All the little boys and all the littler girls are spilling over with feeling. And they love it when Ms. Hannah Anna Lisa goes crazy for the words.
“Let’s talk about metaphor, let’s talk about all the metaphor. What’s the point of all this beauty? What’s the deal?” She paces the desk clusters. She bursts. The flamboyant questioning shatters the concrete stoicism of deadpan fifteen-year-old faces.
“You crazy, Miss,” Wise Ass in the back shouts.
“Yeah, but what’s a metaphor? What’s the point?” She spins, brings dry-erase marker to mouth like a mic. “Metaphor, ha—ha-humph! What i—is it good for? Absolutely everything, yes it is!” She sings 70’s protest style to kids who have no context. She thrusts. And the kids think she’s lost her mind.
One merciful girl attempts an answer. She raises her hand, a condescending smirk betrays her kindness. “I’ll answer if you stop, Miss,” she says.
“No promises,” Hannah Anna says.
Hannah would defend this pedant exhibitionism to her co-workers as somehow aligned to a real pedagogical philosophy, but really it was all a product of anxiety. A quivering mania that needed exorcizing. Hanna’s tried giving up coffee because the anxiety has been off the charts. She went two days, but she plummeted into a dysphonic state. Couldn’t find a reason to get out of bed. She came to outside of a Dunkin Donuts despite herself. Within six fluid ounces her mind was back at it, rehashing old shames, this time about an episode with her father when she was a teenager. Her kids’ age. He was too lazy, too doped up, too concerned with Hannah Anna’s growing waistline (or was that mom?) to drive her up a hill to her friend’s house, so she screamed and spat in his face. She’d been such a good girl, then this. How could she? What was wrong with her? Evidence she was a monster. Everyday new evidence. But work, performing for the kids, chattering on about metaphor and pulling moral dictums from the textbook and enforcing the golden rule, all this kept the demons at bay, but all of this also required tons of caffeine. Hannah had even considered trading in her vape stick for cigarettes again just to up the energy.
“It’s a comparison,” the girl says, “of two unlike things.” Textbook.
“Sure,” Hannah Anna says. “But what’s the point? Why do we do that?”
“Yeah but why?”
“I don’t know, cuz.”
“I ain’t yo cuz, try again.”
“I don’t know, Miss, cuz it’s pretty.”
“Well what’s so pretty about it?”
“I don’t know, it’s just like, well you know.”
“What do I know?”
“You know, like with the grass.”
“What do I know about the grass?”
The girl is mad at herself now for engaging her wild-eyed teacher. Hannah can taste the girl’s regret, and it fuels her more. She’s supposed to make them uncomfortable, Hannah believes. Make them sweat. The girl rolls her eyes, which only causes Hannah to loom more ominously above the girl’s desk. Hannah actually raises her arms as though she were an approaching storm cloud, and the handful of kids whose attention she still has laugh at the pantomime.
“Yeah, Miss,” the girl relents, gets pensive. “It’s like the grass from that poem. It’s like every blade, I don’t know, it’s just like us. From above, we’re all, like, the same. We look like one type of the same thing, moving around. Humanity I guess. But, like, individually we’re all unique. And, like, the grass, it keeps getting cut down, but it keeps growing back. That’s like us, every single blade, every single baby, brand new, but familiar too. You know?”
Hannah Anna stops in her tracks, plays a shiver. “You guys feel that? Wooo!” She turns to the girl. “Chills, sista. You gave me chills.”
“Eww,” the girl says, “Gross.” She blushes, looks around the room. All the little boys and little girls are feeling what she said. They are the special new baby that’s also always been. The Merciful girl hides her face in her sweatshirt.
“Is that what you were gonna say, Ricky?”
Wise Ass in The Back, the class contrarian, raises his hand, all smirks.
“What’s up Wise Ass?” Hanna Anna says. Little curse words like ass are a kind of contract with her students, Hannah believes. Small acts of teacher misconduct are a way to give back a little bit of power that gets taken away the second they pull on their uniforms, pass through the front gate and the metal detectors. And every day they don’t tell on her to their moms and dads or the principal is a day earned. Hannah’s said shit a few times too. Never fuck, but definitely bitch, but only in verb form, as in “no more bitching about vocabulary quizzes,” not as a direct insult. She was walking a fine line, but she did have rules for herself.
“So, like, the point of a metaphor,” Wise Ass says, “is to make us feel like grass?” Wise Ass knows how to break the tension, bring us all back down to earth. The class laughs. Hannah stands still, let’s Wise Ass have his moment. The laughter gives, dissolves to an awkward silence. The kind teenagers hate. The kind teachers pray for.
“Yes,” Hannah Anna says, earnestly. “Metaphors turn you into the grass. They turn you into the dirt and the gravel. The gum on your shoe. And also the mountains and the oceans. They can even turn me into you. And you and you and you and you. So, Wise Ass, what say you about the power of metaphor?”
“I don’t know Miss, you’re making it sound like it’s God or something?”
“OOoooooOOO! Fire.” The kids call everything fire now, so Hannah does too. Hannah Anna turns to Wise Ass, full serious-face. “Yes, sir. God is metaphor.”
Wise Ass’s face freezes at Hannah’s assertion, like she’s gotten somewhere with him today. Like the power of language compels him. The bell rings and the whole class cheers, not at the end of class, but at the cinematic precision reality chose to adhere to in the moment. That’s how Hannah interprets it anyway. Wise Ass shakes his head and smiles as he leaves.
“I don’t know about you, Miss,” he says, grinning with affection.
Many parts of Hannah Anna’s life have been moving synchronistically lately. She was vibing, despite the anxiety. Even in her sex life. For the first time since her divorce she felt hopeful. It seemed every man she met, excluding maybe Ravi, wanted to marry her, and she was in the enviable position of never wanting to marry ever again. She didn’t feel the need to project into the future, but instead enjoy the moment with moderated expectations. She was finally that sexually liberated woman she was raised on in the nineties. Saying yes to sex without fear, shame or apology. Kind of. There were no Ally McBeal-style trysts in public carwashes. But she was juggling three men at once. This new freedom confounded Hannah, because the self-hating anxiety grew alongside it in matching power, though wholly unrelated. She felt nothing but pride about the second date BJ with a man whose calls she now won’t return, but she wanted to bash her head against the wall over that time in middle school when she helped spread a rumor that Jenny Lipinsky was a lezzie. And the thing is, she didn’t even know what that meant at the time, and she certainly didn’t think it was true; she just knew it was mean and it would affect Jenny, and Hannah wanted to be part of the thing that affected Jenny. It wasn’t solely or even primarily about cruelty, it was about a demonstration of power at a time when Hannah felt so powerless. But she should have known better. She should have been a better person than that. Her mind was an endless replay of moments like this, and only stopped when she was teaching or fucking.
Joey was the only man out of her three whom she’d met IRL. He was sitting on a building stoop in her neighborhood when she walked past one afternoon on her way home from school. He catcalled her. He literally shouted to her after she passed and said, “Hannah, I’m catcalling you!”
Hannah turned around, confused. “What did you say?”
“Catcall! Catcall! Meee-yow!”
Hannah had just been playing out all of the idiotic statements she’d ever uttered about race over the course of her life, a shame game she often played on her walk home, and she worried maybe this man had read her mind, was affirming a Black stereotype she was actively trying to purge.
“Seriously dude?” Hannah was incredulous.
He stood from the stoop and jogged toward her, his hand extended in a handshake. “Just playing, I’m Joey. Tony your neighbor told me you’re a teacher, God bless you.” People were always godblessing her. And she wasn’t so surprised that he knew her name. Her building was gossipy and she was still the only white aside from the Moroccans, but the mother wore hijab and yelled at her children when they tried to wave hello; they seemed more skittish than anything else.
Joey held Hannah’s hand a second too long, but with just the right amount of firmness. Hannah had a surge—a scared kind of horny. The kind that made her feel brave and feline just for holding eye contact.
“I didn’t mean to be too familiar,” Joey continued. “I wanted to introduce myself. I work from home and if I don’t talk to a real live person by this hour I come across like a creep.”
Hannah laughed. “I get it. I spend all day talking to kids, I forget how to have an adult conversation. Or worse, I try having adult conversations with children and end up in jail.”
Joey was a programmer who was good enough and established enough to work on his own terms. He had a contract with Google, but he was even more aspy than those guys, he claimed, and turned down an offer to work full-time at their Manhattan campus. Hannah learned all this in their first conversation. She thought he was bragging until she realized he wasn’t. “The last time I worked in an office they just made me feel Black all day,” Joey intimated. “I would just leave there exhausted. The funny thing is, I’m friends with a lot of those guys now, like we get faded together. I’m even writing a graphic novel with one of them, The Punisher meets Pinhead from Hell Raiser. It’s sick. They’re fine outside the office. They were just assholes to work with.”
“I hate other teachers,” Hannah said. “I don’t think I’ve ever admitted that out loud, but it is so true. I hate other teachers. I get mad when a co-worker comes in my room and tries to talk to me. It’s the craziest thing.”
“That’s not crazy,” Joey said. “It’s just territorial. Your classroom is your fiefdom, and how dare this lower vassal step foot in your castle before paying tribute?”
“That’s exactly it.” Hannah put her hands on her knees, dumbfounded that anyone could understand her so completely, articulate her experience so well having heard so little. Honestly, Joey had been doing so much of the talking she didn’t even think he knew she was still there. He wasn’t like other nerdy men Hannah had known. He had all the fast talking awkwardness, but none of the timidity. And he made his intentions known without steering the conversation towards the tawdry. He just held her hand at the fingertips before she left and asked if he could take her out to dinner. She was surprised at how giddy this made her feel. The directness, the lack of ambiguity, still entirely respectful, gently fingering the boundary of courtship and friendship. How could she say no? She hadn’t yet made any commitment to Ravi or Steve, so why not try on Joey too? Her body her rules.
Hannah and Joey had real dates too. Not like with Ravi, who, after two dinner dates and an overnight, seemed suddenly so busy during the day he could only make it to her place, not his, after ten o’clock and never on the weekends. But he brought bottles of prosecco because he knew she liked it. This made Hannah feel known, seen. Which is all she really wanted after the divorce—another set of eyes witnessing her life. A tree falls in the forest and all that. Still, she had enough self-respect to stop cooking Ravi dinner when he arrived so late, so now he came with snacks of his own. The last two visits he brought traditional Indian sweet treats. He said his mom had made them for his birthday. They were nothing special to look at, dense tan rectangles that belied their true dynamism, unlike the way we Americans make sweets, Hannah had observed.
“Everything has to look like it got zapped with a circus gun for us to want to eat it.” Hannah joked.
“Ha,” Ravi said more than laughed. “What’s a circus gun?”
“You know,” Hannah said. “Like a gun that shoots clown colors at things, makes them look more festive.”
Ravi wrinkled his brows, as though he were replaying all the American TV he’d watched trying to find the circus gun from an episode of Friends.
“It’s not a real thing,” Hanna corrected herself. “I was just, like, exaggerating about how our candies are different.”
“These are sweets,” Ravi said matter-of-factly. “You can actually find circus gun candy in India as well.”
Hannah couldn’t tell if she’d offended Ravi by insulting his mother’s sweets in some way. She assumed she had. But then Ravi plucked a gooey rectangle from the pyrex pan and fed Hannah the treat from his hand. The traditional Indian sweet coated Hannah’s tongue with a grainy syrup that lingered well after she’d swallowed. She loved it. She loved kissing the granules off of Ravi’s lips. She loved how little they talked and how much they touched. These weeknight rendezvous made Hannah feel so dangerous. She knew she’d be groggy and ineffectual the next day, would have to dole out handouts of busy work not to let on to the kids that she lived such an extravagant, anything-goes lifestyle, staying up past eleven, sometimes even past twelve, with a man whom her racist grandmother would very much not approve.
They fucked on the sofa Hannah had purchased from an estate sale. It was a mid century sofa without the West Elm price tag, but since it was the real thing it was solid and heavy and held up to Ravi’s surprising aggression. Hannah had a running narrative of Ravi’s performance in her head, as though she was now a connoisseur of men, comparing and contrasting to Ravi’s, yes, abrasive, that’s the right word, abrasive cunnilingus. Did he want to rip the whole thing off with his scratchy tongue? And then the piston-like force of his penetration. This was fucking. Hannah was being handedly fucked, like an adult woman should be, she surmised. Not like with Steve, who could not, would not quit until he knew she had an orgasm. Sometimes he didn’t even believe her when she did and then she’d have to gear up for another and make sure to really squeal this time.
Ravi kept his clothes on for the most part. She kept her clothes on for the most part too, just like in the movies. He hopped up and zipped up when he was done. “I have to go,” he said. No other explanation. I have to go, and off he went.
Hannah grinned to herself once the door slammed behind him. What a filthy little slut she was. He must be married, this must be sordid. She looked at the cable box and was so relieved it was still not eleven o’clock yet. Still time to watch a show alone and finish off Ravi’s birthday sweets without anyone’s judgment. This was something she very much enjoyed about being single, about being divorced really. No one to watch her misbehave, no accountability. She could eat in bed and fall asleep with the TV on, teeth not brushed, dishes in the sink.
Ravi texted within the hour. He wrote more than he spoke: I have such a nice time with you and I wish very much that I could be more available to you. My work has me very nervous all the time and I worry if I don’t sleep in my own bed I will not be able to perform. I pray that you understand and will continue seeing me. I think I like you very much Hannah. I’m thinking of you always.
Hannah smiled reading Ravi’s text. Who was he fooling? No prob, Hannah responded. Next weds?
He sent three hearts-for-eyes and two hearts-for-eyes kissy face emojis. Hannah felt that was a bit much, but she enjoyed the idea that she was getting played, or that Ravi believed he was playing her. Hannah’s life had never had such drama. Hannah often envied her students for their romantic entanglements for this very reason. The boys and girls were constantly playing each other. Someone was always mending a broken heart in her room while his or her paramour was already sweet-talking their best friend. So much shameless intrigue. Hannah had to keep up with all of it too so that she didn’t group her students with their exes.
Hannah’s romantic transactions up until now had been so civil. Even her divorce felt obvious and had nothing to do with affairs or dirty dealings. Hannah just didn’t want to move to North Carolina, and Jay really really wanted to move to North Carolina, and in those extremely civilized arguments about moving to North Carolina Hannah and Jay realized that they really would be fine living apart. That their relationship was less than the sum of both parts. If Ravi was playing her, was using her for sex like the high school boys do the high school girls, then Hannah would have to end the affair. Hannah ached at the thought of losing Ravi’s body. He was so smooth and so firm. If she didn’t end the affair, well then she’d have to continue seeing him with the knowledge of her station. This was a sweet pain too, the idea of such humiliation. This must be what it feels like to be alive, Hannah thought. Standing up to or acquiescing to the utter humiliation of the thing.
Hannah’s crotch is sore from the very adult romp from the night before. She teaches with the ever-present throb between her legs. Her students are doing a creative writing assignment inspired by the vignettes of Sandra Cisneros. Each vignette must demonstrate a particular literary device while also containing aspects of narrative. Hannah had signed out the computer cart so each student could type their pieces at their desks. A chorus of, “Miss, can we listen to music? Miss, do you have headphones? Miss, what’s the Wi-Fi?” ring out, suggesting that her students have every intention of farting around on the internet instead of completing her assignment, but, so long as the boys and girls look busy, Hannah’s not going to disturb their creative flow. Still, she knows enough not to trust the boys in the back, and every fifteen minutes or so she walks the room to make sure Google Docs is up and there are words on the page.
Hannah’s doing her own creative writing as well. She wants to write a poem about all the sex she’s having, but worries that the school tech people can and are reading everything she types on her Board-issued MacBook Air. She writes instead a descriptive paragraph detailing the assemblage of Pinocchio. She imagines Geppetto whittling and smoothing the long piece of wood that will function as Pinocchio’s retractable nose. Hannah squeezes her buttocks as she types. She releases the clench when Wise Ass in the Back raises his hand. “Miss, can you help me?”
Hannah is frustrated with Wise Ass because he’s always like, “Miss can you help me,” but even after all that help he never seems to turn in any of his work.
“What’s up, buddy?”
“Miss, will you read this and tell me if I’m doing it right?”
Hannah knows that if she reads Wise Ass’s piece now then all the kids are going to ask if they’re doing it right too and then every time any of them add a new sentence she’ll have to read it, so Hannah says, “Kid, if you’re getting words on the page, you’re doing it right.”
“But Miss, please?” Wise Ass makes a pouty face.
“I’ll read it when you have a complete draft,” Hannah says firmly.
Wise Ass grimaces. “Ok,” he whines. “But can I at least tell you about my idea?”
Hannah is doubtful this idea, like so many of her own, will ever birth written sentences. Might as well give them voice at the very least.
Wise Ass puts his fingertips to his forehead and looks up to the ceiling with wonder, and this makes Hannah Anna smile because a kid can’t fake that enthusiasm. “It’s like, okay,” Wise Ass begins, breathless. “I want to write about nine-eleven, but it’s not really about nine-eleven. Like, you know how building seven, like people don’t believe the Muslims did building seven, like that was Bush and the Jews? I want to like make building seven like a metaphor, like building seven is still here, but it’s a ghost building, like on a different plane of reality, and all the liars and all the terrorists and the Bush family and Osama Bin Laden and the Rothchilds, their souls are trapped there forever. And then, it’s like the twin towers are there too, and they’re a ghost, but all the innocent souls get to live in them and live with, like, all these luxuries and servants and they look down at building seven, where all the evil people are and they get to laugh at them. Cuz you know like, how you said yesterday about metaphor and all that? Like building seven is a metaphor for hell.”
Hannah forgives some of Wise Ass’s insensitive characterizations of the perpetrators of nine-eleven; she’s learned that in a school with such diversity didactic political correctness can actually have the reverse of its intended effect. “A new take on building seven,” Hannah says. “I like it. Keep going.”
“Yeah?” Wise Ass says, grinning ear to ear. “Awesome.”
Hannah’s Merciful girl catches Hannah’s eye. The girl looks like she’s going to rage-cry. She shakes her head at Hannah and then looks back at her screen. Hannah doesn’t take the worn expression of emotion on a teenage girl’s face personally, they absolutely cannot help appearing as though they are inhaling a steaming pile of shit at all times. And Hannah is a feminist and believes that a girl’s face is allowed to fall however she sees fit. Hannah decides now’s the time to take a walk around the room. She sees most of the class quickly fidget with their keyboard, bringing up the Google Doc they’re pretending to work on. She makes her way nonchalantly to the Merciful girl, who smiles falsely and covers her screen with her hands. “Not yet, Miss,” she says. Hannah can see through the girl’s fingers that she has been working hard. The Merciful girl has paragraphs and even dialogue. The girl turns her gaze toward Wise Ass ruefully. “I’m writing about nine-eleven too,” she says.
Wise Ass bursts from his seat and points to the girl, “Copy cat!”
“Fuck you!” the girl retorts.
“Whoa whoa!” Hannah says. “Language!”
“I’m sorry Miss,” the Merciful girl says. “It’s just…”
“You can’t say that in the classroom,” Hannah interrupts.
“You gonna let her get away with that, Miss?” Wise Ass shouts.
“Shut up,” Hannah says. “And sit down.”
“Oh, Miss, why you gotta be like that though?” Wise Ass sits, a big smug grin stretches across his face. Something’s going on between them and Hannah knows, she can tell, Wise Ass must have done Merciful girl dirty this week. Hannah hadn’t even known they were dating.
Most of the class has their ears plugged up with bachata and hip hop and didn’t hear the short-lived skirmish. Ricky, with hilarious timing, pulls an ear bud from his ear and raises his hand. “Miss,” he says, “can we swear?”
“No,” Hannah says.
“But like, what if it makes sense.”
Hannah realizes he’s asking about his writing and she relents. “Well, if it makes sense,” she says. “But only if it makes sense.”
Steve was supposed to come over tonight, but Hannah was exhausted. She liked Steve, but his dates were so time consuming. And then there was all that sexual pressure. It was a complicated thing to complain about, and when Hannah tried complaining about it to her mother, her mother made it all about her.
“You know, Hannah, I didn’t have my first orgasm with a man until I was thirty.”
Hannah hated how she’d become her mother’s confidant in adulthood. For so many years they lived in sanctimonious silence over her father’s addiction; Hannah had believed this was a shared isolation, and shared pain. Turned out Hannah had been more alone than she’d thought. And now Mom wanted to talk so much, share every lurid detail.
“Mom, come on.”
“What? Oh, no honey, I’m not a lez, that’s not what I meant. I meant I hadn’t had any orgasm that wasn’t, you know, spilled milk.”
“Oh, what, Hannah? You’ve gone prudish on me? While you’ve got a revolving door at your bedroom? Honey, we’re both adults.”
“But I don’t want to hear about you and Dad.”
“Oh Hannah, I wasn’t talking about your father either.”
“Jesus Christ, Mom! Let the man rest in peace.”
“Baby girl, he was RIP well before he died. You know that. Tell me more about this Steve. Maybe I can share a few of his tricks with Dwayne.”
Baby girl? RIP? “Who’s Dwayne?”
“Oh Hannah, let me tell you about Dwayne…”
Hannah muted her phone so she could sigh audibly. She prepared her next day’s lunch while her mom prattled on about her newest paramour. Roasted chicken thigh with a sweet potato, a sprig of rosemary on top. Hannah receded into a slow and familiar numbing. Her fingers still damp with olive oil, she texted Ravi. Each gentle thumb tap a blotting of an eye. “Hannah? Hannah did I lose you?”
“I’m still here.”
Hannah liked the sexting more than anything, that’s why Ravi was her favorite, but Joey was moving at a steady clip and sure to catch up. The thing was, she and Joey had only kissed. They’d pushed up on each other like how the kids at the dances do, but it was all still innocent, and the kiss was never guaranteed. Hannah liked that too. Their relationship had yet to become transactional. And the sexting wasn’t sexting as much as it was emototexing(?). Lots of I really can’t wait to see you again, and I really liked how your hair smelled tonight and you’re a really good kisser.
Joey had many interests, so even though his dates required as much time as Steve’s, going out with Joey didn’t feel like a lot of effort. He chose activities with enthusiasm, because he really wanted to try new things and because it’s so much more enjoyable to try new things with a partner. Dates with Joey weren’t a pretext for anything else, they were a pleasure in and of themselves. And that made all the difference. Hannah kind of knew now that she was keeping Steve around just to think about why it was she didn’t want to date him anymore. Everything since the divorce was about self-discovery. When Hannah realized this, she realized that she’d been getting life so wrong up to now. This is how humans lived, selfishly, whether they were aware or not. Best to be aware of it and report on it to the voice inside the head.
Joey ordered them an uber all the way to the Javitz center. Hanna tried to chip in, but Joey refused. “Let me explain,” he said in that closed eyes, lips pursed way. “I’m all for a date going fifty-fifty, and I will gladly take your money in the future. But I was go-ing to Comic-Con regardless. The fact that you’re coming with me and that you will undoubtedly have to witness me squeal like a schoolgirl at all the cos play is payment enough.”
The convention center was a glass castle just a few blocks from the Hudson River. One of those places Hannah, in all her years here, had never visited. Joey clasped Hannah’s hand tight, puffed his chest and inhaled deeply through his nose. “I might meet Stan Lee tonight,” he whispered on exhale.
“I’m keeping an eye out for Fiona Staples,” Hannah whispered back, throaty with whimsy. Hannah was no fanatic, but she was enjoying Saga on Joey’s recommendation. Joey opened his eyes and Hannah’s heart swelled for him like a mother’s must on Christmas morning after amply fooling her child into believing in Santa Claus. There were Orcs and Vaders and Jokers and Riddlers and Batmen and vampire slayers. Archies and X-Men and Hobbits, Lobos and John Snows and Dragos. Travelers of space and time and parallel dimensions as far as the eye could see. Everyone was invited. Hannah had on Wonder Woman wristlets and more makeup than usual. Joey wore a jean jacket with loads of patches and pins displaying his many loyalties. To the zealots who could name and place every symbol, Joey’s jacket was an authenticity test for the initiated. Strangers were poking him and shouting the names of characters Hannah did not know. And Joey did squeal like a schoolgirl. He had one nerd conversation after another, speculating the fate of alternate worlds with the gusto and insider knowledge of a political pundit. Hannah was impressed.
Joey, though enthralled, seemed aware of her burn out. Just when she’d begun privately complaining in her head about her lower back pain and sore feet, Joey suggested they leave. “Do you mind if we head out after Neil Gaiman? I’m starving,” he said. He could have gone another hour. There was a pro-wrestling panel scheduled at nine, and Hannah knew that men with Joey’s unique tastes went bananas for that stuff—all the drama and pageantry, so many relationships and feuds to keep up with. And those absurd bodies. He was sparing her.
“Yeah,” Hannah said. “I think I have about all the free totes I can carry home at this point.”
“Here, let me take some of those for you.” Joey took the bags from Hannah’s tight fists, untangling and retangling into his own hands. She must have snagged fifty pounds of freebies while Joey was waxing philosophical about the nature of Alan Moore’s Batman versus Chuck Dixon’s. Hannah imagined the new colorful library she’d assemble in her classroom with all the comics. She’d inspire even her most ardent bibliophobes to turn a page or two.
“Your kids are so lucky,” Joey said. “They have a really cool teacher.”
Hannah felt like crying at this compliment. So many men have said something similar, but they always cap it with a boner-under-the-desk joke and strip it of all its kindness. Not Joey. Hannah had really found a good one.
The uber dropped them off at the bottom of their street so Joey could walk Hannah to her building. A pack of men were dipping their cigarettes under the awning of a closed bodega. Joey and Hannah startled them and they scurried like rats. Joey and Hannah swapped stories of the PCP lunacy they’d witnessed on their streets. A lot of nudity in broad daylight, and terror. One fatal shooting outside the Walgreens. “It’s the poor man’s acid trip,” Hannah concluded. “Everyone wants a chance to see stuff, peek at the other side.”
“That’s too generous.” Joey said. “There’s kids around here. They shouldn’t have to see that.”
“You’re right,” Hannah conceded. “I just, I don’t know, at this age I try to have compassion for addicts. We don’t know what they’re going through.”
“Well isn’t that some privileged nonsense,” Joey blurted. “Try living with one, then tell me about compassion.”
“I’m sorry,” Hannah said without thinking. Shame piled on her chest like a kneading cat. Did Joey now think she was patronizing him? Hannah was in full panic, having forgotten her own whole life for a minute. “I guess I can be a little naïve. I didn’t know you had that in the home.”
“I didn’t,” Joey corrected. “It’s just guys like that—”
“Do you want to come up?” Hannah interrupted. It occurred to her that with all the constant conversation between them, they hardly knew a thing about each other. It was all DC or Marvel and Walking Dead critiques. Half the time Hannah felt lost because Joey was filled with the obscure details of those worlds and steered the conversation there. It wasn’t that different from the way the men talked about literature in her MA program, but at least then she knew right away it was all a bunch of dick measuring. Or had her dad told her that? He hated academic dick measuring, but he was the best at it.
“Why would you assume that?” Joey asked.
“That you want to come up? I’m—”
“No, that I had that in my family?”
Hannah had hoped they’d moved past the drug talk. Annoyed and tired, she remembered herself. “Why’d you assume I didn’t?”
“Oh no, you can’t just flip the script like that.”
“Why not? You assumed first.”
“Well did you? Have that.” Joey pointed to the now vacant bodega. Hannah didn’t know how to answer. No, she didn’t have that. No pack of men smoking formaldehyde in her living room. But Dad had all the bad habits that go along with addiction. All the shady acquaintances, all the lies. And Hannah was left with the worry and the uncertainty. Children of addiction are hyper-aware of their surroundings, are superhumanly attuned to the emotional states of others. They have to be for their own survival, since the addict in the home may forget to feed them. May forget them entirely. Hannah had learned this in a professional development workshop. Such powers, if carried over into adulthood, may cause crippling anxiety due to a constant concern over what others may be thinking and feeling. Children of addiction make sweeping assumptions about others’ emotional states, and are consumed by the pain of others, drawn to it. Like this moment, with Hannah’s head abuzz with whatever anger she believed she caused Joey. What was Hannah allowed to say?
“Joey,” she whispered, flushed now with a shame she was ashamed of. “More than half of the country is on drugs right now. It’s a national crisis. I don’t know what you want me to say. I think you should come up and we should relax and talk. Get off of our feet.” Hannah looked up at him suggestively.
Joey cracked a smile, relented. “I’m sorry Hannah, that shit just gets me really mad. When I moved here, I thought the neighborhood was gonna turn over faster. Everyone was saying it was the next Brooklyn. I didn’t grow up like this.” He held her hands and leaned in for a kiss, but then he turned to press his lips to her cheek, the totes of comics weighing them both down. His lips were so soft.
“You coming up?”
Joey sighed and looked up at the gray night sky. “I want to, I do.” He winced. “But I have a big morning. And you have a lot of reading to do.”
This was the first time Hannah had felt rejected by Joey’s chivalry. It stung and she almost asked him if there was something wrong with him, physically.
“Ok,” Hannah managed. “Have a good night.”
“You too, Hannah Banana.”
Hannah struggled up the building’s stairs. Someone had spat gum out on a windowsill. Someone else was smoking cheap weed with a window closed. A family on the second floor had cooked waffles for dinner. Hannah stopped just before her floor at the spot on the stairs that she now imagined as having magical powers like a recharge station in a video game. Hannah caught her breath. She still had so much energy and she had prepared herself physically and emotionally for sex. She sighed and continued her ascent.
Hannah was startled backwards when she saw a crumpled body in front of her apartment door. The hallway light above buzzing in and out. Hannah squinted, and, just like in the movies, she idiotically moved toward the figure. Then she realized.
“Steve?” She nudged his shoulder. “Steve. Wake up. What are you doing here?”
Steve, half asleep, pushed his body up to a seated position. “The tall one let me in.”
The tall one? “What’s going on? What’s wrong?” The sight of Steve curled up and swollen-eyed at her front door made Hannah mildly nauseous. Her energy dissipated too, and now she was exhausted and dreading the night.
“I had to see you,” Steve said. His tone was strangely confident. “It’s been a week and we haven’t been able to coordinate and I decided enough is enough.”
Hannah hesitated before she opened her door. She thought maybe there might be evidence of Ravi in her bathroom, or on the nightstand. But she’d also kind of hoped there was evidence; that would speed up the conversation she knew she needed to have with Steve. “Well, come on in.” She opened the door and Steve fell a little backward before getting to his feet.
Hannah turned all the lights on and sat at her kitchen table. It was a 1960s pearl Formica with teal acorn cutouts at the end of both leaves. Same estate sale as the couch. Hannah imagined her mother and her mother’s sisters sitting around it chain smoking cigarettes and hatching their exit strategies. Hannah had motioned to Steve to sit, but he stood over her and breathed heavily from his nose. “Where were you?” he asked. Hannah could hear the restraint in his throat.
“Comic-Con,” Hannah answered. The question felt presumptuous. “Steve, will you sit down please, you’re making me nervous.”
Steve humphed. “You’re nervous?” he said, sarcastically. “I’ve been waiting in your sketchy hallway since six o’clock. I’m pretty sure I witnessed a drug deal.”
“You probably did,” Hannah retorted defensively. “Please sit.” Hannah could feel the need coming from Steve like radiant heat. She was fighting every instinct not to answer it.
Steve grabbed the chair at the opposite end of the table and brought it around so that he was knee to knee with Hannah. He sat. He clasped her hands. He opened them palms up and placed his face in them.
“I’ve missed you so much,” he whispered, clearly fighting tears. Hannah could feel his face contorting in her hands. She looked down at Steve’s broad back, his strong shoulders. She brought one hand around to the top of his head, his neck. She gave him a loving scratch across his back. Steve sighed and she could see goose bumps form on his biceps and forearms. “I’ve had a bad week,” he said, still not sitting up. “My mother’s very sick.”
Hannah leaned over his back now, kissed the top of his head, dragged her nails up and down the way she knew he liked. Her head swimming with confusion, she said nothing.
He whispered, “I feel like you’re the only one I can talk to.”
Who doesn’t want to feel like they’re someone’s one and only? What a spectacular honor. Hannah slumped. Anxiety crept up into her scalp, it tightened muscles in her face she didn’t even know she’d had. What if Joey had agreed to come up? What a terrible night this would have been for Steve. Hannah wrapped Steve up in her arms and he shrunk his frame to allow it. She lifted him and guided him to her bedroom, laid him down on her bed. She held him to her chest and consoled him. He slipped his body down hers while still weeping, and spread her legs with his scratchy chin.
When she awoke in the morning he was still down there. His hot flesh stuck to hers. She had to nudge him awake to peel him off. It was Sunday morning and Steve was making no moves to leave her bed. Hannah made coffee and insisted they drink it in the kitchen. She told a lie about not allowing anything to be consumed in her bedroom but water.
Steve obliged. He sat naked at her table and Hannah wanted to scream, but she didn’t. He sipped his coffee. The sound was so loud Hannah had to turn away and cross her eyes.
“So,” he started. “What did the tall one mean when he said I was the Spanish one?”
“What?” Hannah couldn’t decipher Steve’s word salad. Was he setting up for a joke?
“The tall guy, your neighbor.”
“He said, ‘oh, the Spanish one,’ and then he let me in the building. Last night.”
Hannah felt caught. Was this her opportunity to come clean? Surely if he was ‘one’ then Steve understood that there were others. Hannah tightened her buttocks and prepared for the talk.
“Did he mean Hispanic?” Steve continued. “Did he think I wasn’t white?” A nervous smile stretched across Steve’s face. Was he redirecting?
“Tony’s a weirdo,” Hannah said.
“But does he think I’m not white?”
“I don’t know,” Hannah said, looking down at her coffee. “Nobody thinks anybody’s straight white here.”
“Does he know you’re white?”
“But I’m obviously white.”
“I’m not obviously white?”
“I mean, I wouldn’t be shocked to learn that you’re not completely white. What’s it matter?”
“I don’t know,” Steve says. “Should I tell him?”
“That you’re white?”
“I don’t know.”
“How would you segue to that exactly?”
“I don’t know,” Steve was now laughing. “I’ve never had to think about it before.”
Hannah did not want to continue this conversation. It felt like a betrayal. To whom, she was not sure. And Steve’s nudity somehow made everything worse. Hannah redirected. “Will you tell me what’s going on with your mom?”
Steve’s shoulders and face fell. The shift in mood was almost cartoonish. “She’s in a lot of pain.”
Hannah leaned a hip against the kitchen counter. “Will you tell me?”
Steve inhaled and exhaled deeply. He hesitated. She knew this hesitation, but it looked silly on his muscular frame.
“She has fibromyalgia,” Steve answered almost triumphantly. “Do you know what that is?”
Hannah fought back a smirk. “MmHmm.”
“Most of the time she’s fine, but every now and then the pain is so excruciating, I think she’s going to die.”
Was he fucking with her? Hannah had been convinced Steve’s mom was on her deathbed. Fibromyalgia? For the rest of the morning and much of the afternoon Steve did everything in his power not to leave while Hannah dropped every possible hint she had in her hint arsenal. Until finally she said, “Really, Steve, I hate to do this, but I need to do my grading. I have to kick you out.”
Steve stood reluctantly, grabbed Hannah by the hips, and said, “Can I bring you dinner?”
“Not tonight,” Hannah said.
Steve squeezed her hipbones together in his hands tighter than Hannah liked, and he grumbled. Hannah worried for the rest of the night that every noise outside her apartment door was him. He called so much that night Hannah felt guilty enough to pick up.
“You scared me,” Steve said.
“I’m busy,” Hannah said. “I told you that.”
“It’s not your fault,” Steve said, a tightness in his tone betrayed an impatience he was biting back. “It’s that building, I don’t think you should be living there. It’s not safe.”
“I’m not scared.”
“Well, you should be.”
Hannah bit her tongue, but she wasn’t sure why. She was protecting Steve maybe. There was so much wrong with what he was saying she didn’t think his mind could handle all the education. And she was officially repelled by him.
“I just want to protect you,” he continued. “It’s my nature. I can help you, you know, if you need help finding another place.”
Hannah’s voice cracked fighting the frustration. But she was mad enough now to confront her own needs. “Steve,” Hannah began, “you’re crossing a line.”
A laugh slipped from the other end. “Don’t get mad,” Steve said. “I didn’t mean anything.”
“You sure as shit meant a lot actually,” Hannah snapped. “Don’t call me again tonight. I’m busy.”
Hannah slammed her phone on her table and didn’t notice for another ten minutes that she’d forgotten to press the End Call button. She swore Steve was still there, breathing and wanting on the other end. Listening for danger.
“Miss though, females can’t act like that,” Wise Ass says. “You know though, come on. Females gotta keep right. There’s a lot of nasty stuff out there.” The class laughs and nods in agreement, male and female alike. Lips pursed, a lot of mmmhmms linger in the air. Her students put on a whole urban affectation when they talk about each other. Or maybe their classroom voice is the put on. All of it a farce until they choose, she supposes.
They’re learning about the concept of machismo from an anticipatory set Hannah found on the internet. They’re talking about the double standard.
“That’s just how it is though, Miss,” Kenny adds.
“But why though?” Hanna beckons. “Why are girls dragged for things boys are rewarded for? Where’s that come from?”
“Miss,” Angelina, her merciful girl, says, “don’t say dragged.” The whole class laughs. When Hannah uses their words she uses them with defiant formality and always gets dragged for it.
“Yo, though,” Angelina continues, “She’s not wrong though. Girls get raped all the time and like, boys will post that shit on Snap. And they’ll call her names for it.”
Again, the class breaks out in agreement. Hannah is tired with this conversation because she feels like she’s been having it her whole life and it goes nowhere. It does not budge. Boys can do this, but girls can’t do that. Hannah’s Pakistani girls get especially heated up because their parents have already married them off to some old man back home. Hannah’s seen the wedding photos. Those girls are pissed about the double standard.
“Let’s reverse this for a second, guys,” Hannah says. “Let’s talk instead about what girls can do that boys can’t.”
Wise Ass starts primping in the back, waving his hand like his manicure is drying.
“We get to be pretty.” Hanna says, writing on the board.
“I’m pretty,” Wise Ass says.
Angelina raises her hand. “We get to feel,” she says, “and tell people how we feel.”
“I feel hungry,” Wise Ass says.
“We get it, Wise Ass,” Hannah says. She pauses and thinks before she speaks. Is this one of those moments when she should not say the thing she wants to say? She begins, “I’m going to say something that may or may not be appropriate.” The class nods in confirmation. “When I was a girl, like your age, I didn’t even think boys had feelings, and I didn’t think men were ever afraid, they just did whatever they wanted. Now I only know scared men, and boys are drama queens.” Hannah wonders if this is a true thing she said. Was her dad a scared man, or did he do whatever he wanted? Joey and Steve both seemed terrified of her building. Ravi, what was he afraid of? Maybe they were all a little afraid of her.
Most of the boys in the class laugh nervously, some shrink in their seats. The girls love it.
“Yeah, Miss, tell em.”
“I don’t know what I’m trying to say,” Hannah says. “It’s something about machismo.”
“That is machismo though, Miss,” Angelina says. “They always saying we’re the thing that they actually are. Like, ‘oh girls are too emotional’ or ‘she a slut’ but they are. They’re just lying all day.”
“Preach it,” one girl chimes.
“The devil’s a liar!” another shouts.
“Sistaaa,” Wise Ass adds, doing a Maya Angelou impersonation the whole class loves to do ever since Hanna showed them a documentary about her produced by Oprah Winfrey. It was their inside joke.
“And it’s like when you finally get fed up and come at them with strength, they gonna start crying to you and begging for you to take them back, and he just called you a ho five minutes ago with his boys. No.” Angelina crosses her arms. “Boy bye.”
Was Angelina talking about Wise Ass? Did he do that to her?
“So,” Hannah Anna says, “we teach boys that to be a man they have to lie, to pretend they’re not hurt?”
“It’s not even like that though, Miss.” Wise Ass is on his feet now.
“What’s it like?”
“When a girl does you dirty, it’s like you never recover from that, Miss. It’s like the whole world is laughing at you. You’re a punk.”
“Is that why you broke her phone then, you punk,” Manda says, gesturing to Angelina. Hannah notices now Angelina’s iPhone is smashed up.
“Bitch, shut up,” says Wise Ass. “You ugly.”
Anna, though significantly overweight, damn near flies from her desk and is able to catch Wise Ass across the face before Hannah Anna can intervene. Hannah Anna takes Manda by the shoulders, but the girl is a charging bull and only backs up out of respect for her teacher.
“I’m sorry Miss. That punk had it coming.”
“You see that, Miss?” Wise Ass says, his face nearly purple from embarrassment. “Why a girl can slap me across the face but if I touch her I’m a punk?”
“Yeah!” Kenny says.
“Miss, he’s right.” Ricky says.
“She’s not allowed to do that, Andrew,” Hannah says, calling Wise Ass by his proper name. Hannah picks up the phone receiver in the back of the room.
“You know I have to call security, Manda. We don’t do that in here.”
“It was worth it, Miss,” Manda says, squaring up one more time at Wise Ass to let him know she’s not done, this isn’t over.
“I think maybe that’s enough class discussion,” Hannah says. “You can work on your vignettes now.”
“Miss,” Wise Ass says. “What if I’m done?”
Hannah knows he’s not done. “If you’re done, you can read comics,” she says, proudly fanning her new collection at the front of her desk.
“Miss,” Manda says, “let me take one with me to in-house.”
“Okay,” Hannah says.
Anna grabs a copy of Sabrina the Teenage Witch and smirks. Security arrives and he knows her by name. “Girl, you better start leaving those boys alone,” he says, taking Manda by the arm, but he’s all smiles.
“A dick!” Andrew shouts from the back of the room.
“Andrew!” Hannah scolds.
“No Miss, seriously, a dick!” Andrew lifts his comic book to show her. Page two, a shimmering blue penis belonging to a robot prince nearly bursts from the page. Hannah Anna’s face goes pale.
“Fuck,” she says under breath. The class erupts. Hannah goes to Andrew and takes the comic from his hands. “I’m sorry,” she says.
“That’s alright, Miss,” Andrew says.
“This class has gotten away from me,” Hannah admits, her face now in full blush.
“Miss, it was an honest mistake,” Kenny consoles.
“Yeah, Miss. It’s alright.”
“Thanks guys,” Hannah says.
Hannah was thinking about Joey on her walk home. She loved his crooked smile, the way he seemed like he wasn’t listening, but then he could remember verbatim every word she’d said. She fantasized about a conversation she desperately wanted to have with him about being a child of addiction, and how these early experiences had shaped the woman she is today, and in many ways informed her choices as an educator. She wanted to say that we are not responsible for the sins of our fathers. That those men who lurk by the bodega have children, and those kids are Hannah’s kids, and those kids are Hannah, and it doesn’t matter if they have ADD or dyslexia or rage issues, they’re still deserving of a little dignity, and we shouldn’t just write them off the way we do. And we shouldn’t be afraid of them either. And Hannah knew all this because she had had addiction in the home, and maybe that addiction wasn’t so obvious to outsiders, because her father was a good man with problems who never could manage his own disdain for the world, but he had a good job until he didn’t. He was so smart and so kind, better than any of these men she deals with now.
And now Hannah wasn’t talking to Joey anymore, but having a back and forth with Oprah. Hannah tried to explain to Oprah her issues with men, how she couldn’t always appreciate their humanity, couldn’t always view them as being as human as she was, and this must be what it felt like to be a bigot, to view a whole group of people as subhuman, but was that how Hannah viewed men? Or were they more like devils, stronger and more powerful than her—superhuman, but awful, ready for any excuse to do damage. Hannah’s head was spinning with these dialogues when she came upon her neighbor Tony struggling with his cane at the entrance of their building. Hannah reached out to prop the door for him. She’d been meaning to talk to him for a couple of days now.
“Hey Tony,” Hannah said. “I’ve been meaning to catch you. I need to ask you a favor.”
“A favor now?” Tony smiled flirtatiously.
“Yeah,” Hannah said. “Just a small favor. I guy came around here the other day. A white guy, dark hair, kinda muscular.”
“Yeah,” Tony said. “I seen him.”
“Don’t let him in if he comes around,” Hannah said.
Tony grimaced, straightened up his tall frame. “I don’t let people I don’t know in the building.” Tony defended.
“Oh no, I wasn’t saying that.” Hannah, forever concerned she’d offended, backtracked. Even though she knew Tony let people in all the time. Really, how could he stop them anyway?
“He bothering you?” Tony asked.
“A little,” Hannah offered.
“Okay, Hannah,” Tony said. “I’ll tell the others. Don’t let the white one in. What about the other one?” Tony stuck his pointer finger between his eyes. “Seven-eleven? He all right?”
“Huh?” Hannah said.
“The Indian guy?”
“Oh. He’s fine,” Hannah said. “Still, don’t let him in either. I can let my guests in.” Hannah shuffled her body around Tony’s to let him through the door, but he didn’t budge. Sometimes he stood at the bottom of the flight of stairs and pretended he was waiting for someone. He didn’t want her, or anyone, to know his legs were getting worse and he was having trouble up the stairs. Hannah had to nearly beg him some days to let her take his trash down for him.
“You sure got a lot of boyfriends,” Tony added before Hannah turned up the hall. “I didn’t know you were like that.”
A knot formed in Hannah’s throat. She tilted her head and avoided Tony’s eyes. Like what?
Hannah couldn’t help but feel judged and it stung. Even if she was sex positive now and was actively experimenting with sluttiness, it no longer felt hip and ironic when she had to look at it through Tony’s eyes. And she knew Tony was a gossip who shared everybody’s business. And how dare he of all people judge her? The audacity of Tony. What might he be telling Joey?
Hannah felt she needed to reach out to Joey that instant to alleviate her own panic. What does he know? She texted him: You won’t believe what happened today. Involves Prince Robot.
Hannah turned on her TV, sat on her sofa and waited for a response. What if Joey did know about Steve and Ravi? Was that so bad? Maybe she might seem like a hot commodity and he’d finally make his move. Hannah’s phone buzzed.
What’s a prince robot? she read. Did she spell it wrong? Joey knew who Prince Robot was. Hannah broke a sweat when she’d realized what she’d done. Her phone buzzed several more times, an eager Steve now flooding her with texts. He was so worried. He hadn’t heard from her in hours. Sounds like she had a rough day. He could be there in ten minutes. Hannah frantically jabbed at her phone. Steve couldn’t come over. He’d never leave and Ravi was coming over later. Ravi wanted to talk to her, really talk, he’d texted. Before the conversation devolved into filthy and titillating erotica. You get so hard, i can’t keep my mouth away. Steve was just a nuisance now.
The phone rang and rang but Steve didn’t pick up. She got a text right after ending the call: I’m in the car.
Don’t come over, Hannah wrote.
She’d hoped that was a clear directive, but ten minutes later Steve replied. I’m already here. Tony won’t let me in.
Hannah put her shoes on and reluctantly went downstairs. She could see through the glass front door that Tony stood guard outside with a red-faced Steve shouting, “You know me!”
“I don’t know you,” Tony said calmly, looking away like Steve was barely there.
“Hannah!” Steve said with a sigh of relief.
Hannah opened the door and Steve rushed toward her, but Tony still didn’t budge. Steve tried shoulder checking him, but Tony wasn’t having it and he still didn’t move.
“Steve, what’s wrong with you,” Hannah said, disgusted. “Don’t touch him like that.”
“Come on,” Steve laughed. “This guy’s fucking with me for no reason.”
“I don’t know you,” Tony reiterated. “And I don’t let people I don’t know in the building.”
Hannah stepped outside and made sure the door shut behind her. She was not letting Steve in, this had to end now. “I told you not to come here,” she said, arms tight across her chest.
“I was worried about you,” Steve said.
“You don’t have to worry about me,” Hannah said.
Steve turned to Tony. “What are you looking at?” He said, chest puffed.
Hannah was horrified. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”
Tony stood tall and unfazed like the British Royal Guard. Up the street Hannah saw Joey walking in their direction. Hannah noticed a lot of neighbors actually, sweeping steps, checking mail, walking dogs. They’d heard the commotion. Joey made his way toward them.
“Hey Tony,” Joey said.
“I don’t know,” Tony said.
Joey looked to Hannah in a way that made Hannah feel forgotten. “Everything good Hannah Banana?”
“What the fuck is this, Hannah?” Steve shouted.
“This your boyfriend?” Joey asked.
“No,” Hannah said.
Steve’s face fell. He managed a faint, cracked, “What?”
“I didn’t know you had a boyfriend,” Joey said.
Steve’s sadness turned quickly to rage and he stepped toward Joey. Joey stood impassively and lifted his chin like he wasn’t afraid. Hannah was surprised that he knew how to posture at all. Do all men know this?
“What?” Joey said, nostrils flared.
Steve stepped back and thought better of it. He pulled at the hair at the sides of his head and turned to Hannah. “I can’t believe this,” he said. “I can’t believe this is happening. I was falling for you. Say something.”
Hannah felt out-of-body, like Steve was talking about somebody else entirely. She didn’t know what to say.
“Jesus fucking Christ,” Steve continued. “You’re fucked up.” Steve jutted his finger toward Hannah. “You’re seriously fucked up.” He spread his wingspan wide. “This is so fucked! Fuck you!”
Steve got in his car and flipped the whole block off as he drove away. One by one, the neighbors went back indoors. Hannah, Tony and Joey stood at the stoop in a silence that Hannah knew she had to break.
“I’m sorry about that,” she said.
“You don’t need to be sorry,” Joey said. “It’s all good.” And he walked away. His hands were in his pockets, his gaze upward. Just like in the movies, he didn’t look back. Hannah felt the fantasy of him die in her chest. The edges of her body grew firm and tight and she remembered this other thing about children of addiction. They make a lot of assumptions about other people, but they’re not always right.
“It’s not good to mess with people like that,” Tony said. “You gotta be careful with them.”
“I didn’t mean to,” Hannah said.
Tony laughed and shook his head. “We don’t mean a lot of things after the fact.”
Hannah sighed and went back upstairs. She wanted to tell Tony to fuck off and mind his own business. She knows a lot about him too, and no one’s perfect. But she was grateful he’d been there.
A sexy text from Ravi was waiting for her when she got to her apartment. Was she so cold that this was all she cared about? She put aside the drama of Steve and let herself get hot for the words. She squeezed her thighs tight and typed all the things she wanted to do. She fingered herself while she waited for his response. When she was done she was suddenly very alert and very herself. Something’s come up, Hannah typed, and I have to cancel on tonight.
Ravi texted a crying face emoji, then, I hope everything’s okay.
It’s fine, Hannah wrote, lest he think she needed saving. I just forgot I have a work thing.
Back in school all the boys and girls are exhausted. The temperature shifted overnight and the air in the building stands utterly still. The kids are hot and sneezy. The chorus of, “Miss, can we do nothing today,” and “Miss, can we watch a movie,” and “Miss it’s hot as balls in here,” goes and goes. The room smells of sweat and synthetic apples and cinnamon and hair weave. Angelina and Manda are in the back of the room awkwardly holding each other’s hand. They’re a thing now. Ever since Manda defended Angelina’s honor and got in-house. Manda is trying on bravado and testing it against the boys. Her hair is slicked in a tight ponytail and kept hidden under a Yankees cap. She only wears basketball shorts now, even if Hannah has to kick her out of class to change back into uniform. That’s part of it.
Hannah smiles to the girls and cocks her head. “No shipping in 315,” Hannah says, which means ‘no demonstrations of romantic entanglements in the classroom.’
The girls blush and release their grip. Manda sits tall in her seat. Her voice deep and clipped with something like anger, she says, “Miss, you got a boyfriend?”
“Several,” Hannah says and the kids go OOoooo. ‘Several’ has always been her answer, but this is the first time it is true. She really thought the damage was done, but Steve and Ravi, even Joey came back for more. Hannah can’t seem to shake them.
“I’m gonna go easy on you today,” Hannah offers. “We’re gonna do some peer editing and after that I’ll let you do you. Take out your vignettes.”
A flurry of excuses pours from her students. No one has their assignment. Except for Andrew. “Ha!” Andrew says. “How you like me now?” He walks up to the front of the class, a packet in hand. He’d even made a cover. Images cut and pasted together from nine-eleven conspiracy theory sites. What a long time ago all that was. Were these kids even alive yet? Hannah does the math, opens the packet and reads. Each vignette begins Dear Dad, and Hannah’s heart breaks.
“Oh Andrew,” she says, “These are stunning. I didn’t know.”
“Miss,” Manda says. “He lying.”
“There’s truth in fiction,” Wise Ass says.
“That’s Angelina’s story and you know it,” Manda shouts.
Hannah shushes the room and puts on West Side Story. “Here,” she says. “Compare this to Macbeth or something.”
Kids don’t even pay attention to movies anymore. The room becomes a sea of cellphone light. Every single cellphone is chipped and cracked and busted. Kids can turn anything into a fad. Boys break their girlfriend’s phones when they’re mad. Boys break their own phones too. Hannah gets to Andrew’s vignette about building seven, but it’s not building seven, it’s a metaphor for hell. She sees Andrew’s father there, where he’ll spend all of eternity suffering alongside the Bin Ladens, a needle in his arm. And when class is over and all the boys and girls return to life Hannah snatches Wise Ass by the arm. “I’m very proud of you, Andrew,” Hannah says. “My father was like that too.”
Andrew grins ear to ear. “So I get a hundred, right?”
“Yeah,” Hannah says. “You get a hundred.”