Higher education


The locksmith’s daughter had beautiful bones that cast long shadows on her skin. She wanted to be thin. Cell phones were dwindling; why not those who pressed the sleek clamshells against an ear, as if to listen to the ocean’s test signal? She fasted, draped in hipster black, and learned to love desire for itself. Her hips grew sharp as blades of grass, and she trembled in the least breeze.

turkey tail tree

The doctor’s son wanted to be tough; he made the team. But then he began hearing voices, and thought it was the coach. They said that this was Olympus and the gods were near — take off your clothes. He took his chew out of his cheek and threw it on the ground. “To hell with you!” he shouted, and walked off the field with the scorched outline of his former life trailing behind.

acorn on a stick

They crossed paths on the cemetery hill, and stood smiling wanly at each other.

“Eat something, you stupid goth bitch.”

“Grow a brain, you dumb jock.”

But that isn’t what they said. And a good thing, too, considering how soon they would be sharing a bottle, a needle, a pipe.

“I can’t get the coach out of my head.”

“I know exactly what you mean.”


She didn’t know, of course — she had no idea — but it was, as in mathematics, a serviceable assumption to begin on.

26 Replies to “Higher education”

  1. You take the most amazing pictures. I’m jealous. I hiked the Keystone Ancient Forest Preserve west of Tulsa today and I didn’t get one dpic that was anywhere near as good as these.

  2. Hey, thanks, Dr. Omed!

    “Keystone Ancient Forest Preserve” sounds like something that should be here in the Keystone State. But I’m guessing it must be post oak savanna or something, eh?

  3. Wow, that made my hair stand on end, don’t know exactly why, but the pictures may have had something to do with it. My only disappointment was the use of the word “solipsism” at the end; it completely threw off the mood and language of the story.

    Knowing you you didn’t place that acorn on top of that broken sapling, no? If not then that is another thing to make my hair stand on end.

  4. dale – My reaction entirely.

    butuki – Thanks for a helpful reaction. I knew the ending was a bit off, but I was too tired to come up with anything else last night. So if this post pops up in your feed reader again today, it’s your fault!

    Nope, I found that acorn there. (I have a note to that effect on the photo page, if you click through.)

    Dick and Jarrett – Thanks for the comments. It occurred to me this morning when I woke up that she might’ve actually said, “Tell me about it.” Because she’s still keeping her distance at this point.

  5. OK, that was multiply spooky… not just the text and photos (chills down my spine), but I saw one ending first, and the other after reading the comments.

    And I’m sorry, but I really don’t like the new ending… too intellectual, you leap from subjectivity to authorial omniscence, and it looks like a grafted-on “happy ending”. (“Sharing a bottle, a needle, a pipe”… that’s no path to a happy ending!) You should have stuck with finding some first-order words to embody that “solipsism” idea (hall of mirrors? clouds?), it got you-the-author in there without smashing the frame.

    And yeah, “tell me about it” would suggest a genuine communication. “I know exactly what you mean” isn’t perfect, but it hints at the illusory and destructive aspects of their worlds and interaction.

  6. I think I like the first ending better but hard to be sure since it’s gone. :). It read much better this morning after a night’s sleep. I now knew he was schizo but then felt robbed of the pleasure of that earned understanding by your new announcement of a diagnosis. Whether some of the fog shrouding the old last verse would have cleared off overnight as well, I only can wonder. Seems like the f**ked-up something is, the better I’m exercised by it.

  7. David – Yeah, I might have overcompensated with too much narrative omniscience this time. I’ll give it a rest and maybe something else will occur to me. This storytelling business is hard work! Thanks for the feedback.

    Bill – It’s always tough to know how much to tell vs. how much to trust the reader. Again, judging from your reactions, I may have overcompensated this time.

  8. Hmm. I can still read both endings, thanks to the “see previous version” feature in NetNewsWire.

    I prefer the first, although I find the phrase “as far gone as I was into the solipsism of make-believe Zen” very difficult to understand.

    Fantastic pictures.

  9. When in doubt, cut it out, I always say.

    (I’m recording these edits here so that subsequent readers of the thread won’t think the earliest commenters were completely nuts.)

  10. Hmm…. better, but, still with the five-dollar words! ;-) (Back in high school, even I wouldn’t have thought about “servicable assumptions”, and they called me “the professor”!) How about something like “Actually, she had no idea, but it was something to say, a beginning…”

  11. PS: If you really want to bring in the mathematics, you need to introduce it earlier in her tale, a thought like that depends on a whole world-view!

  12. All good thoughts. I probably won’t fiddle with this so-called story any more, though, unless inspiration strikes, because inspiration is precisely what was lacking from the very beginning — except for the photos.

  13. I like it as it stands, I think. That was a “what the hell???” of admiration, by the way.

    “Bonta can still surprise me,” I told Martha.

    The pictures are what ratchet it up so tight. Whatever I may mean by that :-)

  14. Wow, wait to comment, and you can really get far back in the queue!

    Anyway, I missed the first ending, but the ending here is pretty good. What this seems like to me is a folk song. The images are good for it in sort of a “Deliverance” way. A good folk song ending would not be so open-ended, though. They’d just up and die, or go to jail, or hurt each other real bad.

  15. It starts out all lyrical, this post, but gets kind of flat by the end. I’ve written much better in this vein, I think. But yeah, if I were to decide to try and strengthen it, your comment does suggest one good approach. (As you know, I have a particular affection for those kinds of songs.)

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