Fan Friction

The first day of class, the teacher had us all sign a paper saying that we waived our right to complain about the fan. The contract was one page, with the terms of the agreement printed in a few brief lines at the top and more than enough lines for all of us to sign underneath. None of us knew exactly what “the fan” was, but we all signed nevertheless. We were concerned that we wouldn’t be able to take the class otherwise. Once he had all of our signatures, the teacher taped this paper to the side of a portable box fan, reminding us of our agreement.

He kept the fan on his desk, facing out towards the class. He would turn it at various angles from time to time, so that at one time or another, everyone had the experience of having this fan blowing in their face. Needless to say, it was irritating. It would dry out our eyes and blow dust into our faces, and it would blow our pencils and papers off our desks. Sometimes the teacher would carry the fan by the handle, and he would walk around the class with it as he gave his lecture. He would stop to make some point or another, and he would stand there with the fan propped up on the top of someone’s desk, blowing directly at them, and he would look around at the class and go on talking, not acknowledging the fan at all, pretending like he didn’t notice that he was holding it right in someone’s face.

There were two girls who sat right in front of his desk that really got the worst of it. Nearly every class, one of them would finally break and throw her pencil down and ask, “Do you have to have that fan blowing on us all the time? Can you please just turn it off!?” And he would reply, “No, you signed the contract. Anyone else have any questions?” He always said it that way, the sentence already half crumpled up and thrown in the waste basket before immediately moving on to other things. Maybe this was supposed to be a lesson to us to be careful what we signed. Maybe he liked getting on our nerves. Maybe he just really liked his fan. He never did say.


The Other Lane

I was up along the lake front of Lake Erie, driving around a sleepy small town there with its shady yards and closely packed colonial houses and its patchwork streets of brick and asphalt and stone. I was cutting down a particularly narrow side street, and there was a garbage truck sitting along the curb on the other side of the street, and the garbage men had jumped down and they were collecting the bags and cans that had been left out on the curb for them. As I approached the spot where the garbage truck was sitting, an old red pickup truck came growling out from behind the garbage truck, and it was running straight at me in my lane. I had to swerve off the road and run aground on someone’s front lawn to avoid the collision.

I started pounding on the horn with my fist and flipping the man off, waving my hand out the window and high in the air like a declaration of war. The truck slammed to an abrupt stop as it came alongside where I had wiped out in the yard. A man with a grizzly white beard shoved his face out the window and started screaming at me. He told me that he was a house painter for something and sons company or whatever, as if that excused his actions, as if to say that he was someone important in this town and he could drive in whatever lane he wanted and whichever direction he wanted. I yelled back that he had almost hit me, that he had made me wreck my car. I pointed to the double yellow line that ran down the center of the street, clearly indicating that passing wasn’t allowed. None of this made the slightest difference to the man. He just huffed and gripped his steering wheel like he was going to tear it off the dashboard and hurl it at me.

People all around began to appear, in doorways, up on balconies, from around the back of their garages. They all stared at me with the same hostility as the old painter in the truck, and I saw that they were all with him. He actually was considered someone important in the town. They all began to gather on the scene. But I wasn’t worried. I could just put the car back into drive, hit the gas, and be clear of the situation in a matter of seconds, spraying mud and grass from the turfed up yard in my wake.

But just as I went to do exactly that, I found that my hand reaching for the gear shift was grabbing at nothing but air. The car had disappeared out from under me. Now I was on foot. Now I was in trouble. All the angry town’s people were closing on me. Even the garbage men had left their cans laying all over the yard and were coming down the street towards me. I faked this way and then that, and then I sprinted towards an opening where I saw sunlight down at the end of a shady boulevard of trees. Everyone fell in behind me, chasing me as a group, sweeping more people into their mob as they went by the sheer gravity of their anger and their energy.

I came to a busier section of town and I ducked into a cramped little town store that sold cigarettes and lottery tickets and beer. The man behind the counter was alarmed at the way that I rushed in, and he started yelling something, but I was already out another door on the other side of the store before he managed to get out much more than an couple of loud grunts and angry noises. The other door let out onto a park of some sort where there was a sloping field with a grove of trees, and past that, running for it with all my strength, I could see the beach and the waves and the boats riding the thin blue line where the lake met the sky.

Clock Workers

I woke up and there was a crew of workers in my bedroom, cleaning and fixing and dismantling everything. One of them had taken the light bulb out of the bedside lamp. He was wearing black gloves, and he held the light bulb by the base in one hand while he used a feather duster to lightly dust it with the other. He held it up, contemplating its inner filament as though the bulb contained a miniature world of industry waiting to be illuminated. Another man had taken the back off of the alarm clock, and he was studying the gears inside with an eyepiece and poking at its inner mechanisms with a set of picks and tweezers designed for small, delicate work.

Across the room, by the window, there were two other men. One of them sat on the edge of the bed in front of a cart with a carousel slide projector on it, holding the trigger that advanced the slides, and the other stared out the window at the view, scratching his chin and thinking. Every time the man working the slide projector clicked the trigger, the scene outside the window would change. Summer, spring, fall. Mountains and pastures and rainy city streets. And the man at the window took his time considering each one. The thing he seemed to find the most important was how thoughtful the light cast back through the window from each scene made him look. He would draw himself up in various poses and attitudes, and when these failed to satisfy him, he would gesture to the man at the projector to advance to the next slide.

None of them had noticed yet that I had woken up, and when I yelled, “Hey!” they all stopped and looked at me. “You don’t need to do any of this. It’s fine,” I told them. They all looked at one another, knowing smirks spreading across their faces. They kept nodding to each other and repeating what I had said, “You don’t need to do any of this. It’s fine,” as though this were a source of sly amusement that I couldn’t comprehend. Finally another worker came forward, one that I hadn’t noticed before in the room. He swapped out the pillows that lay behind me against the headboard and replaced them with fresh ones. Then he placed his hand on my shoulder and eased me back down onto the bed, shushing me as I drifted back. This had the intended effect, and I got very tired, and I faded back off to sleep before I even felt my head come to rest against the pillows.

Bringing the Wolves

I came across a wedding taking place in a clearing deep in the woods under the open grey sky. The white chairs for the guests were set up in a semi-circle. It was late in the year and the ground was covered in crunching snow and dead leaves, and there were colored lights strung up in the bare branches of the trees around the clearing. About a third of the chairs were filled with guests, and the guests were all sitting in groups and clusters, talking amongst themselves and paying no real attention to the bride and the groom and the preacher, who were standing under a tree at one corner of the clearing. Most of the guests weren’t even looking in that direction.

And all the while, the bride, the groom, and the preacher stood in their places saying nothing. The couple just gazed at one another, beaming with sublime joy, and the preacher stared down at the Bible open in his hands, occasionally smoothing his fingers over a passage on the page that he seemed eager to read aloud. They were either waiting for someone or something to arrive so that they could begin the ceremony, or they were simply going to stand there all day as a decorative centerpiece to the general celebration of their matrimony. In fact, some of the guests had already wandered over to the table with the punch bowl and refreshments that was set up in the back behind the chairs, and a band was already playing light, festive music over by the tree line at the other end of the clearing. There was no sense that the guests were waiting for anything. It just looked like this was how they planned to spend the day.

As I wandered through the rows of chairs, I noticed that many of the children of the guests were sniffling and coughing, and some of them even looked pale and feverish. One boy glanced up at me as I passed by, and he pouted as he wiped his nose across his sleeve. I started thinking that it was inconsiderate for the bride and the groom to make everyone bring their sick kids deep out into the cold woods for their wedding. I took a wool cap that the boy was holding in his hands and popped it up onto his head and patted him on the back. The brim of the cap just dropped forward as the boy stared down at his cold empty fingers, balling them into little red fists to keep them warm.

I thought that maybe the thing to do would be to start a fire. I figured that I could get a small group of the guests together, and we could gather sticks and fallen branches from the woods and get a nice size fire going in a back corner of the clearing that wasn’t being used. I looked around at the scattered guests. The largest group was in the middle section of the chairs. They all seemed to be clustered closely around a woman at the middle of the group who was cradling a bundle in her arms. Some strained to lean forward over the backs of the chairs in front of them, while others were turned around with their knees on their seats. They were all smiling and pointing at the bundle.

As I came closer, I saw that it was something wrapped in a coat, and as I leaned in, I saw the furry nose of a small wolf cub peek up from behind a fold of the coat’s hood. I was immediately as enchanted as everyone else was. I brought a finger up and tickled the air a little in front of the cub’s nose. He nipped at it with his sharp teeth, and I snatched my finger back, and everyone laughed. I did it again and snatched it back just in time. He stared up at me from his warm bundle, the sky and the shadows of some of the taller-reaching trees showing in the darker portions of his eye.

Ever so softly, I began to let out a low howl, fainter than the winter wind, trying to entice something in the wolf cub’s newborn spirit. I let the sound of it trail off and fade on the air, and I smiled to see the cub perk up and lift itself up off the woman’s lap. I pursed my lips, preparing to howl again, but the woman gave me a pointed but quiet hiss and told me to stop. “You can’t be doing that. You’ll bring the other wolves.” And I looked around and saw that everyone else was staring at me, stern and serious. Someone at the back of the group slowly shook their head.

But somehow I couldn’t bring myself to stop, or maybe I just didn’t care to heed these admonitions. I threw my head back and let out a loud, piercing howl that rang across the clearing. I caught my breath, and then did it again. And then again. And then yet again. I scanned the faces of the crowd with a grin on my face, but no one else was laughing. Everyone was looking away from me in all directions, towards the edge of the clearing on all sides. The bride and the groom were clinging to to each other, and the preacher was turning to look over his shoulder. The band had stopped playing abruptly. The accordian let out a long whine as it slowly collapsed in the accordian player’s hands. The fiddle player stopped with his bow in mid-stroke. I turned around to see what they were all staring at, and the grin died on my face. There on the edge of the woods all around us stood the wolves, evenly spaced, their eyes narrow and hot and hungry in the raw air.

The Laundromat

I was walking through the vacant parking lot of a dark office building. Dry powdered snow blew in swirls across the pavement, and little pellets of ice spit in the air. The clouds hung low and black, and the only light was from a thin break far off along the edge of the horizon behind me. I walked over to my car parked in the first row along the curb, the only car parked in the lot, and I saw that there was something piled in a loose heap on the top of the trunk. As I got closer, I saw that it was a thick cotton blanket. I knew this blanket. It kept showing up in my life. Someone kept leaving it behind for me in different places, wanting me to take it. They left it on tables and chairs with a note bearing my name attached to it. They left it on my desk at work. I found it at the bottom of gift boxes. I found it on beds next to my coat as I was leaving parties.

And now here it was, left on the trunk of my car. By leaving it here, they were insisting that I take it. This was a final gesture of exasperation. They had dumped it there on the trunk as if to say that they were done with it, that it was my blanket now and I could do what I wanted with it as long as it was out of their sight. I grabbed a handful of it and pulled an end of it up to look at it. It was heavy and damp and growing stiff from the cold. It was colored in patterns of orange and red and blue, but it had grown ratty and old and all the colors had faded and blended into a dull pink.

I was standing there still holding the edge of this blanket, wrinkling my nose at it, when a married couple came jogging across the parking lot. As they passed by, I called out to them, “I guess someone really wants me to have this blanket.” As I said this, the woman broke off from her husband and she came jogging over to me. She grabbed two corners of the blanket and she held it up to look at it. She said that it looked like a fine blanket. But I complained that it was wet and cold and it had been left outside picking up who knows what sorts of germs. I couldn’t imagine using it on my bed at home.

The woman assured me that that wouldn’t be a problem. She rolled the blanket up and tucked it under her arm, and I followed her as she rounded the corner of the office building. When we came around, the light flicked on in one of the windows on the first floor. I saw that it was the light of a storefront window. It was the only window that was lit in the whole dark building. There were letters on the glass that said “laundromat”, and the shadows of the letters were elongated and written across the frozen ground. There was a neon sign saying that they were open 24 hours. The place seemed to have just appeared there for our benefit.

We went inside, and I dug in my pockets for some loose change, and we washed the blanket in one of the washing machines and dried it one of the dryers. There was a coffee pot brewing with free coffee for the customers. I drank a few cups while I waited, and I thumbed through some of the old magazines that were left scattered on the tables beside the chairs in the waiting area. When the blanket was done drying, the woman folded it neatly on the counter and she presented it to me with a bright smile. “See, it’s just fine,” she told me. The blanket was warm and clean and it smelled like fabric softener. I held it close and nodded. Outside, beyond the storefront window, the snow was beginning to fall in thicker, wetter flakes.