Excerpt: Silver & Gold

After the Dust by Eleanor Kos

Zev looked around his brother’s apartment. Bare walls, clean swept floor. A picture of the two of them was stuck to the fridge with a magnet from the local pizza place.

The rabbi shifted his weight and cleared his throat but didn’t speak. He was a small, round man, younger than Zev felt a rabbi should be.

“Where did it happen?” Zev asked.

“On the way to work,” the rabbi said. “An accident on the beltway. They didn’t tell you this?”

“I was on a flight back from Afghanistan. He was supposed to meet me at the airport.”

He’d gone outside to wait in the cold, annoyed when he didn’t see Beni’s battered blue Toyota. And then he’d turned his phone back on and listened to the voicemail.

The rabbi put a hand on his shoulder, but Zev stepped away. He didn’t know this man. He didn’t know anyone in Beni’s life anymore.

“Will you sit shiva for him? There are people who would sit with you.”

“I don’t want to be with strangers.”

“They weren’t strangers to him.”

“They are to me,” Zev said shortly. He breathed in, breathed out, watched dust particles in a wash of sunlight from the window. The sun was weak here compared to the Afghan hills. It left him homesick for the simplicity of combat.

“If you stay here,” the rabbi said carefully, “they will come to you. At least to visit. To speak of him.”

Zev nodded. He supposed he couldn’t stop them.

“Your family?”

“Our parents died when we were in high school. Distant relatives in Israel. In Safed. I don’t have an address.” He’d have to find them. Somehow. He rubbed his hands over his face, palms catching on stubble, more than usually aware of the deep lines the last few years had carved into his skin.

“If you give me names, I can try to find them.”

Zev turned to him, with his struggling beard and serious face and eyes that never strayed from Zev’s, no matter how many times Zev looked away from him, no matter how uncomfortable the conversation became. Beni must’ve liked him.

“Thank you,” he said stiffly. He wrote down the names in a notebook that the rabbi produced from his shirt pocket. A few minutes later, he was alone.

He looked through Beni’s kitchen cabinets and found them well stocked. The fridge held lettuce and cabbage, carrots and radishes and homemade chicken soup. Beni had always been the cook in the family. He’d taken over with no discussion when their parents died, dinner waiting when Zev came home from his second of two after-school jobs.

Zev took the bowl of chicken soup out and set it on the counter. He imagined Beni chopping onion and carrots and garlic. He saw himself eating bowl after bowl until the last thing Beni would ever cook was gone. He put it back in the fridge.

 

 

A Corgi Named Kilowatt by C.C. Bridges

Evan stared at the pack of papers the department secretary—Judy, or maybe Jane?—shoved at his chest, a dawning horror creeping down the back of his neck. “But I’m supposed to teach Comp I.”

“Right, and you still are.” She pushed the stack harder. “You’re Professor Leaverman’s TA, and she’s out with the stomach flu—”

“Gross.”

“—so you need to take her classes this morning. It’s the first day of the semester, and I don’t have time for this.” She let go of the papers, and Evan had to catch them to avoid strewing syllabi across the office floor.

Before he even had time to catch his breath, another student took his place, pulling the secretary’s attention away. He backed up, knocked into someone, and apologized before slipping out of the crowded office.

Evan braced himself against the wall of the hallway and glanced down at the syllabus. Intro to Poetry? Something in his belly flipped at that. It was the kind of more advanced class he hadn’t expected to be allowed to teach until much later in his PhD program.

He might have entertained fantasies of himself sweeping into a lecture hall, the flaps of his coat fluttering behind him like a cape, as he commanded the attention of every single student in the room. With a sentence, he enraptured them. As he completed the poem, he ensnared them. By the end of the class, they were his.

The flutter of the papers brought his attention back to the present, and Evan finally noticed the class start time. 9:30 a.m. That left him—he checked his watch—fifteen minutes to trek to the Kestrel building on the other side of campus. Hardly enough time to become familiar with the syllabus before presenting it to the class.

“Calm down, it’s no big deal.” He shoved the copies into his messenger bag and took a moment to straighten his tie. At least he’d dressed for success today, wearing what he’d taken to calling his ‘professor uniform’: pressed white Oxford shirt, pale blue tie, and khaki slacks. Part of him wanted to go for it and wear the bow tie, but he didn’t think anyone else would get that he was trying to be ironic.

Maybe if he hurried, he’d have time to look over the syllabus while the class filed in.

Evan hadn’t counted on having to navigate around students who were finding their own way. He’d been in town for a few weeks before the semester started, and he was used to the campus being relatively empty. They’d done a nice job of separating the university from the town around it, using strategically placed trees and half-walls. It gave the campus the feeling of being in a park full of green, hidden from the outside world.

Still, that meant he didn’t know any short-cuts yet himself, so when he made it to Kestrel, he was sweaty and out of breath. So much for making a good first impression.

The sense of dread only increased when he made it to room 302, pushed open the door, and found it full of expectant students who all looked up and stared as he entered. Sweat slid down between his shoulder blades, making him feel unpleasantly cool in the air-conditioned room.

“Good morning, class.” Evan made his way to the professor’s lectern and set down his messenger bag.

The whispers started.

“Excuse me?” An older man in the front row raised his hand.

He must have been a non-traditional student. Evan couldn’t help but be districted by the good-looking stranger, with his thick, dark, wavy hair and sleepy bedroom eyes. He had stubble shading his cheeks, the kind that begged to be stroked. To top it off, his voice was deep, like whiskey over gravel. All those features had long been part of Evan’s mental image of the perfect man.

Evan held tight to the lectern and his attempt to be a professional. Of course he’d have the dumb luck to meet someone just his type in one of his lectures. “Yes?”

“You can’t be our professor. You barely look old enough to be out of preschool.”

“I’m twenty-three.” Evan felt his face heat, and he realized he’d already lost control. “That is, I mean, Professor Leaverman is out sick today, so I’ll be handing out her syllabus.”

It should have ended there. Evan should have given out the syllabus and left. But he kept trying. Poetry was important, and the more he tried to talk about it, the worse it got.

Finally, a kid in the back said, “Yo, man, I’m just here for my lit requirement. I don’t give a shit about Shelley or Kelly or whatever.”

That was it. “Fine. Read the syllabus. Buy the textbook. Do the readings for next class!” His last words were shouted because most of the class had gotten up and left.

That could have gone better.

Buy the book!