“We were scaly. We scurried through the undergrowth.”
Claire recalled a jagged light, exploding into brightness. “We hatched from eggs, we cracked our shells.”
“Do you remember flying? We swooped and soared.”
Claire saw it and felt it, but she didn’t understand.
“We flew before we ran. Were we birds once?”
Magda shook her head, not in denial but not knowing.
“Does a fish swim?”
“I suppose it does.”
“I don’t think so. We swim. But for a fish, the ocean is air. She flies on her silver fins.”
The crystal bell chimed. It wasn’t loud but it carried everywhere because the school was made of cardboard, and it had no windows or doors.
It was time for special studies class, and Claire and Magda sat in the front row because the teacher wasn’t like the others–he let them ask questions.
Claire remembered their first class, when he still shaved and didn’t fall asleep halfway through.
“I have no name but I have a rule. Numbers are not permitted in my classroom. Once you start with numbers and counting you never stop. You reach infinity before you know it.”
He took a piece of purple chalk from his pocket and wrote ‘Special Studies’ on the wall.
“This is class is about …”
He lit a cigarette. Even back then he was a heavy smoker.
“Well. It’s self-explanatory isn’t it?”
He contemplated the purple letters. “Perhaps it will explain itself tomorrow. Does anyone have a question?”
Magda put her hand up. “Sir, why doesn’t the school have windows? The rain comes in.”
“Glass is a sharp liquid. It would damage the walls.”
Claire was next. “Sir, why are the walls made of cardboard anyway?
“Metaphors are just ideas. They’re not real.”
“Let’s not be too clever.”
Afterwards Claire understood that when he said that, it was a signal not to keep asking, but in the first class she didn’t know.
“The more you know, the more you have to forget. What’s your name?”
“Does anyone who isn’t Claire have a question?”
Eduardo raised his hand. “Sir, you’re different to the other teachers. They’re all ghost people and they never let us ask anything. You’re the first teacher who’s done that.”
He was startled, and he dropped his cigarette.
“The rule. You’ve forgotten the rule.” He shrugged. “I suppose you’ll get used to it soon enough.”
He picked up the cigarette stub and brushed it off. “The ghost people are just projections. They teach you what you already know. I’m the counterpoint, the antidote to all their pointless truth.”
Claire had a thousand questions on the tip of her tongue in that first lesson, but she wasn’t allowed to ask them.