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The art teacher’s wife left him, and their two sons, for another woman two years ago. The art teacher, who taught high school in a suburban area of Miami, thought he was a pretty good dad, except for the one time when he brought the boys to a birthday party with a hired Barbie character and fucked Barbie in the upstairs bathroom.
The morning after Judy left, the art teacher ate Coco Puffs for breakfast. He let his sons open a box of Fruit Loops and a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch—it was a decadent breakfast. The boys chattered excitedly as he stirred the chocolatey milk with his spoon.
Why did Judy leave him? “Well, the answer’s obvious,” the younger son would say. “She was a lesbian.” “Don’t call your mother a lesbian,” the art teacher would say back. Still in love with Judy, the he got angry when people explained her only in terms of her sexuality.
He had met Judy at a girl-band show (retrospectively, he wondered if that had been the first sign that Judy would leave him for a woman). He’d asked her if the previous band was any good. “They played ‘Grease’ from Grease,” she’d said, with a smile.
Before the older son left for college, the two sons saw their mother on three-day weekends—President’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, etc. She made them grilled cheeses and let them watch all the TV they wanted. It took a forty-minute bus ride to see her because the sons were too polite to ask their father to drive.
He never thought that he’d end up in Miami, with children but no wife. In college, he had read Art in Theory cover to cover and thought that he would move to New York to try the starving-artist thing. He ended up in Miami because he followed a girl there. The girl broke up with him soon after the move, but at least Miami had a blossoming art scene and cheaper rent than New York. For five years he tried selling his work, but his work didn’t appeal to gallery owners. He resigned himself to becoming the undiscovered great artist of his century and got a job teaching high school.
Most of the students he found dull. The few kids he liked he asked to his office, encouraging them to keep drawing and recommending them books.
Years after Judy left, he took an extra liking to Angela, one of his seniors. He favored Angela because she was smart. She was also lovely, in a mousy, unaware-of-herself way, though she was no good at art—Angela didn’t have the concentration to render the yellowy and blueish shades of the skull he’d placed at the center of the striped still-life table.
Angela liked the art teacher too. One day, Angela was bold enough to put her hand on his. Their courtship was barely perceptible. In his class, she was a mediocre student who got a B+ out of sheer effort, but when she visited him in office hours they talked and talked. He never told her about Judy. He was the mentor, patiently listening to Angela’s high-school dramas and worries about getting into college. They saw each other often. Angela gave him blowjobs in the parking lot of a funeral parlor. She would gather her hair in a ponytail, tying it with a hair band, and bend over.
He considered marrying Angela—she was only two years younger than his older son. He imagined inviting Judy and her girlfriend to the wedding and his relatives tittering over their plates of cake.
He even visited Angela at the University of Chicago. He was going to propose, but when he saw her—she’d gotten a nose piercing and gained a little weight in her hips—he realized he couldn’t commit himself to someone who wouldn’t stop changing rapidly in the next ten years. “Call me when you’re thirty,” he said.
When he returned from Chicago, his younger son asked him about the Art Educators Conference he had supposedly attended. The art teacher gave his son a weary smile and said that the state of art education was very bad in this country. He told him to become a lawyer or a doctor. “Don’t follow your passions. They lead you to weird, lonely places. Nobody talks about this.”
Anna Mebel is an MFA candidate in poetry at Syracuse University. Her work has appeared in Broke Journal.