They were running a charter school out of a city building that stood in a quiet bureaucratic limbo of disrepair. Hanes had laryngitis, but Gutierrez asked him to cover L3 for the teacher whose name he always forgot, a twenty-some boy who was unable to smile without blinking convulsively, as he might with a fist in his face. The boy had a cold. Meanwhile the boy’s students showed up, took seats, and moved to straighten themselves in their endless fight against sleep. Hanes knew one or two. Yevgeny, Ukrainian man, droll, somewhat pedantic. Fallou, kid from Senegal, hard-core: stocked dry goods over night and sold flowers on the street by day.
“So what was the lesson?” Lila B. wanted to know.
Hanes made use of his wounded voice as he let smoke seep from his body. “Modals.”
They sat on the crumbling steps of a fire exit on the building’s north side, with a view of the grounds: denuded tether-ball poles, chains hanging loose at their sides, like tools of affliction. Some malefic growth that would chime when the wind started in.
“They wrote fortunes, for cookies,” Hanes went on. “Only Lydia—you know Lydia?”
Hanes nodded. “She was bent on calling them future cookies.”
“Fuck did you do to your voice?”
Lila B. was a tall lesbian of arresting glamour. She brought to mind Morticia Addams—but with a tendency to go on manic jags. Hanes might have told her the rest of the story if he had been able to speak. How the woman, Lydia, had written her fortunes in the first person. I will visit my father next week. How he had been willing to let that slide—because she had produced the grammar—but others were not. Yevgeny, Alberto, Jinhui. They took over. They wouldn’t authorize this failure to get what a fortune was.
You will have much prosperity.
You will enjoy a quantity of wisdom in your life.
You will get nice house, good place for family.
You will be rich.
The fortunes, as they had been declaimed, kept going through Hanes’ head.
He turned around.
Gutierrez stood in the doorway. She was framed in graffiti—the word ‘SURVIVAL’ rendered in characters that interlocked as if part of an alien alphabet.
“Join us,” Hanes said.
Gutierrez ignored this. “What are you doing?”
Lila B. held up her cigarette and faced it. “Hello, I’m Lila,” she said. “Hello, Lila,” she said for the cigarette. “I’m Death.”
“We were talking about cookies,” Hanes tried.
Gutierrez produced an indignant smile. “I’ve got like ten situations I’m dealing with here?”
“All right.” He held up his hands in surrender.
He got to his feet.
You will live on streets of gold.
You will receive a marvelous surprise in the federal mail.
You will own a big ship. You will travel the sea.
In Hanes’ own future, he’ll come to recall this one bit of a day. He’ll remember standing, wiping the grit off his hands—and since the time will seem to float up pure, without lines of significance, he will feel wonder, and will cede to that. He’ll reinhabit this wayward piece of a life—when he fought to start a school, when students fought to learn. When he was still smoking. When they tried to dress okay, in shirts with uncomfortable collars, and tended to feel that the good in the world was far-off, like a storybook dream.