November 7, 2007 at 12:57 am

Posted in Uncategorized