In her Myth and Legend class, she taught the story of Theseus, who killed the killers. He saved Athens from Procrustes, the murderer who laid his victims on a bed and stretched the short ones to fit or, if they were tall, chopped off their feet and head; he defeated a bandit who tied his victims to two bent trees and cut the moorings, thus ripping his victims in half. He dispatched other monsters as well, often using their own methods.
A boy, wearing a hoodie, one hand thrust in his pocket, with no pen or paper or book, was fascinated by these grisly stories. He pushed his glasses up on his nose.
She said the old myths were full of such horrible stories.
“Horrible?” he said.
“Yes,” she said.
“Look at the Bible,” he said. “Samson pulled down the roof on his enemies. Judith beheaded Holofernes. The Romans crucified Christ. Or the saints’ lives–Lucy with her eyes on a plate. Joan of Arc burned at the stake.” The ceiling light gleamed on his glasses. “It’s just true. The way the world is.”
This happened after the class in the lecture hall, as she gathered her books and notes, paper-clipping them, so they would not fly out of order. The students rushed out of the hall at quarter to the hour, a few staying to ask their questions about their grades and would the next test be like the first one and was there extra credit? She stood alone in the hall with this odd boy in the hoodie. Then he climbed up on the shallow stage and she took a step back. He took another step forward, so that if she were to extend her arm, he would be at her fingertips. She straightened her shoulders to appear unafraid.
He drew his hood down over his forehead, and she could not see his eyes as he continued his interpretation. “Maybe those people deserved their fate. Maybe they invaded his territory, his space.”
She forced herself to stand still. “Procrustes and Sinis were bandits. The victims were just travelers on the road.”
“I don’t think you understand it well enough. It’s complex. They weren’t innocent victims.” He let out a hissing breath. “I’m saying it simply. We aren’t innocent. You aren’t innocent.”
His hands were in his pockets, and she wondered if he had a knife or gun in there. Above them, the fluorescent lights buzzed. He stepped toward her, and she glanced at the table: pens, papers, her jacket on the chair back. Maybe she could roll the chair into his shins and topple him.
“That was a horrible time,” she said.
“Today too,” he said. “But I’m a good guy.” He pulled his hand out of his pocket. “You forgot your reading glasses here the last time.” He placed them on the table. He walked away, one hand still in his pocket, the other waving good-bye. “I understand the myths. I deserve a good grade.”
published 6 June 2013