Pedagogy, by Erin McGraw

April 20, 2012

“I married him so I’d never have to look up anything again. He’d know.” Elise didn’t mean this as praise. Bill was plump with knowledge, shiny with it. “I retain things,” he said modestly, but it wasn’t hard to see the satisfaction behind his words.  He corrected people. “Actually, that isn’t how a bicameral body works.” “Actually, his intracranial pressure couldn’t have gone so high.”

“Actually, your husband is impossible,” people told Elise. Try telling her something she didn’t know. She was the one in bed at night listening to the four ways fracking would lead to water pollution. She told him to dial it down. “People don’t want to know everything that you know.”

“You should see what I don’t tell them,” he protested.

“That’s exactly what I want to see!” she said, ruffling his hair.

The next day, when their friend asked, “How long will it take us to get to New York?” Bill didn’t say. “Should we get sushi here?” another friend asked. No opinion. Which explained how they wound up in Scranton, in a terrible motel, sick from bad fish. In a companionable spirit, Bill was sick too. “Why are you throwing up? You were supposed to know better,” Elise said weakly.

“I’m playing by your rules,” he said, hogging the basin.

“Isn’t there a middle ground?”

“What do you think I am, God?”

“No,” she laughed, and then, “Yes. Sort of.”

The next day, he said, “We should be able to make it to New York from here in one shot. We’ll be there well before curtain.” He knew that Elise wanted to see a play.

On the way, they passed a hitchhiker. “Should we pick him up?” their friend said.

Bill shrugged. “Odds are in our favor.”

“Are you nuts?” Elise said, so their friend kept driving. That night, they saw the hitchhiker at the Shubert Theater, already holding the tickets they were still in line for. “How did you get here?” she asked, aggrieved.

“Trucker picked me up, and I played harmonica while he gunned it. Made great time.”

Bill was nodding. “Music helps.”

“You’re saying we would have gotten here faster if we’d picked him up?”

“Sure,” Bill said. “I thought you knew that.”

The play was confusing, full of innuendoes that didn’t seem to connect. At the intermission, Elise asked him to explain.

“This is the kind of thing I would normally tell you. You wouldn’t have to ask.”

“I know. But asking is important. It makes me part of what we’re doing.”

He blinked. “What are we doing?”

Elise smiled. This was a moment to savor. “Learning. It’s different from knowing.”

“I know that,” he said, and stalked off. Elise leaned comfortably against a column. He would be back. He needed her to ask something.


Erin McGraw-Writer's Blog

Erin McGraw is the author of five books of fiction, most recently The Seamstress of Hollywood Boulevard. Her stories and essays have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Good Housekeeping, The Gettysburg Review, The Kenyon Review, Allure, The Southern Review, and many other journals and magazines. She teaches at the Ohio State University with her husband, the poet
Andrew Hudgins, and they divide their time between Ohio and Tennessee.

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