Gotham teacher Kyle Minor's short story collection In the Devil’s Territory has recently been published. One of the stories has been selected for inclusion in Best American Mystery Stories 2008, and Publisher’s Weekly says, “Minor has a knack for capturing melancholy and establishing empathy for his book’s many wayward characters."
Here’s a passage from the title story, in which a father gives his son advice on dealing with his fifth-grade teacher, a woman who escaped East Berlin by swimming the Spree River three times under cover of night, each time with an elderly relative on her back, so she could make her way to West Palm Beach, Florida, and “ruin the lives of fifth grade boys.”
“Sometimes I get angry,” Wayne said. “You ever get angry?
”Ronny kept eating his ice cream, but gave a slight nod.
“I’m plenty angry,” Wayne said. “I’m angry with your teacher. I’m angry with your principal. Look at me. I’m not angry at you.”
The boy looked up at him and kept eating. His eyes were green.
“Never with you. You hear?”
The boy stopped eating. Nodded again.
“I feel, son, like I’ve been lied to. Your teacher tells your principal things about you that can’t possibly be true, and he tells them to me. Ratliff tells me all year to wait, that he’s going to work on some things, that things are going to work themselves out. Nothing ever happens. Things are supposed to be getting better. Are things getting better?”
The boy nodded again. “Yes,” he said. Wayne had the feeling he was saying what he was supposed to say. She had broken the boy like a horse, had broken the boy’s spirit. His boy. My boy.
What he had to say now, he was going to have to be delicate about it. “I don’t think it’s right to lie. That’s what I taught you, right?”
“That’s right,” the boy said.
“Most of the time it’s not right to lie,” Wayne said. “Ninety-nine point nine nine percent of the time it’s not right.”
The boy was very still.
“But here we got a problem,” Wayne said, “and I don’t know what do about it exactly. We got a problem like they had in the old days, when the saying was an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. We got some people with a lot of fight who aren’t willing to have a fair fight, and I’m thinking about the American Indian. Do you know about the American Indian?”
The boy was nodding.
“You got your white man with his muskets,” Wayne said. “You got your redcoats, and then you got your regular Americans. They got guns, they got gunpowder. You learn about this in history. Guns and gunpowder, and all the Indians got is bows and arrows, and maybe the British and the regular Americans have cannons, too.
“So what’s the smart Indian gonna do? March into battle head-on, with their bow and arrow and get blown away?”
No, the boy was saying.
“No is right. The Indian is smart, or at least he’s smart enough to want to stay alive. So he’s gotta change the rules of the warfare. He’s gotta hide in the bushes, and wait until the white man is passing, and then jump out and brain him with a rock, and then be gone before anybody has presence of mind enough to shoot at him.
“To the white man it’s cheating,” Wayne said, “but to the Indian it’s doing what you have to do to survive. Do you get what I’m saying?”
Yes, the boy was saying.
Reprinted by permission of Dzanc Books. For more information on Kyle and his book, visit kyleminor.com