"Upon Completion of Baldness"
An Excerpt from a Story in The Bigness of the World
Originally published in Hobart.
In a way, this story reflects my farewell to academia, academia being a route I once saw myself going. Within that world, and especially the world of literary theory, which I was enamored of for a time, it is very easy to start creating one's own script—a script that involves all sorts of asides and tangents that interest the theorist, who then starts to believe that those tangents and asides are the point, or needs to believe that they are the point—and in the process the theorist misses the main point, the real story that is going on under his or her own nose.
I wanted to be that person for a while, and then one day, I came to my senses. I guess I wanted a narrator who was working under those conditions, but applying the process to her own life—with the same result. She misses the point.
At this point, there had been only the vague reports that Mr. Matthers was teaching with both hands held in the air, not fully extended like in a hold up, but partially, with his hands sprouting out just above his shoulders. I began to hear more specifically about this strange behavior from my students, many of whom were in his science classes. One day, while my tenth graders worked at their desks diagramming sentences, which, for the record, I still consider a worthy endeavor, I crept down the hall and around the corner to Mr. Matthers's room. He was wearing a tan lab coat with Let's Bake Bread stenciled across the front, standing before the class with his heels together and his toes pointed out at a ninety-degree angle, in what we were taught was the appropriate stance for reciting the Pledge of Allegiance or acknowledging "The Star-Spangled Banner" when I was young. And yes, his hands were aloft, not gesturing or even keeping rhythm with what he was saying but simply floating, perfectly still, as though he had thrown them up in a moment of surprise and forgotten them there. However, that night at dinner, when I informed Felicity that I had gone down to Mr. Matthers's classroom and witnessed his strange behavior firsthand, she remained dismissive. "Maybe it's part of a science experiment," she suggested, chewing as she spoke.
"A science experiment," I replied incredulously, though I paused to swallow first. "The students say that he teaches the entire class like that. How could it possibly be part of a science experiment?"
"Well, perhaps Mr. Matthers is experiencing problems with his circulation. Perhaps he is simply following the advice of a doctor," she had suggested next. "Perhaps," I replied. "But wouldn't he explain this to the students if that were the case?"
"Perhaps Mr. Matthers is of the opinion that his duty to the students is to explain science," she replied, getting in the final "perhaps," though I knew that she did not care for Mr. Matthers either.