How 9) Strange
by Laird Hunt
1) For many years, he had been a much-loved professor of languages, and now he was dying. In honor of this fact, he had told his wife, he would invite the students in his introductory German class, with whom he enjoyed the most convivial relations, to their house to drink beer and nibble sausages and sing simple German songs. There are at least two facts in that proposition, his wife, who had been a professor of philosophy, had said, but I will make sausages and slice cucumber and set out flowers. A kind that I love, the professor of languages had said. Peonies, his wife had said. Dance with me, the professor had said. His wife, who had been hammering pork chops for their lunch, set down her hammer, rinsed the flecks of blood and coarse salt from her fingers, curtsied to his bow, and placed her arm on his shoulder. 2) The professor and his students arrived the evening of the party to find the house filled with peonies, flush with plates of sausages ringed by cucumber slices, and equipped with small kegs of beer. The students went around the room sniffing at the plates of sausages and at the flowers and fondling the kegs. One young woman began immediately eating cucumber slices. Her large eyes, which were part of the reason the professor felt a particular fondness for this class, grew slightly greener as every few seconds she brought a slice of cucumber to her mouth. By and by, the other students began eating and drinking, and then the singing began, and then 3) the party was over and the students, still singing a song about plums and melons and days gone by, left, and after a 4) time the professor's wife walked in from whatever errand she had concocted to avoid the party and found her husband holding a slice of cucumber and rubbing his eyes. It's bedtime for you, my darling, she said, taking the slice of cucumber and popping it into her mouth. I think it is, he said. All that rubbing has made you walleyed, my dear, she said as she helped him under the covers. It's funny you say that, he said. Why? she said. But already he was asleep. 5) He was dreaming. He was young again. A breeze blew through his mind and ruffled the waters of the boathouse, where, in the early morning, he had come and now came to throw sticks into the water for the fish, which rose – here, now, in his head—by the hundreds, their mouths aching ovals searching for bread. Even when another mouth rose, this one ringed by tentacles and much larger, 6) and came for him, caressed him, 7) then slipped itself over his face, he felt the breeze blowing its cool air across everything—even the polyp, which by now had released him and swum off elsewhere, where, in his stomach, it had company—and 8) he smiled, and his wife turned and saw his lips tremble then purse and thought, how 9) strange. The End.
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