This unfinished short story from May 2005, found yesterday while perusing the LJ, is inspired by James Wright's "Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy's Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota." It also spurred me to sign up for NaNoWriMo, which I hope will put an end to my self-critque that I have no talent. (Caveat: Re-reading it has brought out the copyeditor, but I'll leave it untouched.)Lying on a hammock and surrounded by nature and trees, John imagined he lives in a log cabin. His upstate house isn’t a log cabin, but the terrain suggests it should be. He’s enjoying the last days of summer vacation. Pretty soon, he’ll return to the city and to the daily grind, which includes a wife and two kids. Sure, his family is with him upstate, but they keep to themselves; they leave John alone because it’s as much his vacation as it’s theirs.
Excluding July, for the past ten months John’s been taking care of the family, waking up at five every weekday morning and ensuring everyone gets ready and sets out for the dawning new day correctly and on time. You can’t really blame his wife for not helping him; she’s the night owl to his morning lark. Their circadian rhythms might not mesh, but she puts the kids to sleep, and he can’t complain.
Each weekday of the school months begins and ends the same way. His clock radio is set to play Pink Floyd’s “Time.” It’s his favorite band, and the opening audio collage of clocks is enough to grab anyone from the realm of sleep and put the fear of god into them. (John doesn’t believe in god, but that’s another story.) His alarm clock, unlike other people’s, is located on his dresser ten feet away from his bed. To shut off the cacophony of ringing bells, he must rise from the queen-sized bed and walk. Waking his legs in turn wakes his mind; his schedule becomes instinct.
After silencing the alarm, his walk to the bathroom becomes a pirouette; whether he’s wearing boxers or sweat pants, he removes the clothing in a swift movement. He had perfected the dance in his college years, where seconds meant arriving to class on time. Funny, he still needs to arrive to class on time, this time to teach.
He hates following the schedule, but he knows he needs it. He wills his mind into rationalizing his situation: Follow the schedule, and nothing goes wrong. His yearning for spontaneity can come on the weekends and school holidays. Unfortunately, he must keep his wife and kids in mind when using these days to yield to his temptation. Rarely can he call a day his own, but he committed to a family fifteen years ago, when he knelt on one knee with a hidden rock in his hand.
After showering and taking care of other bodily needs, he dresses himself in boxers that no longer advertise beer or promote drug legalization; as he ages, his underwear becomes starker, whiter, and almost too sterile to be underwear. After that comes an undershirt -- he remembers a teacher from high school who never wore an undershirt, whose nipples protruded through the lightweight cotton-poly dress shirt and made him the worst-dressed man on campus for his teaching career. John doesn’t want to repeat that mistake.
In fact, John has something of a reputation to protect in the school where he teaches. He works at a strict Catholic school. He’s lucky that no nuns teach there; the nuns from his Catholic grammar schooling still haunt him in nightmares. He remembers his blistered, bruised hands and the excruciating hours it took him to remover the splinters remaining from beatings of wooden rulers. He was a brilliant student, hence the punishment. He read too much, which caused him to ask too many questions.
His worst beating happened after he asked about reincarnation.
“Half the world’s population believes in reincarnation,” he told Sister Mary Clarence. “How can you be so sure that they’re wrong?”
“Because Jesus said that the eternal soul, when it leaves the body, will remain in heaven with the father until the second coming.”
“How do you know Jesus is right?” John prodded.
“Because he rose from the grave as he predicted.”
“Isn’t the resurrection a type of reincarnation?”
The nun told him to stay after class; she’ll explain the difference of the resurrection to him better because his theological questions were preventing the class from learning the meat of Catholicism.
Instead of explaining what makes resurrection different from reincarnation, Sister Mary Clarence politely asked him to present his hands palm up. She beat him so hard that the blood soaked through his uniform shirt to the elbow.
John puts on his oxford shirt, the kind with a buttoned-down collar to prevent his noose -- his tie -- from loosening. He doesn’t keep his “work” ties at home; they’re in his basement office. (The other faculty wrongly assume “out of sight, out of mind.”) He keeps only three ties in his closet at home, for dress occasions. Conservatively colored and styled -- a solid maroon, a shimmering gray but not silver, and a striped light blue and navy. For work, he wears ties designed by Jerry Garcia. He also has a few extras for public use. Why should a student receive detention for forgetting a tie when he could borrow one from John?
John hates giving kids detention. He comes from Voltaire’s school of thought. They’re a generally good bunch with a few bad apples. John never hesitates giving a detention to those bad apples though, who usually ask for trouble anyway.
During his preparation, his wife has been showering and his kids have gotten dressed in their uniforms. (He hates sending them to Catholic school but cannot afford a secular private one.) When John goes downstairs, his son and daughter are already eating cereal. John Jr. eats Wheaties with milk, thinking they’ll make him a stronger martial artist, while Beth enjoys Cheerios. She doesn’t put milk in her bowl; instead she drinks a gulpful of milk from her glass and then adds a spoonful of Cheerios to her mouth. She swishes the molasses-like concoction like Listerine. It’s a disgusting way to eat a balanced breakfast, but it works for her.
Although one would think his wife needs more time getting ready for the day, one’s wrong. John’s spontaneous and likes choosing his outfit in the morning. Joan, however, meticulously prepares her outfit the night before, down to the last pin and earring. Her routine, like John’s, is rote, but she takes enough time to light a candle whose color corresponds to the day, offering the wax, flame, and a prayer. To whom she does not know.
John drives the children to school and leaves Joan with a kiss. The king of spontaneity does not disappoint; it’s a peck on the cheek if the kids are looking, but it’s a tongue penetration if they aren’t. Kids prevent some passion but not all of it.
John puts the car into gear only after seeing Joan drive away with Sheila, her fellow coworker and car-pooler. Sheila isn’t known as dependable because John has been known to be late for work in order to drive Joan when Sheila’s hangovers prevent her from walking in a straight line, let alone driving a car properly. To this day, Sheila blames her “sick” days on traffic with an alcohol stench exuding from her mouth.
When John arrives to work on a normal day, which means a half-hour to eight after dropping off the kids, he pours a cup of coffee with milk, no sugar. He was never one for sweets and believes bitter coffee is the only coffee; sugar subtracts more from coffee than it adds. Coffee, in John’s world, is also meant to be hot, not scalding, which is why he uses the smallest amount of milk in order to end rising steam.
John doesn’t eat breakfast, per se. If he remembers, he’ll grab a granola bar before leaving.