STORIES that stretch your mind
The Best Metaphysical Fiction of the year from Thresholds Quarterly
by Steve Roman
An old leather shoe, long worn to fraying at the toe, steps into the principals office. It is followed above by a robust set of gaping, grasping eyes, with a forward-leaning posture in between.
Stricklint! the young teacher calls out, right off. This is his greeting to the man in the suit-and-tie who is reading over some paperwork at the cheap wooden desk.
The principal lowers his papers and looks over the edge of his spectacles.
Yes, Mr. Fairchild, the old principal says. Mr. Stricklint is maybe into the second half of middle age, though he could easily pass for a discount at the matinee.
Mr. Stricklint looks the young man over from head to toe in one sweeping, superficial glance. He rolls his wrist and looks blatantly at his watch the young teacher is five minutes early. Ahead of time, as always. Cant bitch about that.
Hows your life going, Stricklint?
The dry old bureaucrat looks at his hireling and wrinkles his face up with a look of agitation. The teachers cordial questioning had probed immediately and with professional agility to a weak spot in the other persons character. Life is NEVER good for a sour old bureaucrat, Stricklint wanted to say. But he didnt have to. He knew the young teacher had read his expression with clarity and precision.
The old man disregards the cordial invitation towards warmth and informality.
Mr. Fairchild, he continues, I believe you know why youve been called in?
Yes! the teacher says, taking the seat which was never offered him. Because our society is degenerate, and you want me to start forming degenerate children to fit into it.
The principal vacantly picks up the twenty-five-years-of-service pen which the district had bestowed upon him. Its a gold plated pen, with a loud button to click up and down. The whole thing cost nearly $125.00.
I called you in, he says, stressing his own controlling role in the process, after many visits and calls from parents about your pre-school class.
And how are they? the teacher asks not without some degree of levity.
Irate! Theyre confused, and theyre calling with worry for their childrens safety and education.
The young Fairchild leans forward in his seat, his elbows pressing upon his knees.
Funny, he says, I was thinking of calling THEM with that very same message.
One mother asked her little Joshua how his day was in school last Thursday.
Good for them. Active intra-family communication. Strengthens bonds, promotes a sense of stability and security.
Mr. Fairchild, the old man says, rolling the gold-plated pen around in his fingers. Her son told her that his class dragged their desks all around the room and sat on top of them and sang a song. It turns out it was a song about disobedience.
Thank God! Stricklint said, sighing severly with relief.
They picked UP their desks, and moved them without a sound. I taught them how to do that. Focuses the concentration. Develops the attention span.
Stricklint pats his pen down sternly on his desk.
Yes, Fairchild continues. And from there we went on with our lesson.
What in the hell possessed you to create such chaos in the classroom?
An interest in these peoples development. And it wasnt chaos and it wasnt hell...
The principals face shows addled irritation. "What people? he says.
The people who Im teaching.
You mean your students?
The young man just stares at the principal with the gold-plated service pen at the person whos been a powerful decision maker in this district alone for seven of them. And who has just made such an ignorant and insensitive comment about his charges.
A woman walks in and refills her mug from the coffee pot in the office.
Morning, Mary, Fairchild sings out to her. How are you this glorious morning?
Finehoware you (she doesnt pause for a response) Oh, those second graders!
She doesnt continue. She seems stuck in her shallow emoting, like a record thats gotten stuck in an empty groove.
Whats up? her co-worker says, trying to give her an intellectual jump start.
Oh, they just go on and on about who has what brand of sneakers, and whos is better, and whos cost more and, oh! they dont listen to a thing about addition, they just want to talk on and on about their silly old sneakers.
Then why dont you ask them to add up the prices of their sneakers collectively, Fairchild offers and set up a shoe store.
Bob, she chuckles, with a blatant hint of condescension, school isnt the place for talking about sneakers. Its for learning.
He stares at her with astonishment and wonder.
Then why dont you just let them go naked?
The part-time house-wife/elementary school teacher pauses for a moment in confusion. Then she chuckles and tosses a limp hand.
Oh, Bob! she says.
And out the door she goes.
The gold-plated pen is rolling maniacally in Mr. Stricklints hand.
Your co-workers dont know what to do with you, Mr. Fairchild.
The ambitious teacher shakes his head wearily. He is still in his early thirties.
There is much they dont know, Jack.
The principal sits up rigidly at his desk, clearing his throat painfully and pointing his pen to the angular black name plate before him.
Stricklint the teacher reads acceptingly.
The pen moves over and points to the title Mr. before the name. It taps abruptly with a tiny irritating sound.
Oh, cut it, Jack! the teacher says. You can see his sturdy chest through the open button of his shirt. What the hell do you have to say, anyway?
I have to say the stale bureaucrat commands, clearing his throat, that this is a public school for children. Youre not teaching college anymore, Mr. Fairchild. We have rules here, and we must follow them because we have a job to do. We have other peoples education to keep in mind.
The young man bolts up into the room and swipes an open hand angrily at the air.
This is bullshit! he shouts. The whole damned thing is bullshit. I stopped teaching college because the entire student body was developmentally stunted. I was trying to teach them about God and literature, and they were all dealing with childhood disorders and insecurities.
His shirt buckles up at the lowest open button.
Hell, Jack. I had some of our societys most intelligent and promising people coming to me, their college professor, telling me about their family problems and squirming like maggots in my chamber. Young students! he bellows, the leaders of our society, of one of the most influential societies in the entire world and they cant even look a person in the eyes and choose what topic they want to explore.
He paces eagerly about the room. The principal adjusts himself nervously in his chair with the soft cushioned back, and his hand twitches a little closer to the intercom. No confidence! the young teacher shouts. No stability! No autonomy! The people our schools are churning out cant even stand on their own, and were still making them sit still for six to eight hours a day and count pictures of unicorns on ditto papers.
But you cant let children do whatever they want, Mr. Fairchild. You cant give a child free reign.
Jack! People NEED free reign children, adults, societies as a whole. Our job isnt to steal the reins from them. Our job is to protect their grasp on these reins, and to teach them how to control them!
Fairchild gleams at his boss. Mr. Stricklints cold distance has been melted a bit, but his chronic lack of hope remains.
Finding no light in him by which to warm himself, the young pioneer walks over to the window. He beams out at the trees and the expanse of sky still unfolding.
Weve got to teach them to think for themselves, he says. Hes talking quietly now, almost speaking an incantation.
The whole world has become an arena of flaccid stupidity. People are led by their televised and over-stimulated social leaders, into a life of self-degeneration and despair.
Weve got to teach our children how to stare at things boldly in the face, and how to decide for themselves what it is theyre looking at and what is the best way to deal with it.
Mr. Stricklint is holding his service pen in his hands like a little boy tugging at his phallus in his baggy drawers.
In his silence and his inactivity, Mr. Stricklints personality disappears into the background.
Children come to this life with God and beauty and love, the young man says. In a world of chaos and insanity, people must be helped from early on to protect these treasures, and to stimulate them further to fruition. From this comes progress.
The young man stands before the open window, not leaping out of it and flying away, but finding in it his inspiration, an inspiration which turns him back to his fellow humanity, to try to help it see clearly and to grow.
Im telling you, Jack, he says without turning his body is starting to shake and perspire, and a certain cosmic gleam is developing in his eyes. Every person IS a center of the universe. And its only by fostering what the children bring with them that well ever really know God.
And its only by unbinding the God thats within them that well ever help them grow.
Steve Roman is a graduate from a university literature program. Born and raised on the shores of Long Island, NY, he is currently living in Paris, pursuing a career as a budding chef.