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The Math Building 

Fiction by Joey Comeau

Without any graduate creative writing programs in town, aspiring young writers must She wears glasses that are not too small. I wish I was a girl like that. I’m a different kind of girl. I wear contact lenses because glasses make me look like I am wearing glasses. I am not saying this properly. When she wears glasses she looks so quiet, like a grenade with the pin still in.

She is too small for the building where she works. She is too small for the university. Nothing seems to touch her. She slips through. I can’t go anywhere without bumping into things.

When she goes in the front door of the huge stone building, I think about a penny falling down a well. I think about a cartoon I watched when I was a little girl. Giant robots were controlled by children in bright outfits. If the math building stood up and walked around for her, that would make me smile. I would throw rocks through her windows. No, that sounds wrong. I would stand underneath her, hoping for a big rock to fall and crush me. I think I am in love with her.

Today she comes up the stairs while I am making my morning round. I hold the door open for her, and I smile. She smiles back and I stand holding the door while she walks down the hallway away from me. Other people walk through the open door, faceless. I’m still watching her. I’m still holding the door when she turns and looks at me again. She is still smiling. I don’t know what to do. I want to let all my breath out at once. I can’t hold it.

I run away.

On my next round I peek through the window of her door to see her standing in front of a dozen students. She writes on the chalkboard. She gets up on her tiptoes to reach the top. I can’t even remember what chalk feels like. I dropped out of high school. When I come back for my afternoon round she is already gone. The room is dark and I don’t get to hold the door for her.

The picture is still in my pocket. I took a picture of myself, but I didn’t give it to her. I got scared. I will take a better one tonight. It will be more perfect. I won’t be afraid to give her it tomorrow.

But for now I let myself into her classroom and I take a picture of the chalkboard. I take three pictures, close up so I can see all of the symbols and numbers and letters clearly. I have no idea what they mean, but I’ve seen her writing them. They mean something to her.

Her name is in this room. It’s in the desk somewhere, on pieces of paper. It’s written down, but I don’t want to find it. I want her to give me it. If she laughs at my picture, if she has me fired, I will still ask her what her name is.

At home I look at the pictures on the computer and I take my marker and I write those equations upside down on my stomach, on my breasts. I write the equations exactly the way she writes them. My breasts are small like hers, flat like a chalkboard. I put the camera on my dresser and I sit on my bed and I try to smile.

When I print out the picture, I look like I just ate. I look happy.

In the morning I sit on the stairs where the window is. I can see the whole parking lot, and I can watch her walking. When she comes I run down to open the door for her.

“Are you the doorman now?” she says, and she smiles at me. I put the envelope in her hand and I turn and walk away as fast as I can. I can hear her tearing it open while I walk up the stairs. There is no exit upstairs.

When I look in her classroom later, she is writing on the chalkboard again and I let my weight rest against the door. The envelope is on her desk, open. She’s seen the pictures. She’s seen my body with her handwriting all over.

The students bother me. They are all looking at her and they are seeing the wrong thing. They’re making faces, pretending they’re interested. If they didn’t have to be here they’d be talking on their cell phones in the park. They’d be watching television. They don’t see how perfect she is. They’re writing down all those equations from the chalkboard and all they see is math.

I’m supposed to finish my round. If I don’t visit all the checkpoints, they will know I didn’t. I have a schedule. I have responsibilities.

I sit on the chair just outside her door until all her students are gone, and then I go inside.

Joey Comeau is the author of the novel Lockpick Pornography, and co-author of the comic A Softer World

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