I started reading Beowulf about a week ago, not because it was on the syllabus, but because I am in love with my English teacher. I would read anything for him. The cover of my copy of the book has a black background with the title in white block letters, and under those the jacket designer has placed the silhouette of a man, but just his top half, like a passport photo, except that the silhouette is made entirely of silver mesh. I keep turning back to this picture on the cover and wondering how they made it look three-dimensional, and half-expecting the pattern of metal to bulge into discernable features, to turn into a man’s face.
Once I finish the book, I will begin to drop casual references to it in class or at English club meetings. “This reminds me of my favorite epic poem,” I will say, pretending I don’t know that it’s also my English teacher’s favorite epic poem, and then I will quote brilliantly, lingering on the alliteration. Mr. Sears will pause, turning away from the blackboard to face me, holding a piece of chalk in his hand. Sometimes, in my most reckless moments of imagination, I see him dropping the piece of chalk in amazement.
I am not sure yet exactly which passages I will quote, because I am only on page 4. I reached page 4 this morning, as I sat in the hallway of the school with my best friend Amy. Every day we have our mothers drop us off exactly 45 minutes before the bell rings, and we sit on the ground outside the English office. I’m usually reading and Amy is usually peeling the varnish off the floor. The varnish lies in a loose coat over the hardwood and cracks as we step over it. Our school building deteriorates at an exponential rate; it seems like every day another part of it breaks off. One time I bicycled by and looked at the school and thought to myself, with fierce affection, “That is my high school,” relishing the still-newness of ninth grade, and just at that moment, a piece of one of the window frames creaked loose and fell from its hinge to the pavement.
Amy regularly peels the floor in patches all over the school. We eat lunch in stairwells, our backs against the concrete walls and legs crossed in front of us, sandwich bags in our laps, cackling at each other over inside jokes we’ve had since second grade, and she’ll take a break from peeling the floor to peel her tangerine, trying to remove each peel in one long strip. She peels the floor in the gymnasium during stretches, and then leaves the waxy scraps in small piles here and there so that later when we’re made to do push-ups, people’s hands and shoes accidentally land on these piles and their limbs go sliding sideways.