Show and Tell
It all seems so inane. The talking, the arguing, the counter-arguing. In the end, isn't all that's left is a bunch of old men, who've wasted their years thinking about thinking and talking about talking? I wonder if I jumped out the window right now, would anyone remember in a week? Would they fly the flag halfway up the pole for a day then forget about me? Probably.
Harold sits in the corner of the classroom, staring at the blank paper in front of him. The professor at the front of the class has been speaking for about an hour; most of the class is barely paying attention at this point. Harold scribbles a small star in the corner of his page then scratches it out. He lifts his head and looks over at the girl next to him. She is one of the few in the musty classroom that is actually writing notes. His gaze shifts to her chest, lingers there, then darts away to the front of the class. His cheeks turn a soft shade of pink.
"Can anyone tell me why exactly Lacan was so interested in Freud's work then?" The professor's voice is followed by silence. No one in the class moves; Harold has stopped scribbling on his paper.
"Alright, can anyone tell me who Lacan is at all then?" Silence again. The professor sits in his rickety chair behind his aged wooden desk and sighs. "Did anyone even read the book?" One girl at the back raises her hand. She has a bright smile on her face and is nodding furiously. "Good, thank you Wendy. Perhaps you can enlighten us?" Wendy's face falls, followed by her hand. She shakes her head. The professor sighs once more and stands up, reaches for his notes and continues his speech.
Harold turns his head to look at Wendy. He stares at her for a few seconds, his eyes moving slowly across her face. Smirking, he looks back at his own desk. His paper is now covered with a gory war scene in which stickmen have taken over a small military fort. Harold grins slightly as he adds the final details to his soldiers' helmets.
Before long, the class is over and the students are filing out the door. Harold has taken no notes, although he has carefully dated his paper in the top-right corner in a neat cursive script. As he walks towards the exit, he glances at the professor, sitting behind his desk, scraping his notes together. Harold shakes his head and leaves. He can hear the sound of the professor struggling with the clasp on his brown leather briefcase as the door closes.
No one ever reads the books. I suppose that's to be expected though. I mean, there's only so much a university student can do. I'm sure they're all busy with other things. It still bothers me though, watching them just sit there, doodling or doing whatever the hell else while I'm up here, poring over what years of brilliant minds have taught us. I just don't understand how they're not interested by such intelligence, such magnificence. I guess they can only have so much perspective, especially at such a young age. But then, how does one teach perspective? They really don't pay me enough to do this. Oh great, and now my briefcase is jammed. Perfect.
Harold is sitting on the side of his bed in his dorm. He can see onto the courtyard of the university campus, paths carved through the snow by many a late student. Snow is falling slowly to the ground, melting when it hits pavement, surviving when it doesn't.
He is twisting the sheets between his fingers, playing with the cotton so that it forms a sort of cast around his hand. His girlfriends walks in from the next room an hands him one of the steaming mugs she is holding. He raises it to his lips then quickly draws it back.
"Jesus, Julie!, It's hot!"
"Well obviously, it's called hot chocolate for a reason you know." She smiles at him and he smiles back. She sits down beside him as he puts the mug down on his nightstand. "What's a matter? You don't want it?" she asks.
"No, I want it, it's just too hot right now."
"But it's so cold out." She puts her mug down beside his.
"Yeah…" His voice trails off and he stares at the floor. The steam from the mugs beside him floats up slowly; every time he breathes out it wavers slightly, curving away from his body.
"What's up? Julie asks, leaning towards him.
Harold sighs and looks out the window. "Just Dr. Novski again. Keeps filling our heads with crap we don't need to know." He pauses then returns his gaze to the floor. "I guess I'm just getting a little sick of that class."
"Well, I mean, you should have known an advanced literary theory class wasn't exactly going to be a piece of pie." She draws out words "advanced literary theory".
Harold leans back and lies down on the bed. Julie follows suite. She is staring at the ceiling and he is staring at her. Eventually she turns her head and does the same. She grins and he laughs.
"I know what would warm you up," she says slyly. He doesn't answer but instead leans over and kisses her on the forehead, then the eyes, then finally the lips.
The hot chocolate in the mugs by their side loses its heat as the couple make their own underneath the cotton sheets, twisting and turning until they exhaust each other and separate. Julie returns to her own dorm after goodnight kisses and fond farewells. Harold lies in bed, naked, staring at the ceiling until his body finally forces him to sleep.
It never seems to get easier with her. We're always fighting for who's on top, or who gets to go next. It's like she doesn't understand how guys work. For once, I'd like it go the way I see it in my head. Whatever. It's still not terrible though. Well, I don't think it is, but with Julie you never know. For all I know, she could hate it. I mean, she's always been the one person who's does stuff for me that she hated. She goes with me to every action movie I want, every rock concert. She probably does hate it. After all, why else would she constantly fight with me in bed? She's obviously trying to get it to work properly, to fix it, but I never let her. God, that's terrible. You'd think girls would realize that it's not really about doing the deed and getting it over with, it's about making them feel good too. I wish she would just tell me she hates and get it over with instead of playing me like this. For Christ's sake, I deserve that much. But then again, maybe I don't. When's the last time I told her any of this? It's like people can't fucking talk anymore. Screw it.
Dr. Novski is not asleep. He is at home, sitting at his desk, writing in a notebook. It is his diary. He is writing about the day's events and his thoughts about his future at the university. When he is finished, he closes the book and places it in a drawer. He opens another drawer and pulls out a pair of reading glasses and a large book, paperback, worn and faded. The cover reads: Frankenstein. He reads for an hour then places the book down on the desk. He removes his glasses and rubs a tear from the corner of his eye.
He moves now to another room, in which there is a television and a computer atop a rickety table. He turns on this computer and sits at the table on a cheap fold-out chair. The screen flashes numerous webpages as he browses the internet. Three different emails are opened, three different responses are written to three different recipients with three identical complaints. He explains to each of them in as soft of words as is possible that the material he is teaching is intended only for those with a strong intellectual will. He writes that he is more than willing to meet with any of these three people at the time of their choice.
He then opens a separate window and click one of the link in his list of favourites. Images of naked children, some of them tied up, some of them with gags in their mouths, fill the screen. His eyes open slightly as he stares at the page for a few seconds. Seconds turn into minutes before he can move again. He scrolls down the page, pausing every few seconds, eyes darting madly now. He leaves the room, shuffles around in his bedroom for a few seconds, then returns with a box of Kleenex. Sounds of children gasping, panting, groaning for help emit from the speakers of Dr. Novski's computer.
God, what's wrong with me? Is this what I've sunk to? Am I going to die with a pile of soiled Kleenex at my feet? What's worse is that it didn't even start when Mary left; at least I could've lived with a reasonable excuse like that. I doubt Mary even knew, although sometimes I wish she had. Maybe then I could have at least understood why she left. So angry, all the time; it's like she had some of personal vendetta against me something I hadn't done yet. Maybe she did know. Maybe she found the tape, or the magazines, or the… I guess it doesn't matter. Probably why she didn't want kids, now that I think about it. Makes sense, anyways, probably thought I wouldn't be able to stop myself from fucking my own kids. The worst part is, I don't know if I would be able to stop myself. She should have let me take those pills, she should have let me just end it all, get it over with…
It's night in an obscure corner of campus. There are nearly no lights to illuminate the paths. Harold is walking back to his dorm. He has just come from a cognitive psychology class. He is squinting at his notes as he walks; the words on the page are barely apparent in the dim light. He nearly slips on ice twice.
Dr. Novski is walking in the opposite direction down the same path. He and Harold are far from each other. The doctor is reading as well: Frankenstein, once again. It is the only thing he has read since he bought it. Even with the dim lighting, Dr. Novski persists, squinting every so often at his book.
A piercing scream rings out in the thick silence of the night, like a hot knife in butter. Both Harold and Dr. Novski look up from their reading to see where the noise came from. They do not see each other but instead see a middle-aged woman being assaulted by a tall man in a dark corner. The woman is trying to fend on the man with anything she can: hands, arms, legs, purse. She screams that she has no money. The man removes something from inside his coat and the light from one of the few lights flashes off of it. It is a knife, which the man promptly plunges into the woman's abdomen. The woman grunts and a tear rolls down her face.
Harold yells. When the man doesn't respond, Harold tries to move towards him, struggling through the deep snow that separates him from the scene. There is blood dripping off the knife, now removed, onto the ground. Harold pushes even harder than before.
When he finally reaches the clear patch of ground near the bench, he bursts out of the snow and dashes towards the man. Harold smashes his backpack over the man's head. The man roars and swings the knife towards Harold. Harold dodges backwards and the knife only slashes his jacket. On the follow-through, the man swings his fist towards Harold and hits him square in the chest. Harold staggers backwards then stumbles and falls, his breath lost. From the ground he sees the man snatch up the woman's purse, which she has dropped, preferring to clutch her open wound, eyes wide. The man runs away into the dark, powering through the deep snow as if it were nothing. Harold hears the man curse then sees the purse come flying back towards the woman. It lands in front of her, open, contents spilling out: lip gloss, keys, receipts, arbitrary papers. The woman grabs it with a bloody hand and runs in the opposite direction, losing herself in the darkness. Harold pulls himself up and take a few deep breaths before calling out to the woman. He can no longer see her.
Dr. Novski is now past Harold, still walking down the same path, his face once again buried in his book. He has seen all that happened, including Harold's actions. Harold does not see him.
Five minutes later, the doctor looks behind him, surveys the path, then vomits. While he is wiping his mouth, he vomits again, this time on his shoes.
My God. The blood…seemed so bright. Did he see me? Did either of them see me? God I hope not. That's the last thing I need: a kid blackmailing me with guilt and a murderer after me to keep from testifying. Jesus. And the blood. So much blood for such a small…my ears keep ringing for Christ's sake. That screaming. I swear I'll never forget that scream. Like a bird caught in a blender. I'm sure that kid is in one of my classes too. Godammit, if he asks me about it, I swear I'll…I don't need this, I don't need this. Have to keep reading, block it out, forget about it.
The next day, after Dr. Novski's class, Harold asks the professor if they can meet for a private appointment. Dr. Novski fiddles with his notes for nearly a minute, organizing them and reorganizing them, then says that he would be glad to meet with Harold and that he only wished more students asked. Harold shakes the doctor's hand before walking out of the class. Dr. Novski spends more time than usual struggling with his briefcase before closing the door behind him. There is no one left in the musty classroom.
They meet in Dr. Novski's office the next day. The sun is shining and the snow is melting as Harold sits down in the cushioned chair reserved for visitors. He looks around the office and adjusts his jacket. His hands end up entangled in his lap, each finger wrestling with the one next to it. Dr. Novski clears his throat from behind his luxurious wooden desk.
"What exactly did you want to talk about?"
Harold looks at the floor. "Well, I'm having a little trouble in your class. To be honest, I just don't see the point to a lot of the stuff we talk about."
Dr. Novski straightens in his seat and begins to speak in a monotone voice: "Well, Harold, literary theory is of much more importance than most people think. Imagine it this way – you are working towards a psychology major, correct? – most psychologists conduct research for the advancement of knowledge in the field of psychology. Now, most psychologists are aware that not all research has any immediate application, such as curing diseases or helping those with mental illnesses. However, they still conduct this research so that others may work with it and manipulate it so that future generations can cure diseases. Do you follow?"
"Yeah, I guess that makes sense. Although the obvious question here is what are we working for when we do this kind of 'research'? I mean, it's not like we're curing any diseases when we talk about whether or not Gatsby had some kind of repressed Oedipus complex, is it?"
Novski chuckles. He folds his hand on his desk and looks Harold squarely in the eyes. "Harold, I think you may be missing the point. Firstly, the work of literary theorists isn't as transparent as curing diseases; on the point you are correct. However, the problems we as theorists deal with are still important. Haven't you ever wondered why people like Trostky or Shelley wrote what they did?"
"To get a point across?"
"Yes, but on a more general scope?"
"I guess I really don't know. Maybe there is no point." Novski shudders, almost undiscernibly. He adjusts himself in his chair.
"That's understandable, Harold. I know what it's like to be confused about this whole enterprise. In time though, I came to comprehend just exactly what it all means, in terms of thinking about thinking and talking about talking." Harold sits up in his seat and meets his professor's gaze. "Rest assured, you don't have to worry about it all being pointless. There is a point, and the longer it takes for you to understand it, the more satisfying it will be when you finally realize it." Harold slouches back into his seat, his eyes once more focused on the floor.
"I guess you're right."
Novski stares at Harold for a few seconds before continuing. "To be completely honest with you, I'm surprised you of all people came to ask me for help. I've always considered you one of the brightest students in my class. Confidentially, I'd say that you quite easily overshadow all the students in that class." Harold smiles and looks down at his jacket. His cheeks have turned a soft shade of pink. Novski smiles.
"Thank you, sir."
"Don't worry about the 'sir'. Call me Frank."
"Thank you, Frank."
"You're quite welcome. Does that assuage your concerns, Harold?"
"Yeah, a lot." Harold is still smiling; his cheeks are a deep red. He stands up and extends his hand over the desk towards Dr. Novski, inviting a handshake. They shake hands while Novski smiles and nods.
"I'll see you in class, Harold." Harold walks towards the door. "And please shut the door behind you when you leave? Thank you kindly."
Harold waves to his literary theory professor in a friendly way before gently closing the door. Novski stares at the door for a minute before sighing and giggling quietly.
Christ, that was close. Not a word about it. He couldn't have seen me; he would have said something for sure. Oh God, the blood. And that woman. He tried to help her though, he tried to get in there, fight off that guy. God, that was brave. Although a little late. Kind of pointless too, considering there was no money in the purse anyways. It's kind of funny when you think about it: all that for an empty purse. Oh God, what's wrong with me? It's not funny, it's a tragedy. I hope that woman's okay, hope she got to a hospital or some kind of doctor. Although I guess I'm a doctor…
Later that day Harold and Julie make love again. Harold's dorm window steams up as the pair moan in unison. Afterwards, Julie is lying on top of Harold. She tells him that that is the best sex she's ever had. Harold smiles at her but says nothing. His hands are behind his head. Her head is resting on his chest. Eventually, Julie gets up and puts on her clothes. She and Harold go out for supper at a fancy restaurant. They split the check. She kisses him as they leave the building and his cheeks turn pink. She makes fun of him and they laugh together. As they are walking back to campus, they get into a play fight in the snowbank. Harold lets Julie beat him. They both laugh loudly. Their cheeks are red from the cold; their backs and fronts are sweaty from the wrestling. She kisses him on the forehead, then the eyes, then the lips. He kisses her back and they part ways. She returns to her dorm and he to his.
She really is great. Everything works now, everything's coming together. I let her be on top, I let her do what she wanted, and she liked it. Problem solved. I guess it just takes a little know-how. I wonder if I should tell her about that woman…no. I can't. I can't; it would wreck everything. Julie wouldn't understand; she would freak out. Worse yet, she would probably tell someone else, then I'd never hear the end of it. No, I just can't. Positive thoughts, focus. Focus. At least that theory class won't be any more a problem. Dr. Novski isn't such a bad guy, now that I've sorta gotten to know him. I should call him Frank in class, just to show the others. They'd eat that up so fast. I should do it. Maybe I'll schedule another meeting with him too, just to talk, just to figure out what's going on in his life. Maybe we could go out for a beer or something. Yeah, I think I'll ask him that.
Harold sits on the side of his bed, staring out the window at the snowflakes that have begun to fall slowly to the ground, waltzing in and out of the shadows until they reach a soft bed of companions to sleep with. Of course, some land on the pavement and melt. Harold takes a small hunting knife out of his nightstand. Two empty mugs catch his eye for a second but he turns away. The knife blade quivers slightly on Harold's skin before he slits a smooth line down his forearm, from the crook of his elbow to his hand. They find him lying facedown in hid bed, cotton sheets soaked through with blood.
Dr. Novski is giving a lecture in his literary theory class two days after the discovery of Harold's body.
"Can anyone tell me, what is the significance of the carousel in J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye?" Wendy raises her hand. Her answer is inane and the professor politely acknowledges it then asks again. No one raises their hand. "The carousel is the climax of the story. The scene in which Holden cries for reasons he doesn't understand is an example of the end of an internal struggle that many people encounter throughout their lives, especially when they're reaching adulthood. Holden, a sixteen year-old with most of his life ahead of him, attributes almost everyone he meets with a certain 'phoniness', judging them to be of a lesser quality of human being. This provides for a striking contrast to his first real expression of compassion or selflessness, as expressed in this touching scene between him and his sister. While it isn't explicitly stated in the novel, it is assumed that Holden is a changed man after this experience." Novski pauses to catch his breath. "Can anyone think of a time in your own life that you've had this kind of experience?"
Wendy raises her hand but Dr. Novski does not see it; he is looking at an empty chair in the corner. Finally, she clears her throat loudly and her professor snaps his head up.