eyes

In the backyard, a hammock stretched between two trees like a fishing net. It was just before our speech communications department’s welcome potluck with fruit-in-wiggly-Jell-O and foil-covered casseroles and jalapeño-cheddar burgers. Amy, the director, was sick. So, Christopher, the assistant director, had hosted it. Out by the hammock, he asked one of the new graduate students if she wanted to have a threesome with him and his fiancé. She walked away.

When it happened, I was looking through the porch’s screen. My girlfriend Lauren and I were ready to eat. The evening tinted darker despite flames licking out of the fire pit.

***

I found porn on my computer, Lauren texted.

I had checked the time on my phone as I made copies of rubrics for class. I wondered what the porn was and how I hadn’t deleted it. I didn’t use my laptop for the Internet, only Lauren’s which was always on. I always covered my tracks by clearing history, emptying cookies, and refreshing the cache. I never downloaded anything and never paid for anything. The laptop had pop-up software and virus detectors. It almost would have been easier to deny the porn if I could pass it off as randomly appearing. Without more information, I needed to be vague.

Do you know anything about this? Lauren texted.

What?! I texted back and then turned off my phone and shoved it in my pocket.

***

One of my students was advocating for emergency poles on campus. Her plan for installing poles in the line of sight all around campus made sense. Then she began to list off other colleges to support her argument. While our university was a public research school, the ones she used were historically women-only private institutions.

I’d had another female student attempt to turn in a persuasive topic calling all women to not walk alone at night. In office hours, I had asked her if our town was unsafe. And were only women at risk? I didn’t ask if all crime—want of money, want of flesh, want of power—was mostly done by men. The girl changed her topic to suggest every college student not walk alone.

During the emergency pole speech, I didn’t interrupt. I let her finish. The class applauded as they always did. I wrote on the notes section of her rubric: So, are men the real problem?

I

Around the age of twelve I moved into a big house with my family. It was on the edge of our little village, with a large garden. The house had two storeys – more than twice as many rooms as either of our previous homes, and was more than a hundred years old.

Everything about the house was ancient. It was built solidly, but it creaked. The stairs creaked, the doors creaked, the windows creaked. Sitting in the house alone, one could always hear noises.

During the next few years I frequently found myself in the house alone. I could always hear the movement of people who weren’t there. There were always noises that were impossible to identify. None of these, I believe, were ghosts, but they led my imagination astray more than a few times.

The two teenagers are making out on the sofa to my left, not two feet away. They kiss, then speak to each other in Spanish. Fabiola, my 3rd grade student, sits at the table with me, to my right, hunched over a word search for ‘winter.’ She’s never seen snow, a blizzard, or sleet. I tell her about snow storms in Buffalo, and the ‘Zero Visibility’ ice-cream. Her friend, she answers, who moved to L.A. from Colorado, has seen hail the size of Chicken McNuggets. Which are Fabiola’s favorite food.

In Spanish, the boy asks, “Does he speak Spanish?”

“No,” I say, “but I’m not stupid.”

I don’t know if he is Fabiola’s brother, I haven’t been introduced to any of the family members who walk through the room in which I tutor, the first one you enter when you walk through the front door. There’s a back entrance, and it’s only me who comes in front. I’ve seen Fabiola’s mother in the driveway, but she never leaves the back of the apartment, doesn’t come out to greet me or even take a look at me. I haven’t shaken her hand. I’m dealing only with Fabiola’s stepfather, who keeps toy cars on the shelves in the living room. They are models of souped-up Hondas and Toyotas and they come in all sizes. The biggest is operated with a remote control and has big ‘Toyo Tires’ decals on the sides.

The boy grins now, the girl looks scared. This might be the living room or the dining room. There’s not much dining or living in it, this is the first time Fabiola and I are not alone. I’m 42 and have had three accidents in three months, and I don’t have collision, so I’ve tied the passenger door shut with some rope. I drink cheap red wine, eight dollars a 1.5 liter bottle at California Market, no vintage. My wife’s and my teeth are turning blue.

Fabiola asks if she can go to the restroom. She takes her time while the teenagers giggle again and kiss. The boy is squat and wears a white hat backwards, the girl is short and has the face of a china doll. The boy puts his hand in one pocket and extracts a condom in a red wrapper. He holds it out to the girl but she won’t touch it.

Fabiola comes back and resumes her work on gloves, mittens and snow. It’s January. Outside it’s 80 degrees, and soon the boy and girl leave, and Fabiola is moving on to word clusters with animal names. In front of our table is a small altar for La Flaca, Santa Muerte. The Skinny One smiles, her bones clad in a red robe. A candle burns behind her, a matchbox-sized Ford Mustang stands at her feet.