016: Rainbows (Chapter 4)


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Eric Barry Writes: Poetry, Short Stories, and Writing


Apologies for the hiatus! I've been busy—writing a goddamn book! But I didn't want to continue to neglect the podcast, so please checkout Chapter 4 from the novel Rainbows. And if you know any literary agents of publishers, I'm looking! -- As far as I was concerned, Ms. Levy was an evil woman. She was lilliputian in stature—I’d later learn that meant small, with nails that protruded from her paper mache hands. Every time she grabbed the chalk, dry and brittle like her, she’d drag it down the board in parched shrieks—shrieks I’d only heard rivaled by the sound of her own voice. Her early morning routine of eating canned sardines and pricking her blood from her finger bolstered rumors that she may in fact have been a witch. We never learned Ms. Levy’s first name. I don’t think she had one. I once heard a quote that said, “to learn the first name of your oppressor is to humanize them, and there’s little in the world more vulnerable than being human.” It’s possible I just made that up. I really can’t remember. Either way, the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a crock of shit. I sat in my desk, my head propped against my hand. I thought about the sack lunch waiting for me in my cubby while Ms. Levy droned on about the virtues of cursive handwriting. Processed turkey on dry white bread, always with too much mustard. While most kids looked inside their lunch boxes to find respite in their day, I was always met with bland disappointment. The culinary arts were markedly absent from my home. Our breakfasts were not ones of Belgian waffles, bacon, and fresh-squeezed orange juice, but of Grape Nuts and 1% milk. The rare egg breakfast that did come our way did so via my mom’s patented “crack two into a cereal bowl and microwave for two minutes” recipe. The recess bell rang out. Well, it was more of a tone than a bell, the kind you’d hear doing those tests to see if you were a deaf kid. All the deaf kids were in a special class at Tad Mountain, and everyone was afraid to play with them at recess, and I was afraid of them, too. I just didn’t want to do something wrong and make them feel bad, and so I guess I avoided altogether. But I didn’t feel good about it. I went to get up, hoping that by some miracle of God a Fruit Roll-Up had made its way into today’s provisions. “Chase. That’s not how we make g’s, now is it, Chase?” Ms. Levy pressed down on my shoulder, keeping me from getting up in my seat. I looked down at the paper before me. It sure as hell looked like a g to me. I thought about launching into a harangue, giving Ms. Levy her own lesson in linguistics. About how language is nothing more than an ever-evolving tool of communication, about how its efficacy in communicating is entirely dependent on these imperfections, because we as individuals, as a society, as human beings, continue to evolve ourselves, and the flexibility of language allows it to adapt to context and nuance. My g was just that. A portal of communication through which all were welcome. I thought about speaking a slew of profanities not yet known to me. I thought about the fact that I hadn’t had a chance to pee before class started. I thought about what might be in that goddamn lunch sack. Levy was about to hear it all when I opened my mouth. “I’m trying my hardest.” What a goddamn letdown. “I think you and that chair are going to get very acquainted with each other until you try harder.” Levy scurried back toward her desk, a proud smirk on her face. With each tiny step I swear I could hear her twat scrunching against itself like a paper bag full of dried leaves. I’ve never had good handwriting. Things just didn’t always translate from my brain to hand the way I wanted. My parents thought the bad handwriting might be auspicious of a career in medicine. Instead I gravitated towards writing. I guess I liked making things hard on myself. Compounding the issue was that I suffered from hyperhidrosis, meaning I sweated excessively, from everywhere, anytime one might be expected to sweat—and many times one would not. During tests sweat would make its way from the grip of my hand, dancing down pen to paper like a sultry stripper. Thankfully we had a family computer I learned to write on, meaning all the profundities a five-year-old had to offer weren’t lost to the sweaty sands of time. Once again the recess bell rang, and the pattering of LA Lights shoes and the smell of Hi-C Ecto Cooler filled the room. God these desks were miserable contraptions. One-size-hardly-fits-all metal cages, hard to get into, hard to get out of, with a chair whose back was surely behind an entire generation of scoliosis. Tap-tap-tap-TAP-TAP-TAP-tap-tap-tap. I bounced the head of my pencil’s eraser off the etched and graffitied surface of my desk. My dad told me stories of when he was a kid, how he and all his classmates used morse code to communicate with each other. I looked around to see if anyone had heeded my distress signal. No such luck. Levy once again shuffled to the center of the room. “Class, next we’re going to be learning about…” Third grade. How many more dreadful years was I supposed to endure this? All this drivel that would have no practical impact in my life? I counted in my head. Nine years. Jesus. “Each of you will be responsible for your own worm…” Worm? What the hell was Levy going on about? My eyes snapped to attention. In Miss Levy’s hands she held one of those blue Danish cookie tins. Inside the tin she revealed several large mulberry leaves sitting atop a paper towel, the leaves lined with hundreds of specks of white. “These are the eggs. And you will be responsible for raising your silk worm, until eventually, it becomes a moth.” Well, holy shit. Responsible for another’s life. I felt a surge of goodness, and a sense of import swelled inside me. Being in charge of bettering another being’s life felt like the opportunity I never knew I’d always wanted. Levy set the tin down on a counter. “Now file up alphabetically,” she commanded. “By first or last name?” Someone asked. Chase was my first name and Greyson was my last. That goddamn “G” would be the end of me. We lined up single file to pick which white speck of potential would be entrusted to us. Most of the eggs were clumped together on the underside of the leaves, near their midrib. “Chase, if you don’t hurry up I’ll pick one for you,” Levy prodded. That old bag should’ve been running an orphanage. The eggs were largely indistinguishable from each other, some slightly larger, some slightly smaller, all an off-white color, all vying for a shot at viability. All except for one lone dot clinging to the outermost edge of a leaf’s blade, exiled from the others. “That one.” “Which one?” “The dot.” “That one looks like it’s already dying.” That’s more than Levy could say. “I’ll make sure it doesn’t.” “It’s your grade.” We were being graded on this? What did Levy think this was, handwriting? I was handed a torn-off piece of mulberry leaf and a tiny plastic case. Inside the case, my little dot. I walked carefully to the back of the classroom, cradling the future in my hands, and placed it inside my cubby. I leaned down next to the case. “I’m going to name you Dotty,” I whispered to the egg. I decided this would be as good a time as any to peak into my lunch bag. Processed turkey on dry white bread, always with too much mustard.