Chuck Wendig had thrown down the gauntlet again, asking his loyal minions to write a 500 word story using the title of the next song to come up on your IPod as the title. Mine was "Message In A Bottle" by the Police. The inspiration is actually from another Police song, interestingly. 10 points if you know which one.
I was sitting there and deliberately tearing the labels of my beer bottles, carefully isolating the letters and leaving them face up in front of me on the bar top. There weren't that many letters on a beer label that were big enough to read. But then again, I had consumed more than one. It was a clear enough example of instability that the bartenders hovered close, ready for me to do something dramatic, like swing a punch at someone. I didn't do that, just kept tearing and ripping, arranging my little alphabet on the bar surface.
I love words and letters. Always have. Like every English teacher I know, I have a virtual drawer full of stories and novels, finished and not, submitted and rejected works of genius and folly. I read voraciously, pun incessantly, play Words With Friends. Fonts fascinate me. Whenever backed into a corner by lies I have told or actions I have taken unwisely, I have been able to use some fast talking and clever wordplay to get out of danger, generally speaking. Until last month, I reminded myself.
It was unforgivable, and yet I did it anyway. It was, ironically enough, not even a crime. She was two weeks past her eighteenth birthday, and, since all grades had been submitted, we in theory didn't even have a teacher-student relationship any more. It was creepy, sure. It crossed all sorts of boundaries, pedagogical and moral and ethical. It raised questions, that was the main thing- and once the media got a hold of it, thanks to one of her jealous little friends, all they cared about was containing the damage and making it go away. They paid me a decent sum, along with an ironclad confidentiality agreement, not to fight my dismissal from the Hampshire Hills School.
I guess I was too dazed by the spotlight to fully intuit what I was doing to myself, because I soon realized I was utterly unemployable. When you type my name into Google, the first several pages are references to "Hampshire Hills' Humbert ". I appreciated the way that it took my starting a sex scandal to get Nabokov's novel some attention. I was no Humbert, of course- my nymphet was a woman, legally and otherwise. But as with everything else this summer, it didn't matter what I said, or what the truth was- I was judged before I could clear my throat.
I didn't know how much longer I could drink away the hush money. I knew I had had too much, though- the edges of the letters in front of me were starting to swim. I was, in the words of Paul Simon, a one trick pony- all I knew how to do, all I cared about and loved and lived for, was literature and words and letters and sentences and showing people how to appreciate them.
I looked down at the letters on the bar. "GONE," they spelled.