Rumpus Exclusive: “The Warning Bell”

Once I asked him why—my fingers around my thumbs as I looked from the clock face to his, the clock face again. In the slight shadow between it and the blue cinder-block wall, I knew that none of the students could see me. Adolescent butterflies. He told me once, in the diner, “The beauty is in the twinning of the porn and the love story,” in between eating fistfuls of french fries. I understood at that moment in his classroom on my knees how Lolita worked her magic on Humbert. My other teachers must have noticed that I always had official excuses from Mr. Actually, he said the OED, and when I got to the library to find it, they told me they had only Webster’s. Share this:Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Tumblr (Opens in new window)

Alisson Wood is an award-winning writer whose essays have been published in the New York Times, Catapult, and Epiphany. In the previous chapter of Lolita, I had underlined And there she is there, lost in the middle, gnawing a pencil, detested by teachers, all the boys’ eyes on her hair and neck, my Lolita. I asked Mr. North. Sometimes he would use nicknames for other teachers, “To: Josucks” instead of Mr. Saturday… Glimpse of shiny skin between T-shirt and white gym shorts. I imagined biting it, I imagined pressing my tongue against his thumb. Once, I was sitting in his classroom, there was morning sunshine still from the windows but the floor was cold. I didn’t look at the teacher anymore. Mr. I heard his voice, the homework assignment repeated to no one in particular. I learned it was from the Greek and Latin (nympha) but was still a bit perplexed by its usage. My book bag was heavy. Chapter 11 of Lolita was Humbert’s calendar of viewing his nymphet. This was the closest we had ever come. It was a tenth-grade English class. Or checking Admit to Class or Accept Excuse. I leaned over, deeply, into the book, now facing the windows, still on my knees, my back to him. ***
Rumpus original art by Lisa Lee Herrick. I looked back toward him over my shoulder, he leaned down into me. or Miss, y’know,” he said as he capped his green fountain pen, as if he were trying to teach me something. ***
Excerpted from   Being Lolita,   copyright   © 2020 by Alisson Wood, with permission from Flatiron Books. I turned around. As someone currently in that stage, I thought it sucked. North, and he told me to look in The Oxford English Dictionary. I knew it was sexy, it couldn’t be more obvious from the surrounding language, but what was so sexy about a teenage creature? North for being late or leaving class early, but no one looked beyond the pieces of paper. I was reading the book, the Nabokov, “the only convincing love story of our century,” said Vanity Fair on the cover. And lightning. Not the other kids, not the other teachers, not even Mr. None of the students ever questioned why there was a girl sitting back there. But he showed it to me. North underlined. Alisson teaches creative writing at her alma mater and at Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop. They didn’t know my name; they didn’t care. He told me he was writing a new song about a crush he had the other afternoon, I hoped it was about me. Bending… A dorsal view, as Humbert called it, as Mr. I didn’t realize until later that he had inscribed it to me, in green flourish:
To Alisson,
This book is lust, yearning, and occupational
hazards. I moved along in the text, already to chapter 11, Humbert Humbert’s pocket diary of watching his nymphet. And the warning bell rang. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of Pigeon Pages, a New York City literary journal and reading series. I imagined taking one along my shirt, wiping the chalk off, I imagined kissing the top of his thumb where he had a callus from playing guitar. But the teacher, when he looked at his students, could look right at me. I was supposed to be somewhere else. I didn’t know what the word meant the first time—something to do with a nymph, that mythical being? The ambient noise of chairs moving, backpacks closing, papers, books, pencils, all preparing to go. Rumpus Exclusive: “The Warning Bell”

By Alisson Wood
July 20th, 2020

The series of bells became our song—the first meant I could go to him; the middle that I was almost there, a warning that if I didn’t hurry, I would get caught in the hallway and be given a detention slip; the third that I was safe inside his classroom, a ring of safety. But whenever the teacher mentioned it, in passing, in reference to me, I just smiled back and played along. The first bell rang. Alisson was a winner of the inaugural Breakout 8 Award from the Author’s Guild and Epiphany. Other than the mythical association, it suggested immature insects. The date, the time, the room number: 11/11, A105, 11:27 a.m. I met his gaze. I thought this was referencing a sea creature at first, maybe a part of a dolphin? And then watched it dissipate in water before we left. More from this author → I looked at the clock—only a minute before the first bell, the beginning of the end of class. North had copied down another review of the Nabokov novel on the title page, as if to remind me what this was: highbrow pornographic trash. I thought how he hadn’t written a number today and I had been sitting on the concrete floor for forty minutes now. I felt the heat of his blood against my cheek. That stage between larva and adulthood, between a baby and grown-up. He would sign his name with a flourish on the passes, always in green ink, impressing me with his pen. “They have their own names, too. It was all code from teacher to teacher. I twisted it around with my hand; the other still held my place in Nabokov. Glimpse of shiny skin. That glimpse of shiny skin. But writing it made me remember. Enjoy. I shook my head in muddled confusion and wrote it down on a napkin. He wrote me hall passes to forgive my late arrivals to my other classes, to excuse my absences, checking the box Excused from Class, filling in the blank Reason: Writing Extra Help. I thought about his hands. This was the teacher’s copy, with his notes, I had to take care. I’m not sure how often they even noticed—they’d have to stand up, turn around, and be at a certain angle from their seats to see me. – N.N. I thought about what Lolita would do. I felt like it had been quiet for hours in the waiting for him, for his words, not just on paper, not just chalk. I arched my back and slowly sat up, tossed my long, dark hair. I was so late. They’re more than just your teacher.” I looked back at him as I left his classroom. Being Lolita is her first book. North turned to address his students, I was all that he would see, a strip of skin. “You are so sexy,” he said. November, no snow days yet. Once, at night, at the diner, he wrote about my age, how wrong it all was, that we shouldn’t be together—girls who are only eighteen are in Playboy and we are told to look and then you—. Josephs. By then I had scooted over far enough behind his desk. I heard the other noises fade, his footsteps close, then stop. I wasn’t ever pressed with a question in the hallway that his signed pass couldn’t answer. “Teachers are not always Mr. She holds an MFA in fiction from New York University. That day in November, I was watching his hands, chalk white on his fingers. This must be what power feels like. Our usual arrangement in his rectangle room: him, teaching at the blackboard; his students, in rows of desks facing the board; me, sitting against the bookshelf on the back wall, between the wall and his desk, my books and papers spread out on the floor. He didn’t finish the thought, even on a paper place mat. It wasn’t until I found the word again, old, reliable Webster’s, that I turned red. He hadn’t written one yet. I was waiting for him to write the number for later that night. I knew that as I delved into the pages he had given me, the upper edge of my black lace underwear, bought with my father’s credit card, would creep above the top of my low-rise jeans, that when Mr. I felt like no one noticed that I was there, on the floor.