Excerpt from “Easy Street,” a short story

September 16, 2009 at 3:33 pm | Posted in Writing: Stories | Leave a comment


 (Published in Hunger Mountain)

            In the office, there is only Elliot.  He is sitting at his Spartan, immaculate desk with his coffee and a box of donuts.

            “Do not, I repeat, do not,” says Elliot, “ever give your students the topic, HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH, to write about.”

            Elliot touches his lips to the Styrofoam cup and quickly draws them back.  Elliot is a rare old soul and has always been a little bit in love with me.  “Because,” Elliot says, “I fully guarantee you won’t like what they have to say.”

            I say, “I take it they don’t think enough is ever too much.”

            “Right,” Elliot says, his lips pursed over the cup again.

            I have always been surprised by the warmness of lips.  Looking at Elliot’s lips, pursed as if to blow a kiss, I remember the time in the eighth grade a black boy named Daniel kissed me.  I had expected his lips to be cold, but they were not.  They were soft and warm and so alive.  Elliot’s lips, too, were warm and alive when he kissed me long ago.

            Elliot is gentle and good and wise.  In his gentleness, goodness, and wisdom, he has always reminded me of an old professor of mine, Dr. Endicott. 

            Dr. Endicott taught a British Literature survey but never got past Beowulf.   Elliot even looks like Dr. Endicott, which has never done anything for my romantic inclinations toward Elliot.

            Dr. Endicott lectured from ancient notes that looked spotted and curiously shiny, like wet Fall leaves, notes that were spotted and shiny like his hands.  He was too weak to stand and remained seated at his desk as he taught, but he was not dull.  Beowulf excited him, the wolf-fells and the wind-picked moors and Grendel eating the flesh of the Geats.  He often threw a skinny arm into the air like he was wielding Hrunting, the ancient well-loved sword, and shouted his notes at the top of his shopworn lungs.

            But if Elliot is like Dr. Endicott in gentleness, goodness and wisdom, he is not like him in enthusiasm for his work.  The years have leveled Elliot.  He is not well.  He is sixty-nine, and he has confessed to me that this present spring term is the last term he will teach.

            When the term is over, Elliot has explained, he will sell his possessions and move to a community, a kind of hostel.  Elliot has told me it is a great place, that people of all ages live there, including little children, and nobody looks at you funny because you are going to die.

            Elliot could have been like Dr. Endicott, courageous in his love for his object of study.  In class Elliot could have wielded Hrunting, the ancient sword, but Elliot has been ill-used.  The beautiful refinement you see in old scholars who have had a lifetime of intellectual space is missing in him.

            “Have a donut,” Elliot says.  He likes donuts as much as my father used to. 

            A day does not go by that I do not think about my father.  I feel myself smile now, remembering how just before he died last year he told the story to me again of when I was a little girl and I jumped the ditch with the ice cream cone in my hand.

            Elliot’s donuts look good, and I am hungry.  I look in the box.  But there are too many different kinds.  I do not know which one to take.  It is just, I do not know how to say it,  too much. 

            The thing about my father’s the ice cream story is that when I jumped the ditch the top scoop fell off the cone.  The vendor saw what happened.  Taking pity on me, he gave me another scoop.  He was obviously a man who really loved children. 

            It was the first time I had gone to the road by myself to meet the ice cream truck. It was my first voyage into independence and I had botched it.  I did not want to tell my father about my failure.  When I went into the house, he asked, “Is everything okay?” I licked the ice cream and told him it was.  I thought I had gotten away with it.  I did not know until years later that he had seen me drop the ice cream.  You really do not ever get away with much in this life.

            “Elliot,” I say, “the donuts look good, but no thanks.  Actually,” I say, lying my socks off, “I’ve eaten this morning already.”

            When Elliot closes the box, there is a feeling of finality to it that makes me sad.  And I feel twice as hungry as before. …


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