His head popped up from the cradle of his right hand, and the desk scratched the linoleum beneath. Scraaaape! He nodded off, for how long he wasn’t sure, but his quick nap went unnoticed by the teacher, a substitute busy reading her lesson plan. He rifled through the pages of his English lit book and eyed the girl next to him.
“Psst. What page?” he asked the cute brunette beside him.
“124,” she whispered back, and refused to look at him, or stop blowing bubbles with her gum.
He felt good being back in class. High school, the last year, and already he’d missed four months of it. Stamina, that’s what he needed, enough stamina to get through his first day back.
His leg ached. Them he remembered, this was a symptom, a side effect. He’d have to endure it for a while until reality set in. Acceptance. The pain, gnawing at him from the site of the invisible wound, was a specter emanating from a non-existent place; amputated, removed, severed, and separated from him now. From a place that used to be. He’d forgotten that the place where the pain throbbed was no longer there.
“The boy with the yellow t-shirt, back there, yes you. Start reading please.”
He began reading aloud.
“The buzz saw snarled and rattled in the yard…”
His voice, at poem’s start, was loud and strong, but when it reached the part, “Don’t let him cut my hand off —–The doctor, when he comes. Don’t let him, sister!” the voice, once loud and strong, now timid, drifted along with each word, each sentence, falling into oblivion, like he did that day, stopping only when it all ended.
‘Was this on purpose? Deliberate?’ he wondered. ‘The choice of poem, the meaning of it, the relevancy? Was this her way of making him feel assimilated after an absence of fifteen weeks?’
“Speak up!” the teacher called from the front of the room.
“And they, since they were not the ones dead, turned to their affairs.” But he was not dead. He read the line, and looked up. ‘Had no one noticed life imitating art here?’
“Any comments?” the substitute teacher asked, looking from one blank face to another, allotting them the required number of seconds to process the question and formulate their answers. The faces remained blank, zombie-like, save for the occasional blink. Phones sent texts from beneath desks; comic books remained hidden in the literature books, doodlers, day dreamers, distracted by anything that seemed better than the poem they had just heard.
One hand, near the back row, reached into the air. The boy in the yellow t-shirt.
“Yes?” she said, standing up and walking back to his desk.
“It was really good.”
“What did you like about it?” she said.
“Well, it’s about how a small distraction can cause a big problem.” He reached to scratch the itch below the left knee and remembered it was just a phantom, itching would do no good.
“Okay,” she said, and arrived in front of him. “Can you elaborate on that?”
“Well, mam” he said, “I fell into a silo four months ago, and because of a blood clot in my left leg, I had to have it amputated from the knee down.”
Her face lost all color, except white, momentarily, and then her hands hid the flushing red, hot cheeks, growing redder with embarrassment.
“How insensitive of me!” she said, and shook her head, wishing she had chosen to read anything but Robert Frost’s Out, Out for her one and only day of substitute teaching.
“I am so sorry, I didn’t know,” she said, and the students, for the first time in a long time, gave the teacher their full attention.
“No, it is fine,” he said, and felt the others stare at his prosthetic limb. “This poem meant something to me. I thought you chose it deliberately, because this is my first day back.”
“I didn’t even know about your accident,” the teacher said, “I chose this poem because it is one of my favorites, that’s all. Tell me why you felt a connection with it.”
“This poem is about distraction. That is what it means to me, anyway,” he said. “I was distracted by my cell phone ringing, and I fell into the silo, a drop of, maybe sixty feet, or more. At least I lived to tell the tale,” he said. “And if you haven’t experienced something like that, then you’re dead to the emotion associated with it.”
“You’re lucky to be alive,” the teacher said, and watched him hike up his left pant leg to show her his new leg.
“I am thankful to be alive, in more ways than one,” he said, observing the pinched faces of disgust on the other students around him, eyes staring but not staring.
He rolled his pant leg down, covering up the shiny pink hairless limb.
“Life goes on,” he said. “It’s like it never really happened, to anyone, except me.”
The girl beside him texted furiously beneath her desk. “Jerk next to me just showed the class his fake leg. GAG!”