In the months before his close up, Geoff read an article that his friend- well, an ex-girlfriend- had posted on Facebook about depression and probiotics. The article – it was called Sad Because of Sauerkraut – said something along the lines of correlation, and never really proved anything, but it said that in some people the sadness that they felt was due in part to a lack of probiotics in their system- what with our obsession with food as entertainment, instead of sustenance. It said it might help for those who are depressed, to eat sauerkraut or old yogurt, you know, fermented things; kimchi, it could be. Were Koreans depressed? Geoff asked himself. Sitting in the darkness of his bedroom, wrapped in his bed sheets, he thought about the only Korean that he knew, a frequent Yeungling-drinker and poly-sci grad student, Yan. He decided that Yan wasn’t depressed; he was too stressed to be hopeless. He tucked the phone underneath the comforter, shielding the light away from his wife.
The week before Geoff became famous, the week that started on the 17th, he had already forgotten that he had read the article- but still, coincidentally- each day Geoff made sure to eat a good amount of yogurt and sauerkraut. The sauerkraut-sadness correlation sat dormant but pronounced in the back of his brain. Apparently his brain didn’t want to be sad, and he sure didn’t want to be sad; not many people do; so they worked in conjunction as Geoff kept elevated probiotic intake levels.
JESSICA AND FRIENDS
“Do you want to continue watching?”
Jessica looks through the screen, the red words the only challenge before the next episode. She wins and the pilot becomes the mid-season finale, becomes the series finale, becomes the spin-off pilot.
She is sleeping dreamlessly, I can tell. The warm laptop sits on her lap and I scurry past, the whirring fan almost knocking me over. I am ready. I quickly move to the stomach, my favorite part. I feast.
Jessica wakes up itching. She must’ve left the laptop on her lap, she thinks. As she gets up the warm itch turns into a dull ache with a feverish need to scratch. Moving past her roommate’s piles of laundry, Jessica maneuvers to the suite bathroom. The atonal singing coming from inside prompts her to walk over to the closet mirror. An angry rash patterns her stomach, little pinpricks dotting the red landscape.
I am sated, fat, full in my spot under the bed. She doesn’t vacuum.
Jessica comes back from class, a fresh tube of hydrocortisone cream crammed in the corner pocket of the Jansport.
She doesn’t allow me to feed that night. The books laid out before her litter the desk, and top of her bed. She hunches overtop them, her highlighting and writing only interrupted with the occasional scratch- and consequently- reapplication of the no longer fresh tube of cream. As she finishes each assignment she throws the biology books to the floor, as if to show them their real worth, not the college bookstore price that inflates their egos.
I begin to get hungry, the taste of her blood a vague memory in my mind. She doesn’t sleep. How? She always sleeps, giving me the chance to eat. But this night she doesn’t. So I don’t.
Jessica calls her mother as she sips the energy drink in her hand.
“Mom, I can’t do this” I hear her plead on the phone. I hope she’s talking about not sleeping.
“Its just like dealing with all these tests, and like worrying about Erica, and seriously now this weird rash thing on my stomach,” she says, at the point of tears.
I don’t want her to cry. My whole life, this one week under her bed, I have never seen her sad. Or happy, or anything really. But this new one, it’s different from the far more frequent apathy, it is scary.
“and- and-” she breathes more in than out, sucking her words out of her mouth.
“like if I bomb this test, then there’s no way I can get into the major, and,” she starts sobbing, only calming down after a few minutes more of the call, which she soon hangs up with resolve.
The whirring starts up (the laptop no doubt). I get ready for my meal ahead of time, my stomach trembling with anticipation. But this whirring is bigger this time, more open, like the cracked husk of a supercomputer. And it gets closer, as if the processor is about to fry. The snout that pokes its head into my lair is red, a plastic tube sucking in the crumbs of my home.
“Yeah maybe I should vacuum more often, Mom, maybe if you actually came and visited, like, ever,” Jessica murmurs under her breath as she sweeps the Dust Devil across the bed’s shadow.
The winds pull me forward, but I manage to jump and hang onto the Jansport bag strap to my left. She brings the snout forward, traversing the width of the bed until she is almost at the backpack. My stout body starts to peel away from the cotton strap, my last set of legs helpless to the furious sucking. As my front pair start to fail, I feel a final push from the wind, a pop, and I fall to the floor. She stopped, far away enough not to suck up the backpack strap, but just close enough to inhale my hind legs from their sockets. The pain shoots up my spine, and I lay on the canvas, struggling to pull in air.
Jessica rewards herself for vacuuming, thinking she has solved one of her problem. She turns on her Macbook and reclines into the bug-free twin bed.
The sounds of her laptop emanate throughout the night, a constant stream of dialogue and sound effects. I try my best to avoid the pain, the hunger almost as salient as my absent legs, and try to sleep.
Jessica snatches her bag from the ground and places it on the desk, checking to make sure the contents are correct. As she glimpses into the crumb filled bag, her eyes are drawn to a reddish brown fleck on the left strap. It’s been awhile since she’s eaten pasta.
She brings the strap to her face, and screams when the stain moves.
I scream. My lunch, breakfast, and dinner is terrifying up close, the black bags under her eyes as dark as my lair. Her breath stinks of processed sugar and caffeine. Her empty eyes start to fill with excitement, a break from the mid-semester monotony.
I try to run away, embarrassing myself with the 75% effort my body can now perform at, my remaining six legs working in a feverish manner.
“Whats wrong with you? The books say you have eight legs.”
She picks me up with a gentle pinch, transferring me to her palm.
“It hurts,” I manage to squeak out in pain.
She realizes her tangent.
“You’re the little bitch that tore up my stomach!”
I try my best to look apologetic.
“Why’d you bite me?” She asks.
“Its just where I was born, it’s been easy to feed off you,” I offer.
“Can’t you just do something that doesn’t make anyone hurt?” she asks.
“Everything else makes me feel empty,” I respond.
“It doesn’t matter anyways, you’re going to die soon.”
“I’m just trying to survive,” I plead.
“Me too,” Jessica says popping the flea between thumb and forefinger.
She wiped her recycled blood off of the chrome trackpad and clicked next episode.
The 17th was a Tuesday after a break, a four-day weekend for his students that Geoff himself had enjoyed. I need a break more than you guys, he would joke with his class. The room would be silent, but eventually Jessica would laugh a soft laugh. It was out of pity, he knew, but tender pity. Like a “Poor guy”. Like she empathized for him, even if she had never stood at the front of the classroom, sitting and crouched under the projector-screen-sized touchpad; the touchpad Geoff had concluded he wouldn’t have known how to work. He was thinking about using this joke a mere day after a break, and upping that ante. He concluded against it, halfway through his first class.
Geoff had to walk past the lobby to get to his room. He crossed the front doors, with a notebook in his hands, and not much else. A jacket could be considered an accessory. But beyond that, just the normal clothes. When he had gotten into his Jetta that morning, the black jeans he wore the majority of the week were feeling tighter than usual. He hiked them up, all the way up and under the paunch that slid down his front side. It wasn’t a huge paunch, just shaped badly. When Geoff saw it, he inclined himself to believe it only existed 50 percent of the time, because, as he saw it, it only looked gross from the side. From the front you wouldn’t even be able to tell that a paunch existed behind the white oxford; barring glaring lighting.
The students sat in the couches of the lobby to the math building. They lounged in the chairs, their bodies flaccid on the upholstery, sometimes from exhaustion but mostly from entitlement. Geoff tried to convince himself that he could hate them, but his posture was as drooped as the worst of them, from accumulated stress, as doctors would say. The Accumulated Stress of Notre Dame.
He kept his head low, and his eyes unfocused by pulling back his retinas with the muscle memory he had been working on tirelessly for the past 45 years.
He had performed this bodily feat for the first time in elementary school as a trick to be able to think more cleanly while looking at the teacher’s head blob. So either age, or this particular habit, had placed a small set of bifocals on a thin, handsome nose. He thought of the line segment of his nose as his most redeeming facial quality whenever he caught a focused glance while scrubbing his hands in the sink.
The students didn’t look in his direction when he scuttled by the cafe-Uncommon Grounds– and he persevered to make it into his lecture hall without unwanted interaction. Just because his eyes were unfocused didn’t mean he couldn’t see. Geoff had seen amongst the flopping bodies that Jessica was present, early like usual. She worked in the office of the math building, and also, he knew, at the Bio library. Geoff knew because one day, when the semester was young and his pants hid more paunch than they did now, he had made a rare excursion to the Bio building. A student group sold colossal donuts for 75 cents a piece, so Geoff jaunted into the building with six quarters. He sat in the lobby, encrusted in glaze up to his wrists, when he saw Jessica helping a kid with a printer problem in the library. He scampered out, throwing away the remaining half donut he had left.
She must have been napping on the lobby couches before his class so that she could be alert, Geoff thought. He also saw her at work if he walked through the lobby. The half-frosted-glass wall gave him a straight on view to the tops of her crimson-red glasses over the chrome backing of a computer that sat on a black wood laminate desktop. She wore contacts on the days she had class, he supposed. Geoff pulled up a small chair and sat in the front of the dark lecture hall. He wondered if her eyes were red because she was tired or because she was high from marijuana or because her contacts were dailies but she used them for a couple of days just to save a couple of bucks for her parents. He decided it wasn’t marijuana.
The hallways began to fill with the bustle of backpack straps and the squeak of rain boots. The students would be coming in soon.
JESSICA AND GEOFF
Jessica sat in the back of Professor Salad’s classroom every Tuesday and Thursday, her back resting on the back wall so that she could relax and soak in the information. Geoff Salads taught Stat 100, which was the introductory course to the Statistics major, and a general requirement for those that hadn’t taken a statistics course in high school; and so room 1105 in the math building was a large lecture hall filled with small desks and fresh college students staring into their new laptops.
Geoff sat in his chair, pilfered from the room next door, in front of a silent classroom. He started off light.
“Hey friends,” he said. The words felt cheap in his mouth, unnatural. For the past 29 years he would have said “hey guys” in reference to his class, but his diversity training had told him if he wanted to keep his job, he’d have to refrain from sexist language.
“I hope you all had a good break; I know I did.”
The class stared ahead, an occasional glance above the screen his only link to their eyes. They waited for instruction.
“Aright, pretty sleepy still I guess huh?” His chuckle bounced up and off of the fluorescent lights and back down into the plastic of empty chairs.
“Lets get started then. If you’ll turn to page 214 in your textbook, or e-textbook, we can pick up where we left off, on the chi-square test.”
Geoff began to make good on the class description: Stat 100, lecture. He gave the basics of the chi-squared test to determine validity, each sentence sending him deeper into a trance. After thirty years of teaching what amounted to very basic mathematics, he found that he could talk without being present, and his presentation became a song that he had memorized by heart. He knew the proper inflections, the proper pauses, and the right rhetorical questions. The words held no semiotic value, and the rhythm and meter were all that mattered. The balance of sentence constructions that he’d repeated thousands of times before, chimed in his head. Soon, about 15 minutes into the lecture, he was singing. The flow passed through him and the student’s saw his shoulders slowly loosen.
For the more perceptive ones in the crowd, this was their chance to talk, to virtually walk beside the person in front of them that was emerged in online shopping, or to binge on highlights and analyses from last night’s basketball game.
A few others in the class perceived their professor’s loose posture as something else entirely, not of an opportunity for freedom, but as a cry of apathy. 15 minutes in, and the professor had already given up. He knew. He knew. He was smart, you had to be after all, to be a professor, and he knew that they didn’t care. This was a dentist appointment to those students, the only difference was that instead of trying not to vomit from the taste of fluoride and latex, they would be asked, once in the middle of the semester, and once at the end, to regurgitate.
Jessica didn’t want to regurgitate, she wanted to soak, and Salad’s downturned shoulders only made her more resolute. She flopped the screen of her laptop down, furrowed her brow, and focused her eyes on Salad’s face.
She heard his words, for the first few minutes, but soon she could almost smell the metal of his mechanical phrasing. Still she kept her eyes locked to the old man sitting in the child’s chair. She began to really see his face. His head was oval, but to such a slight degree, that the shape barely mattered, it wasn’t cartoonish. He had a small face, and the folds of his skin hung over what could have been a sharp jawline in the 80’s. The flesh drooped over his jowls to form a turkey neck-chin, but his face was handsome. He had a thin, elegant nose that centered his face and with the help of sparse but well shaped eyebrows, framed his face. He had lips like labia, and tiny teeth, but the main attraction lay in his eyes. They were beady, and forever crossed, as if obsessed with his nose, but his small glasses blew them up so that you could see the kind, lake blue irises that surrounded his pupils. There was a gulf lfhasdkjfhusdfhkl. She liked his face. The folds were tender, and the downturned brows apologetic. His eyes saw something important in the focal point of his mind, but it lay muddled in everyone else’s. He meant no harm, Jessica surmised.
Geoff faded out of the trance of this specific segment.
“Now I want you and a partner to work on the examples in the problem set I have just posted.”
Geoff got up from his chair with effort, and walked out of the classroom towards the café.
“We accept Domer Dollars,” said the sign above the register, and below the uninterested workers face.
“Hello and also welcome to Uncommon grounds, how can I help you,” the boy with bangs said.
“I’m just looking for now thanks,” Geoff replied.
He looked at the shelves of candy bars, energy drinks, chips and cheese-itz. Further along the shelf, the options grew with green and yellow plastic organic stickers. He looked down and eyed the vast expanse of his paunch. Today it was puffier, like he had been holding his breath all day. He walked down the aisle towards the fruits and picked up a clear container of concord grapes.
“Just the grapes, thanks,” he said, handing them to the boy with the bangs.
He set down 7 quarters and held the grapes with two hands as he shuffled back to his classroom.