Professor “Call me David” tells us from the front of the classroom that it is important to differentiate the writer from his writing. “The author is not the narrator,” this man holding court in front of us with a tattered paperback in one hand, pushing up his glasses with the other, tells us all in response to Garrett’s question about The Great Gatsby. But I know that he is lying because I have read The Great Gatsby before, and I have read David’s stories too.
He is lying because F. Scott Fitzgerald was the drowned millionaire and the Midwestern kid who got away, and he was every word he ever put on a page. Everyone knows this. He was Daisy too, even though Daisy was also Zelda. He was the Jazz Age that he wrote about; he was every party, every flute of champagne, every wrecked car.
David is a liar because he needs to be a liar. He needs to believe that he is telling stories and exploring themes, and using literary devices. He needs to believe that the space between us does not diminish each time we talk about my grades. He needs to believe there is a chasm between who he is and who his characters are but there is nothing more autobiographical than fiction.
He wrote a story once about a poet; tall, slim, elegant in a way that fiction writers never are. She would spin strands of blonde hair around her fingers as she talked to the man who would kill her; the narrator. In an interview online he called this man a monster. He used words like perverse and disgusting and unlikeable. “The author is not the narrator,” he says to us, to himself, before dismissing the class. I know he is lying because writers never judge their characters. He said so in class.
When David wrote this story, he was not his narrator. Both were white, privileged, and male but the author was twenty-three with twenty-twenty vision, smooth confidence and a belief in his own brilliance; a student. His narrator though, was an English professor in his middle thirties whose glasses would constantly slide down his nose as he clumsily paced in front of his students.
He believes he is a person that does nothing. But everyone is capable of doing something under the right set of conditions. If his office were a battlefield he would kill and kill again and feel the power of it. Instead he lets me come closer, point to a sentence, question a comment, and stand there enjoying the slick way I divide the space between us each time.
He slinks down the hall to his office, slumps in his chair and nods and “mm hmm”s as my classmates question and debate their grades. I am the last student, trailing behind the pack. The soles of my shoes scuff the linoleum leaving a mark of rubber behind. I roll and unroll my collection of poems into a slim cylinder and spin strands of blonde hair around my fingers as I wait.
Michelle Orabona was the fiction editor for phoebe during her MFA at George Mason University, and is the founder and editor-in-chief of Double Dessert Press, a non-profit organization for teen writers. Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in dogzplot, SmokeLong Quarterly, whurk magazine, The Pinch, Red Flag Poetry, and others.
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