HOLLYWOOD—“You're a loser,” Kit yelled.
“Quiet Kit,” Jason warned his daughter. “The neighbors can hear you.”
“I don't care!”
To endure piercing shouts and have stuffed animals, dishes and accusations of failure hurled at you, can have a more sudden tranquilizing effect than the most potent sleeping pill. Jason's eyelids became leaden. When the scene was over—and it was a horrendous scene—he lay down on bed clothed in his jacket and necktie, and slept like a baby.
In the morning he took Kit to school. She relaxed into the good-hearted kid she was, and chattered about her friends and did devastating mimicry of the snooty kids she met at Beverly Hills Elementary. The dust-caked Sentra entered the neurotic stream of SUVs and Mercedes that swarmed just before the bell, and they entered the beehive where frantic moms and dads braked just long enough, and their backpacked and T-shirted youngsters bailed outside and streaked toward the schoolyard gates.
Jason breathed a sigh of relief. After somebody honked—maybe at him, maybe not—he drove a dozen yards up to the crosswalk minded possessively by a guard whose whistle sputtered at the slightest encroachment on the safety of the children she shepherded across the walk. He witnessed Kit shouldering her heavy pack and his heart went out to her. What she was going through at the age of eight, after her mother's death, he couldn't begin to fathom. Another honk shook Jason from his reflections.
“Jerk!” he said to himself.
Jason retreated to the Dharma Cafe, for a few guilty hours: he should be preparing for class. Instead, he looked for roles on his laptop and submitted. One was a commercial that paid well. One small tragedy marred the moment.
His cup, his dear ceramic cup with his name on it, painted in a star, broke on the cafe's concrete floor when his clumsily grabbed it. It had been last one of two matching mugs friends had given them when they left
Ohio. Suzanne had broken hers long ago; Jason kept his at the Dharma Cafe. The cracking of the cup caught in his chest: he saw the sharp-edge wedges of broken ceramic and was pinioned by an impulse to glue it back together. Then he talked himself out of this sentimental lost cause (then again aren't all sentimental causes lost?) and told himself that breaking the cup was perhaps a good omen of acting success. It had happened to Suzanne.
“Jason, I'll take care of it,” said the barista. She bent down, so sexily, and retrieved the pieces and took away the temptation to repair the irreparable.
Jason sped down the Hollywood Freeway in the afternoon, the burden of teaching lightened as never before. It just didn't matter. The school in
Sun Valley was closing down; in a week it would be shuttered; it was so freeing not to have the burden. Jason became truly a new person, light of tread, expansive of horizon, he was truly present.
He responded to an urge to come earlier and earlier and sit in empty classroom 39, waiting for the students to trail in. He drank it in, smelled the lingering teen scent, hear the wall clock click away the minutes: this was all fading away before his eyes.
“Oh, maestro, there's nobody here,” chirped the first student who walked in.
“You are,” Jason said.
After reviewing the alphabet with one of those long games that were fun and used up a lot of time, nearly a dozen students had shown up. He handed back the homework from the previous night. Showing his students that it mattered, that he cared. Oddly, his sense of duty increased against the background of futility, it was all so sweet and damned. Once the agenda had been to elongate the time, drag it out; now it was to squeeze in as much as possible.
He owed the students that attention. A class was always like having 20 children to care for, and at long last, he cared and relaxed. The end was near, and summertime was in sight. He was going over yesterday's dictation questions on the board, and could hear the whispering and titters. A guy named Cristian and two of the girls. He put down his dry-erase marker with subdued wrath. Mouth closed, he silently strolled over the edge of their desks, crossed his arms and glared. The three students kept jabbering as if Jason were invisible.
He deposited his dry-erase marker on an empty desk. He didn't raise his voice a decibel. Silently, serenely, Jason buttoned his jacket and stepped out of the room, into the warmth of the fading day. He proceeded down the walkway. Midway between his room and the office, he put his back against a wall of lockers, breathed deeply to his diaphragm, his body taut as a bow, then kicked away and continued to the office.
(to be continued)