Jim Lair Beard
In Medias Res
They were back in class. They were all back in class. All half-faces. Jim sat behind a bygone walnut-colored desk, not looking at the others. First day back, and it was a midterm. It was a mid-term, and somebody coughed, and only a few heads turned.
His hand cramped around the pencil. He had seen their faces through the computer, but now forgot what they looked like. His hand hurt. His glasses fogged. He couldn’t concentrate, and it all smelled like smoke, or mildew, or rotten meat. It cramped again, and he shook it out, and a few others did the same. And then his graphite broke.
It was snowy outside. On the sidewalk, on the road, in the air. Of all the days to come back-- midwinter in Calgary. And he no longer had the same bus driver. The old blue lady, the smoker, the cougher. She no longer drove the number 45. It was a younger man. He had no smile. He gripped the steering wheel confidently, as the snow came down, as the windshield wipers changed the scenery back and forth, and Jim was nervous for him.
“There was an older lady, used to drive this bus,” Jim said.
“What? Oh. Yeah,” The driver replied.
“Where is she?”
“She’s no longer with us,” he said.
Jim sharpened his pencil. The clock ticked, the professor sat far behind his own ancient mahogany desk, half a face. And next to him a green chalk board stared forward, judged Jim, with his eraser, and the tiny piles of debris, which stank like smoke and rotten meat.
He was halfway through and forgot how to concentrate. The students shook out their hands, and Jim couldn’t believe this was his first day back, a midterm, and he was old, older than he had been, and the clock ticked, and his throat itched, and his glasses were fogged, and his hand ... his hand hurt.
And he heard no typing, only his thoughts, while pink erasers burned, and he wondered when it would all be over.