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"Rocks" by Tyler Plofker

I've been stacking rocks. Igneous, metamorphic, sedimentary—I don't know. We learned that in school last year, yes, sure, but I don't know what kind of rocks these are. And I don't remember what it even means for a rock to be one or the other. I just know my rocks are rocks and I’ve been stacking them. Some are brown and some are black and some are white. Some are as big as a shoebox and others as big as a fist and others as big as a, like, paperclip and others as big as an ant. Obviously, the biggest ones go first. I stand in my backyard and stack as many as I can until they fall. When they fall, instead of being one rock on top of another in a big skinny tower, they become a layer of probably like fifteen rocks, and then maybe another layer of like ten, and then five, and blah blah blah. You know what a pile looks like. It’s much harder to knock down the pile than the tower. If you want to knock down the pile, like make it one single flat layer, you really need to kick it and push it and do some serious work. And the more rocks I start with in the tower, the harder it is to knock down the pile. Also, I forgot to mention, sometimes my friend Jack comes over and pushes down the tower to fuck with me, and then I punch him in the arm.

My English teacher explained a few months ago that Curley's wife wears red in Of Mice and Men because it represents danger, and that when you read a book the happenings are not just the happenings but represent things and allude to things and you can analyze them like that. Like also the farm George and Lennie talk about going to is not just a farm but independence. And so, after class last week, after all the other students left, I told my English teacher about how I stack the rocks and how they fall and how I think this means that in life if you develop good habits and traits and skills and other such things, then even if you fall on bad times those developed traits and things become a big pile that’s hard to knock down completely. And I told him my friend Jack knocking down the tower means that sometimes others might wrong you and cause you to fall on the bad times, but that punching them or, like, you know, seeking revenge or whatever, doesn’t put your life back together.

My English teacher said it was a nice thought, but that you can't analyze life in the same way you can books. I asked why not. He said the reason you can talk about books in that way is because someone created them and they’re art, but life doesn't work like that because it isn't art. I asked why something needs to be art to be analyzed. He started to sweat. Probably not because of our conversation, he just often sweats. He is a short, fat, often sweaty man who once told our eighth-grade class that he got into poetry because—being a short, fat, often sweaty man—it was his best chance to attract women. I don't know why he told our eighth-grade class this.

He then wiped his forehead with a napkin and said, "That's just the way it is, I guess." Which was another way of saying what he had been saying, which was nothing. Angry, I asked again, and he started organizing his papers while mumbling more words that still meant the same thing. It was the end of the school day and he was trying to brush me off and wasn’t answering my questions and couldn’t just admit he was wrong. This made me mad, but I wasn’t going to punch him in the arm or anything, because it was my teacher, you know, and so instead, like it was an essay assignment, I just said in our Honors English class way, I said, "Can we not make the case that you wiping the sweat from your brow moments ago, can we not make the case that that wipe represented not just the wiping of sweat, but also your desire to rid yourself of the negative externalities of your actions?”

Barely listening, he said, “Let’s talk about this another time,” and started stuffing his papers into folders and his folders into his messenger bag.

I slammed the classroom door shut. He turned to the noise. “What are you—”

“Yes, yes, yes,” I said, stepping back toward his desk, “and can we not say this stuffing of papers is merely a symbol for your attempt to keep hidden what cannot be hidden? To keep hidden what is causing the externalities in the first place!”

He started sweating more than normal. He looked surprised, guilty even. I pulled a chair up to his desk, stood on top of it, and pointed down at him. “The sweat! The sweat! A manifestation of dread! A symbol of nervousness! Lest, yes, I say it, lest! Lest! Lest we forget the lessons of The Tell-Tale Heart, that physical things, no, no, more precisely, furthermore, moreover, physical phenomena can represent spiritual and mental ruin. Lest! You have been sleeping with Mrs.Gladis, have you not?”

“What?” My English teacher jumped up from his desk, his hair now looking like he just got out of the shower and his face looking sad. This made me happy, but not happy enough. I jumped down from the chair. I stepped toward him and he stepped back, closer and closer to the window.

“Yes, how wonderfully ironic. A perfect example of literary irony! That a man who by his own admission has had extraordinary difficulties with women has now attracted two—not only his wife, but also Mrs.Gladis! And that this would be his undoing!”

“How do you—”

“But can we also not say,” I continued, “can we also not say that your steps, your steps right now, can we also not say that these are a symbol of your want, your wish, your hope to move backward in time, to reverse what you have done. Or perhaps, they’re a metaphor for how you have backtracked on the agreement implicit in your marriage. Implicit and explicit! Or, furthermore, it may conceivably be, perchance, an allusion, yes, an allusion to Bob Ewell in To Kill a Mockingbird, who also will not admit his guilt, and who also steps! Irregardless, all are damning symbols of your infidelity and your guilt!”

Looking like he was about to cry, he bumped up against the window. He turned and pulled it open, then climbed out and into a shrub. “An open window,” I screamed after him while he ran, “Oh boy, an open window! Need I say anything else!”

The power of good analysis was made clear. Obviously you can analyze life in that way and obviously I was right, because it worked. I felt a little bad about my outburst but figured it was probably just a representation of the early-teen angst that affects all youth.

We’ve had a substitute teacher each day since he ran out the window last week. I think that may represent he’s thinking through his wrongs and becoming a new man.

Anyway, the most rocks I've stacked up is forty-three. Forty-three rocks!

Tyler Plofker is a writer in NYC. His recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Identity Theory, Roi Fainéant, Maudlin House, Idle Ink, Defenestration, Bear Creek Gazette, and elsewhere. In his free time, you can find him eating sugary breakfast cereals, laying out in the sun, or walking through the streets of New York City in search of this or that. He tweets badly @TylerPlofker.

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