Every morning as I walk to school through the dark blue decrepit world, I feel like I’m coming down with the flu. By the time I reach the school, my entire body is depleted as if I have spent the night in chills, reabsorbing the damp excreting from my own pores. I am always excreting something. My ex-boyfriend noticed it. He would ask why I was always cold and sweating, why I was always at war with myself. When he licked the excretions off my body, I would ask myself, Is this a life? He used to say dirty things to me like, Desubjectify me, bitch. The way he fucked was senseless and crazy. I don’t get fucked like that anymore. As a teacher I am not getting fucked and the children can tell. Some of the children are teenagers and menstruating and ejaculating. They have no control over their excretions and, in that way, perhaps we’re all alike. Sometimes they talk to me as if I’m a nun. No, little children, I’m not a nun. I never was. There are people where I am standing, outside the school’s entrance. I am waiting to open the door. I encounter someone’s father. He has a cord of wood strapped to his back. How are you, Maya’s teacher? No, how are you? Then a different father holds the door open for me. Go on in, he says. I have always hated people’s families and fathers. The school is inside what used to be an American legion hall. It’s an open space the size of a gymnasium with hundreds of chairs organised in circles and two offices and practice rooms and closets. Some of the children are huddled in clumps on the floor like mounds of peanut shells. The peanut shells are listening to the Notorious B.I.G. I touch the handle of the teachers’ bathroom. There is one adult bathroom for thirty adults. The sweat on my skin dries and leaves a thin film. The door is locked. A phone is ringing somewhere. I wait patiently. I am filled with #peace as I imagine my day’s reasonable activities. When the door opens, the principal steps out. She makes eye contact with me then her eyes shift quickly away as if there is a car accident in the middle of my face. I go into the bathroom. A pimple must be bleeding. I tried to lance it off this morning. It gives me character; I like to look rough. I don’t like the principal. Almost everyone else is summoned to her office every day. They are having secret meetings without me. Poor Lenore, they say behind my back. She can’t do anything right. That Lenore, what a crazy mess, Lenore is a shit teacher. I have been inside the principal’s office only once. Her office is covered in a wallpaper patterned with drawings of diverse parents and children, all of them holding hands, each body linked to another body in a multiplication of bodies that goes from the ceiling to the floor, designed to stimulate a feeling of hope and community and tolerance. The principal and her assistant, obviously a lesbian couple, discuss Marxist teaching strategies. This is months ago. The wallpaper repulses and overwhelms. They ask me what I see myself doing here. To be honest, I say, I’m not sure I see myself here at all. We think you’d be a perfect fit, the principal says. I notice that the principal has long fingernails, overgrown and ridged with a recent sickness. The index finger on each hand is trimmed neatly, most likely for finger fucking. A few days later they call and call and leave messages on my answering machine. We want to hire you, one of them says desperately, will you call us back? Lenore, we’d love to have you on the team. Are you going to call us? Well, are you? I never call them back. At the time I’m too busy getting fucked. I’m sort of miserable. Then my boyfriend leaves me for another woman. I see the woman in town, she looks like a secretary or a nun, she’s boring, I am bored with myself. What disgusting humans everywhere! I develop a rash all over my body. My hair starts to fall out in long, lovely brown streaks. I find the streaks on my pillow when I wake up in the morning. A month after the principal and her assistant call me, I show up at the school. Another body is just what we need right now, the principal says sincerely. Lenore, says the assistant, we think it’s wonderful you’ve decided to come! I leave the bathroom and begin to teach children of various ages and abilities and it’s all pretty neutral. I wear a blue handkerchief wrapped around my head. When I teach I sweat. The children ask me if I’m uncomfortable. Some of them are wearing winter coats and gloves and hats. I read somewhere that in order to find tranquillity, you have to go outside of yourself. Your head has to feel like a balloon attached to a neck. And it doesn’t have to be your neck, it can be anyone’s. It just has to be a neck. A different book says that in order to find tranquillity you have to go further inside yourself. So which is it? Inside or outside? When I get up in front of the children and teach, I imagine a painting of a green field with gentle hills and trees and clouds and a river that curves slowly around a bend. There’s an old woman in the middle of the field wearing a red shawl, playing a fugue on her fiddle. That’s my tranquillity. In the afternoon a coworker asks how things are going, I tell him that teaching is going very well for me. I will not last long. The children are restless; I get hit in the head with a basketball. The ball smacks the back of my handkerchief, bounces to the floor, and rolls into a corner with spiders. When I was little my parents abandoned me for a weekend. They went somewhere and had fun. I tell the children I’m an orphan. They throw chairs at one another. It’s because the chairs are plastic and weigh like three pounds. The bell rings. It’s the end of the day. I have accomplished nothing. I’m bending over to pick up milk cartons. It feels good to bend over; it reminds me of getting fucked. My handkerchief falls off. It’s soaked with sweat. The leftover milk makes me feel bad so I drink it. Someone sees me without my handkerchief. Poor Lenore. Poor Lenore with no hair. The person tells me the day is over and I should go home. I don’t know what to say to that. I put on my coat. I’m standing outside the school. A man I’ve never seen before locks the front door. There are always new bodies appearing everywhere. When I was little, when my parents left me alone for a weekend, I occupied myself. I was pure then but not peaceful. I was a bird flying over a waterfall in a forest. I was an insect with three hundred legs and monstrous antennae. I was the time on the clock when children are called home for dinner. That’s what I was then. And there was nothing nice about the apartment I grew up in. The only good thing about it was the inner courtyard where people could grow plants and sit outside in peace. One morning I saw a man and a woman having sex quietly on a chaise lounge. There was a new atmosphere. There are genitals attached to bodies and bodies attached to minds. The woman’s pants are twisted around her ankles, and her ass is moving up and down slowly, and seeing her body move like that makes me dizzy. Sometimes there are minds attached to genitals. When the man notices me staring out from behind a leafless plant, he lifts the woman off his penis as if she’s a toy. The woman doesn’t seem upset. She pulls up her pants and smiles and crouches down near the leafless plant and tries to give me a hug. There are kind people in the world. There is generosity here. As I stand outside the school and prepare to walk home, I realise I have never owned any plants in my adult life. One day I am going to leave the children, I promise you, I am going to leave this school and never look back and not one child will notice. No. Perhaps one or two of them might. The school is locked and empty. Plants and children are not for me. I don’t care about growing things.
By PATTY YUMI COTTRELL
About the author: The work of PATTY YUMI COTTRELL has been published in BOMB, GULF COAST and BLACK WARRIOR REVIEW, among other places. Her novel SORRY TO DISRUPT THE PEACE will be published this spring. She lives in Los Angeles.