The Teacher

Marc Berley

He looks down, sees chalk dust on his shoes, leans back, against the blackboard.  He puts his hand against the tray along the bottom of the blackboard and feels around until he comes upon a piece of chalk.  He abandons it and feels for a broken piece.  He turns around, turns toward the blackboard, which is not actually black, and scribbles, up high, where the surface is clean, where the custodians will not wash.

He writes: ATTHIS, LONG AGO.

He puts down the chalk, rubs his fingers, turns around, steps forward, toward his table, toward his lectern, takes up his books, his papers, his wristwatch.  The books and the papers he puts into his bag, the wristwatch into his pocket.

Is there chalk dust on his hands?

He feels as if he were all bag and pocket.

There is chalk dust on his hands.  There is chalk dust on his shirt, and on his pants, everywhere on his pants.  He is licking his lips.  There is chalk dust on his lips, now chalk dust on his tongue.  He is sweating.  He wipes his brow.  There is, and has been, chalk dust also on his brow.

He puts down the bag onto the table, rubs his fingers, puts his hand into his pocket.  He has trouble locating his wristwatch.  He presses his fingers down into the seam, locates the wristwatch, pulls it out, rubs its face against his shirt, puts it onto the lectern, takes his books out of his bag and arranges them in a pile on the table.  He takes out his papers, handles them, abandons the pages that are marked, sifts them onto the table, straightens the remaining pages and places them on the lectern.

He turns around and faces the blackboard, picks up the piece of broken chalk and breaks it against the tray at the bottom of the blackboard, takes the two pieces and breaks them again, holds the four pieces.

Could there be an eraser?

He feels the four pieces, the broken ends of them, puts three into his pocket.  He feels for an eraser, along the tray at the bottom of the blackboard, along the baseboard, everywhere.  He checks his pocket.

He licks his fingers, wrist-wipes his lips, fingers his brow.

He begins to erase with his hand, every part of his hand – palm, meaty heel, every finger, every part of every finger, tips, knuckles, bitten crests of nail.

He drops his arm, pulls his sleeve, stretches the cuff over his hand, reaches.  What he erases endures as a smudge.  What he does is he makes a big X across the smudge, not actually an X but two lines only roughly crossing.  He picks up the chalk, reaches, manages to scribble ATTHIS over the smudge.  He collects the chalk from the tray at the bottom of the blackboard, first breaks each piece against the tray, drops the broken pieces into his pocket.  He picks up his wristwatch from the lectern and maneuvers it into a roomy portion of his pocket, tries to position it there, pulls out his hand, pats the pocket.

He turns around, looks out at the chairs in the room, all of which are out of their rows, carved-in, empty.  He looks out at the wall.  Someone has written something there, up high, actually right there on the wall, clear, in thick black permanent-looking letters: FUCK ATTHIS!  ATTHIS IS DEAD!

He puts his hand into his pocket, locates the wristwatch – again the wristwatch! – which is not where he positioned it.  He abandons the wristwatch, removes his hand.  He picks up one of his books from the table, opens it, puts it onto the lectern.  He puts his hand into his pocket, grabs the wristwatch, removes it, puts it onto the lectern.  He does not look at the wristwatch.  His fist, he makes his fist, positions it on the lectern, rests it there, pulls it back, punches it into his pocket, grabs the chalk, which he arranges in file on the table.  He puts his hand into his pocket, feels around, clutches the fabric, pulls the pocket inside-out, pushes the pocket back into his pants, rubs the fabric smooth against his leg, deposits the wristwatch, then the chalk.

He kneels on one knee, dusts off his shoe with his fingers, kneels on the other knee, rubs, wipes, licks his fingers, does his best to dust off the other shoe, stands, bending his arm at a practiced angle, slips his hand into his pocket.

He faces the blackboard, takes a small piece of chalk from his pocket, tries to break it against the tray, against the blackboard.  It will not break.  He can hardly grip it.  He leans his shoulder into the blackboard, rests his head, where the surface is not clean, where the custodians need to scrub.  He rubs the chalk against the surface of the blackboard, making no discernable letter or form, not gripping it with his fingers but pressing it into the blackboard with his palm, making chalk dust, breathing it in.