Posted on: July 18th, 2009 Revision

by Daniel Powell

He had become very peculiar in the last year.

“I apologize in advance for my odor,” he said on the first day of class. “I’ve altered my diet. It’s had some…well, some drastic effects on me. I take no offense if you keep your distance while we discuss your writing.”

Within a week we learned that he subsisted only on fish and clams. His scent never bothered me; he smelled like the ocean on a cool autumn day.

I had enjoyed his Composition I course when I was a freshman. He was kind and sincere, and he stayed after class to help those of us who cared about our writing.

Of course, back then he’d been much larger; he actually had muscles. Now, he was just a series of strings and cords beneath a canvas of pale skin.

His hair had been longer also. Now, he kept what was left up there cropped close to the scalp. When he leaned over his podium you could see little flakes of skin there, like a tiny collection of scales.

The third difference was that he was very sad. This was quite a change; I’d never pegged him for the type.

A few weeks in, the news had made the rounds on campus. He’d lost his wife and little girl. There had been an accident.

Now it all made a little more sense. He taught the minimum workload necessary to maintain his status at the university. He stacked his office hours on Friday afternoons, knowing he wouldn’t be bothered.

I chose one of those afternoons to visit him, just prior to the Thanksgiving holiday. I brought an essay with me as a cover story, but mostly I was curious about how he was holding up.

The English Department was deserted. I walked down the dim hallway to his office and stopped when I heard him weeping. I craned my neck, concentrating.

His words were awash in grief, but I understood a few of them all the same. Changing. Growing.

Becoming.

I felt a little guilty, but I listened for a few minutes. I was just about to leave when I let go with an involuntary cough. It was a small one, just the last of an old chest cold, but he heard me. The weeping ceased immediately.

“Who’s there?”

I stepped into his doorway. “Hi. I’m sorry to bother you…”

He stood, swiped the tears from his eyes and offered a little smile. “Oh, no trouble. Please, come in, Ann. It’s nice to see you. Don’t mind the smell.”

His office smelled like cod.

I sat and he turned away from me and covered something on his desk. It looked like a stack of charts. Old nautical charts. “What can I do for you?”

“I was wondering…” I considered giving him the essay and decided instead just to come out with it. “I was wondering how you’re doing.”

He sat up in his chair, like I’d reached out and slapped him. He stared at me. “Revision,” he said after a lengthy pause. “I’m undergoing extensive revision.”

And that’s about the gist of it, really. We talked for a little while longer. He touched briefly on the accident and the nature of his grief. When I saw him in our next class session, he never mentioned our meeting.

And then, a week later, he was gone.

We sat there on a cold Tuesday morning and the dean told us that our writing teacher had simply walked into the ocean. Vanished. There was a palpable sense of loss in the room that day, and everyone left quietly.

I was home for Christmas when the thought finally occurred to me. It came unbidden, like a moment of perfect clarity. I logged onto the internet and found the article in no time. The Google search had flagged his wife’s name, and his daughter’s was there as well. They were two among many that had perished on a ferry that capsized in the waters near Amelia Island. Their bodies were never recovered

They never found him either. There was just a brief note on top of a set of clothing, weighted down with a rock.

I sometimes wonder about that note. I think about it in the quiet times, when I have a moment to myself. I’m pretty sure, though, that he’d confessed his plans that night in his office. Revision, he’d said, I’m undergoing extensive revision.

And I often wonder if he made it.

Filed under: bad-ass, stories

4 Responses to “Revision”

  1. Rachel Green Says:
    July 18th, 2009 at 11:52 pm

    An excellent, if fishy, tale.

  2. Rachel Green Says:
    July 18th, 2009 at 11:52 pm

    An excellent, if fishy, tale.

  3. William Says:
    July 20th, 2009 at 12:40 am

    What a lovely story! I like the use of scent, and the professor’s choice of words. Perhaps you could link the author’s name to something more?

  4. William Says:
    July 20th, 2009 at 12:40 am

    What a lovely story! I like the use of scent, and the professor’s choice of words. Perhaps you could link the author’s name to something more?

  5. GEORGIA Says:
    July 20th, 2009 at 10:49 pm

    Beautiful and quiet and a little sad.

  6. GEORGIA Says:
    July 20th, 2009 at 10:49 pm

    Beautiful and quiet and a little sad.

  7. Doug Says:
    July 24th, 2009 at 1:46 pm

    Daniel you left me wanting more… Nice work…. How did he die anyways? haha

  8. Doug Says:
    July 24th, 2009 at 1:46 pm

    Daniel you left me wanting more… Nice work…. How did he die anyways? haha