Strange Encounters
 

Ohio Portraits

by Erika D. Price

 
  Winter 2015 Fiction, Memoir & Poetry Anthology  |  Contents  |  Authors  |  echapbook.com

 

Ohio Portrait no. 64

We had an English teacher in 10th grade that leveled with us about everything. In her room we were proper adults. We watched Star Trek Voyager in her class and talked about its rhetorical themes. We got to choose which book we’d read as a class and critique (we voted for The Da Vinci Code, of all fucking things). We asked her what it was like to have size H breasts and she told us, and it wasn’t weird. She told us how she managed personal and public affairs with her husband, our algebra teacher.

One of us was the son of a Baptist preacher, who’d begun styling himself after his father. Students came to him with religious quandaries and philosophical questions. Once, I mentioned to him that gender and sex were not the same thing. He rolled his eyes, looked at me sadly, and said, “Oh, they’ve got you believing that crap?”

Our English teacher was religious. She attended a distant, unfamiliar black baptist church with her husband. In most ways they had an egalitarian marriage. She kept her last name. Their first born daughter had her surname; the husband got the second born. But they were traditional when it came to sex.

She came to the proto-preacher student one day, in front of all of us, and asked him about the wifely duty to submit.

"Do I have to do everything he wants to do?" She asked him. "Like…in marital relations, if there is something he wants…?"

Her brow was furrowed. She bent down to the boy’s desk. The boy said that yes, biblically it was her duty to keep him pleased. We tittered. Or maybe we didn’t. Maybe we were too shocked.

Our English teacher nodded gravely and thanked the boy for his counsel. A month later, she read us a poem she’d written about her husband. Imagine if someone who read a lot of Euripides wrote their own version of Beyonce’s “Love on Top.” It was like that.

Last I heard, she was still happily married and teaching at my former high school. Her husband left his post in the math department and re-enlisted in the military. There’d been a skirmish. He’d clobbered the white, skinny geometry teacher in a bar one Wednesday night a few years back.

 

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Ohio Portrait no. 19

My neighbor kept bears, inbred white tigers, lions, god knows. One of his animals was a grizzly that was in the live action, 1994 version of The Jungle Book.

You know the story. His son’s arm got chewed off. The man himself was killed by the creatures he kept in a shed less than 500 yards from my house. It was all over the news in early 2011.

What you do not know is that the man fed his animals stale cakes from Entenmann’s. That he drove an old, purloined Entenmann’s truck to the warehouse where my father worked, and filled it up with expired pastries not fit for human consumption. That the animals’ blood ran thick with glucose.

You do not know that the man brought his animals to the Cuyahoga County Fair and chained them to tables made of plyboard and charged $20 apiece to climb on top of them and get your picture taken. That 80% of the white tigers born in the US are inbred, blind, physically disabled, and severely brain damaged.  

I worked at the Fair, in the Funhouse right across from the man, his son, and their menagerie of chained pets. For thirteen hours a day I took tickets and stared straight ahead at them. So I’m glad the animals finally got to taste protein, even if it was just the one time, even if it was just some white trash asshole’s arm.

 

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Ohio Portrait no. 74

He was my first love, though he loved a vague, squishy, happy, simple version of me, not the actual me. It was over. He was leaving to study Yiddish at a school in New York. We were spending a lot of time in a hazy soup of emotions and hormones; holding hands, referencing years-old in-jokes, staring at each other, sobbing in Taco Bell and Petsmart and on sidewalks.

He had to get his blood checked before he went. A requirement of living in the NYU dorms, or a requirement of the high-dose, liver-damaging SSRI he was on. Either way, there was a stretched, greying band-aid wrapped over a thick wad of cotton on his forearm.

It came off while we were sitting on the couch. He was the type to leave things splayed around the apartment — socks, shirts, wads of gum, dozens of Keystone beer cans, papers written in German and Russian and Yiddish and Hebrew.

I had long ago gotten into the habit of grumbling and picking up after him, resenting it with every step. But I was in the emotional-hormonal soup, so this time I picked up the band aid and the puff of bloodstained cotton without a thought and marched it into the bathroom. I stood over the trash and let the band aid flutter down. But I kept the cotton resting in my palm, with the brown, amoeba-like blot of dried blood sitting up, looking at me. I may have even sobbed a little.

Like a guilty thief, I threw the bathroom door closed, opened the cabinets, unzipped my toiletry bag, and found a small tin pill box decorated with small blue stones. It was empty — unlike him, I took no pills at the time. I stuffed the cotton ball into the little box, latched it shut, and buried it under combs, brushes, concealers, acne cream, exfoliants, hoping against hope he’d never find it, never recognize it.

He never did. He never took the time to pick up a sock — how would he have found it? Instead, I found it — while cleaning out my bathroom eight or ten months later, in my new home in Chicago. I pitched it, gagging at myself.

 

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These portraits are part of an ongoing, as-yet unpublished series.

© 2015, Erika D. Price Go to top