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Once, he had graded papers.  People make jokes about a red pen, but it had been standard, back in those days, and the students hadn’t argued.  The red, like the robe of an inquisitor, had meant authority.  He was a polymath, teaching history and mathematics both … a noted expert in the history of mathematics … and he’d been good enough at his work to enjoy it.  But it had been waiting, and it had never come.  Not once, in 30 years, had he felt the electric shock that comes with a student standing up and rebelling for the sake of truth.  They had rebelled, a few of them, the brave ones, the idiots … but they’d always been wrong.   He’d always had to force them back in to place.  There is, he suspected, a world of opportunity in being wrong about something important – new possibilities open up, new avenues for study, and the potential companionship of the kid who finally gets it right.  He’d expected that moment would come.  For ten years, he was sure it was around the corner.  With only five years left until retirement, he’d looked under every rock.  He’d taught at the ivy league, at community colleges, he’d done remedial courses in prisons.  Almost begging for a well timed lapse in judgment.

His expertise remained untarnished.  He wore the crown of righteousness.  More than righteousness – rightness.  At his retirement party, a university affair, covered in the press where a stupid young reporter had written that there would never be another one like him … as if she knew anything about it … he’d wanted to swallow arsenic.

History is built on the backs of men like me, he’d thought, and felt desperately alone.  Who else could do it?

Now he tended bar.  He’d moved to the west coast.  He was the token old man behind the counter three shifts a week, in a watering hole in a gentrifying neighborhood that was beginning to appeal to young people like his students.   He poured the drinks he was told, he wrote up the bills in red pen, and he listened, like Saul on the road to Tarsis, for a change in the weather.


St. John Campbell is a pseudonym


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