The Potential Energy of Mr. English
Originally published in The Black Warrior Review
It is the longest serpentine domino trail Shoji Miyano, self-proclaimed ijimekko of his class, has ever, ever seen: the dominoes begin on the teacher’s linoleum desk and do a quick little sinuous wave on it and then thanks to Michiko Ohnuma’s brilliant engineering skills the dominoes lead off the desk via a precarious textbook bridge supported underneath by the class plastics recycling bin, then twiddles across Mr. English’s decapitated metal lectern, then runs overtop a bunch of desks scooched together as close as possible, finally declining toward the plane of the hard floor via a Tomica Race Track Kichitaro Kato has brought from home for this very purpose; the queue comes spiraling inward and inward toward the middle of the classroom like the inside of a waterspout, until the domino curlicue abruptly ends because geometrically speaking the circle can’t get any tighter, so it just…uh…stops.
For Shoji Miyano the orderliness and promise the line produces is unbearable. Shoji fights a serious urge to get on all fours like a cat and bat his arms around and maybe swing a stray leg out like a prehensile tail behind him.
All the students are gawking at the dominoes as if the tiles were an invading line of tiny but lethally poisonous insects.
Genichiro Tokimoto, early pubescent mustache an ash strip above his lip, dumpy as always in his faded Mickey Mouse 2000 t-shirt, leans against the after-school teachers’ desk like a total suck-up.
Genichiro cuts the silence with a Blurt:
I wonder what’s going to happen to the energy when the last domino falls down? I mean, where does the energy go then?
Shoji brushes his bangs aside like he always does because they tickle his eyelashes and smarms, You’re such a piggy, underwear-stainer. The dominoes are just going to fall over until they stop. The energy just disappears, slow boat.
But secretly he isn’t so sure.
To finish him, he calls Genichiro Tokimoto a bakayaro, semi-quietly, and either Tazuko Endo or Kenji Hikaru swinishly snorts.
Mr. English, who hates Shoji and conflict and Blurts, asks for volunteers to alter the domino line’s energy from potential to kinetic, but then for some reason Mr. English right away chooses Yasmine Häfliger, the Swiss exchange girl.
All the boys in the class express serious concern that Yasmine Häfliger is probably the worst person ever for the task. She’s either going to push the first domino way too hard or way too soft, they whinge, plus it’s taken them, what, almost 40 minutes to build this domino snake—and now they’re just supposed to let a foreigner named Yasmine to junk it up?
Mr. English says, No more Blurts! and immediately thereafter, Let her do, children!
Mr. English’s Japanese is pretty lousy, all things considered, but now the classroom respectfully shuts up, mostly for what is about to occur.
Yasmine Häfliger’s cinnamon brown hair is the frizzy type that never looks brushed and has that resemblance to little spiders of hair Shoji finds drifting on the wood floor of his family’s apartment.
Yasmine Häfliger holds out her index finger like how you’re supposed to test the wind after sticking the finger in your mouth, and with no more build-up: she pokes the first domino.
Everyone is up on socked toes. The trail zips over. The sound it provides is an incredible clik-clik-clik-clik-clik that just sustains. (Aural Pucca Chocolate.) Shoji has rampant stomach churnies of glee. The visual accompaniment of the dominoes changing hue as they fall satisfies Shoji in a totally visceral way, too.
When Shoji gets excited he has a tendency to cup his privates, as if shielding them from an attack of awesomeness; he does so now.
The urge to Blurt is real and--
Wait! Shoji Miyano closes his eyes all tight. If he focuses. Like...real hard. Like on the toilet hard. If he focuses. Maybe! Maybe Shoji, our Shoji, this kid, this nobody, this tyrannical bully who has eggy digestive problems especially in the AM, our Shoji, our hero!, maybe if he focuses Shoji Miyano can transform into
Shoji The Human Domino.
(Yes, that’s right.)
Shoji is now a Human Domino.
Shoji quite calmly assumes that his eyes are the little white dots, which would make his domino face read 2, or rather:
And he sees the entire classroom denatured into meter-high dominos with vaguely human characteristics, pressed up against one other, with Shoji being the first to crush the other Human Dominos. His mind knows contentment, picturing the kumi as a string of potentiality.
When he gets this excited it feels like his privates are going to fucking explode. And his stomach feels soda can bubbly. And his smile is painful and way out of his control. And his eyes get, like, pretty fucking creepy. And Jesus Jesus Jesus he needs to Blurt anything at--
Listen up, fool peoples! I am Shoji the Human Domino and I’m here to crush you all! Bow before me and weep, underwear stainers! Yasmine Hooflinga, you will be mine and also I love you! We will be married together so hard I will not have time to pee! Why is your hair so smelly! Also I love you so much I want to punch Fatty Genichiro! I am Shoji the Humano Doman, um, a Human Domino, and I’m here to fart all over this classro--
That was a Blurt.
Shoji says all that not in his head. In the sweat-stinking real life.
Shoji wonders why there’s a constant leak in his imagination and why he always gets in trouble and why everyone think’s he kind of stupid and uh-oh slash oh shit.
Mr. English is way pissed.
Mr. English’s eyes become two gigantic vanilla mochi balls from behind his windowed eyeglasses. Everyone gets real mum. The dominoes have stopped but nobody is paying attention.
Yasmine Häfliger, the Swiss, whom Shoji kind of thinks is beautiful but would never admit that to anyone, right?, her skin gets even paler for what is to be a real goober of trouble. Even Michiko Ohnuma and Kichitaro Kato are grinning like their team just killed at Hana Ichi Momme.
The only sound filling the space is Mr. English infirmly breathing in and out through his congested American nose.
You have Blurted me for the last time, Shoji Miyano. Mr. English pauses for a drawn-out moment as if sorting through disparate sanctions in his large American teacher’s skull. Then he tilts his skull.
Classes, Mr. English says in real bad Japanese, You must carefully listen please. I want everyone to sit on Shoji Miyano.
The other students blink in response; a few crack their posture.
I intended to say that command: please sit on Shoji. Collect a pile of your bodies. Put all your weight on him. Genichiro Tokimoto!, you must sit on Shoji first.
Genichiro Tokimoto, who is such a world-class kiss ass normally, even he sucks in air between his teeth and asks, Maji? Like you want me to sit on him? Like as if Shoji is a chair?
Damn it!, do what I say, Genichiro! Everyone, sit on Shoji.
Nervous gulps are now synchronized, human ventricles percussive.
Still it takes a whispered Do it, pussy! from either Kenji Hikaru or Tazuko Endo for poor Genichiro Tokimoto to lazily shove Shoji to the hard floor.
Which he does, lazily.
Shoji Miyano doesn’t really fall so much as he crumples.
Mr. English whispers, Sit on him! in the kind of whisper that’s a scream.
Genichiro Tokimoto shrugs his wide shoulders and then rolls them as if he were about to perform some nutso strenuous calisthenics.
He gravity-plops all his weight on Shoji’s supine stomach, which makes a squishing sound like a speeding motorbike rapidly depressing the goop out of a small field mouse.
Very good, says Mr. English, using his native language now. Now, there, pile up. Add to it. Don’t be shy. One-by-one! Form a line here, very good. I want you all to pile onto Shoji. That’s it. That’s it now. Come on. Be not afraid! Sit on He Who Blurts and do it now.
The teacher impatiently taps his fingers against his crossed arm until the students wearily add themselves to the pile of bodies, one-by-one, the pile growing higher and larger still.
By the fifth or sixth human, Shoji disappears, except for his hand, sticking out from the bottom of the body mound, over by Tazuko Endo’s right knee.
Shoji’s hand is blushing red. Everyone’s sort of groaning as they’re trying to balance their weight without falling off a lumpy body.
A minute later Shoij’s hand deepens to a shade of blue.
Minutes after that the hand turns purple.
The more he thinks about it, it (the hand) is just like one of those color-changing stickers Genichiro likes so much in some public bathrooms that give you a target for your yellow stream inside the little kid urinal, letting you know by your pee heat that yes, yes, your aim is true: your aim is true and remarkable.
When the electronic bell bombilates Mr. English says, Don’t you even think about moving, classes, and truthfully nobody does.