The Bed Moved
By Gili Malinsky
Dear Student C,
I am sorry you weren’t feeling well enough to come to class today. Morning sickness can be tough. Some of my friends have experienced it. I have not, though I am twelve years older than you. My mother keeps sending me articles about Oocyte Cryopreservation, but I worry about the defrosting process. Can that be safe? Plus, being a single mother looks like no picnic. Will you be going it alone?
Please bring a printed copy of your essay to our next class to avoid further penalties for lateness.
This was one of my favorite emails from my favorite story in Rebecca Schiff’s new collection, The Bed Moved. The story’s called “Communication Arts”, and it’s a series of exchanges from this teacher, Professor S, to her students, Student A, B, C, F, D, E, Z and G. Sometimes she apologizes (“I’m sorry I put a sentence from your recent essay up on the SmartBoard”), sometimes she thinks they should be apologizing (“I gave you an extension after your grandmother died… The death of a grandparent in college is a natural occurrence and happens to at least one student per semester, usually when an essay is due”). I love it because it’s funny and jumpy and piecemeal, and because in failing to create boundaries between herself and her students, Professor S also becomes flawed and human to them. And maybe that’s exactly what they (and Schiff’s readers) need.
Literary superstar Sloane Crosley called Schiff “a human spotlight and I will look wherever she points from now on.” And so will I. Because despite being, at first, disappointed that her myriad characters weren’t distinct enough in their voices, I came to appreciate that the book had one cohesive, breathy tone. That the characters, the situations and the moments were all coming from the same core place. Which is Schiff, of course.
When I finished the book, I wrote down four words: happy, sad, specific, fantastical. Like that flawed teacher, Schiff manages to make whole stories human, too. That is stories where the characters and the situations were funny even in their heartbreak, and sad even at their funniest. During one protagonist’s dad’s funeral, for instance, her aunt is adamant about feeding guests the sponge cake. People “might be more ridiculous under difficult circumstances,” says Schiff.
When I asked about the fantastical element, because by choosing such specific words to describe a situation, Schiff manages to say so much more than she is saying (“My friend carried the Bible with her everywhere. She she used it to hold our table at lunch because nobody would steal the Bible,” pages 25-26), she said it was, indeed, the language.
“I think if you’ve got the language, you can have any situation become magic for the reader,” she says.