You watch as the guard feeds today’s lesson into the VCR. The smell of gun oil from the guard’s AK-47 reminds you to pay attention or else.
You try to focus on this installment of American history, how their version of the truth lost to the right version of truth as god intended, how the country is blessed to breathe in the holy spirit day in and day out. You cough up something oily in your hand, study the flecks of blood in the gob resting in your palm. The cock of the AK-47 tells you to look up and pay attention, or else.
You are grateful that the mermaid’s last name starts with C and yours starts with M. You are close enough to map the beauty marks on the nape of her neck. You think about what her earlobes would taste like, whether her sweat is chemically equivalent to the pills you take to reduce how much blood you cough up. The mermaid must feel your eyes because she turns her head to look at you. Just as your eyes meet, the guard fires a warning volley above your heads. Blood trickles from the fresh bullet holes in the ceiling and covers up how hard you’re really blushing.
The guard feeds today’s lesson into the VCR. It’s the same one as yesterday as it was the day before. You know this when the orange faced teacher in his American flag blazer appears on the screen. He pulls the pointer out of his blazer, extends it, and says let’s begin in the way that conveys he’s excited to teach you this lesson, as he was yesterday, as he was the day before yesterday.
You are used to seeing the same lesson over and over and over again. The state believes in the importance of repetition. You know better to question their facts after you watched your best friend, the girl with the melting face, almost lose her kneecap when she disagreed with the proctor of your science midterm.
You still feel underwater after last night from all the wine you drank, your mouth stuffed with wool, but it was worth it. The boy who coughs up oil maintained his composure. Even as he showed you the first star you’ve ever seen, he kept his hands and mouth to himself. You turn your head to look at him. Just as your eyes meet, the guard fires a warning volley above your heads. You watch the blood trickle from the bullet holes in the ceiling onto the boy’s forehead and cheeks. You turn back to your lesson after the guard cocks the AK-47, again.
You hope the boy doesn’t do anything stupid. The last boy who was into you, the one-armed one, rushed the proctor who shot your best friend. You thought it was romantic, even when he tried to say goodbye through the new hole in his throat, his vocabulary unable to clot. You used to think you were worth dying over until someone died on your behalf. You want to ask the boy who coughs up oil out, make the first move, to show him there is hope, to show him there is something worth living for, as intact as a boy who coughs up oil could be.
J. Bradley is the author of The Adventures of Jesus Christ, Boy Detective (Pelekinesis, 2016) and the Yelp review prose poem collection Pick How You Will Revise A Memory (Robocup Press, 2016). He lives at jbradleywrites.com.