The Bobble Glass Scholar by Michael Berntsen

The blister on his nose burst from all the typing. He continued to press it against the keys despite the thin stream of blood, puss, and sweat rising between the crevices of each letter. His determination subdued the pain. His focus distracted his stomach from its emptiness and his kidneys from their overflow. If he weren’t wearing his lucky Emily Dickenson boxers, the ones he never took off during the month of his four comprehensive exams, he would have happily soiled himself.

Blood soon reached his tongue, making him aware of his body. He paused and hovered over the tiny, flooded temples devoted to the alphabet.

“Shit,” he spat as he stared at the incomplete sentence and the cursor at its end, which taunted him with its disappearing and re-appearing act. He read the clause aloud hoping to jump-start his brain, “Twain’s always/already paradigm of the social spectacle of the human humor apparatus encapsulates…” He repeated it fifteen times.

These words could be in a book if he managed to finish the essay by morning. Professor Kabbazzia offered to help him finally obtain a publication; however, the boy had two classes to teach, eighty papers and forty mid-terms to grade, his dissertation to finish, favors from the Hospitality Committee to fulfill, and an emotionally dependent aunt to keep from drinking herself to death. He knew that he would certainly perish if he missed this opportunity.

After all, he had lost his right hand while reading the rejection e-mail concerning his story about a dead air-traffic controller trying to rearrange heaven’s angelic flight patterns. His left hand and arm eroded after editors declined his collection of poems entitled, Meat, Maggots, and Mothers. Both feet quickly crumbled to ash as he read a letter from Shakespeare Quarterly, which refuted the notion of Othello containing traces of the blues impulse. His left leg dehydrated and withered off once his girlfriend of three years dumped him for Ainsly Windsor, who had won the Graduate Student of the Year Award (twice), had been published in several creative and literary journals (as noted on his business card), and had already stolen his dissertation chair. He could not recall as he stared into the computer screen’s whiteness how his right leg managed to break off. He missed it most of all, nonetheless.

A tranquil numbness gradually overtook his body. The darkness outside his window crept into his office and blanketed his nerves. No time existed at that moment. No thoughts conflicted in his head. No noise permeated the building save for the distant activity of clocks, vending machines, and halogen lights.

“James?” a voice thundered.

Disoriented, the boy rushed to compose himself. He tried to find the source of the sound through his blurred eyes.

“James, my boy, what are you doing here this late?”

The world decided to return to his retinas. He glanced at a word document that consisted of “gh6gy7y6998j3xw” row after row after row. He was puzzled. His face felt imprinted.

“Did I wake you?”

The boy shook the confusion from his face. “I guess so.”

“You look terrible.”

“I’m almost done.”

Dr. Kabbazzia grinned. “Sober up and hand it to me, oh, by nine thirty.”

“What time is it?”

“Two fifteen.”

“I used to type faster.”

“Your limbs will grow back.”

“As long as I don’t lose my head, I suppose.”

“Give me what’s left of your arm.”

Dr. Kabbazzia took out a cheese grater from his coat pocket and gently scraped it against his tan, leathery skin. Sprinkles of his flesh glided onto the boy’s extended stump.

“It will grow back, James, but your hand will be my hand and your fingers will be the digits of my mentor. Your nails will each be made from the keratin of academics who are preserved by footnotes.”

The boy felt his skin absorb the epidermal flakes. New ideas surged within the nuclei of his cells. Unfamiliar voices occupied his brain.

“Remember, eight,” Dr. Kabbazzia sternly barked as he turned and walked down the corridor.

The campus eventually awoke, intruding upon the boy’s nocturnal solace with its heavy traffic of half-asleep stragglers. By this time, his pants were damp, his nose dangled off his face, and his keypad became inoperable as the river of blood hardened into crimson tar. At 7:58, he e-mailed his completed essay to Dr. Kabbazzia and prepared to teach in two minutes.

Michael Berntsen teaches Composition, Creative Writing, and Literature at the University of Louisiana. His works have appeared in various publications, including Untoward Magazine, Canyon Voices, and Prick of the Spindle.