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Posted in LITERATURE
2 Feb ’17

Turtles by Liu Yutang

1.
On the morning Avram Codreu died, Parker took an early break, locked himself in the hospital storage room and cried. To see Codreu through to the last, he’d volunteered for double-shifts and it had been two days since he’d slept. His eyes were bloodshot, his intestines bound up like knotted rope, and his hands wouldn’t stay still. He kept tugging at the waistline of his top, fiddling with the band of his watch. One of those hands had been squeezed by the old man as he died. It was sore, bruised, what Parker imagined a roughly nursed breast must feel like. In those last minutes, Codreu had squeezed with his cold fingers, and then squeezed harder.

“It’ll be okay,” Parker had lied less than four days ago while changing Codreu’s IV. “Just hang on.” He’d felt like shit lying like that. He tried never to lie to a patient. It was unethical and arrogant. But still he’d known Codreu’s days were numbered and he didn’t have the balls to tell him the truth.

Codreu had scowled and responded with a coughing fit that sent blood splattering across his hospital gown.

“They ringing the first bells,” he said in clipped English.

Codreu’s condition deteriorated rapidly. It was that brief accelerated stage that those who’d worked in ICU a decent amount of time called “waving from the train.” Meaningless rambles of conversation mumbled through his chapped lips as if he were trying to fit the disparate experiences of his life together like a puzzle. He wanted to impose an order and a sense to his tragedies. And there was one word he kept returning to, even as his hand grew cold and heavy and his grip so tight that it almost felt as if he were trying to pull Parker along with him — “Skola.” At that moment, it wasn’t because Codreu had died that Parker was crying but because of this word — a word Codreu’s doctor had told him meant school. Parker, to his surprise and shame, was crying because in sixth grade he had been in love with a boy named Steven Lamar Hudson and had sent him a note. After school, Steven and several other boys had beaten Parker up, stripped off his clothes, and tied him naked to a mulberry tree.

The tree was in a copse of wood downhill from the school. There were no houses nearby and Parker entertained the idea that he might die of hunger or thirst before anyone found him. Despite this, he couldn’t help but feel there was someone watching him as if he were an animal in a zoo or a witless gold fish spinning around in an aquarium in some doctor’s office. It was humiliating. And the humiliation was even worse because he felt like Steven had betrayed him although no promise had crossed the boy’s lips. Parker had thought that because he loved Steven that imposed a duty on him, an unspoken promise. What you love shouldn’t hurt you. It was wrong.

Parker had been an ICU nurse off and on for five years, three years at Houston General, and the last two years at George Taylor Baptist International. Never before, except for maybe his first, had a patient’s death hit him so hard. You learned to emotionally distance yourself from the patients while you were doing your clinicals or you dropped out of nursing school altogether. There were no two ways about it. Some people saw this as harsh. But Parker had wanted to be in the thick of life and death. He’d wanted to see the harsh truths. The world was so full of protective obfuscation, of fairy tales and platitudes, and Parker wanted to go beyond them. He’d felt that as a nurse he could learn something essential, something someone somewhere had forgotten to tell him.

But Codreu had broken through and Parker couldn’t quite figure out why. He hadn’t been particularly endearing. In truth, he was something of a curmudgeon. He bitched about the temperature, his food, his doctor, the other patients. And he enjoyed nothing more than belittling America for this or that. Americans were greedy. They had too many credit cards. They laughed too loud. They were stupid.

In the end, maybe it was as simple as Codreu was alone and had no one else to grieve for him besides Parker. He deserved someone. But he was like too many of Parker’s past patients — left alone to die alone with only the television or the brusque words of an overworked staff for company. Parker would have loved to drag one of the fundamentalists so fond of declaiming other people’s tragedies as tests from God and forced them to look at Codreu. “You think he’s ready to take his test, yet? You think? Where are the guardian angels?” While he was still a small boy, Albanian rebels had shot Codreu’s parents. This was followed by a life of predatory adults and political crimes that took Codreu in and out of prison camps. Finally, when he dared start a new life, he had fled to the US with the help of the Red Cross. Two weeks later, he was diagnosed with an advanced case of stomach cancer.

Parker shook his head and looked surprised down at his lap. His hands had been busy.

Resting on his thigh like a mess of woody knitting was a pile of tongue dispensers Parker had bound together with surgical tape.
He had no idea what the contraption was. Not enough symmetry to be a little house nor was it a figure. Though he didn’t know what it was, he didn’t have to delve very deeply to understand why he had done it. It was an homage.

On the nightstand next to Codreu’s bed had been what they called Codreu’s tinks. While he retained his strength, the old man had clipped together bolts, wire, dowel rods, Popsicle sticks, anything and everything he could get his hands on into clever abstract sculptures. It became a sort of event for Parker and the Med Tech. to see what Codreu would make out of the junk they gave him. Star encrusted cubes, alien tableaus made from splinters. The most fascinating had been Codreu’s last one.

The bulk of it was a ball of thin wire wrapped around a daisy flower so that flower was trapped in the center of the ball. With shaking hands Codreu had applied his finishing touch, a bristling collection of roofing nails that protruded from the ball like the rays of the sun.

At first, Parker thought it kind of looked like a burr or a sea anemone. Whatever it was, he liked it. Before Codreu, he had never gone in for art that much. It was a nice thing to do with your extra time he supposed, calming, cathartic, but at the same time it was such an odd expenditure of energy. You could be helping people instead of diddling around. You could be doing all kinds of things. But Codreu’s sharp little sculptures had touched him. Whenever he heard something true, like the time Rick had told him he was incapable of being faithful, there was a tiny echo inside of him like a hand placed against his belly. He felt this with Codreu’s work. His sculptures seemed true though Parker had no idea what this thought meant. He just knew that he felt it.

“Parker?”

Carlita, the big Filipina nurse who took the shift after his, came in and gave him the once-over. Parker liked her. She was one of the few nurses that refused to take part in the routine backstabbing and trash talking that went on. He noticed that some crumbs left over from breakfast clung to her chin and he motioned wiping. She grinned and brushed them off, then adopted her “scolding mother” look.
“Meg said you’re not feeling so hot. Why don’t you knock off early, and go home?”

Parker was about to argue, but a wave of nausea swept through him. Yeah, maybe he should go home. Better home than getting chewed out for vomiting on a patient.

He rubbed his eyes. “You know, I just might do that. You sure it’s okay?”

“Oh, yeah. My little girl’s got a birthday coming up so I could use the extra money.” Carlita studied him a moment and said, “You’re not starting to take this crap too seriously are you?”

Parker shook his head.

She softened her voice. “Are things still going badly between you and Rick?”

“Yeah, well. When aren’t they? But yeah, I guess that’s what’s getting to me.”

“Well, and I’m saying this as a friend, remember there’s plenty of other guys out there. From everything you’ve said he’s a jerk. You could do better, Parker. You really could. If you ask me, and I know you’re not, you’ve got nurse syndrome.”

“I’ve got what?”

“You got this pathological need to take care of damaged people. I know. I was that way myself for a long time.”

Parker shrugged. “I’ll take it under advisement. Thanks, Carlita.” Thinking of Codreu’s tinks, Parker shuffled to the locker room to change.

2.

It was a little after five in the morning, when Parker left the front entrance of George Taylor. The streets were deserted except for some men unloading boxes from a truck across the street, and a young woman bicycling somewhere or other. Parker breathed in the air and felt better. It had that oily stink that Houston air always did but it was nice and chilled, hours away from becoming that humid gauzy atmosphere that Houston was so famous for. Too tired to walk the three miles home as he usually did, he cut across the steelyards for the nearest bus stop, the one on Stella next to the bayou.

The bench was scarred and narrow. However, if you leaned back just right and rested your head on the plexi-glass, you could relax enough to let your thoughts wander.

Early morning was a time for outlaw thoughts. The mind had a philosophical, mystical bent then. He thought of Rick, how strained relations had been between them lately, of his childhood now gone and lost in a tangle of memories, but more than any of these things, he kept coming back to that word, Codreu’s word, Skola. His mind was no longer dwelling on Steven Lamar Hudson nor was it fantasizing about dragging fundamentalists to Codreu’s funeral and demanding they explain. The word had fattened, was now softly glowing, and drew about it quite a different collection of thoughts.

What came to his mind was the flurry of experiments he’d performed as a young boy that had inexplicably felt like assignments: the dissection of a live frog with a razor blade, the attempt to raise a still-born kitten from the dead, his engineering of mysterious configurations of rocks, mud-clots, and sticks. He’d forgotten these things until now and with a bright curiosity, a sense of uneasiness, wondered why he had done these things? There had seemed some purpose at the time, a sense of assignment. Was it this same mysterious purpose which guided Codreu’s tinkering?

“Going to School?” An earnest, squeaky voice asked.

Startled, Parker sat bolt upright as if he’d been caught dozing.

“Are you?”

His questioner was a small, pock-faced boy with a hook nose. His class must have been having some sort of costume day. He was wearing those old fashioned woolen shorts which schools used to make kids wear instead of pants, a scratchy-looking white shirt, and brick red suspenders. At his feet lay a leather satchel. It was white and, oddly cleanly white considering it belonged to a child.

“You going to School?” Asked the boy again.

Parker shook his head and chuckled. “No, I’m not. I’m a little too old for all that, now.”

“Not for the School,” said the boy. His delicate white neck twisted like a lizard’s. “Oh no.”

Parker cocked an eyebrow and examined the boy more intently, slipping into the observational mode he usually tried to reserve for patients. The boy’s voice was self-assured and adult, almost superior.

“This is the metro bus stop anyway. Not the school bus. I think you’re confused.”

“No. This isn’t the Stop. I know that. The Stop will be over there.” The boy pointed to a clump of scorched cattails springing up from a ditch about ten feet to the left of the metro bus stop.

Will be? Parker shrugged and wondered if the boy was on drugs. He’d been floated into the psych ward a few times and certainly had seen them as young as this boy and younger, doped to the gills, heads nodding as they fought against the vegetable sleep of psychoactive drugs. But there was no hint in the boy’s pupils of anything amiss, no shaking, no darting eyes, and his voice while odd was animated.

Parker closed his eyes, hoping to give the boy a subtle hint, but the boy doggedly continued. “They have the Books there. They’ve been teaching us to Read. You haven’t learned how yet, have you? That’s okay. It took me a long time too. But you’re lucky. I heard they’re going to move you into a special class.”

What the . . . ? Parker’s eyes flashed open. Just as he did, the boy fixed his chest with a glassy stare. There’s something very wrong with that little boy Parker thought a beat before his heart suddenly bucked as if someone had given it a mean squeeze.

He scrambled from the bench and doubled over. What was going on? He felt like he was having the worst panic attack of his life, that his heart was going to rupture or that after a lifetime of false starts he was finally going to lose his shit. He forced himself to control his breathing and trembling stood up to face the boy. Against his will, he was convinced that the boy’s gaze and what had just happened inside his chest were causally connected.

Above them, clouds abruptly shifted and the dawn sun flared down. Light spun on the debris-strewn bayou water and dispersed into the ground-fog.

It was then the bus came, not a metro bus but one of the big yellow beasts that made its breakfast out of school children. No, not quite like them, for there was no lettering on the side identifying it as the property of this school or that; and all over it was yellow, a much brighter and more shapeless yellow than was ordinary, and the windows weren’t papered with peering faces but rather tinted darkly. It stopped in front of the cattails.

“They’re very nice, the Teachers. You don’t think so at first. But they are.”

Relieved, confused, he watched as the boy rose and fussily hooked his satchel around his slight shoulder.

“The lesson don’t hurt, though,” said the boy, stopping in mid-ascent up the bus steps. He turned and held out his hands in a parody of the crucifixion pose. On his anemic wrists were ugly dime-sized wounds as if he’d been burned repeatedly with cigarettes. “They do It for you because They Love you.”

“Hey!” said Parker.

“See you,” the boy replied.

The bus-door shut smooth, noiselessly. Parker stood shaking. Had he really heard what he thought he heard? That when the boy uttered his last words his voice had become that of Codreu? Deciding to walk, deciding he needed to walk, Parker walked briskly home, wondering about the boy, his voice, and why he hadn’t heard the sounds of any other children from inside the bus.

3.

Before his nursing career, Parker had worked as an insurance underwriter for MedLife. It was during this time that he met Rick who was in charge of the office. He’d fallen for him from the get-go. Rick had big brooding brown eyes and was quick to smile. Parker was shy, after all Rick was his boss, but Rick had managed to strike up a friendship with him without seeming pushy or oily. And then one night at Frenchy’s next to the university, Rick had leaned over and kissed him. Within a few weeks they moved in together.

It had been so damn nice at first! They had clicked. Some weekends, they would stay out all night dancing at the Palatial or bar and bookstore hopping on Montrose. But that had been three years ago and only the first year had been good. He couldn’t say where it went wrong. Maybe it was they didn’t spend enough time together. Sometimes Parker thought it was all his fault. But then while Parker liked to put in his hours, often crazy ones, Rick was no homebody. He stayed out late — drinking cocktails, drifting from one nightclub to another, explaining it all away with networking. Parker of course knew some of this time was spent with other men. But Rick had been upfront from the beginning, and had admitted his unfitness for the conventionality of monogamy. Parker didn’t dare complain. Not at first anyway. Why should he have? Rick had been honest. He had accepted Rick’s terms. Sex was sex and love was love. And there were always some sorts of problems, true some less exotic but problems nevertheless. He once heard Howard Stern say that the difference between marriage and being single was the difference between being annoyed and being alone. He would pick annoyance over loneliness any day of the week. But then that had been changing in the last year, hadn’t it?

Sometimes, late at night, as he was just drifting into sleep it would occur to him that he was finished with the warm body next to him, that he had learned what he had needed to. He’d fantasize about long conversations with somebody knew, about the pleasure of learning to kiss someone. But then he would chide himself that people weren’t lessons and wonder where he had picked up such an idea. What was needed he supposed was for him to bridge that lost intimacy, open himself up more to Rick. As he neared the street that led to their apartment he decided that was exactly what he would do. He would tell Rick about the kid.

“He didn’t sound like a kid, that’s what bothers me the most, I think.” Parker took a breath, checked Rick to make sure he was listening closely and went on. “Couldn’t have been more than ten. But he was talking about his school and teachers —- in this weird way as if he meant more than he was saying, like he was playing with me.”

Rick snorted. “He was probably older than ten, and having you on. When I was sixteen, everybody thought I was twelve. Used to piss me off to no end. So I’d mess with people’s minds. Quote Schopenhauer in the Pic-Pac. “If we compare life to a course which we must unceasingly run — a path of glowing coals, with a few cool places here and there…”

Rick ended his quotation with a self-gratifying chuckle then meaningfully rested his big hand on Parker’s thigh. A smile played on his lips like a spark and his brown eyes glazed over in that way.

Feeling self-consciously prim, Parker pushed the hand aside.

“It’s too hot, Rick. And it wasn’t that. You’re dead wrong about the boy.”

Rick rolled his eyes. “Then I suppose, as is so often the case, I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”

Parker grabbed his hand. “If you would just let me finish. Just listen for a minute, please.”

“Talk. Then it’s my turn, okay? I’ve got something I want to say.”

Parker stared at him, his heart pounding. “What?”

Rick waved him on. “You wanted to finish. Well, finish.”

Taking a breath, Parker said, “Well, right before the kid on the bus, he sounded like the old man at the hospital I told you about, Codreu. His voice changed, Rick. It changed.”

Rick’s eyes narrowed. “Parker.”

“Yeah?”

“You know if I didn’t know you better, I’d suggest you see somebody. You know somebody professional. You see a kid at a bus stop and you’re making this weird thing out of it. That’s not right.”

“So you don’t believe me?”

Rick snorted. “I said if I didn’t know you better. I don’t know what to believe. It doesn’t matter anyway, does it? I wasn’t there.”

“No, you weren’t.” Aggravated, Parker stalked to the kitchen and poured himself a glass of Diet Coke. When he returned, he sat down and stared at Rick whose face was lowered.

“You said you wanted to talk too?”

“I did,” said Rick. “But it’ll wait until tomorrow.”

“If you want to talk, I want to listen,” said Parker plaintively.

“I don’t want to talk.” Rick returned to channel surfing. To stifle a growing sense of doom, Parker distracted himself by running through a mental list of the surrounding schools.

4.

He slept restlessly that night, haunted by reoccurring images of a dimly lit ICU ward. He kept calling around for staff but no one was there. All the beds were full though, full of patients, dead ones. He was looking for Rick but couldn’t find him. He thought he saw him once but when he looked closer he saw that the patient was a young black woman. For some strange dream reason, he forced open her mouth. When her lips parted an egg slipped out into his hand. It was warm.

“Egg?” Asked Rick. He stood next to the bed, his briefcase in hand.

It was morning. Parker put a hand over his face to block out the sunlight. Rick had pulled up the shades. “No thanks. I’m not hungry. What time is it?”

“Eight.”

“Shit. I’ve got to be at work in an hour.”

Parker flung open the closet and tugged a pair of scrubs off the hanger while Rick watched him silently. Dressing, he said, “Maybe we can talk again in the morning. I’m working a double shift today. I’m sorry I was so bitchy yesterday.”

“Don’t worry about it. Besides I won’t be back for a few days.”

Parker felt like he’d been punched. Turning around, he found himself unable to meet Rick’s eyes. “Why not?”

“Business trip.”

“I see,” said Parker hearing the lie in Rick’s voice that Rick had intended him to hear all along.

Forcing himself to swallow his pride he said, “I love you.”

“Do you?” Said Rick. Then he bent over and kissed Parker. The kiss was as dry and passionless as a scab.

Before Parker could respond, Rick shut himself in the bathroom. Shrugging, Parker left for the hospital.

He worked nonstop from the time he arrived until his lunch break at one. He was glad for the mindless work. He needed it. He needed to lose himself. To forget for a little while about Codreu, the kid, and Rick. When his lunch break arrived, he refused an invitation from Carlita to join her in the cafeteria. Instead, he went to the hospital storage room.

Properly speaking it was no longer a storage room, hadn’t been for a few years. That job now belonged to C-220. Now, it was a repository for boxes of useless information the hospital held onto in the unlikely case certain state inspectors came. And it had another duty as well. It was used by the staff as an ad-hoc museum. That was why Parker came. Here he paged through folios of sonograms and x-rays, studied the melding of bone and the dark, cancerous petals of tumors.

Needing something to do with his hands, something to calm him, he pulled out the box of odds and ends he’d put on the top of the file cabinet a few days ago. They were mostly the remains of Codreu’s tink materials but Parker had added other stuff he’d picked up around the hospital. His hands fumbling, he imitated Codreu, piecing together doll arms and metal picks, tying rubber gloves into corded knots that resembled the layering of muscle. He could tell right away that it was habit forming. He was reminded of the Rubik’s cube he had been obsessed with as a boy, the furious click and clack effort to bring the multi-tiled squares together so that each side resulted in a single, sensible color. What am I doing? He asked himself. But he knew. He wanted to construct a certain shape, one he wouldn’t know until he saw it. And when he saw it, it would bring relief, an “aha” and an “I know you.” It would make sense of his grief over Codreu, of the boy, and of what was happening between him and Rick. It would be like winning a prize at school.

When he got home dead tired in the early hours of Tuesday morning, Rick’s things were gone.

To his surprise he laughed, and said to himself, “so this is what you wanted to say.” He’d expected to be crippled. It hurt but at the same time he was relieved. It had been coming and now it was over and he could get on with things.

There was a note of course. Even in the note, Rick had lied.

 

I just need some time to myself for awhile. To think things over.

I’ll call you.
-Rick

 

Unable to deal with how empty his apartment now was, Parker took a quick shower and changed into his sweats. He then headed to Beaule park a few blocks from the bus stop where he’d met the strange little boy. In the bright orange gym bag he was carrying was a Cuban cigar he’d bought off one of the EMT guys and a bottle of Captain Morgan’s.

The park was a series of monkey bars, hidden inside a grove of mimosa and ash. Parker sat there, watching the darkness gradually dissolve into dawn, half-dozing, replaying arguments between him and Rick when he heard kids laughing. Although the voices seemed older than the boy from the stop, they sounded similar, some edge not there and some other edge added.

They walked up from the bayou. Parker guessed they must have cut under the underpass despite the crazy homeless guys who slept down there sometimes. Even in the dim pre-dawn light he saw that they were dressed the same as the boy from the stop. Though not a single one acknowledged him with their eyes, he couldn’t take his eyes off them.

His gaze was mostly drawn to a young boy with soft chestnut hair that spilled past skinny shoulders, a beautiful boy with sharp elk-boned features. Then there was the girl next to the boy. Her hair was shorn close to the scalp like a boy’s, and she too was all skin and bones except for the swell of her breasts and the ripe hips that sauntered cat-like when she walked.

About ten yards from Parker they stopped and lay their white bags down.

Parker looked furtively around him, uneasy at the prospect of being alone with the kids. A car sat patiently waiting at a stoplight on South McGregor. Half a street up, a cluster of partygoers was noisily laughing and smoking cigarettes on the front stoop of a bedraggled house. Otherwise, it was dark and quiet.

While Parker nervously puffed on his cigar, they whispered. After a few minutes, having arrived at some decision, they began rooting through the grass.

Parker thought they might be after some kind of animal, or maybe one of them had dropped an earring or bracelet earlier but no, those were stones they were picking up, weren’t they? Hefting them in their hands and, if they found them pleasing, adding them to a pile they kept centered between them.

Parker sipped from his bottle, watching as they formed a line at the edge of the bayou. For a moment, they stood there silently, as if giving thanks or from awe or grief and then gracefully they began to pitch the stones.

Thunk.

Thunk.

Curious, Parker got up to look more closely. He could barely see but the streetlights on the overpass helped. The rocks sailed in smooth arcs, and landed with clunky, wooden sounds on the concrete embankment lining the sides of the bayou.

What were they doing?

Coming closer to the bayou, Parker suddenly could make out the shadows the rocks were hitting. Water turtles. The pretty boy stepped forward, stopped at the edge of the embankment, lifted his pale arm, and let go. The stone slashed through the air, up, up, then arced and whistled down to land perfectly in the center of a turtle’s back. The shell cracked with a dull heavy sound. Thick blood sprayed across the concrete.

Not thinking about it, not considering the danger (there surely was that), outraged Parker jogged toward the kids. “Hey! Don’t do that!”

The pretty boy grinned in reply. “It’s for School,” he said, nodding at the bayou.

Parker blinked, trying to put some meaning he would recognize to the words.

The girl sidled up beside Parker, startling him, and put her smooth hand on his.

“It is, isn’t it? Cruel? It all is, don’t you see? That’s the Lesson. But only the first one.”

“I don’t understand you,” said Parker. “Who are you? Why do you keep following me? You are following me, aren’t you?”

She ignored his first question but answered his second. “We’re not following you. You’re following us.”

“I’m not trying to.”

“But you are,” she said. “You held his hand when he saw us and so you saw us too.”

“Whose hand? Do you mean Codreu?”

“I can’t say anymore,” she said and backed up until she stood with the others. Then the children turned to him all at once, their faces neutral, betraying nothing, and Parker realized he was frightened. They had rocks; and were stronger than him, more numerous. He felt feeble. When did this happen? He asked himself. When had he become so weak?

But they didn’t move for him. They headed down the embankment, toward the water, parting the tall grass. Parker held his breath, curious about their next move. He was watching them, damn it, watching them, so how did it happen? His eyes were on them and then the sun flared up, glancing off the water. He shaded his eyes and in the moment he lifted his hand to his forehead they disappeared.

He walked down to the spot where they had been: trampled weeds, footprints but no sign of them. But…that!…what was that?

Grunting, Parker bent over and examined the book. It was made of the same white leather as the satchels; however, there was no title.

Overwhelmed by curiosity, he opened it.

No inside cover. No author’s name. It was a book imprinted without a single word. But there were pictures. Each page was a picture, hazy, not like bad photography but as if taken in a mist. On the first page was the picture of a young boy, dark hair streaming down, a dimpled chubby face and he was in a room somewhere weeping. A ragged stuffed snowman, a few scattered toys, furry orange carpet.

Next page. An older boy standing in the road, and in his arms a collie that had been obviously hit by a truck.

A diseased lake with a skin of oil and lumps of diseased fish.

An eye bloodshot with stringy veins.

A bone.

A flower.

Two lovers on the hood of a Chevy.

A picture of Codreu in his hospital bed flashing Parker the finger.

Then at last a man alone, looking desperate, a grizzled chin, pudgy, sad and Parker realized that all the pictures were of him. It was a kind of schoolbook, he decided, possibly the truest one he had ever seen, and he wondered if Codreu had seen a similar one when he died.

5.

He saw them almost everywhere now. He recognized them immediately. The tall stately way they shifted their weight, their white satchels, those calm, calm eyes. Most of the encounters were at bus stops, but he also saw them on what he believed to be field trips, without chaperones, in the early morning, scribbling notes or furtively whispering. They must have always been there but he had never had what it took to notice them. Not until he’d held Codreu’s hand as he died. Sometimes he wanted to talk to them, to ask them what this was all about, but they never approached him again and for his part Parker did his best to ignore them. But at night he dreamed of a big yellow bus that would come for him one day; he dreamed of the next grade and hoped even in his sleep that the Teachers weren’t as bad as they seemed.

Literary Editor: John Yu Branscum

International Literary Editor: Yi Yizzy Yu