Redefining north.

Textbook Endings by Kelsey Englert

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PN's editor-in-chief Jennifer A. Howard on today's bonus story: Kelsey Englert's flash feels important and timely: for teachers, readers, writers, people living in this too-often ugly world. Who among us hasn't let what's coming next distract us from what we've already done wrong.

Textbook Endings

“Students, do you understand? The confirmation of gravitational waves is extraordinary!” Mr. Hazaki announced from the front of the classroom. He squeezed the rolled-up pile of papers in his hand, waving it as he spoke. “Einstein called it. Then it took the rest of the brains a century to prove it.”

Someone in the back row yawned. Notebooks rustled on desks as we started packing up early.

Sometimes I felt guilty that we wouldn’t match his enthusiasm. Hazaki ran pink and yellow highlighters all over articles on technological advancements every morning and shared them with our tenth grade history class at the end of each class period. He wanted us in awe. He proclaimed that a tech company had developed a new, superior cell phone battery with the same energy a person would announce, “Holy shit, aliens just touched down in the cornfield outside!” He wanted us to jump up and paste ourselves to the window of his announcements. To Hazaki, every advancement needed to be celebrated as a ground-breaking, an earth-shattering, a utopia-has-arrived achievement.

He stood in front of us with the same wrinkled khakis he wore every day and one of five sweaters he kept on weekly rotation. “Innovation is everything,” he’d say, eyes glimmering. “Evolve or die.”

We suspected his loafers were weighed down with steel. Otherwise, he would have bounced off the walls with enthusiasm.

We hated it.

We also sort of liked it. We couldn’t say that, but there was something about his energy that made us laugh on the inside, even if our bored exteriors never cracked. The tiny, balding, middle-aged man loved his job. We knew he wanted us to love what he loved. He wanted it so badly. He’d tell us about the newest advancement in sole inserts for footwear arch support and say, “Isn’t this wonderful?” like he might cry right there in front of twenty indifferent, average, going-nowhere students. We didn’t even understand arch support. We walked through the halls with five-dollar foam sandals thonged to our feet. We had different color flip flops for every day of the week.

But we’d half-heartedly nod at him, and he’d ask us with more pep in his voice, as though he could springboard us out of the teenage coma with his enthusiasm. We couldn’t find pep. But when Marky asked if we were ever going to get to the Vietnam War part of the textbook, Hazaki said, “Yes, of course, maybe, if we have time.” We knew we wouldn’t. And it had to be assigned. We weren’t going to turn to the end and read it on our own. Somehow, no matter the history course, we never made it past World War II. The Holocaust. That got us by the throats. It squeezed us and wouldn’t let go, wouldn’t let us find out what happened to our grandfathers in Korea or our dads in Vietnam. Hazaki knew exactly what happened to his grandfather; we got that far.

We probably can’t blame the Holocaust though. If Hazaki would have just cut out all the technology talk at the end of each class, we could have made it to the Gulf War our older cousins never came home from.

Maybe it was a conspiracy. Maybe our soldier grandpas paid Hazaki not to tell us.

Either way, we didn’t know the war stories of our living.

But we knew that there was a laser procedure that burned the brown melanin out of the anterior layers of the iris to reveal the blue underneath. All the brown eyes are really blue below the surface. Just shovel the shit to the side.

Kelsey Englert’s writing has appeared in The Citron ReviewBartleby Snopes, and The Broken Plate, among other literary magazines. She is a Pennsylvania native and earned her MA in creative writing from Ball State University and MFA in creative writing from West Virginia University. She currently teaches at the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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