8♠ 8♠ 8♠ 8♠ 8♠ 8♠ 8♠ 8♠
Of course we expected the tropical fish to die, that was no surprise. Those numbers, you look at them crooked and they’re belly-up on the surface. But the lesson plan called for a tropical-fish input at that point, there was nothing we could do, it happens every year, you just have to hurry past it.
It’s surreal. It’s funny. It’s dark. It’s short. It’s Donald Barthelme’s short story “The School”. Last year, his story “The Balloon” took the spot as my favorite story. I don’t know if this one will take that spot this year, but it’s one that I’m sure will make my top ten. It also could easily be the most hilarious story I’ve read this year.
We get a snippet of Edgar’s life as an elementary school teacher in which death confronts him every time he turns around. Things become a little intense as the story hits its third and final page. Most of the humor comes from Edgar’s casual and naive attitude as the kids ask pointed and philosophical questions about both life and death – but mostly death.
Then the kids move on to a different topic in the final paragraphs, but I’ll let readers get the enjoyment out of discovering that topic for themselves.
This story is included in my copy of The Oxford Book of American Short Stories edited by Joyce Carol Oates. I read it when I selected the Eight of Spades for Week 34 of my Deal Me In 2018 short story project. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.