Friday, January 15, 2010

The Workshop: Tara Dwyer

Pass or Fail

Outside the window of my empty classroom, dry leaves skitter into the lunch trash left behind in the muddy courtyard: accordianed soda cans, checkerboard french fry trays smeared with ketchup, chocolate chip muffin wrappers and vending machine mess. A janitor drags an institutional trash bin behind her to sweep the garbage from the picnic tables.

It’s almost 5 pm and the sun wanes above the weather vane perched atop the crackling painted cupola. 5 pm is high school witching hour, creepy like an off season fun park. In the halls, another janitor passes my door, on the industrial floor waxer zamboni. He nods at me. I sit with a stack of essays about what teenagers can understand of realism in The Red Badge of Courage.

My desk is coffee rings, pencil shavings, chalk dust and greasy student work. I notice the I Can’t Believe It’s Not margarine tub. It’s out of place and placed out of the way, almost enough to miss beside the dying spider plant. I note the lightness of the tub in my hands. It feels empty. I open it. Tucked inside, the tarantula’s molted form rests belly side up on an autumn leaf patterned folded paper towel. A rose body cavity with eight holes like a rotary telephone dial show where the new slid free from the old, leaving behind hollow legs covered with fine hairs.

Later, an email from him: “I left my thing about courage on your desk.”

creation note: When I was in 10th grade, a kid I hardly knew came up to me in the hallway at school with a margarine tub. He opened the lid to reveal a molted tarantula's skin. I asked him what it was for and he said, "English Class". I haven't forgotten that encounter and how bizarre a thing it was bring into English class-- what could the connection be? What were they doing in class? I wrote this short piece after encountering a current student much like the tarantula tub kid from my memories. After several years in the public school system, it's been quite a sociological eye opener to see all of the different archetypes of people out there when they're 14 years old, and also to see how history repeats itself with different clothes and music.

Bio: Tara Dwyer has an MFA in Fiction from George Mason University and currently works as a high school English teacher.

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