Non-Poetry Thursday--Adjunct

The prompt for this week over at Poetry Thursday was “An Unfinished Conversation.” I checked the site yesterday and thought to myself, “I know just the thing I’m going to write.” What came out, though, was fiction, not poetry, and only half of the story I wanted to tell. I could post nothing at all but figured what the heck—it’s my blog. So here’s half a story for Poetry Thursday. I'll post the rest of it as soon as it's finished, I promise.

Update: I know how this thing ends, and I have most of it written--it's just not that good yet-- but Fringes' comment gave me an idea: This could be like a Choose Your Own Adventure story. If you want to write an ending to the story, or suggest one, leave a note in comments or send me an email at chadsimpson [at] gmail [dot] com. This could be fun, people. Seriously. Get out your pens and/or your keyboards and get to work.


My brother sold me a twenty bag and said he’d bring me a hitter later that afternoon. “If you don’t bring me one,” I told him, “I’m going to have to smoke out of a pop can again.”

My brother can be very practical. He said, “Don’t smoke aluminum. It’s bad for you.”

“I won’t,” I told him. “I’m thirty years old now.” It was true: I’d turned thirty just six days earlier. “Plus,” I said, “the last time I smoked out of a pop can, it gave me a headache.”

Two days later, I’m indenting an empty can of Diet Berries & Cream Dr. Pepper I found in the recycle bin and poking holes into its logo with a pair of scissors. I haven’t even cleaned the pot, and I break off a bud, stem and seeds and all, and plop it onto the poked holes in the can. When I light it, the thing smokes like a pile of dead leaves. Even though I’m in the basement of my house, near the cats’ food and water bowls, their litter pan, I worry someone is going to call the cops. “Guy’s burning leaves,” they’ll say, “in early May. You better get over here.”

This fear, of course, doesn’t stop me from pulling the can to my mouth and inhaling from its week-long-open mouth. The smoke tastes horrible, but I inhale it anyway, again and again, cursing my brother the whole time, certain a headache is about a forty-five minute buzz away from settling just over my eyes.

When the first bud is cached I plop half of another one on for good measure. The holes I poked in the can are scorched black and ashy, but they let the smoke in all the same. I inhale two or three times, holding in the smoke until my lungs smolder. Eventually, while lighting the dregs, I cough and send a smattering of ashes onto my bookshelf. I clean up the ashes with my fingertips, and when my fingers are black and sooty, I suck them clean, thinking maybe the ash holds a little THC.

Right about the time I’m cleaning off my second pinky finger—the thing is wet down to its base, and glistening clean—I remember that I have to turn in grades in a few hours. I remember the reason for the pot: I’m celebrating the end of my first year as a college professor. Adjunct, but still.

I grab my grade book and drive the twelve miles to the school where I teach, only to find that my shared office is occupied by Lynda, a fellow lecturer. I’m a little high—I’d caught myself driving fifty-two on the Interstate on the way—but I can manage small talk.

“Finishing up grades?” I say.

Lynda makes a sound, part annoyed, part ecstatic. I imagine that she has her own little twenty-bag at home, that she can’t wait to get to it, as soon as she finishes flunking roughly one-third of her English 101 class for their lack of attendance.

“I guess I’ll head downstairs,” I say. “Enter my grades in the computer lab.”

Lynda looks up from her grade book. “You’re coming to the party tomorrow?” she says.

I tell her I’ll be there. “I’m really looking forward to it,” I say. It’s a lie—there’s no way I’m going, I’m so happy just to be done—but the words sound so true and wonderful coming out of my mouth that I almost believe them. I wait for Lynda to say something back, but she hunches her face over her grade book and starts marking it up with a pencil. The scratching sound her pencil makes on the paper sticks in my ears all the way down the three flights of stairs down to the computer lab.

I’ve been in the lab a few dozen times. Lynda uses the office every afternoon, and if I’m on campus and have work to do, I have to use the lab, like I’m one of the students. I always get a little self-conscious. I feel old and I can’t help myself: I teach at a small school, but still there are hundreds of pretty girls around campus; and if one of them walks into the computer lab when I’m in there, I’m going to check her out, like I’m twenty years old and maybe want to invite her to a frat party. Well, not quite like that. I’m at least a little discreet.

Most of the students have gone home for the summer, so I expect the lab to be empty. It’s not. One young woman—wearing pajama pants and flip-flops, her hair pulled back in a ponytail—is sitting at a computer right inside the door. She has her hands poised over the keyboard like the thing might come floating off the table to meet them. Her bottom lip is plumped out in a little pout.

I swing my briefcase past her and take a seat three computers down, log on to the machine and get out my grade book.

Once I get to the registrar’s web page, I’m feeling pretty confident about the whole thing, glad I smoked before I remembered I had to come over here to enter grades. All I have to do is transfer what I’ve written in the book onto the computer screen. A monkey could do it, really. I did the exact same thing all through grad school.

I get ready to enter my first grade onto the site, when I hear the girl beside me say, “I shouldn’t even finish this. I mean, he’s going to flunk me anyway, right?”

I turn to face her and she has one flip-flop up on the table. The hot pink polish on her toenails is chipped.

“Why do they make us write these things?” she says.

[To be continued]


fringes said...

Hey Chad...this is wonderful. I was mesmerized throughout. I loved how you transitioned the reader from thinking the protagonist was a kid into realizing he was an adult, a teacher, no less. Very nice.

Hey, in the next part, can he start having sex with the girl in the flips? She is totally coming on to him. Well, I'll let you write the rest. Ignore me.

Great story. Sorry for the enthusiasm spilling all over your comments. *blushing*

Flood said...

If it was me finishing this, that little wench would end up dead after the pcp that laced the weed kicked in.

fringes said...

The girl isn't smoking, the professor is.

Dana said...

OK, so you totally cheated by writing this as part of Poetry Thursday, so for that you deserve a spanking.

As for the ending, it should obviously be that she's in his class but hasn't shown up all semester so they have sex and then he realizes she is his student, like when she finally sends in whatever she's writing via e-mail and it shows up in his in box.

fringes said...

If he gets a bj, she gets an A.

Chad Simpson said...

Fringes--Thanks for the enthusiasm. I was honestly kind of hating this thing and pretty certain I wasn't going to finish it, but since you like it, I'll give it a run-through.

Flood--I don't think I could pull off writing about a PCP high. Talk about an unreliable narrator.

Lynn--Not a bad idea, but I don't want the guy to be *that* much of a moron.

And to everybody, for the most part: Y'all have your minds in the gutter. Seriously. What have you people been reading lately?

fringes said...

Thanks for finishing the story. I really do like it.

No comment on the gutter comment. I did have a comment, but I deleted it.

Michelle Fry said...

He discovers she has been writing an extremely boring paper about the narrative voice in Camus' The Stranger. Because he's high and she's going to flunk anyway, they begin writing a very flippant essay on how Monsuier Meursault compares to Dick Cheney, focusing on Meursault's accidental shooting of the arab and Cheney's accidental shooting of his fellow hunter. The essay also draws paralells between the seemingly a-morality of Cheney and Meursault. The essay ends up winning prestigious awards.

Chad Simpson said...

Michelle--That would make a fine, if comical, ending. You, however, may have to write it, as I'm not sure I'd have the critical wherewithal.

Southern Writer said...

I have no idea how the story ends, I'm just shocked - shocked I say! -by Flood & Fringe's comments. I had no idea about those two. I had them pegged for goody two-shoes.

And next time you need a pipe, just use the old smoke under the glass trick. It works great, and no aluminum.