"Teacher Vincent, we do not like you to stop the movie."
The class applauded her announcement, and Vincent set the stalled picture back into motion. Before long E.T.'s adventure on Earth took a perilous turn. When he was discovered ashen-colored and unconscious beneath a highway embankment, the entire class released a collective groan of anxiety. Later, when he died on the operating table, they were all thrown headlong into despair. Yet still, a glimmer of hope endured. A warm, pulsing light began to bloom inside E.T.'s chest.
This was a moment Vincent cherished. He was sitting opposite the class behind his desk. He was not interested in the least in watching E.T.'s resurrection or in drawing attention to its likeness to Christ's own resurrection. Instead, he studied their fascination, the fall and rise of their sentiments, watched as their unguarded expressions became charged with the naked emotional beauty women reveal only to their most intimate friends and family members. E.T. shimmered back to life and in the passing of a few heartbeats their lovely, captivated faces went from sorrow to bewilderment, to a nearly unnameable emotion that verged on reverence. At last, E.T. rose up from his sickbed, and they were swept away by wild, contagious joy.
After the movie ended, they sat stunned in their seats for a moment then collected their books and papers and filed dreamily out the door. Vincent sat at his desk and began poring over the girls' handwritten speech assignments. From the classroom next door, he could hear Jonathan Hwang leading a chorus of students through an English nursery rhyme. He also heard a polite "Excuse me" and looked up to find Trudy standing before him. She now wore a stiff black uniform, the same design and insignia that Shao-fei wore to Toulio Provincial High School.
"Teacher Vincent, I ride here to see you because I want to ask you an important question." She sat down in the empty chair beside him, quite close.
"All right," Vincent said. "Go ahead." The language laboratory was an audience of vacant chairs.
"What is your plan for Saturday afternoon?"
"Well, that's the day I grade papers and plan lessons."
"What is your plan for Sunday afternoon?"
"Well, I'm not sure now but -- "
"My family," she interjected, "is excited to meet you. So they plan a lunch dinner for you. Fish, shrimp, pig's feet, good Chinese food. I think Sunday is a good day."
"That's nice of your family, but are you sure they want to have a visitor now? I mean, aren't your parents upset about you going to a different school?"
Trudy wrinkled her eyebrows at the oddness of his question. "No, my father doesn't worry about that thing. He worries about other things. He worries about having the chance to meet you. He's very excited to meet you, Vincent. Can you make the plan on Sunday?"
It was clear he should say no, should fabricate an excuse or refuse outright, and then, in the wake of days to come, recast the visit as theory. In this form, he could ponder what would have happened but didn't with equal measures of whimsy and gratitude.
"You need to tell me how to get to your house," he said.
"My father and brother and me are coming to drive you there. We have a car," she said proudly.
"Then you need to know where I live." He reached for a piece of paper.
"Oh, I already know that, Vincent. Everybody knows where you live."
Copyright © 2004 by John Dalton
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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