Mr. Leverette had taught wood shop at Bennett Middle School for nearly twenty years. In those two decades he’d managed to avoid school politics, fashion trends, three assistant principals, and more budget cuts than he could remember. Mr. Leverette kept his shop clean, his tools well-maintained and sharp. He took on each day like a fresh piece of wood. And mostly it had been okay.
He met the new librarian in the breakroom of all places. Mr. Leverette rarely entered the school proper because the wood shop was near the auxiliary buildings. But his old fridge had kicked, and he had no place to keep his Hungry Man dinners. He’d brought a cooler the day before, but found the ice had melted, soaking into the cardboard container.
Only one person eating at the table. She was pretty, her dark hair pulled back into a bun. When she turned to Mr. Leverette he stopped. Her smile was like an auger, boring into his heart.
“Hi,” she said, getting to her feet. Mr. Leverette nodded, kept nodding. He should have been planted on a dashboard, inside a jeep barreling down a rutted mountain road from the way he was nodding. “I’m Marie,” she said, her hand out. “I’m the new school librarian.”
Mr. Leverette opened his mouth. Closed it. He took her hand, still clutching his Hungry Man dinner with his other hand like it was a gift. He managed to introduce himself. He noticed she was older than he first thought. Not old, perhaps his age, but still with a shine in her eyes. Her easy smile made him smile. Made him remember things he’d stored away.
He heated his lunch. Marie took her chair and got back to her yogurt. Three minutes passed. He looked at her again and found her eyes waiting for him.
“I like your apron.”
He looked down, cursed himself for still wearing it. The microwaved dinged. Marie asked him to join her.
Mr. Leverette never did get the fridge fixed. He made sandwiches at home, appropriate lunches with fruit, things more well suited for a teacher. He still wore the apron, over newer shirts he’d found at JC Penney. Marie loved to talk books, something Mr. Leverette enjoyed because of how she spoke with her hands and the way her eyes liked to dance.
Marie loved her new job, although she was too short to reach the top shelves, she joked. Mr. Leverette didn’t laugh. His mind went to work.
That night, he dug up an old copy of Farewell to Arms from a box in his basement. He worked through a few chapters, but his mind kept roaming, kept designing a ladder.
The next day they were discussing Catherine and Frederic when Carter McGann breezed in. “Oh, hello Larry. Marie.”
Carter taught AP English. With his stylish hair and elbow patches, Carter could most often be found in the hallways, his hands in his pockets and quoting Nietzsche.
Carter McGann rinsed his coffee mug. Marie continued on about Catherine’s pregnancy when Carter looked over his shoulder with a smirk. “I didn’t know we had a book club.”
Mr. Leverette looked to his ham sandwich. The collar on his new shirt was scratchy on his neck. He thought he might get that fridge fixed after all.
That night, Mr. Leverette sat alone at his dinner table, amongst a scatter of Woodworking Weekly and The Handyman’s Handbook. He let his feelings spill onto the page. He set his pen to pad. He tried to carve out what he was feeling.
Marie. You’re like a half-blind dovetail joint.
Marie. My heartwood.
Marie, You’re the lacquer to my varnish.
Marie. For years, my life has been like a notch without a lap joint.
Who was he fooling? It was clear he was no Carter McGann. He couldn’t write poetry.
The next day Mr. Leverette didn’t bother with the teachers lounge. Or the day after. By Friday he was back to his soft plaid shirts. He cleaned the condenser coils and got the fridge going. He quit packing his lunch. Marie had only been nice to him because she was a good person.
He picked up Farewell to Arms and sighed, ready to finish the damn thing when he heard someone at the doorway.
“The ending’s no good. We’re going to need a new book to discuss.”
He turned to find Marie. He stood quickly, knocking over his lunch. Marie laughed. “Honestly, were you just going to leave me with Carter McGann? The guy is a walking cliché. Honestly, he should be onstage somewhere. All he needs is a pipe.”
Mr. Leverette stood. Marie was still laughing when she saw the rolling oak step ladder. It was unfinished but she took in the curves, the craftsmanship of the rails, the intricate patterns and the brass wheel covers. She looked to him, confusion/surprise/realization filling her eyes with tears. Mr. Leverette met her at the first step, eye to eye, thinking how an oak tree matured, had grown to live a hundred years—he for nearly half as long—only to find them now, perfectly aligned as they kissed.
*In response to the Writer’s Digest prompt – You Make Me Simile –