When English Teachers Fall in Love By Brandon White

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His students argued that he should take the day off. Answering emails at 10 PM on a Saturday was unacceptable. Two students created a PowerPoint and presented it to him and the rest of the class—the theme–It was time for him to find a social life. Middle-age was not scary.

They used the Toulmin Model as well. His instinctive counterarguments appeared on the projector screen. The creases on the off- white fabric underlined what he would have said along with articulate and grammatically correct claims to shut down his reasoning. Those twenty -year old’s, the future of the world, even used statistics.

Their final remarks: He could find love at 35. It was okay to have a dating profile. No one would mention it on Rate My professor. With that, he told them to enjoy their weekend. He would send notes for their third essay and fourth homework assignment by Sunday afternoon.

Most of the class cheered. The professor hoped the quiet ones or the students who were close to failing would not complain to his supervisor. It was late now, though. The empty classroom combined with the florescent tubes hummed while the ancient analog clock ticked alongside his insecurity.

The classroom sensory lights ignored him. He continued to check emails. After checking his clutter box, he glanced at his phone’s screen. It lit, and the professor punched in his code.

He’d tried Tinder before, but one of his former students popped up within ten minutes of the professor’s account being activated. He deleted the app before swiping right or left.

After researching a plethora of pop culture sites and JSTOR, he decided that Bumble was ideal. With the existential confidence of a man who worked out four days a week and still had a relatively flat stomach at age 35, he said aloud, “If someone likes me, they like me.” Former student or coworker.

Now, in that room where the sensory lights failed to acknowledge him, he had a message in his Bumble inbox. He packed his papers, nodded to the person working at the front desk of the building, stopped to check his faculty mailbox, and paced around his Tacoma in the parking lot.

A message. Lizard brain took over. His nerves buzzed, time slowed, he fought the urge to look at the phone. He buried the guilt of only seeing his daughter on Thursday and every other weekend. Just because his ex-wife never mentioned anyone else two years later, did not mean she was still single.

A mutual break up and a relatively delightful child who adapted did not mean dating someone new would attract chaos. One of his peers told him that, not his students.

The professor fought and lost. At the syntagmatic level, her profile pic contained a coy smirk, a slight gap between her front teeth, and dimples. Paradigmatically, the idea of not revealing her entire face fascinated him. Her talent at making the photograph appear filter-less drew him further beneath the surface. His students had warned him about catfishing and filters.

Her name was Mary, and the first question she asked him was about his favorite graphic novels. She confirmed that she’d read Blankets and Fun Home. What attracted him to Stitches? He sent a screenshot of the child diving into the imaginary world, away from the neglect and insecurity of others.

He followed up that message with Me and grading.

After that, he cut off his phone. He had to get home without being distracted. In Houston, people drove like they had nothing to live for.

His night revolved around whiskey, pacing, and texting. Her messages came in rapid-fire just as fast as his words went out. She laughed at his AOL instant messenger reference and asked if any of his older students laughed at the joke.

When she sent him a photo of her–traditional stand in front the bathroom mirror picture–His mind drifted to thoughts of Algeria and floated to the Dominican Republic. He was experienced enough not to ask what her heritage was. Instead, he replied with a grinning emoji.

He navigated the maze of essay stacks, toys he had not put away since the day before, and sheets of paper with various drawings and paintings his daughter was working on. He placed the empty rocks glass on the counter and hyper-focused on the kitchen tile. Maybe he would go out with her–Mary–tomorrow. If that were going to be the case, he needed to stop drinking now.

The pacing of the messaged slowed before 11 PM. She said she had to get some work done so they could enjoy hanging out the next day. He googled the place she’d suggested and took notes about the restaurant’s brunch menu.

She texted him as soon as his head touched the pillow. Meeting that night was better for her. He stuck his face into a stream of cold water to wash the whiskey away. Not knowing what to where, he went for consistency–a semi wrinkled button-down, faded jeans, and Chuck Taylors.

He paused when the engine of his truck rumbled. His daughter was probably away, every night since her second birthday, whether diapers, potty training, or the child-sized Sesame Street toilet seat, she would have to use the bathroom around midnight. Chuckling at the thought, a wave of guilt for not being there when she woke up washed across him. He could cancel the Bumble meetup. He could text his daughter’s mother in the morning and ask to see his child. They were both adamant about not allowing the courts to be iron rulers in their child’s life.

As he turned from his truck, the beat-up Android buzzed again. The text: I cannot wait to meet you! She texted without contractions. His Tacoma roared. He did not care if it took him fifteen minutes to find parking.

Anticipation. The gravel pressed through the soles of his shoes. Each crunch a step closer. The active mind would not quiet down. Instructions about limiting the number of drinks, making sure his phone had enough battery left to call Uber or Lyft—depending on the rates, and finding the strength to keep his hands away from his cellphone during conversation became Mantras.

He never knew it was possible to miss the smells of a bar. The cigarette smoke blended with the sourness of beer, accompanied by ice clanking against glasses—he hoped Mary would want to sit on the patio. A few people eyeballed him as he moved past their tables. Everyone was within his age-range. That was a small consolation. Opening the door to the establishment caused his shoulders to rise. His ears were blasted with bossa nova and laughter blanketed by red wine.

Chin tilted to the left, eyes squinting, scanning the room for those dimples, he froze when he heard his name.

“Daniel!”

The accent, maybe Portugal. Or Brazil. Those dimples, with no filter, were perfect. She was a few inches shorter than him. When they hugged, her chestnut-colored curls ticked his chin.

“Mary. Thanks for finding me. It’s kind of loud in here.”

“I’ve only been here for five minutes. We can sit outside if you’d like.”

He shrugged. “I can adjust. Did you order yet?”

“No, no. I wanted to wait for you. Thanks for meeting tonight. I feel like I am going to have a lot of work this weekend.”

“That type of job, eh?”

“Tutoring.”

“Oh, okay. Yeah, I get that. I have some grading to do as well.”

“Well, let’s worry about it all in the morning.”

The bar had a decent selection of overpriced whiskey, but Mary ordered two glasses of Merlot and insisted on paying. They discovered a back room, away from the laughter and music. The décor, abstract paintings dominated by red, black, and brown, accompanied by black and white photos of people who looked to be in love fifty years ago.

The sofa engulfed them, while their knees hovered around each other.

“Tell me about your work, Daniel. I love those books. Tell me about that class.”

“Yeah, it is a—”

“Do the students like it? Sorry, I did not mean to interru-”

“No, it’s okay. I mean, sorry, I just did the same.

They chuckled in unison. Daniel continued, “I hope they do. At least some. You never know, right?”

“So true. I feel like half the students I tutor never even skimmed the material. They want me to write for them.”

“On my worst grading days, I have thoughts of not caring whether they cheated or now. Editing an essay for thirty minutes, knowing the student will never revise makes you—” Daniel gulped the rest of his wine, smiling as she finished hers before he could place the empty glass down. “Exactly. Drink or play the lotto.”

“That is the silver lining of my job compared to yours. You have to see them for sixteen weeks. All I have to do is help and move on. Well, there is a complaint or two a semester, but that will always be.”

At that point, at least for Daniel, Bumble never existed. To be comfortable with someone, the feeling of knowing them no matter what age they would have met, he never thought he’d get the chance to be that way again. He made a hand gesture asking if she wanted another glass. She nodded.

While dancing around the patrons who were lost in their phones or conversation, he held his breath in hopes of slowing time. Wishful physics.

Daniel paid the bartender in cash, telling him to keep the change. His daughter’s face flickered. Not guilt. Philosophical.   If anything, he was preparing to warn his daughter about serendipity, when the time came. The intoxication, the moment branded forever. He would have to update his talking points.

Netflix dominated the second half of their conversation. Specifically, Black Mirror.

“Daniel, do you watch the series, Black Mirror?”

Daniel was prepared for that question. He was known as the Black Mirror professor on campus. With a mixture of a chuckle and a defensive sigh, he fielded the question. “Mary, are you secretly out with me because you have read all of the Rate My Professor comments? I will not confirm or deny whether I dated Beyoncé. I accept the Black Mirror moniker.”

“No! I was asking because of the essay. It reminds me of two episodes.”

“Right, the one about the married couple and she uploads her husband’s memories after he dies and the one about the couple who argue about uploading their minds after death. I know. I know.”

“I find it fascinating. I bet your students love it too. Have you heard of Randal Koen?”

“Yes! That’s who I introduce them too first. And Eterni.me. And—”

“Bina48 or Hanson Robotics in general?”

“Mary, I feel like you are in my head.”

“I promise I’m not. Those shows made me research the topics. I just really admire what you are doing in the classroom.”

“Nah. The tutors, like you, are in the trenches.”

“I don’t know about that.”

“It’s true. Seriously. We pawn off the students who don’t respond to us, and for the most part, you make it work.”

“We can trade places for a day.”

“Or start our own business. Not tutoring. Not like the essay services either…fuck those places. But we can charge the same rates. How much does it cost for a student to hire someone else to write their essay? Thirty bucks? Fifty?”

“I wouldn’t know.”

Daniel finished the rest of his whiskey. “Maybe I can ask one of my students who plagiarized. Well, one of the students who did not deny it, despite the proof.”

“Just promise to do it when you are sober. I will work on the contracts.”

“When sober?”

“Tonight.”

Her dimples quelled the anger he had about plagiarism, students, and denial. He kissed both simples, with permission, while waiting with her for her Uber.

“Good luck with work tomorrow.”

“Thank you. Same to you. Glad you invited me out tonight.”

“You can invite me next time.”

“Alright, Ms. Tutor.”

“Take it easy on those students.”

The Uber driver’s cough broke the potentially endless goodbye. Daniel ordered food at the bar and stayed until closing, drinking water, and counting the calories that a full post-midnight meal added.

He made it home before 3AM. He could be up by 9 AM and finish grading before evening. His daughter’s blanket fort was still intact, per her request. Maybe his ex would let her spend the night after he finished grading. She was a good co-parent like that.

Thoughts of plagiarism, hide and seek, and Mary’s dimples accompanied his sleep. An upset stomach, a massive headache, and birds screaming at each other woke up minutes before sunrise. He was too old to sleep it off.

After thirty minutes of staring at the bathroom tile, he was able to it at his desk. Maybe his daughter could come over the next day. If Mary was experiencing a similar hangover, they would not be texting until the next day either.

He answered all his unread emails and started to grade, perking up when he read the third essay. That student had either plagiarized and found a way to get past Turn It In or hired someone to write it for them. Craigslist, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook were cesspools for companies advertising such services. He checked the Word document’s information, hoping the student was careless enough not to change the author’s contact information. Luck was on his side. The student was too lazy to change the author’s email. Google led him to Course Hero. Course Hero led him to a company he’d never heard of before.

While reading what he guessed was the original essay, Daniel heard a beep. He thought it was his phone, which he kept on silent. Maybe he turned it on before bed, hoping for more conversation from Mary. It was still set to silent.

When Daniel’s gaze returned to the computer screen, there was an avatar asking if he needed help navigating the site or with the same assignment. He started to respond but deleted everything when his whiskey stained eyes homed in on the dimples and the curls. He could feel every nerve in his body and was aware that heartbreak was processed in the brain, but his chest was gutted. After pacing, he sat down with placebo-like sobriety. There had to be an explanation. She could explain herself during brunch that Sunday.

glasses

Brandon White

Brandon received an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Houston. Outside of fiction, he has freelanced for Cite Magazine and served as a librettist for the Houston Grand Opera.

His list of fiction publications include:

The Brooklyner “The Race”

The Journal of Hip Hop Studies “Chocolate Star”
https://scholarscompass.vcu.edu/jhhs/

STORGY Magazine “Listen”
https://storgy.com/2018/11/16/fiction-listen-by-brandon-white/

* Social Media Handles & links
https://www.instagram.com/likewaterfromastone/

Image by Anne Karakash from Pixabay

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Jack Congdon

Jack Congdon is a first-time short story writer from London. When not trawling through archive sports documentaries or playing Schubert (badly), he is pretending to be writing a novel.

Twitter: @JackCongdon1

Image by Gundula Vogel from Pixabay

pencil

To celebrate the release of

HOPEFUL MONSTERS

We are offering a whopping 60% off previously published STORGY titles:

EXIT EARTH & SHALLOW CREEK!

That’s 21 stories for £4.99*
or 42 stories for £9.98*

*(R.R.P. £12.99 each. Postal charges apply)

Simply click on the images below and take advantage of this limited time offer.

Discount code will be applied at checkout prior to purchase.
If not automatically applied add discount code HOPEFULMONSTERS

Unlike many other Arts & Entertainment Magazines, STORGY is not Arts Council funded or subsidised by external grants or contributions. The content we provide takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce, and relies on the talented authors we publish and the dedication of a devoted team of staff writers. If you enjoy reading our Magazine, help to secure our future and enable us to continue publishing the words of our writers. Please make a donation or subscribe to STORGY Magazine with a monthly fee of your choice. Your support, as always, continues to inspire.

PayPal-Donate-Button

Sign up to our mailing list and never miss a new short story.

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