The timeline is unclear. What date he actually started living in his classroom is unknown. The move was gradual. The untangling of lives is always gradual. Sometimes it’s so gradual that the people involved don’t even notice, like a building constructed over a sinkhole.

Something that was clear now: never just “let things lie.” Things don’t lie. Particles are constantly in motion, he understands but doesn’t really know, especially particles filled with resentment.

Living in a classroom is exactly what you’d expect. A lot less comfort but a lot less maintenance.

As he fell into the deepest states of sleep reserved only for the embittered, he wondered if the reports piled near him about osmosis would use its own processes to embed the facts about itself into his brain.

 

They had lived in a second floor apartment with twelve foot ceilings, close yet far enough from the street that she could never really tell whether people were catching her spying on them. Meanwhile, he unapologetically harmonized with the tenant belting out indecipherable songs below.

He missed that mixture of anonymity and intimacy. He also missed having to turn past the crematorial services company on his commute. Watching the black smoke surging through the tall, skinny chimney. Wondering if the seasoned veterans were seasoning him, peppering his windshield and his left arm to bless him with a secret, morbid wisdom.

Now, there was only the light-up globe he used as a lamp. He tried to ignore it as a blatant symbol of convenience, entitlement, globalization.

Now, there was only a bird that ritually chirped outside his classroom window in the same pitch as a referee whistle as if alerting him to his own wrongdoing.

Now, there was only a message sprayed onto the brick wall outside that same window. The words “NEVER WALK ALONE” were scrawled murkily, and because of his state of mind it read like a threat. Like when he read in the paper about the salesman so zealous in his pitching to customers that they mistook his urgings for hostage directives.

 

Nothing brings two people together like naming a mulberry. That’s how things started, at a club climb on a Saturday. The local tree climbing club supplied its members with ropes, saddles, all the necessary equipment, even handing out t-shirts to commemorate big achievements.

Mary Jane was a chatty climber. She mistook his concentration for listening. She told him about her mom buying her fresh pairs of mary janes every fall with a set of ruffle socks tucked into the right shoe. How she hated this joke, started throwing them in the corner of her closet each time. The saddest part was that she loved them. She loved their little silver buckles, how they never quite lined up with the predetermined holes and would make their own mangled ones over time.

He tried to imagine her that young. He pictured her with a topsy-tail, the ponytail turned in on itself and pulled through, headed to t-ball practice.

 

Now, he thought, “Did I really do that?” Did I always answer with “If you must know…” as if whatever she just asked was an inconvenience and he was doing her a big favor by responding at all?

Now, he thought maybe he was turning into a tree, the veins on his hands getting more prominent with age, resembling roots.

 

Mary Jane got to keep the tree climbing club and he got to keep the friends they had made. There are over 600 species of oak trees and they’re all ideal for climbing. They had shared five friends, some of whom hosted parties and had neighbors who seemed much more interesting than them.

He would go to the same Fourth of July party and peek over the fence at people laughing very loudly and looking exceptionally fit. Then he word turn around and attempt a conversation with the guy wearing a shirt that said “Yes, honey, it’s another motorcycle.” He would look past the guy talking to the others, spot family members intermingled with friends. He liked the elderly women with the soft, rounded backs like pillows were shoved between their shoulder blades. He would be one of them for a minute. His name was probably Marjorie. Yes, the same name as the mulberry. He knew how to make a great casserole but didn’t like to brag about it. His grandchildren were unbearable and he hated how much he loved them.

This was his entertainment. It was either this or stand outside the theater between showings and catalogue people’s reactions to what they had just seen. They were always talking about the movie. They were never talking about anything else.

Claire Hopple

Claire Hopple

Claire Hopple’s stories have appeared in Hobart, Monkeybicycle, Bluestem, Quarter After Eight, Breakwater Review, Timber, and others. Her story collection TOO MUCH OF THE WRONG THING (Truth Serum Press) will be released in November 2017. She's just a steel town girl on a Saturday night.
Claire Hopple

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