His day dripped by, crushed drop after drop into a bowl made of patience and boredom intertwined. Like oil—slick—it pooled, culminating in opalescent grandeur that took white light and returned it in prismatic smears when Kevin stepped into the classroom at the end of the B hallway. Marked 212, residing on the second floor, it housed an odd number of desks and Lincoln Way High School's saving grace: Mr. Patterson. Kevin, shoulders weighted by a heavy bag and wire-frame glasses smudged with fluorescent light, looked at Mr. Patterson's left hand and took a seat at the back of the classroom, at the desk he had been assigned. In four minutes, the bell would ring, and he looked at Mr. Patterson's left hand and ragged nails— chewed to the angry quick, cuticles scabbed or bleeding.
In four minutes, the bell would ring, and Kevin dropped his backpack on the linoleum floor, shoulders aching and glasses smudged with fluorescent light. The bag landed with a dull thud, faded black against yellowed white, and hunchbacked, Kevin shuffled through its contents and found his English folder. It was blue and labeled neatly in the upper left corner: AP English 12; Literature and Composition. He opened it with a surgeon's care, wary of its weakened spine, and extracted the poem packet the class had been given the week prior. He turned three unwrinkled pages and set the packet to the right of his folder. He looked up, and Mr. Patterson smiled. His eyes were blue but periwinkle. The folder was indigo. Mr. Patterson's nails were ragged, chewed to the angry quick, and Kevin looked at his left hand.
Kevin tapped his foot to the beat of seconds passing, and in two minutes, the bell would ring. Others filtered into the classroom, chattering dregs of their conversations past, some sitting and some lingering by the desks of friends and schoolday acquaintances. They grinned and giggled grotesquely until the bell rang. Everyone sat, and Kevin looked at Mr. Patterson's left hand. His ragged nails. Periwinkle eyes. The adolescents did not silence but quieted when Mr. Patterson walked to the front of the room and wrote T. S. Elliot on the white board. He used a blue marker and said, "So, let's be honest. Show of hands. Did everyone read the poem last night?"
"It didn't make sense," Jack Kramer said from behind rows of arms like cornstalks. He sat beside Kevin. "It just rambled on and on about some dude. There wasn't any point to it."
"Well, does anyone else feel differently?" Mr. Patterson turned to regard his students, arms crossed over his chest. Kevin couldn't see his left hand, but his eyes were periwinkle. His nails were ragged, cuticles scabbed or bleeding. "I know that modernist poetry doesn't have the same straightforward meanings as the metaphysical poetry we studied but I assure you, there are meanings to be gleaned from this work." He looked at Kevin. "What did you think it was about?"
Jack Kramer rolled his eyes, and Kevin's throat swelled. His tongue went numb, his teeth dumb. He tapped his foot, and Mr. Patterson wore a white shirt, crisp. "I. I uh. I thought it was about—" Jack Kramer rolled his eyes, and Kevin could hear his own stutter and cruel whispers. Mr. Patterson looked at him. "I thought it was about... about a man who. Who was. J. Alfred. Prufrock, it was about. Him. Who is. Is. The... the aging speaker. The speaker of the... the poem. Getting... getting older, but uh he. He also. He. He. He's getting older..."
"Slow down." Mr. Patterson—white crisp shirt, ragged nails, bloody cuticles, left-handed, periwinkle eyes, brown shoes shined—meant kindness, and Kevin didn't hold him accountable for the snickers. "That's a good point, Kevin."
"I. He's. He's. He's."
"He's aging. Go on."
"Oh. Uh. And... and he... he is trying to... get this woman. Or he isn't. Isn't trying. He. He wants to... to pursue her, but he... he doesn't think. Think uhm anything of. Of himself, like he... he's a crab... and she uh she's. She's. She's younger. Younger... interesting... and uh he... he wants to... court her, but he. He keeps saying he has time, but also time is... is slipping...is... but I don't think... he ever says anything to her... just... just thinks about. About. Aging..."
"That makes sense!" Jasmin Fuentes piped up, and she spoke well. Her freckles were pale but immodest, and her nails were painted red. She spoke well. "A gentleman wants to pursue a young woman but procrastinates because he's unsure of himself and is insecure about his aging. He compares himself to a crab because he can't help but think of himself as something lowly. Yeah, that makes sense."
Everyone murmured. No one snickered. No one whispered. Everyone murmured and repeated what she said, raising hands like cornstalks growing in neat rows, repetitious and plain. Kevin looked at Mr. Patterson's left hand, at his indigo folder, at Jasmin Fuentes's shining black hair, at his faded black backpack, at the yellowed white floor, at Mr. Patterson's ragged nails with scabbed or bleeding cuticles. Mr. Patterson looked at him and asked after moment of silence, harvest reaped and packaged, "Why did you say she was young, Kevin?"
Jack Kramer rolled his eyes. "I uh. She. No, I... I meant uh. I meant he. Prufrock. He... well there's a. A line. This line." He turned one unwrinkled page, and Jasmin Fuentes spoke well. Jasmine Fuentes had black eyes, blank of iris. "This line... Do I dare to eat a peach? A... a peach is... is usually. Usually. A peach is... innocence. A symbol of innocence. It... it uh. It. It usually... can refer to... skin or... or virginity. Youth."
"Is there anything else?"
Mr. Patterson smiled with his periwinkle eyes and Jack Kramer rolled his eyes and Jasmin Fuentes spoke well and everyone whispered cruelly like redundant cornrows to be harvested or pecked clean by trite crows or left to rot in the heat left to rot in the heat with the chaff and Jasmin Fuentes looked at him with no iris. "Uh he... if the... the... she was... his uh. His age he. I don't. I don't think he. He talks about... about... nightlife. About. About his. Appearance. Like he... if she... was his age. His age. I don't think he would be so... as concerned for his appearance because... hers... and the... sirens. Uhm. The... nightlife, what she would know, he. He. A. Uh. He."
"Nightlife? Can you explain that point, please?"
Mr. Patterson looked at him through periwinkle eyes nails ragged chewed to the angry quick crisp white shirt but Kevin noticed his tie silver with threads like oil like prismatic light like casting rainbows and he wanted to be anointed tapping Jack Kramer rolled his eyes Jasmin Fuentes shining black spoke well freckles on her mouth immodest her teeth white like sculptures monuments to ease Jack Kramer rolled his Jasmin Mr. Patterson looked at him rising like bile his throat tapping. Kevin his throat felt like bile poured onto his head his ribs sinking his stomach squeezed like toothpaste he didn't brush his teeth, and the harvest was reaped like crows pecking pecking pecking. "Uh. I. I. No. I." Jasmin Jack looked Mr. Patterson left-handed left hand looked at periwinkle indigo oil like anointed the tie pecking pecking. "Can I go the nurse?"
"There's three minutes left of class. Please wait?"
He waited sapped bled out like crushed drop by drop from dirty pustules into the floor dripping on the floor like pooling crude bile soaked whispers like cruelty Jack rolled his eyes and Jasmin left first smiling her red nails catching in the light so immodest her freckles she spoke well. "Can we talk about the allusions, tomorrow? There are so many wonderful allusions in this poem."
"Dork," said Jack Kramer rolling his eyes but affectionate hand on Jasmin Fuentes's shiny black hair smiling at her height at her down there at her, and it bled out like crude pecking.
Crushed. Shattered maybe broken dripping into puddles scattering light like across the room shook foil everywhere at once blinding fluorescent blindness bile, and his glasses smudged with wire-frame his shoulders ached his tongue numb his teeth dumb unbrushed. He rested his head in his arms warm and dark tapping tapping his forehead on indigo eyes over AP English 12; Literature and Composition black and the Sharpie was smudged like fluorescent glasses wire-framed shook. He breathed and breathed and breathed but his ribs rattled around his gut bile like, like—
Steps came closer and closer classroom silent but steps and metal scraped linoleum, and there was a left hand on his right shoulder. He breathed and breathed. "Kevin. I would still like to hear about the nightlife, that point that you were going to make. I really liked your interpretation of the poem, and I can tell you thought a lot about it. If you don't want to talk about it, write me a paper." He paused but Jasmine Fuentes spoke well Jack Kramer— "And if you ever... don't want to talk. I told you, I wouldn't make you. I don't want you to be uncomfortable. I'll still give you participation points if you just keep a journal and give it to me with your interpretations, still well-supported of course but informal. I know you do the reading—"
"Everyone would notice." He peeked at Mr. Patterson his ragged nails scabbed or bleeding cuticles chewed to the angry quick his tie with threads like oil crushed from Athena's finest olives crushed from grapes of southern Italy from periwinkle eyes his folder was indigo. Mr. Patterson smiled sadly. "Everyone would notice if I... didn't talk. I don't mind."
"Okay. Just write me about the nightlife, okay? That was the only point I didn't entirely understand, but I think I know what you're talking about, and it's a very clever reading." He paused and squeezed Kevin's shoulder, and Kevin felt his left hand, ring finger bare. Bare and thin and bare and nail chewed to the angry quick. "You're one of my favorite students, Kevin, and you're very intelligent. I look forward to reading your papers, and I can't wait until I get to see what you're doing with the independent reading project. You picked my favorite book, you know."
"The Sound and the Fury."
"My favorite book." His ring finger was bare, and his tie was slicked with oil, anointed. His periwinkle eyes on Kevin's indigo folder. "Come on, I'm sure your parents want you back. Maybe not." He smiled less sadly, laughed, and stood waiting for Kevin to stand. Kevin looked at his left hand, his ragged nails, his cuticles bleeding or scabbed. Kevin's glasses smudged with fluorescence, and he picked up his backpack after tucking his folder in it.
His shoulders ached. "Thank you, Mr. Patterson."
"Go home, Kevin." He squeezed his shoulder again maybe too long, periwinkle eyes in his own, and was it sinful to take a bite of the peach?
Kevin shrugged and slipped into the hallway already mostly empty, and he could hear Mr. Patterson typing. Jack Kramer was at track and Jasmin Fuentes at speech and Kevin looked at the tiled floor and wondered was it sinful to take a bite of the peach, even one soaked in the ocean and salty like flesh? Oil—slick—emptied from his bowl to be renewed when the dawn came and a new day dripped and culminated. He'd write that paper and other papers, and his heart beat. Mr. Patterson had periwinkle eyes and wasn't married.
Do I dare to eat a peach?