In The Shadow of Elysium

Standing at the chalk board midway through a word, the memory hit him. It started as a tickle on the back of his neck that sent a shiver down his spine, and before he could get hold of himself, he was gone. Lost in the past. He was three years old watching a strange movie in a language he didn’t understand and still didn’t recognise to this day. His parents had put it on to distract him from what they were doing. Distantly, he heard the rhythmical thumping which, as an adult, he recognised as sex, but as a child he just thought it was thumping. His focus shifted from the screen to the sounds and back again. In one moment, all he could see was the strange man expressing some kind of joke or joy at a strange idea. The next he heard the sounds which his adult brain realised weren’t normal sex sounds. There was a humming and a buzzing and the erotic screaming of multiple voices, all mid-pleasure.

Then it was back to the screen, a court jester considering the downfall of having to walk downhill. Then he saw the many different faces of the people leaving his parents’ room. Strange, inhuman faces. Some looked like animals, some like kabuki actors, some like monsters and some with no face at all. The memory always played out the same way, and as he watched the strange movie start to roll credits, he knew that the memory was coming to an end, and that the worst was still to come. He hated this memory, these attacks of memory. It would hit like a wave and take over his every sense. He’d be forced to relive the moment in perfect clarity as a bystander to his own life. And so, he watched himself stand up from the floor and walk towards his parents’ room. The masked men and women had all left and the only people still there were his parents. His father was tied to the bed naked. His face was covered by a kind of towel, and he could see something bright pink dangling from his ass. Silently he watched as his mother, dressed in her wedding dress, pulled up the front of the dress to reveal her fully shaved vagina, pick up the dangling end of the pink thing and slip it inside of herself. Then begin thrusting. It was clear to the adult mind that they hadn’t realised the door was open and that he stood there watching.

The memory ended there and suddenly he was back in the classroom, standing at the chalk board. Behind him his students were whispering and giggling. Presumably because he’d stopped halfway through a sentence and then stood still, without talking or even breathing for about ten seconds. He took another moment to let his shame and erection fade. In his now conscious memory, he knew that while the vision ended at the same moment, in his history he had stood still and quiet for a full five minutes watching his parents before his mother noticed him and shut the door. Presumably to continue what they were doing, or maybe to clean up. He didn’t know, he’d never asked, and he couldn’t, wouldn’t try and remember.

The last thing he did before turning back to his students was to fake a smile and force his mind away from the package of cigarettes in his desk drawer. It hadn’t been the first time it had happened in class, but he still felt the urge to address the situation directly.

“Sorry about that students’ he said in the cheerful version of his teacher voice. ‘Just a little hiccup in my focus. Nothing to worry about. How long was I away?”

A nice girl named Brenda who liked to sit in the front row of the classroom said quickly,

“Only a few seconds, sir.”

She then smiled at him and hoped he would smile back, which he did.

“You were about to explain the failure of Sisyphus’s punishment.”

His smile broadened a little and Brenda blushed.

“Yes, thank you.”

He turned back to the chalk board and realised he’d written sex toy instead of Sisyphus. And when the students saw him realise this, they all, including Brenda, burst out laughing. The sound was a nice distraction and helped clear the lingering fog that the memory always left. After a second, he even joined in with the laughter.

“Well, I’m sure you understand that we will not be discussing this,’ he pointed at the word on the chalk board, ‘in class today.”

He thought for a moment about whether or not it would be appropriate to say something inclusive and understanding so as not to set a precedent for judgement around sex toys and masturbation. But then he remembered his parents and decided against it. Instead, he wiped the board clean and turned back to face his students.

“Taken from Zeus’s point of view, the idea of repeating the same task endlessly forever is possibly the worst thing imaginable, to take the near infinite power of a god and lock it into something so very mundane and seemingly futile. However, Sisyphus was not a god, but a man. And it has been speculated that he found a catharsis in this activity. In the same way that people go to the gym everyday and repeat the same physical activity to sculpt their bodies and even to help focus their minds. Repeating something until you are a master at it, even when it is something mundane, can be incredibly rewarding. And from that standpoint, the punishment given to Sisyphus wasn’t a punishment at all, but an opportunity for him to learn to focus his body and mind in the pursuit of mastery. Something that a God, who was born into power, simply wouldn’t understand. It speaks quite strongly to the disconnect between the haves and the have nots. A rich man who is disgusted by a restaurant running out of his desired dish cannot understand the joy a poor man has just from being able to feed himself.”

He looked out at the sea of faces which mostly stared back at him.

“Any questions so far?”

Two hands went up, Brenda’s and a boy’s in the back row who he pointed at.

“Do you have any sex toys sir?”

The room split almost equally between gasps and laughs. The students ranged between 16 and 17 years old, and while they weren’t adults, they also weren’t children. So, he reconsidered his earlier thought and decided to answer the question truthfully.

“Personally no, I have no use for them. But some people do and that’s also totally alright. It has also been said that Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the hill only to watch it roll down the other side can be compared to having an orgasm. Where the pressure builds and builds until it peeks and then you have your release. If someone needs or wants a toy to help them with that, who am I, or you, to judge them for it.”

The students all stared at him for a second, shocked and intrigued by his answer. Even the students who’d been drawing or lying on their desks had looked up.

“Are there any more questions?”

It took a moment but Brenda’s hand went half way up and then came back down.

“In that case I say we call the lesson to an end for today. I look forward to reading your essays on the subject, though I will ask that if you do decide to further research the sexual aspect that you do so with elegance and dignity. If you turn in erotic writings for the sake of being pornographic or for a joke, I won’t read it and I will fail you.”

He then watched as the students all rose and began filing out of the room and felt the sweat that had begun to form under his arms as he thought about his package of cigarettes and the building desperation to have one.

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