A Season in Hell VII

by Elizabeth Kirschner

Twenty-four hours. It takes twenty-four hours for my diamond mind to reset itself. Or so says Doctor Susan and Doctor Susan knows best. I feel like some strange nocturnal animal being shocked by the light stalking through the windows. There’s water out there. There’s sky out there and a very bald sun. I’m trying to ponder my madness. Why now? Why is my husband hurting me in these very bad scenes when he never, ever laid a finger on me? He who barely touched me at all, even affectionately. He’s many things, many complicated things, but violent? Absolutely not. He rarely even yelled at me even though I yelled at him. Will the madness ever stop? Its orbit orbits me to outer space and in most of them my husband is doing me harm. I have been experiencing—is that the word?—no, done in by the madness for six years and before that, four years of completely debilitating seizures. Hence a decade lost to illness. No down time, no vacation time, but a decade and it surely isn’t over yet.

Next day and he’s back. Dr. Robert Wolff is back. I’m standing in my little kitchen with the party lights on, the old, peeling wallpaper and two types of cracked linoleum. I’m holding a mug of water and zap he’s back, fast and furiously, very furiously. He’s got a black body bag. Where did he buy the body bag? It must be a crime to buy a body bag, but he’s got one and he is zipping me up inside it. The zipper nearly sings or is he whistling while he works at getting me inside the black body sack? The whole world, the universe, heaven, hell is going black. I’m flailing my limbs to get out of that sack. Black sack for a very bad girl. Good girls don’t run-away from home and I ran away from home. It was a getaway and God knows I needed a getaway, but now Robert is back and I’m reeling in my body bag sack. Limbs creaking like trees. Hair like an octopus’s legs. I try to stuff it in my mouth to stop the screaming. There’s not any air in here, screaming uses too much air and I am suffocating to death, slowly suffocating. I’m trying to punch my husband, but he’s dancing around me like a boxer and I can’t even land one.

4th Period, Metropolitan High

by Publius

4th period and I have my really bright kids, my honors class. I’m in Room 205, but, right at the beginning of the year, the very first form of the year put me down as Room 206. That’s Bob Spire’s room, a nice guy, special ed., went to Northwestern. I know where my classroom is, and he knows where his special ed. room is, so the room number mess-up doesn’t make much difference.

Or at least it doesn’t make much difference to me and Spire.

Some kids care. Like today. This new kid transfers into Dr. Publius’ 4th period honors class. So they sent him to Spire’s special ed. room. As the new kid takes-in Spire’s special ed. room, what he presumes to be a super-smart honors class, he’s thinking that this is going to be a really long four years. They’re like on phonics or some such.

Meanwhile, I’ve got some new special ed. kid working on like a Garcia-Lorca play or some such, “La Casa De Bernarda Alba” or like that in dual translation.

Between classes, I’ve got to pee. I pass Mr. Ford. His 4th period is like a daily meeting of The Future Felons Of America Alliance. So he tells me he’s never talking to his 4th period for the rest of the year. That’s his plan. He says that, if some parent calls and asks what he’s doing to their kid, some kid whose like Vice-President of the club, Ford says he’ll just reply, “I didn’t do anything. I didn’t say a word to your kid.” I figure Ford can pull it off. He’s probably the smartest guy here. He got near-perfect scores in his ACT, went to Penn., summer Fulbright program and like that.

So I go to pee. There’s this outer room to the men’s bathroom. There’s the table, a chair and this woman. There’s always this woman. I don’t know her name. I have no idea what she does. But she’s always there. Today she is skipping rope. Mostly she sleeps. But she’s there. Always.

On my way back to my room, my boss asks if I’ve completed “the formal articulation linkage.” I’m told that it’s a state requirement.
It’s lunch. I run into Dr. Bora. I like Tansu Bora. She’s a Turk, born in Istanbul, educated in Switzerland. Ph. D. in linguistics. She’s funny, cute and, for the moment, enraged.

Dr. Bora was just informed that, in an hour, she has to teach a class for which she has no qualifications, no training and no materials. But her students will be here. She’s not even sure of the title of the new class. “Junior Wank¬ing”, she calls it.

I tell her it will be fine. ‘Fine in the sense that you can do nothing about something that is not going to change no matter what you do. Think of it as a Newtonian theory of public education: A bad idea in motion tends to stay in motion until acted upon by another bad idea.’

Rev. Mesner, a teaching assistant and an ordained Southern Baptist minister, has lunch with me. He’s working on his teacher’s certificate at the state college. I don’t know how he does it. A new baby, this job, his church, night school. And now he’s just come from a disciplinary meeting.

Mesner, a normally composed almost serene fellow, has this semi-deranged look. He tells me how he was in the office with a kid who was sexually abusing another kid. A couple of hours ago, he heard muffled screams coming from the boy’s basement bathroom, so he busts this kid and writes him up. During the meeting, the boy, Akeem Jackson, claims he’s been falsely accused. “Mesner’s charge is bogus. They say that I was trying to get a blow-job off Charles. But that charge is a lie. So I should get off that. I was only trying to butt fuck him. I’m The Ass Bandit!” Akeem gets a ten day suspension, three days of it for cursing. The boss directs Mesner to make sure that Akeem finishes his homework assignments.

Mesner dubs the student “Akeem Whose-Your-Daddy Jackson”, a name I figure will stick.

A Season in Hell VI

by Elizabeth Kirschner

I am fathomless under the fathoms. My body parts—an arm here, a leg there—are going numb. It’s cold in here, but I’m not sure where here is. How could that be? How can I exist if I don’t know where here is? Give me back my house. Give me back my seasick mind. Enough dying for a day, a very long day. After an interval of interminable time, I start to come back. Brains plastered back together, but I feel like a billboard, a cold still billboard. And just what is my message? Am I broadcasting, in live time, my insanity? The coming back is hard, real hard, like swimming without limbs, but I’m doing it, holding my breath till I break the icy surface. Someone wants to hold me down, but I escape and here I am on the study floor. A lucid lunatic. Exhausted, I crawl over to my chair. I open my sticky eyes and see that the sun is shining, shining really hard, like a diamond. That’s what the sun is, a brilliant diamond, and that’s what my brain is, a brilliant diamond that gets shattered again and again.

Dance: 108 Minutes

By Michael Simms

A dancer can seem very small in Pittsburgh’s Byham Theatre with its high proscenium arch, its sixty foot ceilings painted with giant muses floating in the clouds, its beautifully restored tile and plaster work, its marble stairs and brass ornaments. And the subtle movements of the human body expressing shades of feeling can seem inconsequential in the context of the great hoopla of fund-raising, advance publicity, and artistic ambition. So, it’s particularly fitting that Bodiography’s new show 108 minutes presents the body as both instrument of art and object of study.

The first act consists of six vignettes inspired by new research in the field of regenerative medicine (the show was underwritten in part by UPMC Rehabilitation Institute). Maria Caruso, the founder, director, choreographer, and lead dancer of Bodiography (is there anything she can’t do?) prepared for the show by, among other things, attending the “theatre” of open heart surgery. After the intermission, the second act opens with a scene of new recruits joining the army, stripping off civilian clothes, dressing in fatigues, engaging in battle, suffering wounds, and finally regenerating their bodies and spirits one dance step at a time.

Caruso’s choreography, which merges elements of jazz, modern, and ballet to create a vigorous and expressive art, requires strength and agility from the eight women and one man who form the nucleus of the dance troupe. These young people are not ballerinas by any means, but rather muscular dancers who use their athleticism to express a wide range of experiences and emotions. Caruso has consciously built a company of excellent dancers who would be judged too large and powerful-looking for most ballet companies. This recruitment strategy is part of the mission of Bodiography – to offer opportunities for professional dancers with athletic bodies to grow as artists, promoting healthy lifestyles and positive body image within the company as well as in the society as a whole.

Cello Fury, three classically-trained cellists and a rock drummer, features energetic original music complementing the dancers. The driving rhythms and intricate harmonies of the four musicians perched on a scaffold at the back of the stage create, literally, a wall of sound behind the dancers. The collaboration between Bodiography and Cello Fury is perfect in its strangeness: both choreography and music break down barriers of genre, creating an art that is wholly new.

Caruso often includes non-dancers in her choreography. In the past, she’s used painters and poets, but in 108 Minutes she uses doctors – dancing doctors, piano-playing doctors – who give a wonderful authenticity to the performance. The virtuosity of the professional dancers is highlighted by the presence of “real” people.

To a certain degree, a dance performance is always about the human body. How interesting that Caruso and company take this metaphor a step further to create a performance that presents the dialectics between science and art, injury and healing, body and soul. Through brilliant choreography and original music, the dialogue between dance and medicine seems surprisingly natural and unforced as if the parallel between these widely different disciplines were, like a new continent, simply waiting to be discovered.

This Afternoon, Metropolitan High

by Publius

I have a long afternoon grammar class. It begins with Tom being called a “fat ass” by Tanya, to whom Tom in turn says, “Suck my dick, bitch.” Then it starts to get ugly. By the time I settle this nonsense down, I’m summoned to go to a mystery meeting that was just called.

I sit down next to Bora. Dr. Bora has that semi-deranged expression, which I’ve come to think of as The Public School Look. She called the office during the class to report that one of her kids just set her bulletin board on fire. That and the fire alarm doesn’t work. The secretary tells her to put in a work order that says that the bulletin board burned itself out.

The mystery meeting agenda, over which we have no say, is to plan for the 100th anniversary of our school’s founding, an anniversary that is to occur six years from now. We’re told to break into small groups and brain-storm. It’s more like a brain-sprinkle for the rest of the afternoon.

The last bell rings. The up-side of my day is that only a few students left me homework to grade. That and there’s no after-school faculty meeting.

I return to my class. My substitute teacher, Coach Benton, says that Tanya and Tom mutually pantsed each other. But since there was less than fifteen minutes left in class when the pants flew, the coach figured it wasn’t worth the effort to send them to the office. I understand.

A Season in Hell V

by Elizabeth Kirschner

Something is happening with time. It’s frozen solid or is a rock face and me without toeholds or footholds to cling to. What does one do without any sense of time? I am begging time to come back while I wait, wait, wait for me to come back. I see myself in a heap on the floor. The carpet my only landscape, a desolate moonscape. My mind is blanked out, just an Etch-A-Sketch.

Time to sob, that’s what time it is, it’s time to sob. I’m clutching my gut, sobbing very hard, a dry heave of sobs, the barfing out of pain. Wave after wave, an ocean of sobs and I’m sinking in that ocean, salt stinging my flesh like a thousand tiny bees. Eyes still closed tight with that crazy glue, I am alone, totally alone, the only one left on the planet. Where did everyone go? Did I scare them all away and if so, why couldn’t I scare Mother and Father away?

1st Period, Metropolitan High

by Publius

Across the hall from me, Mr. Gates is having a wall installed in his room. He doesn’t need a new wall, and tries to explain this. He also tries to explain that he had plans to teach today, as opposed to suffering hammers and saws all day. The workmen respectfully listen. Gates is seven feet tall, broad shouldered, wears a Harley t-shirt, so of course they listen. But in the end, it’s easier just to go through with the work order than rescind it.

The workmen decide not to tear down the existing wall. It’s fine. They just add to the inside of the existing wall. By the end of the day, I figure Gates’ outer wall will be about three feet thicker, a wall worthy of a medieval siege.

Lucky for me, all this construction will be going on inside his classroom, so it won’t bother me. Lucky for Gates, over the years he’s developed this stoic, resign yourself to the dharma thing. That and he’s got months until retirement.

I have to administer a standardized test for ESOL students, English For Speakers Of Other Languages. The students arrive at 8:30. This will take my second and third periods. About 30% of our students are foreign born, and as expected, the roll begins, “Ghufran, Mahmed, Farishta, Lejla, Bert …”. Bert? So I ask Bert what the hell he’s doing here. His last name is vaguely Spanish, so I figure, OK, immigrants, right? No. Born in Little Rock. So I wonder if the parents speak Spanish in the home. His parents are Sally and Jeff. “Do I have to take this test because my parents speak bad English?”

I call down to the office. Bert’s problem is that he has taken this test for three years running now, and the boss figures it’s easier to keep him on the list for just this once more. Besides, it’s good for the school. He always does well on the test.

I ask Gates to cover for me while I duck-out for a quick dunk. I’ve always found it remarkable that the men’s toilet has near-boiling water. But it used to be worse. The commode used to explode.

Back in the day, the toilet used to be as near-boiling as it is today. But, when first flushed in the morning back then, the pressure had so backed-up overnight that, not only did it not flush, it blew-out with such explosive force that the water flew three feet in the air. And, of course, nobody ever told this to the new guy. The only way to garner this information was experiential learning. What do you say? “Welcome to our school. Here’s your keys. There’s your class. The commode explodes.”

But this morning it’s more like a soothing butt sauna.

A Season in Hell IV

by Elizabeth Kirschner

Words are turds so I don’t say a thing. I crawl back to my study, try to write Doctor Susan. I’m dying. Robert is at my throat. The word are misspelled, me on my knees using only one finger. Now the floor is sweeping me away, a magic carpet. Now I go limp, my head a Mr. Potato Head. Can’t hold a thought. Insanity is wordless. No brain, no speech.

My eyes flutter closed, stuck together with crazy glue. Now I stop breathing. Husband is kicking me around like a soccer ball. Game over, winner announced. How long will I lie here as more corpse than woman the way I was more corpse than child? The minutes are riddles and try as I might I can’t solve them. I’m silent now, dead silent, my body a sack of potatoes made to match my Mr. Potato Head. Will those potatoes be mashed? Will Dr. Robert Wolff gobble them up?

An Hour In The Life of a Public School Teacher

by Publius

7 and I sign-in. I smile at the new secretary, Mrs. Dexter. She’s nice in a vacant sort of way. She’s got an IQ best described as unpretentious. I watch her type a letter. “deAr Msr. evans.” She has never used a computer, never even turned one on.

She doesn’t answer the phone very well either. She has this annoying habit of answering, giving some answer, any answer, then just hanging-up.

There’s a call and I overhear the secretary inquire, “A call from some mother of some kid in Mr. Avril’s homeroom.”

Someone replies, “Avril isn’t here”.

Mrs. Dexter relays the message, “Mr. Avril’s gone out for a beer.”

Then she just hangs-up.

She takes the next call, someone asking how to get to the school, and she gives directions I realize will land the caller in the next county.

Another call. She asks the caller to spell stuff. After some confusion, she leaves a note for the principal. On my way out the door, I notice that, on the “From” line, the note reads “From: B. Threat.” The boss is in a meeting downtown. This message will sit there for hours.

Mrs. Dexter has a twin sister, a very bright woman, who also works for the school district. The twin took Mrs. Dexter’s civil service exam for her. For reasons I know not, this is like public information.

I go to my room. My pencil sharpener breaks. For three years, I requested a pencil sharpener. In the Metropolitan Public School District, all spending requests must go to the Board Of Education. So that was three years. Last month, I finally got a recycled beat-to-hell one. But this was a victory. And now my pencil sharpener breaks.

I figure I’ll give it one more try. I call Mrs. Dexter, and ask her to send a work order, and a few extra for future use. She sends a box of 144. There’s a new form, “Work Order, TR-22, Pubic Schools”. That’s when I figure it’s easier to just let it go. But it’s hard to let go. This electric pencil sharpener has been my quixotic quest, my windmill. I fill in the form. I get passive-aggressive and circle “Pubic” in red ink. I smile the smile of the prematurely dulled.

I tell Dr. Bora, the woman in the room across from me, about Mrs. Dexter. She tells me not to worry. Mrs. Dexter is being transferred to the security department.

8 and it’s morning announcements. Mrs. Dexter reads a long list of students, maybe two dozen, mispronouncing every single name along the way. “The students whose names I just read – ah, ah – you don’t need to do anything. Everyone else on my list needs to come to Room 314.”