The Tutor

$_32

The Tutor

All you have to do is list the words in order, and then divide the second and third word by the first word and everything unfolds with precision. There are only a few basic formulas needed to understand even the most complicated literature. Place the quotient of the first division in the brackets with the square root of the verbs. Pardon? Well, yes, the past, present, and future tenses each have a corresponding ratio, which can make them a little tricky, but it’s no more difficult than learning how to operate your average coffeemaker. Speaking of coffee, do I smell a pot brewing as we speak? Would you mind so terribly if I asked for a cup? Tutorials often sap my strength and I am saved by the mystical properties of the caffeine molecule. Milk only, please. Sweetened coffee sickens me. No, thank you, I ate before I got here. Maybe next time. Homemade, you say? Well, maybe one. Then you must align your figures using Persipicoles’ legendary Corrective Modifier Algorithm. Prepositions are easy but if you miss a single one the structure of your analysis will be unsound. My this cookie is tasty. Old family recipe? Thank your mother for me, please? I don’t think I’ve had a tastier treat in years. And the coffee is certainly hot! My own little cup of the sun. We’ll just set that off to the side for now. You’re really supposed to learn such things in elementary school. How did you miss it? You never discussed the Bozwell’s Grand Unification Theory of Metaphor, Allegory, and Symbolism? How are you supposed to understand even the simplest of texts? See Spot? See Spot run? Run, Spot, run! It’s really language at its most basic level. You’ve never studied Feesley’s Polymorphic Analytical Model of Super-Compressed Lower-case Alliteration nor Murky’s Theory of Associative Symbolic Chiaroscuro in Writs and Decrees (1502-1567)? Have you never read Schilling’s Basic Course in Pre-Cerebral Plotting and Nascent Thematology? This is where No Child Left Behind gets us as a country. One step above the literacy of an amphibian. Do you think I might have another cookie? I need time to think. I’ve never encountered a student as bereft of the most fundamental tools one needs to understand literature—or even conversational English! Ah, thank-you. I grow more famished with every word. I suppose I can lay out the formulas and show you the relevant passages, but you must promise to commit to the work or our efforts will be for naught. It will not be an easy task for you! You shall be challenged, young Kevin, more than you have ever been challenged before. Most, if not all, of the neural pathways we use for these delicate matters have long been assigned to other duties. You’re how old? Fourteen? À la recherche du temps perdu! It’s like asking you to begin learning a foreign language! Imagine not having Latin at your disposal until age fourteen! Pardon? Please, no more Phillip. I cannot bear it. I shall merely pretend that you are fluent in Latin and if you cannot follow my occasional digression in that most nobel of tongues, I shall turn a blind eye to your confusion. A tutor can be asked to contend with only so much. When your mother called the service and requested assistance, I had no idea what I would be stepping into. She said only that you needed help with a paper. What was the book? Oh, yes, The Old Man and the Sea. A short book with a relatively complex formula. Hemingway could be tricky when he wasn’t being pedantic. Your mother told me that you’d really enjoyed the book, but hadn’t done very well on the essay. She said that you declined to accept, let alone elucidate, any of the commonly associated symbols integrated into the text? Is that correct? You suppose so? It’s a yes or no question, Kevin. She told me that you didn’t see Christ in the story at all. She told me that you saw no Hell in the blazing sun over the poor man in the boat? She said that you claimed the fish was but a fish and the old man but an old man and the boat but a boat and sea nothing at all but a sea among many great seas? Is all of this correct? She said you found the novella to be a simple story of an old man beset by old age and physical frailty who confronts the final failure in a lifetime beset with failure, and that he, Hemingway, gave the old man his small share of glory for merely persevering as all men must? This is true as well? My dear boy, it’s clear that the public schools of our great country have failed you in the most devastating fashion. I do not know if I am a man made of the right stuff to halt, let alone reverse the tragic chain of systemic bankruptcy that lead to your C+ grade in Mrs. Hockler’s Freshman English Course, but I am bound by the tutor’s code and my own personal ethos to attempt to be your unerring guide. To work our way through Hemingway, we’ll need Portman’s Calculations By Which the One and Two Syllable Word May Be Transmuted. Then maybe—maybe I say!—we might advance to Lillian Perocci’s Theorem On Textual Compression. I fear that we shall work through this night and many more as well, but I shall not waver in my dedication. Young man, we will get you your B, but such a letter grade will require many, many more cookies.

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Click

doorknob

Click

Just close it. That’s all. Just close it. The little click let’s you know it’s closed. It clicks just once. You need the sound. You need the sound to let you know it’s closed. Once it’s closed there is no sound. You know it’s closed because there is no longer a click. First the sound of the no-click when it’s open, then the click, and then the sound of no-click after it’s closed. The no-click no-sound is vast and tough to swallow, much like the cod-liver oil the old man talks about having to drink when he was young— “mother gave it to me by the spoonful because of my ears, my lungs, my nerves. We thought magnets could cure rheumatism.” It’s the kind of no-sound silence in the room when he’s talked himself tired and you’re left with only the space between his bed and your chair and the tail end of his story— “…we woke up and the Dodgers were gone. They tore down Ebbet’s Field. Knocked it right down into the cold earth.” The cold earth hovers between you both. How can anyone compete with the cold earth? You can’t. You don’t even try. A long almost-silence is the only solution. You call it silence, but if you really listen, you’ll hear all sorts of things: people talking downstairs, words indistinct except for the occasional name, Bob, Mary, Corwin; feet on the coffee table, heels scuffing the wood; pills poured from a  bottle into a cup; spaghetti boiling on the stove; jello wobbling in its mold; kids shooting hoops at the park; cars on the overpass; a truck jake-braking on the bridge; a girl yelling No fair! Stop it!; someone throwing bottles into a recycling bin; a shower curtain sliding on its rings; a plane landing at the airstrip. Those sounds are below the silence, you have to climb under the silence to hear them and who has the time for such things during these busy final days? It’s such a complicated process. First, you seek the edge of the silence and then find a purchase upon its rim. It’s like slipping your fingers under a manhole cover; possible, certainly, but only with monumental effort. You have to wait for the silence to spread. You have to grip its edges without setting off any alarms. You can’t let the old man start talking again; you can’t get out of the chair; you shouldn’t even blink, let alone weep. Movement will turn the tide against you. You’ll have rustling and creaking and snapping to deal with and you have to hope the old man won’t groan or mumble or fart because then you’re out; gone; no chance. But if all is aligned and you are patient, the stripe between afternoon and dusk will crystalize, and you can slip underneath. But that is not all. There is always more. If you are very careful, and if you’ve trained well, you can find yet the smaller gap between the underneath-silence and the absolute-silence. If you find yourself there and unafraid, you must close the door. It is the only option. Reach out with both hands. The doorknob will be there beneath your trembling fingers. All you have to do is pull with an open heart. Pull until you hear the click.