moonlight making crosses
“I am a good man.
The amount of fear
I am ok with
is insane. ”
--Molly Brodak (Untitled) by Molly Brodak.
His teaching assistant begins the day by arriving an hour early, hands full of paper-burgeoned binders with cracked plastic on their spines, and greeting him with, “Laoshi, my psychology class ended early today, but I didn’t really want it to, you know?”
Song Liwei does not turn from where he’s seated at his desk. He circles another error in muted, inky red on the assignment he’s grading. Judging by the handwriting, it’s the student who sits near the window—Chang Yan’s—exam. Marking off a point for failing to recognize ideal gas laws and the equations, he is more sure of this; confirming his thoughts as he checks the name scrawled at the top of the paper, he writes the final score. Chang Yan had struggled with the topic during the lecture. He makes a mental note to make a review powerpoint for him before the final exam.
“Please keep your outside classes’ matters within their own lecture rooms,” Song Liwei says.
Sun Xinyi, as usual, heeds him no mind, and continues to talk. He sets his backpack down with a clunk. “It was about stages of morality. Lots of development throughout age and stuff. Mega complex! Some of the examples were pretty sick.”
Xinyi usually takes this time to eat. Song Liwei turns to his TA to ask if he needs change to buy himself something, but Xinyi waves him off, predicting this question, and holds up a bag of dried plums in answer.
“It was kinda flawed and inaccurate, though? I mean, the stages made sense, but some holes were pretty easily poked into them. Preconventional morality seemed too simple for what’s displayed by like, easily observable toddlers. Or Clifford the red dog, even.”
“Do not eat in my class,” Song Liwei says. “There are students with allergies.”
“Oh, shoot, right. Putting these bad boys away.” Song Liwei turns back to his papers in response. “Are you grading, laoshi? Seems boring. Well, turns out the info was inaccurate because the guy researching only sampled males, ha.”
“Lawrence Kohlberg,” Song Liwei answers. “I am familar.”
“Oh, nice! Yeah, not cool of that guy. Or maybe girls just didn’t like being tested back then?” Xinyi pauses, laying himself back on a table lazily with a sigh. He stretches out his limbs like a particularly overexcited dog anxious to go on a run. “What do you think makes a good person, laoshi?”
Song Liwei pauses, pen stilling in his hand above the next paper.
“I think a lot of good people don’t know that they are,” Sun Xinyi continues, yawning. “They get so caught up about it, probably. That’s what I think, anyways.”
Song Liwei gently plucks a splinter of wood out of one of the student desks. They had to be refurbished, he thought. Splinters weren’t serious hazards, but they were reason for discomfort enough.
“I disagree,” Song Liwei responds. “Humans tend to know themselves the best. The ... good ... know themselves for what they are. I believe the same for the contrary.”
Xinyi hums thoughtfully. Then, laughing nonchalantly, he teases, “If it’s anything, I think you’re pretty good, laoshi.”
“It is kind of you to think so,” Song Liwei says.
“I love many people
who don’t love me.
I don’t actually know
if that is true.”
After class ends, he holds office hours late into the evening, as long as he is allowed until the lecture halls close for the night. Final exams are approaching. There is no need to leave early when resources need to be as accessible as possible in such a time.
The telltale drone of the aircon powering down, as well as the fluoroescent lights in the hallway flickering off signal to him with a peek out of his office that campus doors are going to be locked soon, though. Gathering his laptop, he prepares to head out for the night.
Song Liwei pauses once he spots a book that’s fallen off its shelf in another classroom. He steps inside to pick it up.
“—Professor Song did a good job at explaining it during review, I thought?”
“Yeah, I guess so. I mean, still gonna totally bomb these exams, anyways.”
“Ha! Felt that, girl. One-hundred-percent. Ugh, I am so gonna get wasted once these are over.”
Crouched down to pick up the book, he pauses again at the two familiar voices. They were two of his more quiet students. If they were in the hallways this late, perhaps they’d just missed his office hours? Song Liwei turns around, hand on the doorknob, halfway turning it and thinking to ask them if they needed anything.
“I mean, he’s alright, I guess. But Professor Song’s kinda ... you know?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean he’s like. Nice and all, right?”
Song Liwei’s hand stills.
“Well ... ”
“Okay, nice is a bit of a hyperbole. No, he’s polite. He says good morning and all that. But it’s all so ... robotic? Emotionless? False? I don’t know.”
The other student laughs, almost startled. “Oh my God.”
“No, seriously, you know I’m right! Like, yeah he’s a great teacher and all, but he kinda gives me, like, sociopath vibes. Like he doesn’t feel anything beyond reciting chemistry equations. Isn’t that a thing?”
They both laugh in earnest, now. “Jesus Christ. I totally see it, holy—okay, I feel so bad for saying this, but he does seem like the type to live alone in some creepy little hideout.”
“I mean, yeah? No way he’s dating anyone. I doubt there’d be a person alive who would willingly want to be around him all the time. He’s always the one putting the distance out, anyways, you feel me?”
Song Liwei lets go of the doorknob. Quietly, the footsteps in the hallway fade away as they get further out. He crouches back down to the fallen book, and carefully places it back onto its shelf.
When the footsteps are gone, he makes his way out, a bit late for his train’s departure time.
Song Liwei checks his emails. There is one unread one from Rui Nuanhai about the next faculty event. At first, she had insisted on them exchanging numbers for quick messages about work related matters, but he’d declined. She’d come to agree with the sentiment eventually: his career at university as a professor was marred with rumors that Song Liwei had only secured his position at his age by having inappropriate relations with its head of school.
Unbidden, he looks over the dozens of unsent emails in his drafts.
Dear Liu Junjie, I am not sure if this is how to best correspond with you, but it is a possibility that this email I found on LinkedIn is yours, and I ...
Dear Liu Junjie, I am aware that I am the last person you would wish to hear from but ...
Dear Liu Junjie, do you need anything, where you are? Wherever you are? I could help, though I know you would not want it from me, but anything you need, I would ...
Dear Liu Junjie, we need not converse. If you are safe, please let me know.
Dear Liu Junjie, I am willing to sacrifice anything of my possessions if it meant your wellbeing. It is only my job as ...
Dear Liu Junjie, I am sorry. I am ...
At the volunteer club he sponsors, Song Liwei writes an advertisement for new members on a flimsy, styrofoam board. It smells rancid.
The head student of the club calls out to him. “So what’d you do this weekend, laoshi?”
“I appreciate the concern, but it would be unprofessional to discuss outside matters with a student. However, I hope yours was spent appropriately restful.”
Song Liwei hears a muffled “I told you so, dude,” and out of the corner of his eye, spots one of them handing a five dollar bill to the other, as if received in a bet. An equivalent exchange.
In his nightmares, he is fifteen again.
She traces her fingers, adorned in a pristine, painted red manicure, over the skin of his chin again. Then at his forearms. The smell of night-blooming pollia is overpowering in the shrouded room, threatening to choke him as it creeps into his nostrils, down his throat, the phantom blooms of a mocking blossom thinking it so better as to snuff him out in its embrace—mercy kill. Mercy kill, they call it.
“I’m the only one who will ever want you, hm?” He is fifteen, still. “No one else. Not after they know.”
He does not wake up violently. Instead, he slowly blinks himself out of the scene imposed on him by sleep, and stares at his blank, lifeless ceiling for several minutes while his heartbeat threatens to shatter him into pieces by mere force alone.
Song Liwei flips on the light switch to his bathroom, and hurls into the toilet.
The tiles beneath his knees are cold and unforgiving. He stays there for the night.
Xinyi greets him cheerily, this time with sticky food crumbs clinging to his chin already. “Did you have a good sleep, laoshi? I had the most awesome dream, so I woke up super pumped.”
“Yes,” Song Liwei says, already having grown softened enough with Xinyi to at least speak of such. “If you wish, you may tell me about it.”
“I can’t really remember, actually!” Xinyi laughs, hopping over the table. “Just that it was good. Prof, let me tell you about this kid I met, he seems like a foreign exchange student, honestly, but his Chinese is perfect—so it’s more like he just seems like he’s been away for a while ... ”
“This is love.
It is a mass of ice
melting, I can’t hold
it and I have nowhere
to put it down.”