Norman's father's briefcase
Norman had a briefcase instead of a backpack. He was overweight, was the reason. An overweight college student wearing a backpack, with the way it pulled at your shoulders, pulling them back and making your shirt weird and your coat wrinkly, and the way it pushed out your stomach and opened those gaps between the already-gapping buttons, it was just too awful. It was gross. Disgusting. An overweight student with a backpack always looks like an obese boy, which is even worse than being an obese man, and he just couldn't stand it. So he had a briefcase.
It was his father's. Had his father's initials on the buttons.
In his mind he said "overweight," and that was the word he used, but underneath there was the other word which he didn't say in his mind but heard like an expulsion, a sound spat. Fat. He was fat, and that was why he had a briefcase and not a backpack.
He set it on a desk, on the side of the front of the class. He laid it down, flipped it over right-side-up, and clicked the clasps. His father had had the briefcase when he was a salesman, but that didn't work and Norman's father wasn't a salesman anymore and had whole stock of ties hidden in a drawer and the briefcase under his desk, stuffed with old checkbooks and notices from the IRS. Norman opened it now and had a book, the paper-bound anthology, and a yellow pad of paper, and there were four manilla folders each with the name and number of a class, and he had a set of pens, three of them, each one wood and metal.
Norman was also a Young Republican, and that was the other thing besides being fat that made him look like that. He was a Republican, he would say, because he believed in freedom and small government and that there were unintended consequences of trying to change things, but it was also something of a style, or it came out that way, and it made his already self-conscious self more conservative when he went and bought clothes. So there was the short-sleeve, button-up shirt, and khakis, never shorts and rarely jeans, and he wore loafers and a silver wrist watch and had a briefcase with his father's initials on the buttons. He would have worn a suit if he could have afforded it.
He got out the book, and put it down on the desk. He got out the pad and flipped it to the first clean page. He straightened it so the line was in line with the desk. He put a pen on the pad and closed the breifcase, snapping it shut and setting it on the floor, and then a girl asked him if he could please sign her drop card.
"What?" he said.
"I have to drop your class," she said. She held the card out to him, a green index card with the name of the class and a line that said "Sign." She looked at him, wondering if he was going to be hard about it and explaining that her schedule was packed and she was changing her major and adding some student work and would he sign so she could? and he looked at her, in her halter top and university sweat pants. He looked at the class. All of them were looking at him, sitting and slouching in the desks and wondering why he wouldn't just sign - was he going to be hard? - and Norman pushed up his glasses and felt like he was falling inside.
They think I'm a teacher, Norman thought. They were all looking at him and he was sweating. He touched his face and he was sweating and he tried to pluck his shirt away from his chest so it wouldn't look like he had breasts.