Venerites have landed. In Laura Maylene Walter’s “Adult Education,” it becomes the responsibility of her narrator, Miss Tracy, an instructor at the adult education center, to teach these aliens about human culture. Walter navigates the lessons with humor and humanity as Miss Tracy struggles with bouts of self-doubt and the concept of shame.
I recently asked my students why they landed in America instead of Italy or Thailand or Bolivia. They shouted out answers right away: Route 66! Reality TV! Amber waves of grain! The Harlem Globetrotters! Hillbilly! The Big Apple!
But really, Pam said, it is because America is a big country with many landscapes and climate zones, of which we are curious. And also because so many people here are lonely, and we do not understand what it is to be lonely since we always have each other.
Every time I tried to start a new lesson—about our nation’s emergency response services, for example, or libraries, or the electoral college, or the IRS—the Venerites interrupted to ask about food. Why do humans consume three squares a day, Pam asked, and I had to tell her the expression she was looking for was three square meals. Mike wanted to know how many Americans owned microwaves, and what causes heartburn? What, for that matter, was a frozen dinner, or a tapas bar, or a flavor profile?
Venerites didn’t eat food. They couldn’t taste, or swallow, or go to the bathroom. Instead of ingesting their nutrients, they absorbed sunlight. Instead of speech or writing, they communicated amongst themselves telepathically. And instead of intercourse, they reproduced asexually, in their sleep. Their young popped out from under their toenails, the newborns curled like little snails. This could happen anywhere or anytime, even in my classroom at the adult education center if someone fell asleep, as Tom did last week. He birthed as single snail daughter before waking up and looking around, as if startled to find himself on a strange planet.
Sorry, Miss Tracy, he said, and tucked the baby out of sight in his desk.
I had taught him that, how to apologize. It was one of my proudest accomplishments.