THE DOSSIER OF TIMOTHY COTTON Pt. I
By Jesse Coy Nelson
Scott was to have his first sick day at the hagwon where he worked. He had been diagnosed with a concussion and advised by the Korean doctor to have at least one day without work, although three to four days were more advisable. That was less of an option for Scott, who was the only foreign teacher at his hagwon, and who knew that at this moment, his hagwon was experiencing technical difficulties.
If asked to describe the scene in the alleyway where his friend, Mike, and his girlfriend, Reggie, had found him after concern over his absence sent them on a search and recover mission, he would’ve drawn a blank. He remembered neither the pool of blood beneath his head nor Reggie’s panic, or Mike’s quick-thinking action of getting them to the hospital.
The hospital was where memory began to filter back to him, albeit in scraps, as though someone held a blanket that had been attacked by a knife in downward slashing motions, the strands of cloth that remained representing Scott’s memory, as impressions not necessarily connected by any fabric. There had been an x-ray, isolating the crushing pain that he felt in his head. There had been Mike, making some quip about Timothy Cotton, whoever that was, while they waited for the diagnosis. Scott had had no idea as to what Mike was talking about, and when he told him so, Mike continued on with the point, saying that that was the whole reason why Scott had left the cafe in the first place, none of which Scott could remember.
Not only did Scott have no idea as to what Mike was talking about, but he wanted him to stop talking about this, as it caused considerable displeasure not in his pounding head, but rather in the pit of his stomach.
There was also Reggie, trying to decide what to do. She wanted to stay with Scott, but a call to the director at their hagwon in Busan left her with the overall impression that such a course of action was ill advised. It did not constitute a sick day. There was a call to Scott’s own hagwon, although he could not recollect if this was at the hospital or in the taxi back to his home. He told them of his concussion, and even left the number of the doctor, which he had had enough foresight or bearing of mind to record.
And then Mike and Reggie were gone, and it was just Scott on the fifth floor of his building, in the officetel room as was contracted to him, which in many ways felt to him like a motel or dorm room, with a mini-kitchen thrown in near the entrance in the form of a unit with a small sink, gas burner and minimum cabinet space.
He sat on his bed, too immobilized to do anything. He knew that he should piece together what had happened, but he equally knew that he not only wouldn’t, but he actually couldn’t. The pain in his head was great. He knew that he should take one of the pills as the doctor had advised. But for some reason, despite the pain, it took him quite some time before he could summon up the will to reach for the pill bottle, and furthermore, exert the energy to open it. Until he committed himself to such a course of action, he just sat, his brain uncomfortably beating not to the pulse of his heart, but to some painful pulsar in space, cutting off sensation with the rest of his body. He was merely an immobilized, throbbing ball of hurt.
When he finally did take the pain pill, he felt relief wash over him. He leaned into the wall against which his bed had been pushed, and he fell asleep in this position, for like a tightrope walker fearing that the slightest tilt in one direction or the other might topple him, so too did Scott feel that with his pain temporarily held at bay, any move to disturb that delicate equilibrium of conditions would reinstate an awful state.
So Scott slept, or more accurately, entered a vacuum.
It was actually for two days that he was away from his hagwon. On the first day of his recovery, he was in and out of this state of unawareness that the pills provided for him. At one point, the head teacher of his hagwon came to visit him, and it seemed that very begrudgingly he was given an extra day to remain at home to recuperate, less for any concern over his health on their part, and more a worry that his drugged performance while teaching might reflect badly upon the hagwon.
Conditions had so greatly changed at this place of employment from when Scott had first begun there. At the midpoint of his tenure, the school had changed franchise alignments. Scott had been amazed at the new text they were obligated to use with the new franchise, with chapters containing a moderate helping of grammatical errors, and not even the trickier ones, where one correct word was accidentally substituted for the wrong word, such as…
Where are you form?
No, these were spelling errors indicative of an editing team or person who did not even use a computer’s spell check feature. It was an editor who had given up on editing.
The bear was brwon.
Also, there was Sookie, the head teacher, who had tried so much to be his friend when he first arrived at the hagwon. They had walked home together each day, and talked like friends, not head teacher to underling. She had even asked him advice on various personal matters. He knew, for example, that she was married with two children. More than this, as was somewhat shocking in Korean culture, her current husband was her second husband, or stepfather to these two children. Furthermore, only a month earlier, her husband flew to New York City, having accepted a job there. It was hard for Scott to think of such a thing, a married man working and living in a different country than the rest of his family, but there it was. And he doubted that it was just a coincidence that it was at this time that Sookie’s mood seemed to turn from gentle spring to frosty winter in such a short span of time.
On the second night that Scott spent at home, his cell phone rang. It was Sookie.
“You will be in for your classes tomorrow?” she half asked and half told him.
Scott had made progress on this day. He had actually left his bed and had also eaten some soup. He knew how to deal with the pain. Just pop a pill when it reared its ugly head, and then bingo… back into the cage it went.
That night, he had not a dream, but rather a flashback, or half flashback and half out of body experience, for what he saw was an event that had actually happened, occurring on the first day of his tenure at this hagwon, during his first class. This vision was not so unusual, as it seemed that either the concussion itself, or the combination of pain pills that he was taking, had such an effect as to blend dream, reality, memory, and shifts of perspective.
That first class was five students, aged five to six, he would guess. He was back there once more, not only as a participant in the scene as the teacher, but also outside of the scene, watching it has it happened.
As would be expected, the students were to a large degree shy, as this new stranger in their midst taught them. Yet partway through the class, Scott watched as Teacher Scott noticed the girl who sat in the back with a very unhappy look upon her face. He wondered if perhaps one of the other students had taunted her or if she was feeling unwell. Teacher Scott went back to his lesson on colors, shapes, and numbers, and Scott watched as Teacher Scott occasionally looked to that young student to see if her expression had changed. It did not. Perhaps she was just a naturally unhappy child.
It was near the end of class when she began to whimper, and then stood up, and then…
Scott knew what Teacher Scott did not know. Regardless, the outcome remained equally disturbing, something out of an exorcist sequence, as the child began to wet herself and the floor around her. Teacher Scott was like a deer caught in the headlights, as the other students just looked on without comment. Finally, Teacher Scott stood up himself, and rather than join in with a similar display, he went to get Sookie.
His alarm sounded.
Scott was conscious of the fact that it was about to go off moments before it went off. He opened his eyes, or maybe they were open all along. As for the pain in his head, it was like a giant stomping out his approach. Scott could sense the oncoming footfalls reverberating in his skull. A pill… he needed to forestall any arrival with a pill.
He wished it were not Wednesday when it came to the day of his return to the hagwon. His first class at 2pm was the rambunctious boys. At nine students, not only was this one of his larger classes, but it also contained James, a boy who seemed to have no interest in learning English. His only interest lied in disrupting the rest of the class. If you were to take James out of the equation of this class, as was evidence on the days when he was absent, the rest of the class settled. But when he was there, like a chemical agent added to produce more volatility, little progress could or would be made.
Scott had been at pains to defuse this element. He had reconfigured the seating from aisles to a Knights of the Roundtable formation, making a horseshoe, and inviting his “good friend,” James, to sit at one of the heads of the horseshoe. When James misbehaved, Scott could spin the desk around to face forward, cutting off James’ ability to incite others to tomfoolery.
“There’s a dragon in that blackboard, my friend,” Scott would say to James. “Tell me when you find it.”
He did not care if James fell asleep, so long as he was undisruptive. He had been particularly proud of how he had so calmly struggled his way to a solution to the James problem, which was part of the reason why he had had a blowout with Sookie when three weeks ago, she pulled him aside to tell him that she found his performance as a teacher overall “disappointing.” True, some students were dropping out of the school. Yet perhaps it was more of a matter of the school switching to substandard learning materials riddled with errors. An argument ensued, which finally involved Scott declaring that he would not stand in as a whipping boy to someone having personal problems in their life.
Sookie turned red.
Since then, he was receiving a chilly reception not only from Sookie, but also from Sally and Michelle, the school’s other two English teachers, both Busan natives.
The pill began taking effect as Scott walked to the hagwon. It was the first time that he had been on his feet since the concussion. It was as though he floated to his job. He spoke not a word as he punched his timecard in on the clock. No one came to ask him how he was feeling. Before he did go into his class, though, the receptionist waved a paper toward him.
“Two new students,” she said, the bare minimum that she could speak. “First class.”
Scott would have to add them to his roster. From nine students to eleven now, in James’ class, no less… yet feeling numb as he was, he did not particularly care.
The first thing that he saw when he opened the door to the classroom was a perplexing sight. James was in his usual seat, but instead of the roguish, grinning look upon his face, there was the sort of timid expression usually reserved for shy students. He even looked a bit… frightened?
“Teacher, teacher,” called out one of the students. “Look! New students, they the same!”
Scott looked to the back of the room where his two new students were sitting, and what he saw caused him to reel. They were both looking directly at him. These boys had perfectly oval faces, glasses, and flat bowl haircuts. They wore identical smiles, slightly lopsided, and their eyes, while wide, seemed somehow like those of a mannequin. Yet they both faced Scott, blinking in intervals.
An image flashed through Scott’s mind, and then returned with more clarity, of a similar boy as these two, who must be twins. That other boy, who looked exactly as these two did, had one difference. Half of his face had been missing, revealing wires, cogs, and other machinery present behind a robot’s face.
“Hello, teacher,” they said in unison.
TO BE CONTINUED
Jesse Coy Nelson’s music review site is: http://www.audiotavern.com/