Teaching in China


Ed and I sit in the stairwell smoking. A security guard walks in the door. He bums a light off Ed.

“I love China,” Ed says.

I nod. We finish and walk back to the Kindergarten. The school is between a piano shop and a Costa Coffee. It is colorful. Inside the door, our boss approaches us.

“Hi Justin.”

“Hi boys.” Justin smiles. He always smiles at us, as a kind grandfather might smile toward his fat and greedy descendants.

“Where are your uniforms, boys?”

I look at Ed, Ed looks at me. We are both wearing casual dress-shirts.

Ed turns to Justin.

“We don’t want to wear them.”

Justin’s smile twitches, only a bit. “Why?”

“Well, they make us look like pedophiles,” Ed explains.

“Oh!” Justin says, then frowns “what is a pedophile?”

“It means you want to do things to kids, bad things.”

Justin’s eyes go wide. “You guys aren’t pedophiles, are you?”

“What? No,” Ed says.

Justin looks at me. I try to shake my head and roll my eyes simultaneously. It’s nauseating.

Justin takes a huge sigh, “Oh, good,” he says. “If you were,” he says, “we’d have to have a chat.”

He smiles. He pats me on the shoulder. He leaves.

I turn to Ed and frown.

“Does this mean we have to wear those stupid uniforms?”

Ed frowns after Justin.

“Haven’t a damn clue,” he mutters.

You Could Kidnap Spiderman if You Wanted To


Ed leans against the bathroom stall. He knocks.

“Yes!” Ed’s student calls out from the other side, in Chinese.

“Spiderman?” Ed asks.


“How old are you?”

There is a pause. I light a cigarette; Ed too.


I frown. “His name is Spider-Man?”

Ed shrugs. “I guess. They let them pick their names.”

“So what’s his real name?”

Ed looks at the stall. “Spider-Man! What’s your real name?”

“Yes!” Spider-Man calls.

Ed sighs. “Well, anyways,” he continues, “this kid can’t be more than four and we’ve been working here, what, two days?”

I nod.

“Yeah, so, what do they really know about us? I mean, they didn’t even ask for my passport. You?”


Ed thinks through a few drags.

“This would never fly in England. I mean, I’m a grown man. A strange grown man. I was just observing in the back of the class and the teacher put his hand in mine and said bathroom.”

“Just bathroom?”

“That’s it. I don’t think she knows much more English than that to be honest.”

I chuckle, commiserate.

“Well,” Ed says, “I mean, it’s like I said. I’m just a strange man. And this bathroom is way out here, down the hall. And you know the stairwell is right there.”

He points through the wall. I know where he means.


“Yeah, so, I got to the end of the hall and just stopped and looked at the stairwell and thought, well, I could just take this boy down those stairs and be gone.”

I frown. Ed holds up his hands.

“Not saying I would or wanted to, just saying, a bit irresponsible.”

My cigarette is almost finished. I walk to the sink and place it in the make-shift ash tray. There is a flush. Spiderman comes out of the stall. He really can’t be more than four. He waves at me. Ed motions to the sinks. He washes his hands then Spiderman and I wait while Ed finishes the last drags on his cigarette.

“China is weird, huh?” I ask.

“Yes!” Spider-Man cries, picking his nose.


What Jerry Had to Say About the Meaning of Life


My boss walks into the teacher’s room.

“Essay day!” she calls. All the teachers, myself included, groan. She puts a fat stack of hot paper on the communal desk. My first class is a pile of pimples, pit-hair and angst.

Middle school is the worst, I think, taking a mirror from the girl in the front row as I walk in. I pull out the attendance sheet, I look up. The same girl has a new mirror out, bigger, white. I stare at her, mouth open. She rolls her eyes and stuffs it in her bag.

I look around at the sleepy mess of stressed out, pale teenagers. There are no windows.

“Essay day!” I cry, holding up a stack of papers. All the students groan. I look down at the header of the essay. I sigh.

“What gives your life meaning?” I whisper it to myself, groan, and repeat it to the class. They don’t respond, so, I hand the stack to a boy in the front row. He hands them out.

For the next ten minutes I stand at the front of the class, watching, sweating, occasionally itching. Finally, I can’t take it, I walk around.

Each paper I pass I see the same things:

Family, friends, my phone, family, friends, my phone…

One of the students actually managed to misspell phone. I stop and point at it. He looks up at me.

“Ph-oh-ne,” I mouth. He frowns. I shake my head and move on. In the back, I see Jerry. He is smaller than the rest. No hair above his lip, no pimples. He has big old glasses and a blank stare. His pencil is down. I cross my arms.

“Finished, Jerry?”

I can feel the other students turn, eager to watch me reprimand Jerry. Jerry just nods. He turns the paper. I pick it up. There is one sentence written. His handwriting is awful. I look closer.

“Life is meaningless because you can’t fold a piece of paper more than eighth times.”

I read it again. I look back at the class. They quickly turn back to their work. I place Jerry’s essay back on his desk. I take out my pen. He watches me, emotionless. At the top of the page I write–big and red.


He frowns at it. He looks up at me. I shrug.

“Eight, not eighth,” I remind him.

It’s All in the Way You Wipe


I walk through the palace foyer, a satchel around my neck full of notecards; a pair of scissors spinning around one finger. I’m on my way to tutor the Tsar’s daughter.

Along one wall, a batch of well-dressed aristocratic women eye me. They giggle.

As I pass I hear one whisper, “Those are scissors!”

The others gasp. One, in a mauve bonnet looks closer as I walk by. “I hear they get rust along those loops.”

“What is rust?” another asks.

“This brown stuff, it is hard and gets caked on the handle. You can’t touch it without burning yourself.”

“Wow,” they chime together. I hear them at my back. I stop and spin around.

“You like these?” I say, holding up the scissors.

They giggle.

“Want to see how they work?”

The other’s push the bravest one, in the mauve bonnet, toward me. She smiles, shyly. I hold out the scissors. She touches the handle.

“You see,” I tell her, “the rust can actually get in here, on the blade. Then the scissors stop working. But,” I pull out a handkerchief and adroitly wipe one side of the scissors, “if you do that, they stay never rust.”

I spin the scissors around on one finger, then another. I slip them in my pocket.

The girl’s eyes go wide. Then, she lays a hand on my chest.

“If you come back,” she whispers coyly, “I’ll buy a pair off you.”

I touch her cheek. “No my darling, I’m not some sleazy salesman,” I give her a devilish smile, “I’m an English teacher.”

Then, I wake up.

It is cold. It is dark. My eyes hurt. I stand up, stumble to the other side of the room, and fall into N’s bed.

He jolts awake, staring around in the half light, wild eyed.

“What! What is going on?”

I look at him, then down at my hands.

“I’m losing my fucking mind.”

The Big Beautiful Cock

The morning air is so cold it stinks.

The Babushka with six gold teeth growls at me when she opens the door. She watches me put bags on my feet. She nods and leaves. The school is well lit. The early kids roam about.

Inside the second entry there is a table. On the table is a giant paper-mache rooster. One of the Russian teachers stands over it, hand to chin. She smiles at me when I walk in.

“It is a very nice cock,” she says. I nod. I’m used to the toilet humor that results from translation errors. I only smirk, slightly.

A child walks by. The teacher points to the Rooster.

“Have you seen the big cock?” she asks the child.

I cough lightly. My throat begins to itch.

“Cock?” The child asks.

The teacher points to the rooster. “Yes, cock. Can you say big cock?”

“Big cock!” the child repeats. The teacher claps, I feel tension in my chest. I take a cough drop from my pocket and place it in my mouth. The coughing settles.

More children are mulling around. A teaching moment, it seems. The teacher gathers them together. She asks the first child what the bird is.

“A cock?” the child asks.

“Very good” the teacher says. The pressure in my chest is increasing,

I’m above this, I tell myself.

“Is it a big cock?” the teacher opens her arms wide, “or a small cock?” she pinches her fingers together.

“Small?” one child says, sheepishly.

The teacher frowns. “Noo, it is big. Can you say big?”

“Big!” the children cry.

“Big Cock,” the teacher says.

“Big cock!” the children repeat.

I begin shaking my head. The pressure in my chest has become a dull pain now.

The teacher makes a frowny face “Is it ugly?” she smiles, “or beautiful?”

“Beautiful!” the children cry.

I hear a cracking sound. The pain in my chest has gone sharp and cold.

“Big beautiful cock!” the teacher says, then, cups her ear towards the children.

“Big beautiful cock!” they all cry.

I close my eyes and swallow hard. It’s no use.

My chest cavity bursts open. Blood flies out over the hallway. The children all turn to me and stare at my torso, horrified.

A small twelve-year-old boy falls out of my chest onto the floor. He is covered in wet red slime. Some organ or another is caught in between his ring and middle finger.

There is a panic. The children begin running in all directions, screaming. The teacher herds them in to a corner blocking them from the gore with her own body; she is a good teacher.

I slump back against the wall.

The twelve-year-old boy rolls around on the floor, smearing blood and guts all over, pissing himself laughing.

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