Aristotles of Flesh and Bone by J.S. Helgerson
Aristotles of Flesh and Bone
The teacher started life in the tank behind the chalkboard at 8:22 am. Children had been filing into the classroom for the last fifteen minutes, and their quiet chatter filled the air. First bell was at 8:30.
The tank, initially a warm womb, quickly lost its heat. Feeling cold for the first time, the teacher was urged to movement. It was a trick the administration had discovered early on, when the first generation of teachers had refused to emerge from their tanks, setting the curriculum back weeks. It was one of the few glitches that had needed ironing out. After that, the system worked smoothly.
8:24 – The teacher swam from corner to corner, chasing the last hints of warmth.
8:27 – The water was little more than tepid. The teacher could start to smell its predecessors.
8:29 – A porthole opened in the tank’s side and fluorescent light streamed through. The teacher swam toward it.
8:30 – As the bell rang, the teacher pushed through the porthole’s membrane and slid whatever it could fit through. Its slender body, so like an eel’s, emerged into the air. A mass of bone at its end prevented it from flopping out onto the ground; another little fix.
All the children sat in their seats, eyes on the teacher, waiting. The teacher looked distracted: by its new surroundings, by the feel of its drying skin, by the pull of gravity. It flexed its arms, playing with their weight. Then it spoke.
“Paczynski, Robin?” Its voice was high and nasal, cutting through the silence like steam.
The names came unbidden to the teacher. They were just something it knew. It knew many things. It knew the names and faces of its students, and that it loved this brood very much. It knew that the lesson plan was for ecology in the morning and history in the afternoon, and it knew the answers to any question a student might ask on these subjects, if there was an answer to give. It knew that it was to call the deans for misbehaving students, so those students would be taken away. It knew that sometimes they came back.
It did not know what was outside the classroom. It did not know what happened at the end of the day. It did not care.
Roll call, which helped warm up the teacher’s unused vocal cords and direct its attention towards the students, was an important ritual. It was among the strongest instincts the teacher had. But once the last name was called, the teacher did not begin to lecture. It merely announced that “the mornings topic is ecology”.
The children each pulled notebooks from their bags, along with thin green textbooks. A few got up and grabbed additional books from the shelves lining the walls. Then, they began to work. Some formed into small groups, discussing what they had read the night before and how it meshed with the ideals of their green books. Others remained alone and just continued reading, jotting down notes. The teacher watched each with a proud eye.
Occasionally, a student would approach the teacher with a question. It would listen patiently and then slowly, perfectly, give the answer. The chalkboard within its reach filled with diagrams and explanations, and by the lunch bell there was a dense circle of chalk surrounding the porthole.
There were no disturbances during class. The students worked diligently. The idea of not doing so, of wasting time chatting or playing games beneath their desks, no longer occurred to them. They all remembered their first day of school, pleasant anxiety shifting to dread when the teacher emerged to greet them. The fear from that surprise had long since evaporated, but its implication, that this was a system willing to terrify you from the first and so must be respected, remained. Visits from the deans had only cemented this. School is a place for learning, nothing else. This was their first lesson, and the one that they had learned best.
Outright fear is useless, but its residue breeds diligence.
The lunch lady came in balancing trays on her many arms and carried them away when the students had finished eating. The good students started reviewing their history notes. A couple finally convinced the new transfer student, who had spent the morning trembling in the back, to ask the teacher a question, just to introduce himself.
12:45 – Afternoon lessons began.
1:32 – The transfer student started distracting others. The nearby students mentioned the deans, and he quieted. The teacher rotated on its spine, smiling patiently.
2:30 – Final bell. The students filed out, each saying goodbye to the teacher one by one. The teacher beamed at them, bursting with pride. Those are its wages.
2:32 – The last student had left. The water in the tank began to heat again, and the teacher slid backwards into its warmth.
When completely submerged again, it tried to close its eyes in pleasure, a holdover instinct at odds with its lack of eyeballs. The administration couldn’t fix every little bug, especially with its restricted funding. The teacher, of course, knew nothing about the politics of education. It was only aware of the tanks dreamy heat, now steadily increasing, and of the students’ progress today. Anna had asked an insightful question about energy dynamics. Peter had correctly labeled the views of Warren as subversive. Filled with pride, the heat began to take the teacher apart.
The process took less than an hour. Bits of flesh floated off like dirt in the wash. By the end, the teacher was nothing more than a green tint in the water.
In the administration’s office a disc labeled ‘ecology + history’ was replaced with one labeled ‘literature + current events’.
At midnight, the next teacher began to form, its body precipitating out of the water like rock candy. By 8:22 the following morning it would be ready, all it needed to know in its mind, ready to do a good day’s work.