Quinn is an MFA student at Stony Brook Southampton. He was born and raised on Long Island.
Ant woke up late for work again. He already missed his first period class, but if he hightailed it from the Upper West Side to Bushwick, he would just make his third. The MTA was notoriously unreliable, the smart thing to do would be to get an Uber. Ant pulled out his phone. He had two new Tinder matches, a text from Penelope, and three missed calls from Principal Lamport, a stern woman he had grown to fear since being hired a year earlier. He would need a good excuse.
He looked at the room he had woken up in, at the girl he had woken up next to, still fast asleep. Her name was Kacie, and he had met her in real life for the first time the night before. What did she do for work that allowed her to sleep this late? But then he remembered that she didn’t have a job—she was barely out of high school. Luckily her parents were on vacation. He was debating whether or not to wake her to say goodbye when she woke up on her own.
“Good morning,” she said dreamily, slipping her arm over and straddling him with her leg to form some semblance of a spoon. He checked his phone again. “I had fun last night,” she said, brushing her hand through his hair. Ant felt himself growing repulsed. He was experiencing what he referred to as “the switch:” the feeling of regret that overtakes you after ejaculation. Ant got the switch almost every time. The worst thing that you could do for somebody who was experiencing the switch was to show affection. Kacie planted several kisses on his cheek.
“I’ve got to get to work,” he said. “I’m late.”
“You should have told me you had work. I would have set an alarm.”
“I forgot. I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine,” she said, reaching for a shirt off of the floor. He watched her breasts jiggle, then he got up and threw his clothes on. “I guess you don’t want to take a shower,” she said.
“I can’t.” He buttoned up his flannel shirt and tucked it into his jeans.
“Well maybe we can get dinner tonight,” she said.
“Maybe.” He looked at his phone, the missed call staring back at him. “I’ll text you later,” he said. He had no plan of doing this.
“Okay.” She got off the bed and led him to the front door. “I had fun last night,” she repeated.
“It was a blast.”
“Text me.” She stood on her tippy-toes and puckered her lips at him and he kissed her as if ripping off a bandaid.
He checked his phone again when he got out to the street. Another notification popped up saying that Principal Lamport left him a voice message. He got poor reception up in Kacie’s. He could only imagine the wrath that was in store for him. Instead of listening, he ordered an Uber. He would tell Lamport that his phone had been stolen, although there would be the question of how he got an Uber without a phone, another thing he would have to conjure up an explanation for.
He sat on the stoop of the apartment building and checked the text from Penelope. It was a one word reply. Punctuated, as if to mark the conversation over.
He wondered why he bothered anymore. They had been broken up for almost a year—ten months and twenty-three days, to be exact—yet here he was texting her, trying to say things to make her laugh. One time he sent her a Facebook article on brands of dog food that her sharpay might be allergic to, and another time he sent a link to The Weeknd tickets when they were playing at Barclay’s Center. If he were somebody else he would have made fun of them.
The Uber driver pulled up and gave a little honk. He clicked his phone off.
“Hey there,” the driver said as Ant got into her car. He gave a grunt of acknowledgement and off they went.
Sometimes he needed to remind himself that Penelope had a partner. He preferred referring to David as a partner because it made it seem less romantic, like some kind of professional arrangement that was out of everybody’s hands. Ant attributed the partner situation to why she was so hot and cold with him. Some days she would chat his ear off, but then others would be like this, with one word responses. But lately it was always like that. Why talk to him at all if she didn’t want to be with him? The logical thing was to blame David. Her feelings were simply overridden by guilt and obligation. Ant had heard all about David while him and Penelope were still together. She had assured him that her and David were done, that it would never work.
Ant was always thinking about those few months: the looks they would give each other in the hallways between classes, the time that they had watched a meteor shower on the roof of his apartment building, apple picking out on Long Island. It was all new to him. He never found women interesting enough to pursue anything serious with until Penelope.
He loved her, he was sure of it. He loved her so much that, when they were still together, he had gone out of his way to show it every chance he got. He had probably gone a bit overboard, showing up to her apartment multiple times unannounced—with gifts!—and texting her something thoughtful every few hours, but it was the only time he had ever put effort into a woman, and he wanted it to be special. But then she went and left him for David. Whether they would have kept in touch had Ant never attempted to contact Penelope after a few lonely and uncomfortable months of avoiding each other at work is one question, and whether David was even aware of it or not was another. She only ever seemed to text Ant back when she was at the school, or when she was out with her friends.
But it was only a matter of time before David and her were done again, this time for good, and then Ant would be there to pick up the pieces. It was just a question of what to distract himself with in the meantime. Luckily there was Tinder. Ant looked at the GPS suction-cupped to his Uber’s dashboard. He still had time before he needed to iron out his excuse to Principal Lamport. He opted to use it wisely: perusing his new matches. He sent them both a “hey.”
The traffic was getting nasty, and they had only gone a few blocks. He was beginning to wish that he had just taken the subway after all. Maybe he could tell Lamport that he had gotten mugged. It happened before to other teachers. Yeah, he thought, some troubled youth stopped him and asked for the time, and after he sheepishly pulled his phone out they punched him in the face and ran off with it.
But he didn’t have any bruises. Maybe he could say that one of the youngsters had a knife. They threatened to gut him like a fish, and took both his cell phone and his wallet. Then he had to find the nearest police precinct so that he could file a report. He was so shaken by it all that he forgot to call the school to tell them what happened. Principal Lamport would have no choice but to take pity on him.
There was an accident up ahead. “So,” said the driver, turning down whatever pop music was playing on the radio. “You’re a teacher?”
“Yeah,” said Ant. The driver must have realized that they were heading to a school.
“Good for you,” she said. “It must be so rewarding.”
“You have the most important job there is,” the driver said in an almost sing-song way. “It’s a thankless job,” she went on. “But somebody has to do it. Right?”
He was going to answer, but he got a text from Kacie. She was reminding him about how much fun she had last night. He deleted the message. After a few moments of being ignored the driver turned her music back up and continued staring at the car in front of her.
Neither of Ant’s new Tinder matches responded. He swiped through some more potentials before deciding to switch to social media. Ant realized how much of an inane pastime it all was. He always said that historians were going to look back and trace the downfall of society to the development of the smartphone, although that never stopped him from using it. Sometimes Ant wondered how much more productive he would be if none of it existed. He had always wanted to pick up the guitar. Perhaps he would be a musician. Perhaps breaking it down to amount of hours spent on it all per week it would be the shock needed to quit. Should he count Tinder in the calculation? That was the biggest culprit of them all. Thinking about it made him wish he was a eunuch. Of course, he only ever came to these revelations after getting laid, and by the next day he would be back to his old self.
He found himself constantly drifting over to Penelope’s Instagram. She had posted a new picture since the night before, when Ant checked her Instagram while Kacie was in the bathroom. It was of Penelope’s hand wearing an engagement ring.
It must have been a mistake. Her account had been hacked, or maybe it was a late April Fools joke.
“They’re getting married?”
“Huh?” said the driver.
The traffic was getting worse. The GPS added another minute onto their trip. Ant felt boxed in. He reached for the door and opened it.
“I’ve got to get out of here,” Ant said.
“What about the rest of the ride?”
He stepped out into the midtown traffic and shut the door, weaving between cars until he was on the sidewalk. He sat at a bench and pulled Penelope’s number up on his phone. There was another text from Kacie asking about dinner. Maybe that was what he needed after all: to move on. That would be what Penelope deserved. He sat on the bench watching the traffic crawl by, and then he cried.
People were walking by, staring. He needed answers. He needed to get to work. Penelope owed him an explanation, an apology. He got up.
The closest subway station was Times Square, only a few blocks away. He got stuck walking behind an old couple and almost knocked them over trying to get through. He couldn’t find his Metrocard and had to wait in line for the one working ticket machine. The station was mobbed. The sign said that the next train would be there in eight minutes. There was some sort of delay.
Next to the stairs leading down to the platform was a raggedy old man in a raggedy old suit yelling about something. When Ant got closer he realized that the man was holding a bible and that everybody was paying as little attention to him as possible. Ant would do the same.
“Sinners!” The man yelled. “I look out amongst a sea of sin. It’s not even a sea, it’s an ocean. Except instead of little fish and seahorses and dolphins swimming around it’s just a bunch of sinners sinning. You’re all swimming to and fro in a sea of iniquity, pursuing sinful pastimes, wasting the life that the good lord gave you.”
Ant was never one for religion, but the man may have had a point anyway. He was wasting his life on Penelope, and he was wasting it even more focusing on meaningless hookups. It suddenly seemed so clear. He wanted to thank the man, or at least give him a dollar. But then he thought about the ring again, and about his and Penelope’s time together, and he was right back where he was, in a state of mild panic.
“Sinner!” yelled the man as Ant skirted past him, causing him to quicken his step. He went down the stairs and looked for a bench. An announcer came on over the loudspeaker and said that the subway had been pushed back another two minutes. He finally found a seat, but no matter where Ant went he could hear the man, his voice a reminder of everything Ant had been growing to hate about himself. Ant looked at the sign again and saw that the train had been delayed even more, and there was the man’s voice, droning on and on. Ant wanted to go back upstairs and scream at him: Penelope was getting married! Shut up! Shut up! The man’s voice was like a drill. The station began to spin. And then Ant ran. He ran up the stairs and out of the station, looking over his shoulder half expecting the man to be chasing him, but nobody pursued.
He got out of Times Square and started walking. He headed downtown towards the Williamsburg Bridge. It would be a long walk, but eventually it would take him to his job and Penelope. She was going to give him an explanation if it killed him. The walk would be good, it would give him some time to come up with a decent speech, something that would make her feel guilty, see the error of her ways. But there was still Principal Lamport. He would deal with her after. Penelope was going to come first.
He walked and walked. His phone went off—another Tinder match. He couldn’t bring himself to look. It buzzed and buzzed.
When he made it to the bridge he saw that Kacie had texted him again. He got about a hundred yards out before he brought himself to check. It said that Kacie couldn’t wait for dinner. He chucked his phone into the East River.
Relief swept over him, as if he had been in handcuffs and somebody came along with a key and set him free. Maybe there was something to this. Maybe he would go to Seven-Eleven and buy a prepaid flip phone like some small time drug dealer. Or maybe he would go without one at all.
Yes, he could quit it all, cold turkey. No more Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and no more Tinder. And he would be so much more productive! He would devote his time to bettering himself. He would attack his lesson plans with a newfound energy. He would learn Italian, start going to the gym.
But first he would see Penelope. And soon after today, after she saw how well he was doing, she would never be able to resist him. She would feel ridiculous about everything. The plan was foolproof. He walked with swagger. Bicyclists and joggers zoomed past but he paid them no mind, except to consider taking up the exercise himself. Tomorrow he would go to Modell’s and get himself a good pair of running shoes, but today he was on a mission.
He continued down the bridge towards Brooklyn. He was mapping out the whole speech. This was to be the start of a new life. It took every ounce of self control for him not to run, or skip. He fantasized about their future together, the fancy vacations they would take, or even just making love.
It was a beautiful day in Brooklyn. Ant felt his confidence grow with each step. He was on top of the world. Maybe it was good that things had worked out the way they did. Penelope needed to get a taste of life without him, it would make her appreciate him so much more once he had her back. And all of this being engaged malarkey—they’d look back on it one day, laughing about how naive she had been. But she’d learn from this, that was the important thing.
When he finally made it to the school he burst through the front door with a look of happy determination. He went to check his phone for the time and remembered that he had thrown it away.
“Excuse me, ma'am,” he said to an aid sitting at the front desk, his face twisted into a
smile. “What period is it?”
Penelope had a class sixth period, which meant that she would be in her room on the other side of the school. He charged headlong in her direction.
The halls were empty save for the occasional hall monitor or student going to the bathroom. He passed his classroom and stopped to peek inside. The room was dark, a movie was being played. The substitute sitting at Ant’s desk was playing on his phone, and the students were mostly on their phones as well, or asleep. How little they knew! After he smoothed things over with everybody he would tell his students about his newfound lifestyle. He would spread the gospel of going through life phoneless.
“Hey,” he heard somebody say. “Mr. Marston is here!”
The whole class, including the sub, stared at him through the window, their faces illuminated by the glow of the television screen.
He needed to think fast. He opened the door and stepped inside.
“Good afternoon, everyone!” he said.
He realized that the television was drowning out his voice.
“Sorry I’m so late,” he yelled. “I had a doctor’s appointment and it took the whole morning. Can you guys believe that? And I only went in for a physical!” A snicker came from the back of the class. “Anyway, I’ll be back in a few minutes. I have to make some copies of today’s worksheet.” He backed out of the room and closed the door behind him.
He made haste to Penelope’s class. It was a big school, and by the time he rounded the corner and made it to Penelope’s hallway he was sweating. Then he heard her voice: loud, booming, confident. He always loved that about her.
“The important thing to remember when doing algebra,” said Penelope. “Is to Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally. PEM-DAS. Say it with me, people.” And then Ant heard the class recite it, like some kind of prayer.
“Perfect,” she said.
Ant could listen to her speak all day. The only thing better than her voice was her face, and even though it had only been a day since he last saw it—while hanging around the faculty lounge waiting for her to get her Dr. Pepper from the vending machine, where they exchanged a very short hello—it felt too long. A part of him was content to just stand at the door’s window and watch her.
Her hair flowed long and dark down her back. A dress clung to her slender body. Ant knew that many of the hornier, puberty-stricken male students worshipped her. He overheard a few saying obscene things about her once, a few months after their breakup, and it had made him furious.
He stared for what seemed to be forever. There was no way of knowing, what with the throwing out of his phone and all. But he had a mission. This was the moment of redemption. Penelope was mid-sentence when he opened the door and let himself in. She gave a startled look of horror.
“We need to talk,” he said. The students oohed.
“Ant,” she said, her eyes wide. “Now is not the time.”
“This can’t wait.”
She looked at the floor and sighed. “Just a minute, everyone.” The class oohed even louder.
They went out into the hall. The door had barely closed when Ant blurted out: “I still love you.”
“Ant, you have to—”
“No, you don’t understand. Things will be different this time. I get why you dumped me, but I’ve changed. I’m a new man. Things can work between us. No. Can isn’t the right word. Will. Things will work. I even threw out my—”
“Look at this.” She held up her hand, pointing to her ring finger. “We can’t keep doing this. This means that we can’t keep doing this. I’m going to be as clear as possible, because I don’t want there to be any misunderstanding: I’m engaged, and I love David. That’s it. We didn’t work out. We just didn’t.”
“No. Listen to me. We work together, so you need to accept this. I am engaged. Do you understand? En-gaged.”
“Penelope,” he said. But then he saw somebody rounding the corner and marching towards them. It was Principal Lamport.
“Marston,” she yelled. She came up close, getting eye to eye with him. They were the same height. “Have you no respect for these children? Or for me? You can’t even be bothered to call back, and then you waltz right in like you did nothing wrong. And then what do you do? Offer some kind of an apology? Make an attempt at explaining yourself?”
“Ms. Lamport,” Ant said. “We were just—”
“No,” said Lamport. “There is no excuse for this. You’re done, Marston. Do you hear me? Done.”
There was an excuse in him somewhere, but he had forgotten it. Something about being mugged, knives, police reports, losing his phone. Why was his mind blanking? All he needed was a good excuse, he’d talked himself out of worse. He had done it the last time he was late, telling Principal Lamport that his dog—he didn’t own a dog—got into a box of chocolates someone had bought him for Valentine’s Day and needed to be rushed to the vet. He was even later that time, not showing up until the end of seventh period.
“Ms. Lamport,” said Ant. “Will you please excuse us for a moment? Me and Penelope just need some privacy. Something bad has happened.” He stared at the ring on Penelope’s finger. “Something awful. Something terrible, and I need a moment to process it.” He took Penelope by the hand, being sure not to touch the ring lest he be tainted by it, and opened the door to her classroom.
Principal Lamport grabbed him by the sleeve of his shirt.
“You’re not going anywhere,” she said. “This isn’t how it works. You don’t make the rules here, Marston. I do.” She yanked harder.
And then Ant shoved her, so hard that she flew across the hallway and crashed into the lockers on the other side. He grabbed Penelope and pulled her into the classroom, locking the door behind him.
The class was silent.
“I love you,” he said, turning to Penelope. The class started laughing.
“What the hell is wrong with you? This is not normal. Do you realize what you’ve done? What you’re doing?”
“I don’t care.”
She stepped back. “Do you want to hear the truth Ant? The God’s honest truth? I tried to let you down lightly, but obviously that method doesn’t work. You need things spelled out for you, like some kind of idiot. You were a rebound. Do you get it? A speed bump, a detour.
“You’re out of your mind. Exhibit A:” She made a sweeping gesture to the class, to the door, Principal Lamport on the other side pounding on it. Ant could see from the window that other teachers and students had gathered around outside in the hall.
“I only kept talking to you because I felt bad,” she continued. “And we work together. Although it doesn’t seem like that’s going to be the case for much longer.”
The pounding on the door stopped. Ant could hear talking from outside, keys jingling.
“Leave me the fuck alone, Ant.”
The door flew open. Three security guards charged through, tackling Ant and pinning him against the floor. The students were crowding around them, laughing, cheering, jeering, taking pictures and videos with their phones.
“WorldStar!” a student yelled.
Ant had no idea that the school’s security guards carried handcuffs. His hands were behind his back and he felt them going numb.
They pulled him down the hallway. It was lined with students, aids, janitors, teachers. Everybody was watching. He looked back and saw Penelope from the doorway of her classroom. He could have sworn that she was crying, that she was having a moment of regret. She still loved him. She must have. Their love was a real, genuine thing, after all. She was just angry with him, and people say hurtful things when they’re angry. Things that they don’t mean. One day they’d laugh and tell their kids about how crazy he used to be, about the things he would do because he loved Mommy. The security guards dragged him around the corner.