I Pronounce English on Wednesdays


“Hey! Get off!”

The cat slinks under the couch, knowing that he is in trouble. Belly low to the ground, his aspect is similar to that of a lizard, or perhaps a lumbering hog. He’s fat, and that makes the image even more pathetic.

Outside, it’s raining. Damp and endless, it is the sort of rain that makes it difficult to do anything: only thirty minutes ago I vowed to never open my eyes again, then, deciding that I probably would have to anyway at some point, opened them. I closed them and opened them in this binary pattern for another fifteen minutes, after which I called my wife at work.

“Should I go?” I asked.

“No. Probably not a lot of people will go, because of the weather.”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“And if you stay home I will be home also, and I’ll make you a nice dinner.”

I could go, or I could not go. I can see both. If I don’t go, then I have declared I am more loyal to myself, which is something I am accustomed to. But if I do go, I will grant my loyalty to the institution, which I am similarly accustomed to. If I don’t go, I never have to step out into the rain, I don’t even have to put on pants, and I can stay under the covers and complete at my leisure another two stories by Don Barthelme (the latter third of Paraguay; On Angels). But at the University Settlement, the Chinese women I taught the pronouns “cardigan”, “pantyhose”, and “panties” the week previous will have to find another instructor. To do so is not really difficult. Though some of them specifically asked whether I would be back this week, and I said yes, I have been asked similar things in the past, come back the following week, and found myself tutoring four new students.

If I do go, the mood in the basement of University Settlement will be subdued, and perhaps only one of the two interconnected rooms will really be filled (or they might be “filled” equally, but sparsely, with so few people they could have fit in only one room, had they desired to). J. (the head of the program) will be happy to see me, as she is happy to see everyone. Those present will share an understanding that we are all loyal to one another, and so in that sense, the mood will be heightened, and the experience will doubtless be more satisfying. But on the negative side, I will not be able to finish the two stories by Barthelme in comfort, instead sitting between two strangers on a sweaty, damp train; before then I will have to root around for coins to purchase my trip on the subway, as we are out of tokens, and later that night, I will be very late for dinner.

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