Upon being called on to account for his life, Mr. Leskov, a thin man of about forty-five, rose from the classroom’s dinosaur-themed carpet and, in rising, acknowledged the absurdity of his condition—for all of us, in our own tragic ways, are trapped on a dinosaur carpet of despair, begging to be achieve recognition. He silently stood, a pipe at his lips. The children who looked at him were waiting for an answer to a question they would never be able to articulate; the children who didn’t rested their gaze on their classmate, Lucy, who held the lizard her veterinarian father had just shown the class during his presentation.
“What if you told us about a typical day for you?” the teacher asked from a chair in the back. She was a young woman, perhaps thirty, with blonde hair so light it was alabaster and a smile that was plastered over her face, as if to hide the deep pain she felt every second of the day.
“On a typical morning, I wake up, wondering how and why,” he answered. “Light streams in through the gaps in the shades, and I dress in the preposterous costume our society deems appropriate, before entering the kitchen, where my daughter Savannah sits, eating an Eggo waffle from a yellow box that reminds one not of the sun or of nature, but of the flames of hell. She complains about the type of syrup her mother bought and the amount of butter she used, and in that instant I know that she is the kind of person Father Zossima warned me about on his deathbed, the kind of person who will suck the vitality out of you and cast a gray pallor over all the pleasures of life. Then I curse God for these wicked thoughts and pray to the Almighty Father for forgiveness. This child of mine I must protect, and I must help her understand that it is we who determine our happiness, and we who must decide whether the ridiculous show we designate life is under our control, or whether our attitudes will be controlled by others’ ludicrous values and insane commitments—all of which are ordained by political rulers whose primary technique for gaining approval is bloodlust, and economic rulers who, in the confusion brought on by the insularity that wealth affords, view greed as a spiritual vocation.”“I… see. Isn’t that interesting, class?" the young woman said. “Everybody pay attention because after the presentations, we’re going to open our coloring notebooks and draw what we heard. Anyone have a question for Mr. Leskov? Yes, Pete.”
The teacher pointed toward Pete, a small, impish boy who would one day no doubt do terrible, unspeakable things to the people he loves.
“How many helicopters have you been in?” Pete asked.
Mr. Leskov looked upon the boy not with disdain or confusion, but with the soft, knowing eyes of one who recognizes in another the condition of madness. “I think the following should answer your question: Andrei Andreivich Markin was a coffin maker in the province of Irkutsk. Every morning—”
“I think the lizard bit me!” Lucy cried out, her hollow voice like a church bell, reminding the masses that in the absence of God, money and fame would decide what is permissible.
“Not possible!” her father, the veterinarian, replied. “This lizard has never bitten a single person in its entire life.” The tense students looked around, contemplating whether Lucy was a liar, whether her father was a liar, or whether they both were liars, and the class was ruled by the corrupt passions that dwell in the shadows of our darkest selves. There was silence.
“It was I who bit you,” said a boy, Jacob, shifting onto his knees. “I wanted attention, and love!” The classroom grew quiet and looked at Jacob, and in him they saw themselves. For the first time, the class acknowledged that they were all desperate loners and thieves.
“Jacob. Five minute timeout,” the teacher ordered.
“I must disagree,” Mr. Leskov said. “Punishment only obscures the truth about us, and I will explain why: Nikolai Kozar was a coffin maker in the province of Tomsk. One day his first cousin—”“Mr. Leskov,” the teacher interrupted, “how about sharing with us why you became a Russian novelist?”
Mr. Leskov brought the pipe to his mouth and took a puff. “I will describe my journey in this way: Old Kosorotov was a coffin maker in the town of Yalta. He had never married, and one morning a woman came in who struck him as too beautiful for words. She asked—”
The lizard jumped at that moment and spread its vicious arms. The class, distracted, didn’t hear Mr. Leskov’s words, and only saw a flash of green bolting toward the man’s throat, followed by the blackness of night.