The Northville Review
an online literary journal
The Students

John Abbott

Shane grips Marcy’s hand and wonders how it stays so warm in this cold rain. All around him it falls but he doesn’t hear the tapping drumbeat it makes on the ground. Only the rushing of water forming channels speeding down the declivities of the earth’s surface toward other larger channels like the ones beneath the sewer grates that lead to who knows where but must eventually, as Mr. Camden explained in Earth Science, flow into the ocean. They approach the abandoned factory, one of many on the north side of town, and hurry inside. Marcy spies the two mattresses pushed side by side in the middle of the room and says, “You better not have brought me here for that.” She points at the makeshift bed while she speaks.

“No,” he replies. “You made it clear that won’t happen.”

He remembers her saying so when she came up for air while they kissed on his living room sofa. Her words crushing the mood and also the surge of blood to his groin; only to bring both back again when she unzipped her jeans and allowed him a taste of her. He savored that moment, that exchange of fluid. And often relived it in his head late at night.

“This is what I wanted you to see.”

She turns around to face the wall behind her, which contains a large mural. The painting shows a river winding through a forest of beech and pine trees. On the bank a man and a woman are about to make love next to a campfire. They both have tattoos. The man has his all down his arms and the woman just one, a peace sign on the small of her back.

“Those tattoos,” she says. “They’re just like Mr. Camden’s.”

The students saw them only when he had to write high up on the blackboard. Then Mr. Camden would unbutton his cuffs and roll back his sleeves so he wouldn’t get chalk dust on his shirt.

“And the peace sign is just like Julie’s,” she said.

At the mention of their friend’s name Shane remembers how he felt when he first saw the mural; the odd mix of lust followed by guilt once he realized it was her.

“I know,” he said. “You didn’t believe her when she said she fucked him.”

“Who painted this? Him or her?”

“I don’t know. Maybe they both did.”

Shane watches her walk closer to the wall where she inspects the mural. She puts her hand on it with great care, as if the paint might still be wet. As if the artist, or artists, are here spying on them.

“There are more of these,” he says. “Lots more. In the other factory across the way.”

She doesn’t seem to register his comment. She has a placid, trance-like expression on her face as she stares at the art. He doesn’t know if she needs to see the other paintings to confirm the truth about her best friend or if she will just run back towards where they came in. But in any case he expects her to choose one of the two doors so he is surprised when she walks toward the mattresses. Even more surprised when she takes her pants down to her ankles and steps out of them. She turns to face him again. He sees that her expression has changed. Her mouth is closed but her jaw doesn’t seem set tight in that usual discerning way of hers. She seems calm, resigned maybe. She motions him over to her.

“This is what you wanted, right?” she says.

He nods but his mind is focused on action, not thought. He goes to her. He pulls down his pants and starts for his underwear but she stops him. “Let me do it,” she says. He is grateful for this gesture, and feels its tenderness helps to make up for the crummy surroundings, the springs poking out of the mattress that they must carefully avoid. He slips her underwear down, feels the soft cotton beneath his fingers.

“Where is it?” she asks.

He doesn’t understand at first what she means. But as she looks below his waist he gets it. He glances down at the jeans puddled around his feet and knows even without checking that there are no condoms in any of the pockets. He forgot to sneak one from his dad’s medicine cabinet. When he looks up he sees that she has pulled up her pants and is already working on her bra.

“We can’t do it without one,” she says. “I’m not like Julie.”

Again he doesn’t understand. He turns toward the picture and sees the detail he overlooked before; Mr. Camden’s bare penis. No covering that will stop his fluids from running together with hers. Without looking Marcy in the eye he stoops to gather his clothes. He dresses quickly and they head for the exit. Before she opens the door she stops to give his hand a squeeze. He smiles at her, curiously relieved that her hand isn’t warm now.

Outside it is still raining and the sky is dark. The fluorescent streetlights have turned on, casting a dim glow on the street where Shane parked his father’s car. In the distance he spots two people, a man and woman, walking toward the factories. He looks over at Marcy and by the look on her face she sees them too. As the people approach Shane notices they are holding hands. The man is dressed in jeans and a hooded sweatshirt but the hood is not pulled down and Shane can see the man’s dark curly hair matted on his forehead.

Shane isn’t used to seeing his teacher without a shirt and tie on. He thinks the street clothes make Mr. Camden look younger, too young to be a teacher. Julie is saying something to Mr. Camden. Her voice is cheery and loud but Shane can’t make out the words because of the rain. He feels like he should continue walking toward the car but he doesn’t take a step. He is waiting for Marcy to move first but her face seems blank, her eyes staring hard at nothing.

What feels like a long time passes, and finally Mr. Camden and Julie approach.

Julie says hi to Marcy and asks her if they are still going to study for the history test later on. Marcy nods without looking at her.

“Shane,” Mr. Camden says. “It’s good to see you.”

He reaches out to shake Shane’s hand. Though they have known each other for several years they have never exchanged this type of greeting. They shake for longer than what feels natural and the whole time Mr. Camden is grinning. Shane thinks he might have winked, too, but perhaps he was just blinking away a drop of rain streaking down his face.

“See you in class tomorrow,” Mr. Camden finally says, releasing his grip on Shane’s hand.

About the author

John Abbott is a writer, musician, and English instructor whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Potomac Review, Georgetown Review, Chiron Review, Nova Scotia Review, upstreet, Underground Voices, Fast Forward: A Collection of Flash Fiction, and many others. He lives with his wife and daughter in Kalamazoo, Michigan. More information about his writing can be found at