• Dzama

The Young Writer

Amber beams of late afternoon sun split the venetian blinds. The professor sat in silhouette on the other side of a massive desk.

I envy you your easy solutions, the professor began. Just like we all envy addicts who have a single solution to every problem. But for once I’d like to see you write something without… all the blood. This violence is a crutch for you.

The student stared back at him.

For example, try this: A story where two characters have a conversation and no one dies, no one gets impaled, no limbs are severed. The professor lifted an old-fashioned letter opener from his desk and put it away in a drawer, turning a key to lock it. He went on: Try a story with no one getting disemboweled. Just people talking. The student’s eyes became vacuous. The professor couldn’t determine what exactly he was looking at, if anything. Hey. What’s going on in there? he asked, tapping his temple.

What’s the thing you put in the desk? asked the student.

An antique letter opener.

Oh. Can I see it?

No. No, we’re talking about you now. I want to know if you can handle a conversation, just a conversation, in one of your stories.

I’ll give it back. Just let me see it for a second. I’ve… I’ve never seen one of those.

The professor looked at him. He unlocked the drawer and lifted out the letter opener, holding it up. Just a letter opener, he said. The student held out his hand. The professor shook his head. You’ve got to stop thinking that way, the professor said, placing the letter opener back in the drawer and locking it again. It’s too obvious. People do not want that. “Student eviscerates his professor with a letter opener.” No. They want to read about nuance, about love, or struggle, or defeat. What was that line in your last story? He picked up a few stapled-together pages from the desk and traced his index finger along certain underlined passages. Here: “a fountain of blood arcing across the bed–” or here: “his left arm sailed through the air, spinning like a boomerang…” or here, “a splattering of gore rained down over their screaming faces.” How do you think up these things? Where does it come from?

You may want to… To check on your wife, sir, the student said. Then he got up and left the office.

The professor stared after him and shook his head.

The sun died outside the window and the professor clicked on his desk lamp. When he picked up his cell and called home there was no answer. What a kidder, the professor said out loud. But after ten minutes of staring at the empty chair on the other side of the desk he grabbed his jacket and headed out.

He was relieved to arrive home and find his wife alive and well. She was in the tub, singing quietly to herself with the bathroom door wide open, her head and shoulders visible above a white blanket of soap suds. The professor stood in the darkened hallway, watching her.

I couldn’t do it, the professor heard a voice from behind him say. I’m sorry… He turned to see the student in the shadows behind him, grasping an ax in trembling hands. What are you doing here? the professor asked.

I knew you’d never follow through! the professor’s wife shouted from the bath. She rose up out of the water, dripping and soapy, now holding a small pistol from her bag beside the tub. She aimed it at the professor. As always, I’ll have to finish the job myself, she said.

Marlies! the professor started, holding out his hands. You’re just becoming a character in one of his stories!

I am?

Yes! He’s got you being melodramatic! Put the gun down!

But I– Slowly she lowered the pistol.

Now, let’s just talk. Let’s not be violent for once, okay? the professor said with an uncomfortable smile. There was a pause as the three looked at each other. Now, ah, I have to ask. Are you having an affair with this student?

No. …Well, yes.

I see. For how long?

It’s been… The whole time?

Oh. The professor’s face drained of color. He fell back against the wall. Okay. He wiped the corner of his eye. Well, you can shoot me now. Really. I’m dead serious. My life has lost all meaning. He pushed away from the wall and moved toward his wife, swaying. Go ahead! Kill me! Marlies leveled the gun at his heart as he moved forward. When he continued to advance she pulled the trigger.

The professor flopped to the floor. A tiny circle of blood formed at the exit wound in the back of his jacket.

The student looked down at the dead professor. Somehow unsatisfying, he said.

I know, the professor’s wife said. The two of them regarded the dead professor.

Well, now I know how not to end a story, the student said. He went to embrace the professor’s wife. No, she said. I’m not into it anymore. They stood there awkwardly.

I’ll get the lye from my car, the student said.

You do that.

When the student left, the professor’s wife lowered herself back down into the tub. After a minute she watched as the student dragged the body away. Then she closed her eyes and submerged, bubbles rising one by one from her nose and lips.

 

 

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One Comment

  1. Posted July 10, 2017 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    The story is well written. I like how the student’s writing turned out to reflect him. When the professor got home, I almost thought the wife would be dead, and I definitely didn’t expect the ending.

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