The Teachers’ Lounge: Stories
An original translation of new Hebrew fiction from Bernstein Prize-winner Dror Burstein, author of ‘Kin’
The Gym Teacher
In ninth grade, the ’80s, Dov discovered his ability. One day, without knowing what he was doing, he imitated the Gym teacher. Like a man that passes by a piano and absentmindedly plays, while actually walking, the “Appassionata” and then continues on, it was in his bones and suddenly he discovered it. He snuck into the Gym teacher’s room and with the help of the loudspeaker the teacher used to set the children in motion he began to speak. He was in need of amplification, the teacher was, because he was paralyzed, in an army wheelchair, but they hadn’t fired him, out of kind-heartedness. They connected his room to the P.A. system and he would sit in his room, surrounded by his medals and the trophies of the soccer teams for which he played, and his citations, and the photographs, shaking the hand of the champion captain or the chairman of FIFA or the goalie of the Brazilian team, and at the end of classes he would lock the door and move his chair back until it pressed against the door, and stare at his room as if his trophies and photos were being revealed to him for the first time, and he would stay there for a long time, and leave school last, always. Churchi the janitor would look up toward the lit window from the gate each day and then look at the massive disabled car that was parked in a spot marked with a white rectangle, and locked. But other than this he was happy, really happy. A true joker, and in teacher meetings he would make the Bible teacher fall over laughing with humorous reworkings of the verses. When darkness fell he would leave out the rear gate that opened just for him with the help of a remote control.
He had been the terror of the goalies in the way he could spin the ball on corner kicks, so that it would penetrate at a nerve-racking arc, after the ball’s moving away from the goal, it would go back in. It was like the ball would stop for a moment at a distant point, and then, like a comet reaching the tail end of its distance from the sun, with the last bit of gravity still remaining before it escapes further into the expanses of outer space never to return again, the ball would turn on its axis, moments after everyone already thought, we survived, it got away from him, the attack is over, and return, from the force of that distant kick by the one who already moved to another spot on the field, spinning and turning back and starting to accelerate in the direction of the goalposts.
One day the Gym teacher didn’t arrive at school, and Dov noticed this, the massive car wasn’t standing in its marked spot. He went to the bathroom in his gym outfit, and in this way slipped into the room with the trophies and the pictures and the number 11 shirt hanging on the wall, and the ranks, and the insignia, and the captain band, and the letter of congratulations from the mayor, and enlarged Xeroxed copies of headlines. Without knowing what he was doing as it were he turned on the microphone and in the voice of the Gym teacher Dov instructed the students to get into groups of three as usual, and then calmly ran them around the field, and the regular warm up exercises, everything exactly as usual, no one sensed any difference, least of all Dov himself, who for some reason acted naturally and dispassionately, as if he had put on the teacher’s hat and a second later was already used to it. Five minutes before the end of the class, without knowing why he was doing it, he instructed the students to arrange themselves in the shape of a circle on the field, with their heads facing into the circle, and they obeyed even though this instruction was strange and new, and they formed the circle, and looked at the center point on the ground, and waited for additional instructions. But Dov had already put down the microphone and fled in sudden panic from the Gym teacher’s room, and they remained there, in the pleasant sun of an early morning in the month of November, a minute, two minutes, ten minutes. No one wanted to offend him because when he got offended he got very offended, and would immediately begin talking about his tragedy and the glory of the past and the corner kick that will never be repeated and the leg that is gone. And the students had a hard time dealing with this, since even though they liked him more than all the other teachers they were no longer able to comprehend what war is and what it means to lose your leg, for we were whole and carefree and full of hope in the year 1985. Until finally someone lifted his gaze to the window and apparently saw no one there, and the bell sounded, and the circle scattered anxiously.
All this would have passed without a trace were it not for the fact that a few hours later the Gym teacher’s father, the elderly lawyer Gustav Lavie, called to inform the school administration that his son wouldn’t make it to school in the coming days nor in the days after those since last night he raced his massive disabled car straight into the sea. He didn’t make it far, the water slowed him down and the wet sand stopped the powerful disabled car, but the cool late November night that passed over him while he was sitting in the car full of cold sea water, tiny sea crabs walked over the car’s roof, while he, buckled in his seat belt, watching and staring out into the sea and the waves, that is into the utter darkness, and above him were the stars and the half moon, but the stars turned their back to him, that is they contemplated the far side of the universe, and didn’t notice him, they wrote in the local papers the next day. And when the lifeguards found him the next day at six, frozen, soaked with water and shaking weakly, one of them recognized him by the jersey he wore, and he said, Why that’s Gad Lavie the soccer player, and turned away.
They loaded him onto the surfboard and moved him, wrapped in a wool blanket, to the beach and someone said, isn’t that striker who stepped on a mine in Lebanon? Gazes were then fixed on the sea. The lifeguards and the first of the morning bathers stood around the surfboard, which was placed on the sand in which the wet night’s coldness was still stored, until an ambulance arrived from the north, racing, two wheels on the sand and two in the Mediterranean, and evacuated him to the hospital, there he was treated for severe pneumonia and multiple organ failure (and the next day Dov got sick as well, and they checked his blood, and didn’t find anything, but an old glass test tube full of blood shattered at his feet).
They placed the soccer jersey next to him. The shirt gradually dried on the chair. But the smell of salt stood in the ward. And teachers and students would come visit him and sit on the chair next to “the shirt’s chair,” and former soccer players and captains slowly began to arrive as well, and the coach of Israel’s national team Duvid “The Shark” Shvitzer and Motaleh Spiegler and Shia and Damti and Mutzi reminisced about qualifying rounds of the World Cup, and everyone laughed and enjoyed themselves and argued about the angle and the minute, everyone laughed except him, who lay in bed in a coma.
All this would have passed and been forgotten were it not for the fact that Churchi recalled that while the Gym teacher was resting on the sands his voice was erupting from the usual speaker, that is to say there was a demon or an imposter here. And someone saw Dov passing through the hallway, and someone recalled that he hadn’t reported to Gym class, and the informing was carried out as is the rule, and after a brief inquiry the guilty party was discovered. And Dov (Hereinafter: “the accused”) reconstructed his crime at the scene of the crime as he was ordered to do, indifferent and detached as he had been during his earlier performance. And so the whole school heard, for the last time, the voice of our Gym teacher thunder and echo across the sports field, instructing students, who weren’t there this time but in the classrooms instead, listening with lowered heads, some of them covering their ears, to run faster, jump, jump, to think, like he would say at the start of each lesson, that this here is the National Stadium in front of ten thousand spectators.
Translated by Todd Hasak-Lowy
Rising songwriter Gaby Alter brings ‘Nobody Loves You,’ about love, ontology, and reality TV, to an off-Broadway debut