Errata Literary Magazine
Bucks County Writers Workshop
The Cupboard was Bare by C. G. Bauer
I hate this dream. Prickly silver fencing is jammed into the rolling green countryside. The building is a gray and black stone, covered in ivy. The classroom is enormous, like a movie theater with stadium seating. I'm away from the rest of the class, near the top of the seats, so far up I can barely read the note on the blackboard: "Test Tomorrow."
Shit. Tomorrow means today.
I forgot to study. Also forgot my notebook, my pen and my pants. But I must like this class because I'm as erect as a thousand-watt antenna and there's no hiding it. Just look at that rascal, poised and in the ready, out there sampling the airwaves... reaching for the sky... searching for signals.
Someone is sitting behind me. I get to class early in this dream, always early, and this guy Donald is always right there in the row behind me. The same for the other two guys three seats away, one to my left and one to my right. Hi, Phillip. Hi, Marvin. Donald hands me a spiral notebook. 'Jack's Notebook,' it says on the cover. It's no real help. The damn thing's empty. But the cover is beautiful. Crayon doodles surround my name, with hearts and flowers and lots of doodled crucifixes. Donald's got an extra crayon. He puts it into my folded hands. I'm a crucifix-doodling fool.
Class begins. I love the coliseum feel of the room. "Bring on the lions!" I shout. And a few good Christians, I add under my breath, but there's only one God-fearing person in the room, and I'm not budging. The class picks up the chant. "Bring on the lions!" we all shout. The instructor calms us, then she asks, "Who's going first?"
This course is an easy A. It's a Home Ec course, or some shit like that. Wait... "Daily Living," Donald calls it. Go figure. A class in a private school where sleepless schizoids learn to live on their own. Like I said, an easy A. But it still makes me cringe.
Please don't call on me please please please I didn't study I'm not prepared I'm only dreaming. Pick him. Pick that Jerry-Mathers-looking guy near the front. Yeah, him. Good.
She picked the Beaver. The Beav stands next to the kitchen stove in front of the class. He fills the silver pot with water, three measured cups, then sets the pot back down. He turns on the electric burner. Beaver really knows his shit. He tells us what he's doing step-by-step because he's got the instructor's wireless mike around his neck. She's impressed, this instructor. The water boils. Beaver turns off the hot burner then moves the pot to the cool burner. Excellent, the instructor says. Beaver is excused and leaves the classroom through a door down in front.
"Remember to..." the instructor calls to him, but she's too late. She's always too late. Beaver's in the john, pissing like a racehorse, and we all get to hear it because he didn't turn off the mike. "Hey Beav, more than one shake means you're playing with it!" I yell, but he doesn't hear me. One of these schmucks gets away with this trick every dream. I think maybe I saw it in a movie once. Class is dismissed. No test for me today.
"Stop worrying," Donald says. "She won't call on you. Never has, never will." Like I really give a shit. This dream will be over soon. I swear to God it better be over soon.
"We'll need to stay a few extra minutes, Jack."
"You know why. The sooner you stop touching it, the sooner we can go." "But if my antenna goes down I won't get the messages. Just a few more seconds, Donald, that's all I need. There might be messages..." "Jack, stop doing that."
The messages arrive. All of them, all at once. OH YESSSSS. I pump them all out: Cram the microphone up the instructor's ass. Your Lord God the Creator says slam Beaver's head against the burner. Crush Donald's face. Eat more Frosted Flakes. Boil Phillip's balls... Maim... Kill...
"Okay. We can go now, Donald."
Donald stands an arms-length away as he drapes a robe over my shoulders. I hold it closed between my hands, just to humor him. I shuffle as we leave the building, my hands and feet connected, braided steel scraping the sidewalk in my wake. It's a dream thing, this shuffling is, same as the steel. Steel hands, steel feet, steel curly-cues atop the fencing, their razor points mirroring the noonday sun.
"God gave me some things to do," I say to Donald as we walk. "I need to decide which one to pick."
There's a forced march of white cotton jackets the width of three men following close behind me. Phillip's on the right, Marvin's on the left. Donald's in the middle, a stun gun in his hand. "Pick the one with the cereal, Jack. Always pick the one with the cereal."
Sure thing, Donald. Woulda done the same at home, too, except momma left the Frosted Flakes off her grocery list. God knows she won't do that again.