THERE IS NOTHING more delicious to teachers than a student getting pregnant.
The moralistic hand-wringing of the older teachers, whose lives have become a thin gruel; the knowing grins of the twenty-somethings, still racked by their own bottomless appetites; the general adult glee of watching carefree youth dragged into the confraternity of woe; the secret satisfaction all teachers feel when their admonitions, ignored, are made flesh: a student pregnancy offers something for every taste. Teachers are scavengers. We’ll eat anything if it’s free, and we are no more discriminating in the gossip we consume. Like the kids who make their lunch from the candy machine and know their diet is death, we gorge on the abundant, sugary whisperings of our high school, too overworked and too polluted to search out better fare. Given the way the pregnancy of our soon-to-be valedictorian appealed to our deepest gut, it was only fitting that we were discussing it at the lunch table.
“Bye-bye, college,” sang Jason Pete, our assistant basketball coach. He listened to what he’d just said and giggled, blackly and helplessly, the way you might in response to the death of the last giant panda. “Bye-bye.”
“Where’d she find the time, is what I want to know.” This was David Bonvillian, the chemistry teacher, warming up his toothy smile. David got away with saying the things no one else could say because he said them in a voice so loud everyone’s internal censor ducked. “Yearbook. Cheerleading. Student council. Fucking. There’s got to be a daily planner involved.”
Jason Pete mimed the act of writing.
“Monday: wake up and vomit. Tuesday: wake up and vomit.”
“Wednesday.” David again. “Observe softening and expansion of own pelvic bone. Physics quiz.”
Jason and David enjoyed their usual chorus of tittering women, mostly first- and second-year teachers whose clothes were a little too nice. Claire Guidry, a counselor in her seventies for whom the body had exhausted its joys and who therefore thought the body an uncouth topic, stared at her Styrofoam lunch and chewed cheerlessly.
“The boyfriend works at Winn-Dixie. Got gold highlights in his hair,” Jason said, a comment meant to indicate that Ashley Brimmer, our best student, an early admission to Emory, had opened her legs to the great average of our suburb, a shiftless, self-segregated exit ramp of economic helplessness, inarticulate rage, and bumper-sticker nationalism. That she had, in other words, made the choice so many of our smart girls had made over the years. I recognized in Jason’s comment, and in David’s response—“Maybe she did it to fulfill her service hours”—the jealousy of men who wished Ashley had, in some hypothetical universe where only men’s minds can travel, chosen them instead, or pined away chastely for lack of having them. I was readying a statement that would triangulate our cynicism and heartbreak into something truer than either, a beacon we could navigate toward through this dark day, when Ted Infante entered the lounge.
Ted was the senior faculty member at Our Lady of Perpetual Succor, the chair of religion. A near-miss priest, he had married and raised a family and come to identify this most conventional of choices as saintly virtue. The most important lesson Christianity had taught Ted was smugness, and as moderator of the student ministers he sowed this smugness through the religious life of the school. But the word smug suggests the confidence of special knowledge; Ted was smug the way the word sounds, like a creature hunched and snuffling in a cave, dumbly hugging a beloved totem tighter and tighter to its breast. Ted hated knowledge. You could track his ignorant path through the faculty lounge by the trail of crosses he drew with fine-point marker on every object he touched—his coffee cup, his briefcase, each new memo he pulled from his mailbox—to make it safe for use. Ted further defended himself against the actual with a stock of good-cheer phrases and an incessant mask-like smile, his eyes bunkered into slits. When you spoke to Ted, most of what you said, along with most of the evidence of the world, burnt up before it could pierce his outer atmosphere. But Ted didn’t need global threats to feel embattled; he felt embattled, apparently, by the act of running copies, using the microwave, or taking a pee, because he threw up a barricade of constant mumbling against all these activities, his voice rebounding off the proscenium of the urinal as he dandled his sanctified penis. His students and most of the younger teachers saw him as a harmless goof, cute and pettable, but I knew he was capable of making treacherous swipes with what he believed was a holy sword.
Jason and David fell silent when Ted entered, not because they feared his judgment, but because there was no way to involve him in the conversation that would not produce deep ennui; it would have been like playing pinball without the flippers. This left Ted to fill the vacuum with his dingbat buzzes and whistles: “All right, whew!” (Mopping his brow theatrically.) “We live to fight another day! It’s halftime, ladies and gentlemen, halftime!” (Now squinching his nose to elevate his glasses and peer at people’s lunch trays.) “Okay, let’s see what they’re serving us here. Shepherd’s pie. Heh, heh. Question is, what’s in the herd?” (A joke he had told a thousand times.) “That’s the question. Could be anything! Never know. Never know,” and he drifted off toward the mailboxes like a car in traffic trailing music of surpassing stupidity.
“Wilkins,” Jason said to me some moments later, “you’re pretty quiet today.”
I felt my lips purse. I nodded, keeping my peace. Until Jason had spoken to me, I hadn’t realized how tired I was. It’s usually after lunch, when my resolve has gone soft as a pillow and all I want to do is lie down on it for a nap, that I wonder how the hell I’m going to do this for another twenty years, like Ted.
On my way to class, I dropped off some forms to Gilda, the assistant principal’s secretary.
“Where would you like me to put these?” I asked.
“I’d tell you the truth,” she said, “but I don’t want to make you come in your pants.”
“Who says I already haven’t.”
“Sick puppy,” she said, her leer turning feral. Gilda was the most profane person I knew, and I was very fond of her. She was a genius of naughtiness, patently smarter than most of the teachers, a woman who had given her intellectual energies not to science or history, but to her borderless marriage and its catalog of sexual languors, which she would recount upon request. Gilda could make a double entendre out of anything. For most people, sex toys were punch lines, never escaping the jokes they appeared in; for Gilda, they were everyday household tools which I knew she kept in a briefcase under her bed because she had told me the story of her grandchildren discovering them. She liked me because I acknowledged her sexuality; because, being unmarried, I was not anchored to dutiful propriety like my colleagues; and because (championing libertinism in the abstract and sometimes enjoying its publications) I could keep up with her dirty talk. As for actual bad behavior, she was much better equipped for its rigors: three inches taller and eighty pounds heavier than I, she had the physical presence of a linebacker fortified by weaponized breasts and an audacious gush of platinum curls.
“You heard Ashley Brimmer’s pregnant?” I asked.
“Ye-es,” the word developing slowly, her eyes glinting, as if her secret society had secured the membership of an important and unlikely soul. I might have suspected Gilda herself of impregnating Ashley, if that were possible—and as Gilda bit her lip and bared her gums, I wasn’t so sure it wasn’t.
“You hated girls like that in high school, didn’t you?”
By girls like that I meant student-body-president, cheerleading-captain, homecoming-queen, treasurer-of-student-ministers girls—all the things Ashley Brimmer was.
“I did. But I loved their boyfriends. And their boyfriends loved me.”
We stood enjoying the rich aftertaste of this joke in the windowless room where our lives had washed us up.
“At least she’ll be able to finish out the year.” In the archdiocese, we hide our pregnant girls away at an alternative school when they begin to show, but since it was already April, that wouldn’t apply in Ashley’s case.
“Well, they’re discussing it this morning. Ted’s pushing to get her out now.”
My face compounded all the things it wanted to say into a pair of startled eyebrows.
“I just figure that, like every other man on campus, Ted’s angry he wasn’t the one who got to fuck her.”
The bell interrupted whatever pithy summation I was going to make, and three minutes later I was teaching AP English with Ashley Brimmer in the front row.
We were wrapping up a quarter on the Greeks. Among the modern titles I had assigned was Forster’s “The Road from Colonus,” which ends with a tree falling and killing a Greek family of five in the very spot where an Englishman had considered spending the night.
“Fate works in mysterious ways,” said Candice Monroe in answer to my question about theme. She had pulled one leg up underneath the plaid skirt our girls wear and wedged it at a youthfully impossible angle onto the seat. Hair exploded from her left temple in an insouciant brown spray. How wonderful it would be to be her, with her perfected teeth and her stacks of silly CDs, her oversized ballpoint pen with its translucent cushioned grip and her sunny spot in the third row!
“God has a plan for all of us?” I asked, paraphrasing her. “There’s a cosmic purpose?”
I paused to give the others a chance to weigh in. These pauses—their length and weight, the questions I follow them with, the larger point I want to make about this story and all the stories I teach—were known to me from long experience, like lines in a one-man play of extended running, and in the quiet of my heart I considered Ashley Brimmer.
She sat in my foreground blur, in the desk right in front of me, clicking out and reinserting the lead of a mechanical pencil with the only part of her that was less than beautiful, her fingers. Those blighted nails were the first thing I’d noticed four years earlier, when she pointed to a question on my pre-test in English I. I knelt beside her desk. “Is this an introductory adverb clause?” she whispered. I reread the item; I had omitted a comma that changed the answer. “Oh, my. You’re right. I’m sorry.” I was about to stand and announce the change to the class when Ashley whispered, “It’s okay,” and looked at me for the first time. At thirteen, a pretty girl’s prettiness is transcendent. Ashley’s skin and hair still carried the glow of their minting, untouched by time’s trade and tarnish. Her body, all shoulders and elbows then, held itself light and straight in the desk, a posture that believed in everything except for evil and gravity. But it was her eyes that elevated her beauty from a thing to an idea: they were so direct and defenseless, so deeply black-brown, that I could barely muster the courage to meet them. Over the coming weeks, as she proved herself to be not only a magnitude brighter than the other students but also just as earnest as that first encounter foretold, Ashley’s eyes and their expectations of me—that I be good and patient and self-sacrificing and honest—began to cast a radiant heat upon my cheek even when I was looking at other students. How many times in the last four years had I awoken to my morning alarm with Ashley’s eyes staring from my preconscious, their blackness floating forward from the blackness of my room?
“Which character in the story makes a statement about providence similar to what Candice has just said?”
“Ethel.” One of the boys in back.
“Where is it? Let’s find the quote.”
“I got it: ‘Such a marvelous deliverance does make one believe in providence.’”
So, Ashley’s eyes. Ah, but those bitten fingers! She did so many things with them, from handstands at pep rallies to ticket collection at dances to playing piano at mass, that there would have been no way for her to keep them nice anyway, but I finally caught her with them in her mouth. It was a changeover between classes during her junior year, the halls astream with students: I was standing in the doorway to my classroom pretending to be attentive to hallway conduct when I noticed Ashley gazing with complete stillness into the interior of her locker. She had lost track of the world, her eyes blind to the book she had begun to select with her left hand as her right hand unconsciously worked its digits one at a time into her mouth for a few tiny, complacent nibbles. It was one of the most tranquil and engrossing scenes I have ever witnessed, like watching a delicate bird groom itself on a silent ledge. When she finally snapped back to awareness and fluttered off down the hall, I remember thinking that the difference between voyeurism and sight is whether you mean to use what you have seen or to keep it safe inside you.
“And what sort of person is Ethel? What does Forster think of her?”
“She’s just a daughter trying to look out for her father.”
“Is she?” I asked. “Why does ‘looking out’ have to mean bullying him out of what he wants to do?”
“Well, where he wanted to stay is where the tree falls. It was fate that she made him leave.”
Ashley’s handwriting was as elegant and restrained as her general bearing. She wrote in slanted print, with pencil, and I had watched her lettering grow sleek and functional as it shed its girlish serifs and cinched its inefficient gaps. The word Clytemnestra upside down in Ashley’s notebook was an architectural feat, a graceful unity of column and frieze. Where a girl in twenty-first-century America learns to practice grace, I have no idea, but grace characterized Ashley’s handwriting and her posture and the motions of her thought, and I knew she was laying out of these sloppy early stages of the discussion the way a gifted high jumper waits patiently while lesser opponents grunt and mash their way through the lower altitudes and then overleaps them so simply and so without ego that they feel grateful to have witnessed their own destruction.
“Fate,” she said finally, jamming the pencil behind her ear, a characteristic gesture, “is the same thing in this story as it is in the Oresteia—a word people throw around to justify their actions. The death of the Greek family has no meaning.”
“So. Ethel’s talk about providence is just a way of putting a bit of fancy wrapping on her will. Like Antigone.”
“Like Agamemnon. Like Clytemnestra. Like Orestes.”
“Fate’s a platitude for the shallow.”
“And for the manipulative.”
“Because what quote-quote purpose has the Englishman been saved for, do we find?”
“For complaining about the noise in his plumbing,” she said, smoothing the page with the flat of her hand. “Hardly a greater purpose.”
“So Jocasta’s right. Chance rules our lives, ignore everything but the now.”
“No,” Ashley said, enjoying the quaint trap I’d set as she nimbly side-stepped it. “That’s the conclusion of O’Connor’s Misfit. It’s a false either/or, Mr. Wilkins.” Neither of us had blinked in thirty seconds. “You told us that either/or is what makes tragedy.”
My heart was a happy jumble. To have sown so diligently and to have the fruits of my labor returned so bountifully—I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the thing Ashley and I had made together, and I looked away in what could only be called embarrassment, even as Ashley’s eyes fell shyly to her notebook.
Candice wanted very badly to be part of the fun.
“I think God knows what he’s doing,” she said with perfectly irrelevant sweetness.
After Ashley’s class, fifth period, the rest of the day was a dullness and a drudge. I had two more sections of senior English, but they were non-honors, which means that, far from a quickening of the mind that leaves the body receding to a vanishing point, I could look forward to repeating myself with heavy eyelids, performing broad, senseless gestures to compel attention, and using my face as a weapon of surveillance and deterrence. Every day of teaching involves at least one episode of conscious sweating. It happens at cafeteria duty, with the humid chewing of five hundred mouths around you, or when your arm is lodged in the guts of an overheated copier and you need double-sided quizzes for a class that starts in five minutes. This is the key to the unique exhaustion of teaching: the mind is called upon to do delicate work inside a constantly jostled container, like a painter made to paint inside a lurching public bus.
At the bell, I humped my twelve pounds of books through the shouldery mosh of the hallway to the locker of sophomore Nick Melville where, in a finely modulated light yell that only he could hear, I got him to admit that he had cheated on a test. Then, learning from a secretary that Doug Johansen, our assistant principal, had gone outside to watch football practice, I trekked across the blazing sward, and, with the sun glinting directly into my brain, I nudged the conversation with surgically cool disinterest until I learned that we had, indeed, decided to send Ashley away to the alternative school without delay, precisely because of her prominence on campus. Then I had to write a letter of recommendation for a surpassingly average student, a task requiring a mastery of faint adjectives and motionless verbs, a discipline much more demanding than actual praise, and I had to do so in a hard plastic chair produced in numbers too large for an attention to ergonomics and with a monitor whose blurriness I had to squint to correct in a building that had begun to slow-cook its contents now that the janitors had turned off the air conditioner. By the time I was licking the triplicate envelopes and signing across the seals, I could smell a uric, vaguely bookish reek coming off me. Then, at six o’clock, I sat down at my desk, shut my stinging eyes, and turned my mind to destroying Ted Infante once and for all.
It was, by now, the hour when people with families were putting chickens into ovens and huddling on couches, so I had the faculty lounge to myself. Ted’s desk was as clean as his brain was cluttered, with only a radio, a crucifix, and a bonsai tree breaking up its broad expanse, and I navigated toward this queer trinity through the other twenty-some desks in the lounge. Scooting Ted’s chair up behind me, I rubbed my hands together resolutely and slid open his top desk drawer. There was little of interest there, just some archaic office supplies, but I still experienced that brain-shimmer of trespass, that tinkle behind the eyes. He had a Pink Pearl eraser, its polygon edges scuffed a dull gray. He had an EZ-Grader with sliding sheath and brass corner rivets, and he had lickable ring-reinforcers. These were old-school supplies, relics from the age of paper, and they caused in me a feeling closer to pity than to detestation, so I shut them away from sight and began to rifle his file drawers.
Ted had penciled a tiny cross at the top of every document I pulled from its file (worksheets on the patriarchs, flow-maps of the sacraments), a crawling graphite infestation of crosses. Even the file folders themselves had been scribed with crosses, a tiny double-hatch on each tab alongside the description of its contents. Inspecting a test on Moses, however, I noted that it had a cross at the top of its first page only, leaving pages two and three unprotected from the wiles of Satan. And really, the bottom half of page one didn’t look entirely safe to me, so far away from the citadel of the upper margin. A cross beside each question would have been a more responsible way to proceed—or better yet, between each word. It might be prudent, ultimately, to replace each letter of each word with a cross to completely seal off all entry points for doubt and sin, though one would still need to consider a system for protecting each cross with a cross…. I shut the drawer and swiveled the chair to the left.
The first file I pulled from this second drawer had no label, but halfway down its red flank, in Ted’s penciled script, were the inevitable cross and the words, Betrayals of Mission.
The folder, which I laid atop the desk, was thick enough to call into service the widest pre-fold at its vertex; you could have written a nice fat title on its spine. I opened the manila cover and read the first page, which had been produced on a manual typewriter:
August 30, 1971.
Incident: Assistant Principal Linda Lekkerkerner was heard to remark that the current pope was a political, not a religious, choice.
Context: Faculty Lounge, seven members of faculty present.
After Context, there followed a paragraph in which Ted cited the doctrine that had been violated and the way this violation undermined the religious mission of the school.
I didn’t know the principal in question. She had come a decade before my time at Perpetual Succor. But a couple hundred more pages sat waiting beneath this first one, and I began to turn them: accounts of catechistic errors by theology faculty, overheard doubts on the subject of transubstantiation, unsound discussions of Christ’s humanity, the manually typed pages giving way in the 1980s to pages produced on an electric typewriter and citing teachers I had worked with. I knew Ted well enough to guess he’d been funneling these accounts to the archdiocese. I had the contents of the file spread rather haphazardly across the face of Ted’s desk when the door from the copy room swung open.
Gilda took one step into the lounge with her armload of copies, pinned me with a sly glance, and said coyly, “What the fuck are you doing?”
She was wearing a red thing that on anyone else’s body would have been called a dress, a garment of perfect respectability that Gilda’s roadcrew physique had somehow turned into a mockery of respectability, and you do not temporize with such a woman, so I said, “I’m rifling through this motherfucker’s shit. Come see.”
I let her skim the top page to get the basic drift, and then I started thumbing the pages rapidly, looking for an Incident bearing my name. I didn’t have to look far. Only two months into my first year at Perpetual Succor, Ted had slavered up to his Smith-Corona and typed the following:
October 20, 1981.
Incident: Teacher Gary Wilkins, while teaching Dante’s Inferno, criticized the Church’s stance on homosexuality by pointing out Dante’s gentle treatment of homosexuals. “Homophobia is an Old Testament mindset. Jesus never condemned homosexuality. But most people, including the clergy, still aren’t ready for the New Testament.”
Context: I personally heard Mr. Wilkins’s remarks as I stood outside his classroom. They were confirmed to me upon later questioning of his students.
There followed a list of Bible verses and papal statements which my teaching had countermanded.
“He’s nuts,” Gilda said.
“He’s not nuts. He’s evil.”
But I wasn’t angry. This was one thing teaching had done for me in the years since Ted had first added me to his dossier: by buffeting me daily with a hundred annoyances and insults, with a hundred opportunities for anger, teaching had taught me to batten down my temper and navigate it calmly toward its intended port. At the beginning of my career, I was a person who screamed in traffic and gritted my teeth at student misconduct, a man with a legendary forehead vein; now, after twenty years, getting angry is something I do once, maybe twice a semester, and I do it slowly, with none of the old panic, loading my cannons and bringing my bow around so deliberately that my target is compelled to admit the justice of my volley.
So it was with a sense of amusement, really, that I thumbed forward from Ted’s report on me to the point, several years later, when Bill McGee became our principal. It had only taken Ted ten days to find an error in Bill’s behavior, some problem with a comment he had made after our first mass of the year, and I lifted the remainder of the dossier out of its folder, some hundred pages, and carried it to the copy machine.
“What are you doing, Wilkins?” Gilda asked in the slightly hushed tones of espionage as she followed me into the little room. I turned, reached under her shoulder, and pulled shut the door to the humid, humming oubliette.
“You know what McGee’ll do to Ted for this kind of disloyalty? I’m getting the motherfucker fired.”
Gilda leaned back against the table in the corner. “It’s all so male and exciting,” she said, perfuming her voice with the same slutty musk she used for sentences like, Why don’t I ever get abducted?—a parody of passivity as eerie as a wolf in your grandmother’s sleeping bonnet. When I turned from the machine, having loaded the document handler, her eyes wore a challenging dreamy stare. “The way y’all are fighting over that little girl.”
That little girl was obviously Ashley Brimmer, and while I didn’t think Gilda’s comment spoke to the truth of my actions, I knew that defending oneself against Gilda’s sexual charges was like arguing with the Inquisition. It was easier just to admit guilt when the result was foreknown, so I turned and propped one foot manfully on a chair as the machine began to bump out its copies, and I said, “Can you smell the testosterone?”
“Smells like toner.”
Ordinarily, I would have bandied the joke back at her—It’s pronounced “boner,” something like that—and the volatility of the moment would have dissipated into the enervated sniggers and sighs of the modern workplace. But I thought I detected a vague insult in Gilda’s quip, as if my life appeared dry and papery to women of full sexuality, as if I were not entirely real to them; and so, because I yearned deeply to enter that reality, and because I could think of no other way to do so than to blunder crudely forward, I took Gilda’s hand, turned it palm upward, and cupped it between my legs.
“Does it feel like toner?”
I was swelling in her hand before she could unclasp my belt, which she began to do without looking down, smiling complacently as she dropped the buckle aside, twisted the tortoiseshell button beneath, and burrowed her hand warmly inside my boxer shorts. She was tucking me up against her breasts and waiting for me to fill her encompassing grasp when the door clicked open and Ted Infante’s head and shoulders spilled into the room.
“Oh, hi, Mr. Wilkins! Just dropping in to make some late copies. Teacher’s work is never finished! Isn’t that the truth, by golly. Being busy’s a blessing, I guess!”
Gilda and I were too deeply entangled to do anything but stand frozen. Ted was so short to begin with, and the almost horizontal bow he was performing through the doorway made him so much shorter, that his head was perfectly on level with the offending activity; he was speaking, in effect, directly to my penis. Yet, astoundingly, he saw nothing. Perhaps his optic centers registered a calming uniform gray; perhaps the dominions and powers of angels had arrayed themselves in glowing tableau betwixt his eyes and the occasion of sin. His face took on a sort of glaze as he backed out of the room slowly and clicked the door shut, sparging words in his wake: “No hurry, no hurry. Take your time! I’ll be in the computer room—computer’s our real boss! Just holler, no hurry.”
“Jesus Christ,” I said a few moments later, still pressed up against Gilda in a way that no longer seemed wholly appropriate. “Maybe he is nuts.”
“Well, he’s not an aphrodisiac,” Gilda observed, releasing the wilted item in her hand. “Some other time?”
I took Ted’s originals back into the lounge and refiled them in his desk. The copies I put in my own desk, and that’s where they are still, in an unlabeled folder, supporting the illusion that I will one day use them. There is so much in my desk that’s defunct: old tests based on grammar books we haven’t used in ten years; student essays of note that I’ve never re-read and never shared with my classes; old student-body telephone directories, most of the numbers now obsolete; letters of recommendation I wrote for people who now own their own law practices or perform neurosurgery or who have had four kids in seven years and will never return to college. I must have once perceived in these materials a potential energy. But energy leaks, sighing away into the air, and time replaces the life of every object with a memory of its life.
Ashley Brimmer came to my classroom at lunch the next day to tell me she was being removed from school.
“I don’t want you to be disappointed in me,” she said, her voice cracking.
“I’m not. How could you ever think that?”
“I’m disappointed in myself.”
“Well,” I said, looking into eyes that pleaded for me to say something important, “that’s a feeling you get used to as you get older.”
“Are you disappointed in yourself?”
The way she asked this question, with slight emphases on you and yourself, revealed that Ashley saw me, remarkably, as someone who had risen above the conventional adult mire of compromise, bitterness, regret, and despair. The shame I felt at having playacted my way into her esteem was surpassed only by the obligation to say something that would not further injure her.
“No. And you shouldn’t be either. Go to confession or whatever, and then let it go. Leave guilt to the weak and stupid. They need it more than you do.”
“Will you keep the baby?” I asked.
We stood up from our desks and embraced, and she disappeared to the alternative school. But as I made my way back to the faculty lounge through an administrative back-hall of framed accreditation certificates and self-awarded plaques, the mendacity of my total being would not stop squeezing at my heart, and I was too tired to throw off its grip. It tightened as I walked, wringing loose a mist in my chest that rose and condensed in my eyes. I blinked at the moisture, but there was such relief in the blink that I could not bring myself to open my eyes again. There was nothing in that familiar hallway I could bear to look at, and I drifted forward through the lidded dark, leaving the known further behind with every step. Somewhere ahead there were secretarial desks, a potted tree, jagged file cabinets, but the darkness was too welcoming. Soon enough I would blow off course and end in wrack and ruin, but I understood that this was no more than the end I had been charting for myself all along.
This story was selected for New Stories from the South 2009.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.