Professor Jacob Weissman is Breaking Down

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We knew Professor Weissman was having difficulties in a way that only a group of two hundred people who spend an extended time staring at one man can.
His lectures were as precise as ever, starting ten minutes after the hour and running fifteen minutes late. His clothes were neat, the tie changing every class but hanging in the same slightly off-kilter fashion, and his hair was washed, though unruly as always. But we all knew he was having a hard time keeping it together, that each step was an extra effort, that each time he picked up a piece of chalk, all his energy went into the activity. And so, none of us were surprised when he started to fall apart.
It started when he could not pick up the chalk, distracted in thought, caught in an abstract tangent, and his fingers slipped around it, unable to find anything solid to hold on to, and it quickly escalated from there. His hand saw no need to be a hand. His arm saw no need to be an arm.
A hand rose in the back of the lecture hall, speaking for all of us.
“Professor? Are you ok?”
Professor Weissman looked up, surprised, more at the question than at his lack of arm, which came back together when he addressed the lecture hall.
“Is there any reason I wouldn’t be ok?”
“Well… your arm, Professor.”
Professor Weissman looked at his arm.
“Is there something wrong with my arm?”
The lecture hall was silent.
“There are only two possibilities: yes or no.”
It was not as clear as all that. His arm was not behaving properly all the time, even if it was behaving properly at the moment, and we could not guess if what we had seen was an abnormality, the new normal, or a shared delusion.
We knew Professor Weissman was having difficulties, and now that we knew the extent of his trauma, we began experiencing difficulties as well. Our arms remained solid, our bodies did not betray us, but it was the student body itself that was betrayed. The lecture hall of two hundred seated, well-behaved students began to shift, in their seats at first, and then disappear, as the first few more squeamish students quietly picked up their books and shuffled out of the room. The others leaned toward each other, breaking up the constant rigidity of the seating arrangement, whispering, breaking up the constant quiet and attention Professor Weissman had come to expect.
As the end of the class neared, more students began to pick up their books and disperse, willing to miss Professor Weissman’s usual fifteen minutes of overtime. The student population was cut by half, and then more, until there were only a few students left, still lingering, still holding on, out of either tradition or pity, a sense of obligation or a sense of empathy.
It was the same lecture hall, there were many of the same students, but it was not the same at all, even though they all came back the next week, even though it seemed as if nothing had changed. The construction had changed, the basic anatomy of the student body had undergone a structural overhaul, it had broken down in a way it could never come back together. Even though Professor Weissman’s arm never fell apart again, and even though the class sat through his entire lecture until the end of the semester, the damage was done, the change was complete, and we were forced to sit with the realization that Professor Weissman, and any extension of Professor Weissman, could break down at any moment.
The End

About the Author: 
Alex Grunberg is a Glasgow based writer, currently studying at the University of Glasgow.