The last day of bookbinding class, it was just me and the Odd Guy.
“I saw other students signed in, upstairs,” I offered to our teacher, who was tapping the corner of a metal ruler on her workbench with a perplexed look on her face. “At like, 8:10. They got here really early. And then they left, I guess?”
“Maybe they’re having a nice breakfast someplace. Oh well. We’ll get started without them.” She sighed. “So, go ahead and get to work, and just let me know if you have any questions.”
Our teacher reminds me of the friends I had when I did lights and sound for the plays in high school. We’d sit in the dusty booth in the back of the auditorium, in sweatshirts and tattered Chuck Taylors, chortling and gossiping about the actors on stage. My friend Katy was usually in charge, and I was consistently impressed with her tech vocabulary. “We’re going to need to order some new blue gels,” she’d say, brow furrowing. “Maybe lower the scrim for scene 2. And could you grab three fresnels from the crypt?”
The Odd Guy reminds me of no one I have ever seen.
He’s tall and hawk-nosed, with a gait like Frankenstein, a ring of wispy black and silver hair encircling his pale skull. Rumor has it, he’s taken years of bookbinding workshops. Any time he speaks it comes out like a forced moan, his dying words. “Could you . . . show us . . . how to use the sewing frames?” Hweeeeeeee. He wore plaid button-up shirts with sleeves that were just slightly too short, hovering above the wrist bone. Every day for lunch he brought back a sandwich wrapped in white paper, a large Pepsi. He would eat at his workbench staring straight ahead, chewing slowly, carefully, always grimly silent. I sat across from him, all chaos and attempted jokes. I used to like silence, too. What happened to that, anyway?
“Where is my bone folder?” I would cry, as glue dried below my frantic hands. “I can’t find my bone folder!”
“Did you throw it away?” our teacher would suggest.
“Well I certainly hope not, for Christ’s sake, I was only just using it and I’ve been very careful not to –”
“Here it is, in the trash. It was wrapped in your waste paper.”
The Sweet Librarian Girl Who Drank Coffee and Ate Almond Macaroons Every Lunch would titter, then smile and tell me it was looking really nice. The Nice Enough Dude With Tucked-In Shirts was all business, an occasional booming voice, Ha Ha, Am I Right? The Quiet Girl worked diligently, sleepily, snuggled into her hoodie. It was 8:30 in the morning on a Saturday, after all, and we worked in the basement, the dry warmth from the woodworking machines from the rooms next door floating in on waves. The Stylish Russian Woman was nearly always missing.
The Odd Guy would never look up, at any of us.
We all worked at different paces. But every time I looked at what he was doing — and the rest of us were looking around constantly, trying to gauge our progress, trying to figure out the next step — I could never make sense of what he was working on. It turned out, he was always a step ahead: we’d learn about what he was doing next Saturday.
“You know, I’m going to go look for them,” our teacher said. “I have an idea where they are. I’ll be right back.”
Where would that be? I wondered.
The Odd Guy and I shuffled about, wiped PVC straight glue off our hands with paper towels, boned down the super/crash/mull and pulled linen tapes through. Sapphire fabric, forest green, golden linen, magenta. I created a copy of Candide with handmade paper I’d found the week before, a silk ribbon to glue along the spine as a bookmark.
“I am clearly losing it,” our teacher would say fifteen minutes later. “I know I saw Allison walking around the North End this morning. But so far no luck. Can’t find anyone. ”
“She signed in,” I would reply. “At 8:10, fifteen minutes before me.”
“Where could she have gone? Where is everyone? This is nuts.” She ran a hand through her hair. “Well. As long as you two are the only students here, is there anything in particular you wanted to learn from this class? Some tutorial I could give today?”
“Could you . . . show us . . . how to use the sewing frames?” Hweeeeeeee.
“Sewing frames! Absolutely.” She ran off.
“I’m sorry,” I said to the Odd Guy in a sudden rush of emotion. Maybe we would become friends. Maybe I’d have someone to talk to for the next eight hours. Maybe I wouldn’t leave today with a creak in my spine and a twitch to my eye — Good Lord, if we could just listen to music or something, it could be anything, I just can’t take this much freaking silence — “I’m kind of a mess. I’ve taken over nearly this entire table. My God, I can’t find anything, you know?” I smiled tenuously.
He didn’t say anything. He didn’t even look up. What the heck was he doing over there, anyway, it looked crazy. We hunched over our text blocks, wiped glue off our hands, shuffle, shuffle, shuffle.