The Force of a Daughter Cannot Be Measured
If you enjoy reading Electric Literature, join our mailing list! We’ll send you the best of EL each week, and you’ll be the first to know about upcoming submissions periods and virtual events.
The Science Teacher’s Daughter
The science teacher does not feel feelings. He feels forces. “Now, what kinds of forces do you think I’m referring to?” he might ask his students, at least three of whom have called him “Dad” accidentally, which he finds sweet. He also finds it a bit intrusive, but only when he thinks about it on the weekends. Like a dog, he is smart at being lovable and at engaging the material of the world, but unaware of what exists in realms he can’t directly sense. To him, water is just hydrogen and oxygen.
The science teacher dwells on land and deals in sanity; he wakes up early to go for runs and learned to tie a tie many years ago. His learning objectives build on each other over the course of the semester in a purposeful progression. He enjoys the enclosed exhilaration of recreational hockey. After dinner, he washes the dishes promptly.
When he has something to say, he communicates in a clear, measured way—measured with beakers and rulers and quantified by graphs, but qualified too, always qualified, so no one would mistake him for mean.
The science teacher is rational, even when it comes to love, which makes most people come undone at the edges no matter how cleanly they’ve constructed themselves. His wife is just his type: dark-haired, glasses-wearing. But he still loves her when she puts her contacts in and bleaches her hair.
He is certain he will impregnate her sooner or later—an experiment whose hoped-for outcome is a person for whom “Dad” will be no accident. The only accidents will be those little organic spills he’ll clean up patiently.
The science teacher’s hockey buddy always says, “Don’t stick your dick in crazy.” Though this phrasing is crude, the science teacher does take pride in having applied the lesson by choosing a stable mate.
What he hasn’t learned yet is that while chemical reactions can be contained within the walls of a lab, there are other kinds of energy that have too much potential, that can move between minds without touching anything. Strangeness is contagious, and the science teacher’s wife is not a teacher, but a student of strangeness, and with or without her glasses she sees it everywhere except for in him.
She reads The Wall Street Journal and watches baseball and drinks white wine. Yet there is something wavering in her.
She travels daily into the city to speak gently to people who do not fit inside their given circumstances, and she carries the mark of them with her. It’s a kind of contamination that isn’t quite a smell and isn’t quite a stain.
On a Sunday evening in early September, she draws his head to her thigh. Her skin is as soft as it always is tonight, but is it slightly saltier? The teacher can’t tell; his tongue is too insensitive. He fucks her politely, pleased at her pleasure and not noticing her mind running.
On the train the next morning, she is pregnant and she knows it. The city glows in pre-dawn splendor as it sneaks closer and closer. In her un-airconditioned office, strangers arrive and leave in their expected sequence. She listens aggressively, performing the affirmations she has practiced so many times. She stares the talkers down as they fall open. She stares until they snap shut again from the shame of being seen.
She smiles. The smile grows as she does. She feels whole. It feels good. She scrapes out the piths of the people in front of her until all that is left inside them is the sticky residue of the worst things they have come in contact with. And she fills them back up. Slowly, over many cycles of the moon.
All sensations are diluted over this great expanse of time. Her patients are barely aware of what is happening until suddenly they find they contain more of her than themselves. They feel whole. It feels good. Some of them also find it a bit intrusive, but only when they think about her on the toilet.
Her midwife’s name is Joy. Joy holds her while she is panting in the darkness and warmness of the outdoor birthing tub. The science teacher is at her side. His toes touch mulch and his fingers skim the water. She is pushing and pushing. He thinks she’s on the verge of a miracle, on the verge of a violent orgasm from the inside out. He marvels. The clouds are murky this morning, but he can see home through the oaks.
It’s raining, dripping into the pool. Drip, drop with each push, push, breath in, push, breath in, push, and she slips out: the science teacher’s daughter. Amphibious, alien, on the outbreath, like Sisyphus breaking free—the rock stays put. He cuts the cord. The newborn howls at the fragile sunlight and gentle rain. The father and mother take turns holding her to their naked chests, bundling her in their own living skins. She cries and cries, as yet unnamed.