Jul/Aug 2010 Nonfiction

Letters from the Desert

by Reed S. Fauver

Artwork by Costel Iarca

Dear Mrs. Smith-Johnson,

I'm a fatalist. I believe there's a better than even chance that this is a recent occurrence. An awakening? Who knows? The tension in my muscles has released, and my blood is coursing coolly, comfortably. Resistance is gone.

None of this is to say that I've stopped striving from "more," however—on the contrary. One thing I've learned from teaching these young people every day (besides the fact that no imaginable threat will force the little bastards to distinguish the difference between a gerund and participial phrase) is that there's nothing fundamentally wrong with giving into your heart every now and then, especially when the brain is in, at least, partial agreement.

To wit: Dr. Sung's advice to re-focus at the Violet Spiral Holistic Center in the Blythe desert for 60 days. To be honest, it didn't take all that much convincing that there is much on the line, more than I originally believed. The Doctor has a wide view of my state of affairs—it goes far beyond just my health.

With AIMS testing coming up, I know this isn't the best time to be asking for a leave of absence, but I would respectfully argue that I might be of more use to the school long-term if I'm allowed this opportunity. I think you would agree that students and staff alike might benefit from a "tweaking" of my temperament.

As an example, I'll bring up two events in the last six months of which you're all too aware:

1) Though I did utter words about karate-chopping Mr. Blair's neck, it was mostly in fun, and I did not—as he insists—actually pantomime the action. I agree I was angry at the time.

2) My verbal "tirade" (as her mom put it) in my literature class: Ana admitted to biting my fingertip when I was handing her a slice of pepperoni pizza. These events were unfortunate but avoidable. I take my share of the blame.

The idea is to come out of The Center a stream-lined colleague and teacher. Resilient. Focused. Hopeful of the possibilities. This will be a tremendous drain on me financially, but (as I've said) I'm done fighting what I know to be right. I've included a class/therapy list from The Center. Off hand, the Jacuzzi Revelation Sessions look particularly promising.

I look forward to coming back a new man and resuming my duties as Department Chair. I will write you from Blythe. If my ex-wife comes looking for me, tell her nothing.


Reed Fauver

P.S. No one should touch the "Bob James—One" poster on the wall behind my desk.


26 Days Later...


Dear Mrs. Smith-Johnson,

Her name is Martina. We share two classes and most of our "volition" time here. I'm set on assuming she's at The Center for similar reasons as I. Through her broken English and allergy eyes, I have gleaned only that she's Serbian and deaf in one ear. Two nights ago we read a book about cacti and bears. It had some great pictures. I know that she's learning because she was smiling a lot.

It's a shame you and I didn't get a chance to talk before I left. I trust you received the letter from Dr. Sung. He's a thorough man, and I hope the letter reflected that. Knowing you'd be interested in the plan, I've requested the Center's Director send you a brief note as well. The return address will be a PO Box—I can receive no mail here.

Martina has brown hair.

When the sun comes up, I swim laps in the vitamin-infused salt pool. It makes me think of my grandfather: he had polio as a child, and I believe this is why the only way he could swim was by backstroke. But, he was good. I remember he often balanced a beer can on his belly while in the water. Anyway... I look up at the sky during my laps at sunrise because I like the backstroke, too. I can't explain the color really.

We've been discouraged from speaking about the class/therapy sessions with those not in attendance, so—for now—I'll respect that. What I want to say, however, is that I can sense a breakthrough near. Stripping the flesh down to the skeleton.

In about half an hour, I will be in Glassroom #4 for my scheduled steam with Martina. This is when the sun goes down, and I'm glad she's decided to join me recently. Gardenia-scented steam was her choice this evening, I think (like I said about her English...). It feels good to be completely naked in front of a woman again. The steam hides the imperfections.

At night I dream mostly of mistakes.

I'll try to write again soon. No one should be touching my "Bob James—One" poster behind my desk.



P.S.: Tell Mr. Blair I'm sorry.


17 Days later...


Dear Mrs. Smith-Johnson,

About 12 years ago I had surgery to repair an inguinal hernia. As most men, I was a miserable patient once home. For four nights my ex slept on the floor beside the couch where I lay, pissed in empty wine carafes and ate cottage cheese.

I'm not sure why that's on my mind right now.

The Director has disappeared, and the Authorities say that I (and the few others remaining) have until 8am tomorrow to pack up and leave. In the desert, decisions often come with terminal stakes. Hide inside the flow, or crawl like a wounded beast under the nearest creosote and pant until you die.

Authorities out here don't care which.

Before I get to the meat of my next move, I want to rid myself of a couple burdens. Martina looked a hell of a lot older than 15, and I truly believed she was at the Center for treatment like I was. I was teaching her to speak proper English for God's sake. The facts are still coming in... yes... Even so, it will take some time to put this in the proper perspective. The question, I suspect, will remain: Is it completely impossible for a half-deaf, glassy-eyed "jacuzzi attendant" with fingers like Serbian love-worms to fall in love with an older man? Was it impossible? Unlikely? True?

The other thing: I told her up front that I didn't drink anymore. She respected that. During our last steam together, she laid this thimble of gelatinous, leafy stuff on me—nutrients, therapeutic, etc... tasted like green Chloraseptic mucus. It was the last time I saw her before Authorities arrived. I'm left with a deep hunger. At this very moment I'm imagining this plastic tube of BIC blue ink is part of the cure. I'd break it open with my molars and suck it down.

Anyway—I've always liked you. That said, I'm not even sure why anymore. Maybe because you've always left me alone to do what I think is right.

I'm a fatalist. And I'm going to bed now. Everything seems fragmented. But the pieces seem Mercurial, ready to creep together again.



P.S.: Fuck you. Meet me at The Grand, 945pm 5/22. I'll buy you a drink.


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