Donald Barthelme, “The School”

 

This is my second entry in the “2019 Deal Me In Short Story Challenge” hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.  This week, I drew a 5 of Clubs, which took me to Donald Barthelme’s story “The School,” originally published in 1975.  I found the story in 100 Years of the Best American Short Stories, edited by Lorrie Moore and Heidi Pitlor.

Donald Barthelme (pictured above), who lived from 1931-1989, was known for writing short stories that are “surreal” or “postmodern” or “experimental.”  These are all fancy ways of saying his stories don’t make a lot of sense.  (This is not a criticism, just an observation.)

“The School” is narrated by a teacher named Edgar.  He starts the story by explaining how his 30 students all planted orange trees as part of their education.  All of the trees died.  Then we learned that the children’s snakes all died as well. So did the herb gardens they worked on, as did the tropical fish.  The puppy, too, died, as did the Korean orphan, two children, and one child’s father.

Eventually, the children asked the teacher what happened to  all of these dead creatures? Where did they go?  The teacher said nobody knew.

And then the children asked “is death that which gives meaning to life? And I said no, life is that which gives meaning to life.  Then they said, but isn’t death, considered as a fundamental datum, the means by which the taken-for-granted mundanity of the everyday may be transcended in the direction of—

I said, yes, maybe.

They said, we don’t like it.”  (310)

In recompense, the children wanted the teacher to make love with the teaching assistant, Helen, in front of them.  They want to know how lovemaking is done.

The teacher said he couldn’t do that, but he kissed Helen a few times on the brow.  Then a gerbil knocked on the door and walked into the class, after which “The children cheered wildly.”

That’s how the story ends.

I would say this story is a postmodern experiment in surrealism.   Or maybe a surreal experiment in postmodernism.  In other words, I really don’t know what it means.  I would guess it is a meditation on the inevitable cycle of life, death, lovemaking, and gerbils.  But mostly death.  So you might as well make love with the teaching assistant.

What Pegman Saw in Mumbai

This week’s edition of “What Pegman Saw” takes place in Mumbai, India.  The challenge is to write a story of up to 150 words based on the photo.

*****

Vihaan smiled as he walked through the former park.  He had succeeded—again—in winning a lucrative contract on his terms, leaving his competitors reeling.  Even after all these years, Vihaan still felt a thrill whenever he closed a deal.

Vihaan remembered bringing his son Avi to this park when he was little.  The landscape had been a lush green back then.  Now, it was a desolate patch of parched earth with decaying carcasses of the old rides littering the grounds.

They been poor back then, but those days are gone.  His wife Tanvi loved their luxurious home. She chose not to ask how he was able to do so well when everyone else was struggling.

Avi was more inquisitive, unfortunately.   After discovering the source of Vihaan’s wealth, Avi left home and never spoke to him again.

It was just a phase, Vihaan thought.  He’ll come back.  Surely, he’ll return.

(150 words)

My Bracelet

-The Friday Fictioneers is a flash fiction challenge hosted by Rochelle at Addicted to Purple.

friday-fictioneers

This week’s Friday Fictioneers prompt is this photo taken by Jean L. Hays:

trading-post

get the InLinkz code

This is my story in response to the prompt.  (It is exactly 100 words.)

My Bracelet

The young women giggled as they browsed through the shop where I worked as a cashier.  Much of the stuff was junk, but the jewelry section featured handmade originals.  One of them, a bead bracelet, was mine.

This was the first piece of jewelry I had ever tried to sell. I used crescent and honeycomb turquoise beads. I was proud of the results.

Blondie picked up my bracelet and wrapped it around her wrist.  “Do I look like Pocahontas?”

“John Smith would go wild!”  They laughed.

I felt my cheeks burning.

“Do you two plan on buying anything?” I asked.

*************

P.S. I just realized the prompt I used is way out of date.  It was from November.  I’m not sure how I managed to make that mistake!  Oops. Better luck next time.