Indirect Object (Part Two) by Susan McCarty
“Okay, the four kinds of reading passages are social sciences, humanities, natural sciences and prose fiction’.” Prose fiction, he hated the clunky redundancy the term seemed to carry with it. It confused the students, although pretty much everything confused the students. Confused students. There was another redundancy. Stated as an analogy: fiction is made of prose just as students are made of confusion. Unfortunately, there are no analogies on the ACT.
He tells Mackenzie to do her homework now, in front of him. She reads four passages and he skims them with her so that he can ask her questions about them. The humanities passage is a brutal piece of business jargon, a parody of itself. It is, in fact, completely devoid of humanity.
He asks her the main idea of the prose fiction passage, which is the beginning of Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. He asks her to tell him the correct order of events which scientists use to describe the eventual death of our star, the sun. He says, “I’m going to read you part of one passage and you tell me the main idea. ‘In today’s markets, leveraging best practices in order to improve margins above and beyond those of the competition necessitates constant assessment and reassessment.’”
What emptiness, he thinks. He thinks of his Ludwig. ‘What we can say at all can be said clearly.’ If Wittgenstein was alive today, he would definitely kill himself, like three of his brothers before him.
Mackenzie answers each question without actually proving that she has retained a shred of information from or impression of any of the passages. He gets the notion that she had just been sitting there, staring at the test booklet margins for fifteen minutes rather than reading the passages. When he asks her a question, her eyes skitter, panicked, across the page, and she spits out words as she sees them in the text, hopping from one important-sounding word to the next, stringing together sentences with incorrect prepositions, running across the bridge of her answer as it collapses under her. This is how it goes for an hour. As she skulks out of the room at the end of their session, her Uggs wink at him under the fluorescents, as if they are flirting with him, and he sees in a flash how she will grow up to be a selfish and incurious adult, probably while making a lot of money. How she would trade her Uggs for breathtakingly expensive heels and pay someone to wax her pubic hair. He sees the pink cocktails. Maybe she would aspire to appear on “The Bachelor.” She might make a good Bachelorette. He can see she will perform the signs of cultural femininity without being particularly attractive, yet she will read to other adults as attractive, even if her skin is orange, and her lips too pink. He makes his final marks on her chart and puts her binder aside. He picks up the next binder in his pile, makes a mark on the front page of his chart and waits for the next client to appear.
The tutor pokes his head out of the tutoring lab and scans the waiting room. It is Tuesday at four, Peter’s usual time, but no Peter.
He sits at his tutoring table and draws lopsided prisms in his notebook. He draws a dog sitting, a side view. He draws a car that seems to be going somewhere but isn’t. He draws a crude map of the world and fills in the continents so that they look like turds. He puts a dot in the middle of the North America turd. You are here. Here you are. Here. The sound of students saying stupid things is all around him, choking him. The air is out of the room, which smells strongly of pencil shavings and reheated meat gravy which wafts out into the tutoring room from the kitchenette. The tutor puts Peter’s binder back and tells the front desk he’s a no-show.
When he gets home, the tutor eats a frozen pizza and watches “The Apprentice” and feels superior to the stupid, conniving people on the show, to the dummies watching the show, to the people who are tricked into thinking they feel anything for the connivers who are not people as much as caricatures of people—“people”—like that, in scare quotes. He watches TV and feels superior to practically the whole country, which is the only way he knows to make up for the loneliness.
(End of part two. Check back tomorrow for part three, or click here to read part one.)
Susan McCarty‘s stories and essays have appeared in The Iowa Review, the Utne Reader, The Collagist, Conjunctions, Indiana Review, Willow Springs, and other journals. Once upon a time, she was an assistant editor at Penguin and Avalon Books. More recently, she’s been an administrative fellow for FC2, an artist-in-residence at VCCA, and a Steffensen-Cannon scholar. She has an MFA from Vermont College and a PhD from the University of Utah. She teaches creative writing at Salisbury University.