It never took long for a teaching plan to fall apart. Even if “plan” should’ve been in scare quotes to start with.
Eran had organized his section of HIST 1000 to explore both causes and effects, looking at Communism from 1917 to 1991. He had split his class into two randomly constituted groups, one tracing backwards from the dissolution of the Soviet Union to look for a root cause, the other moving forward from the Russian Revolution to look for the beginning of the end. In the “plan,” he had expected one of two things to happen. Either the group beginning in 1991 would conclude that the Soviet project was doomed from the outset while the group beginning in 1917 would identify some point between 1950 and 1970 as the pivotal moment, or both groups would go, “Yeah, Stalin sucked.”
Eran hadn’t anticipated that both groups would look at him with vague incomprehension when he outlined this plan. Or that, after the outline, when he sat down with the 1991ers to help them plan out their research, the girl in the dark glasses would ask, “So what caused the Soviet Union to break up?”
Fortunately, Eran was teaching a MWF 9-10 schedule, and his own classes were on Tuesday and Thursday. So by mid-morning Friday he was on his own time. He had immediately gone to Bordertown, ordered the largest, most expensive latte drink on the menu, and settled in to read the students’ first assignments. Given what you currently know about the collapse of the Soviet Union, explain in one page when you think the collapse became irreversible. He wanted to see what they currently knew, how they thought, whether they could write, and whether he had any prospective history majors in the bunch.
An hour later, he was done with all 21 papers and tabulated his results:
- Not much.
- Mixed bag.
- Depends on the person.
- Yeah, maybe four. Not bad!
Eran had a boatload of reading to do for his own classes, and he had vowed that this would be the semester he started writing his dissertation, even if he wrote it on the garbage-paragraph-a-day plan. He didn’t have time to get caught off guard by a flashback.
He found himself at the London Underground.
Eran had been to the station once before: study abroad, parent-funded. It was Whitechapel. Eran desperately, pruriently wanted to crane his head around and look for where the Ripper murders had been, so much more recently than in Eran’s time. So it’s violent. So what? At least it’s different violence. But the head he was in was just leaving it. Purpose: a pub, something to eat. A hand dove into his pocket, hunting coins. There were few.
“You going to carry that around all day?”
Eran couldn’t access his companion’s name. Henry, Charles, George: one of those kings. He felt strongly that his own name was Pete. In his hand he held a copy of London Opinion, a discard he had snatched while riding into Whitechapel. All day on the line for a fare, when he didn’t have anywhere else to go.
“Everyone’s signing up, aren’t they?” he said. Eran interpreted Pete’s accent as Cockney, but it sounded just a shade off in this year. Possibly not enough BBC codification.
“Nothing to do with us, right?”
“Nothing to do with us. Until they come and take us away.”
Lord Kitchener’s finger and eyes followed him no matter which way he slanted the paper. Your country needs YOU. Nice to feel wanted, he supposed. And anyway, only a matter of time until they did come to take Pete away. And the stories coming out of Belgium… Maybe it was a worthwhile cause, something left to proud of in the empire’s old bones. Maybe.
Maybe Eran needed to get reading before Stefan asked whether he was serious about scholarship.
He had drained his latte and had nothing left to stall over. So he stared out the window. The propaganda effort, the belief that a country’s future could really depend on whoever saw that cover. Had it worked? If it had worked, what would it have felt like to enlist at the time?
Pete’s was another fate Eran would never track down. He simply marked the name in his notebook. Above it were the wife’s, the Belgian soldier’s, and the Danube sailor’s.
September 5, 1914: Cover date of the London Opinion which debuted a version of the famous Lord Kitchener recruiting illustration.