|Illustration by Mark Satchwill|
Written by Katherine Tomlinson
Illustrated by Mark Satchwill
“We have to stop meeting like this,” Graham McCallan said as he slid into a folding chair next to Vera Polk. She gave the history teacher a wan smile. She liked him well enough but she’d had a headache since lunch time and the prospect of sitting through a hastily convened faculty meeting made her want to weep despite the company.
The principal had promised he wouldn’t take up much of their time but he was already 15 minutes late.
Which was typical of Wayne Richtman’s passive-aggressive behavior.
Vera had never really warmed up to Wayne who thought she was just a little too hard on her students.
“This is high school,” he’d said to her more than once, “not MIT.”
She was pretty sure Wayne couldn’t have gotten into MIT if his parents had donated a new building, but she had some students who could if they were pushed hard enough.
And that included Rob Nolan.
As far as Vera concerned, she’d be happy to give Rob a recommendation if he wanted to apply for early admission to MIT.
As long as it got him out of her classroom.
“If Wayne doesn’t get here in the next five minutes, I say we all leave,” Graham said to no one in particular as the teachers milled around the cafeteria. “Isn’t 20 minutes the grace period?”
No one bothered to answer him.
The younger teachers had all pulled out their iPhones to check email and twitter feeds with that total obliviousness to environment that only those under 30 could manage.
Graham produced a flattened bag of Gummi bears out of his jacket pocket and dug through the candy for one that was pineapple flavored.
“Gummi bear?” he asked, holding the bag out to Vera.
She could almost see his fingerprints embedded in the soft sweets and repressed a shudder.
“No thanks,” she said, wishing she were at home, changed into the soft cotton yoga pants she wore around the house, sipping a glass of wine and …
Her reverie was rudely interrupted by the arrival of the principal, who as always strove to give the impression that he was a very important man on his way to very important events.
Like the White Rabbit, Vera thought. I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date.
He didn’t apologize for being late, but Vera hadn’t expected him to.
“I want to talk about Miramonte,” Wayne said and all of the air was suddenly sucked out of the room.
Oh God, Vera thought. The incident at the local elementary school had been a hot topic of conversation for weeks, with emails from the teacher’s union protesting the wholesale firing of that school’s faculty and the allegations getting more and more lurid.
“Do we have to?” Graham muttered under his breath but not quite quietly enough.
“Yes Graham, we have to,” Wayne said snottily, as if the history teacher had taken sides with the teacher accused of blindfolding his young students and feeding them semen on cookies.
“I hope I don’t have to tell you that behavior like that won’t be tolerated here,” he said.
“No,” Graham said, “you don’t have to tell us.”
Vera shot him a sidelong glance. It wasn’t like Graham to be so argumentative.
Wayne was taken aback as well, so startled he didn’t confront Graham’s insubordination.
“And besides,” Graham added, “blindfolds have now been banned in the classroom.”
“What a bunch of spoilsports,” Adam Chu said as the head of the English department gasped. “It’s all fun and games until someone serves up semen on a snickerdoodle.”
“I believe the cookies in question were oatmeal,” Graham said seriously.
“More fiber,” Adam agreed with an equally straight face.
Wayne’s face flushed through a spectrum of obscure colors, moving through mauve before settling on puce.
“Are you two high?” he asked in a strangled voice.
“Not yet,” Graham said while Adam just giggled. “Gummi bear?” Graham asked, waving the bag toward Wayne in a semblance of a peace offering.
Wayne waved it off, visibly upset and obviously trying to get control of himself.
“Moving on,” he said, as if at a White House briefing.
“The alleged school shooting in Ohio.”
“I don’t understand why they must say ‘alleged’ when the boy was seen with the gun in his hand and confessed to the shootings,” Lisette Aveillan said.
“I know,” Moira Steen chimed in. “And ‘alleged victims’ is the same thing. Hello, they’re dead. What’s ‘alleged’ about that?”
“Exactement!” Lisette said.
“Now she’s going to say the Napoleonic Code makes more sense,” Graham said to Vera.
“Under the Napoleonic Code,” Lisette began before Wayne practically shouted her down.
“We don’t have the Napoleonic Code here in America,” he said to the French teacher. “People are innocent until they’re proven guilty.”
“And the burden of proof is on the prosecutor,” Graham said to Lisette. “Didn’t they cover that in your citizenship exam?”
Lisette gave him a narrow look. He smirked at her.
I knew they were fucking last year, Vera thought. I wonder what happened.
“Just shut up everyone,” Wayne finally yelled.
When it was quiet, he started again.
“I think we all would like to think that what happened in Ohio couldn’t happen here,” he began. Graham opened his mouth to say something but Vera kicked him.
“I’d like to go home sometime today,” she whispered.
“That hurt,” he whispered back.
“So we all need to be vigilant about watching for signs of anti-social behavior, signals that one of our children is crying out for attention.”
Moira rolled her eyes.
“You have a comment Moira?” Wayne asked.
“Marcus Thayer,” she said.
“Marcus who?” Wayne asked.
“The kids call him Poo,” Adam said. “Big fat kid.”
Wayne scrunched up his face when he heard the “f-word.”
“Hangs around with Rob Nolan,” Moira added helpfully.
“I know who you’re talking about,” Wayne said. “What about him?”
“Did you read the memo I sent you about his work in my creative writing class?”
Wayne looked blank.
“Sorry, I don’t think I’ve had a chance to get to it.”
Moira nodded her head as if that confirmed something she already knew.
“You might want to take a look at it,” she said. “I’ll re-send it.”
“It’s not going to be Poo that sets it off,” Vera said, surprising herself.
Wayne turned to her questioningly.
“Remember Columbine,” she said—the tall redheaded kid and the runt?”
“Daryl Klebold and Eric Harris,” Moira said.
“It was the little guy who was the instigator,” Vera said.
“And your point Vera?”
“The kid you need to watch out for is Rob Nolan. Poo is a pitbull but Rob holds his leash.”
“Rob Nolan?” Wayne said. “The Rob Nolan whose IQ scores were off the chart?”
“They aren’t that impressive,” Vera said.
“He’s a member of MENSA,” Wayne said.
“So am I,” Vera said.
“Me too,” Graham said, and he and Vera both looked at Wayne, knowing full well he couldn’t qualify or he would have mentioned it at some point in the past, the way he was always mentioning that he’d graduated summa from NYU.
“What is MENSA?” Lisette asked.
“A club for pretentious people,” Adam said, but he was smiling. “I’m in it too.”
“I think you might be projecting,” Wayne said to Vera.
“Are you implying that I’m a budding sociopath with homicidal tendencies?” she asked with one eyebrow raised wondering what exactly she was doing.
“No of course not,” Wayne said, backpedalling.
Graham was looking at Vera with admiration.
“Did you have to practice that?” he asked.
“Raising one eyebrow. It’s so cool. Like Dwayne Johnson when he used to be the Rock.”
“Natural talent,” Vera said, but she was lying. She had had to practice to get it right.
Wayne slammed his hand down on the nearest cafeteria table.
“What is wrong with everybody today?” he asked.
No one answered.
That’s a good question, Vera thought.
“If you can’t take this seriously, I’m going to have to call you in for individual conferences,” he threatened.
“Ooooh,” someone said. Vera thought it might have been Adam but wasn’t sure.
Wayne’s phone buzzed with a text. He looked down and blushed.
“Just get out of here,” he said to the teachers and walked off to make a call.
“Anybody for fried feta olives at the Federal Bar?” Adam asked the room at large.
“That sounds disgusting,” Moira said.
“Not if you’ve had a couple of martinis,” he said.
“I’m in,” Graham answered.
“Okay,” Moira said, then looked at Lisette who looked at Graham.
“And will the frog princess be gracing us with her presence?” he asked.
“Whyever not?” she finally said and gave him a smoldering look.
Well, that’s interesting, Vera thought. “I’ll meet you there,” she said. “I left some papers in my classroom.”
On her way out to the parking lot she passed Rob and Poo loitering by the lockers. “Night Ms. Polk,” Poo said to her.
“Good night Marcus,” she said.
Rob just looked at her and smiled without saying anything.
Vera couldn’t get out of the building quickly enough.