Office Hours
Ben Nardolilli
When I asked everyone in the class what they thought was wrong with your story, I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. I was just trying to make things better for us. You know that every story needs work, even your own. When I say to you (in private) that you’re the best one in the room, I mean it. I really do. You’re better than I was at your age. However I can’t say that to everyone else. I have to give them a chance. You have to understand. This thing of ours won’t work if all I can do is heap praise on you. They’ll see right through our act and besides, you will be a worse writer.
Maybe I was too harsh. Dry your eyes. Funny that I have all these stacks of paper, but nothing to wipe away tears. No, don’t try. You’ll only cut yourself. Just sit down and we can talk about what works if it will cheer you up. You have my comments on your story, the only remarks I’m sure you care about. It’s a good piece of work, it needs work, but I think it’s good. I really do.
The criticism was harsh, I know. But it wasn’t an act. Your dialogue could be better, you’re characters could use more exposition. Don’t pretend that everything you write is perfect. You’re not Hemingway, you’re not Virginia Wolf. At least not yet. Who do I think I am? Not one of them. Probably never will be. The time is past for that. But you have the future and a pretty face for all the dust jackets that will bear your picture. I bet you pose in front of the mirror with those soft pale hands of yours on your chin, seeing how you can balance sexy and serious at once.
If it helps, think about the man who is tearing into you. See that his fangs are fake, that his sharp tongue is only something he wears in the classroom, his wit is quick to him because his memory is not, and he wears a frown because it covers his wrinkles better. You put me up on a pedestal sometimes. I like it when you do, but every once in a while I just want us to be open with each other and able to talk for hours about one another’s faults.
But not now. I have Jenny and Lucy coming in. You should probably leave so they don’t see you going out. We have to be careful. I have an old scarf of my wife’s around here somewhere. Maybe you can tie it around your head, tuck your hair into a bun and leave the office stooped over. I’ll tell them you’re my grandmother, wishing me a happy birthday (by the way thanks for the gift, I can’t take it home, you understand.) I think you could pass. Keep your brown hair hidden and wear that thrift-store coat of yours.
You’ll only have to put up with this for another month. Then the semester will be over. Only one more story to be critiqued until then. I will rip it to pieces in front of the class. I might step on it. There is the possibility of me pissing on your tale (very remote, and only if they start to suspect us). Be prepared for it. That’s all I can say. I have to be fair to everyone. It’s just that I know you better and that you’re capable of so much more.
Ben is a twenty three year old writer currently living in New York City. His work has appeared in Houston Literary Review, Perigee Magazine, Canopic Jar, and Lachryma: Modern Songs of Lament, Baker’s Dozen, Thieves Jargon, Farmhouse Magazine, Elimae, Poems Niederngasse, The Delmarva Review, Clockwise Cat, Sheroes Rag, Literary Fever, and Perspectives Magazine. Ben was the poetry editor for West 10th Magazine at NYU, and maintains a blog at