Loaded Novella

by Susan White

“A guy needs somebody—to be near him…
I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an' he gets sick.”
Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck

A student shoves his novella toward his tablemate, cover open.
She cringes. Shoves it back.
Can I have a different copy? he asks me
Three lines down the distribution label, Brian Davis.

1. Brian Davis
Brian Davis. Braves fan, big brother,
defender of conservative views in class debates.
No date for the fast-approaching prom.
Debating himself?

2. Tardy Guardians
Students, teachers, administrators, parents—
tardy guardians around the freshly planted dogwood.
Sunshine bounced off glasses, an attentive dragonfly
insisted it was spring.

3. Blinding Poem
I squinted at the paper in my hands,
typed words drowning in luminance.
His mother asked me to write a poem.
Was saying no an option?

4. Aborted Question at the Fountain
The day before, I passed him at the water fountain.
Said hello. He startled, somewhat smiled.
Waited a beat, but I kept walking to my classroom.
Would a question have saved him?

5. Sleeping In
Because he refused to get out of bed,
his mother took his little sister to school.
When she returned,
there was no waking.

6. Absent
Did she clean his face with towels, one of his dirty T-shirts?
Close his eyes? Kiss his forehead?
She called the school.
Let us know he’d be forever absent.

7. Carlson’s Luger
He used his father’s gun.
Careful cursive letters preserve his name
behind the cover,
definitive dots in i’s.

I take the rejected novella home.

Susan White is a Tennessee native who has proudly called Asheville, North Carolina home for seventeen years. She teaches at Carolina Day School and has a house bursting with animals. She holds a master’s degree from the Bread Loaf School of English and an MFA from Stonecoast.

About Loaded Novella—This is the aftermath and healing of the most painful absence I’ve experienced as a teacher, a poem I needed to write for a long time…but couldn't until this class gave me the courage.