June 21, 2020 by The Citron Review
by Sarah Starr Murphy
The classroom was filled with the residual stink of teenaged boy bodies and a mouse that had died in the cinder block walls sometime last month. It was the end of the day, the teacher’s plan period, and she sat sweating at her desk. She had a stack of essays which needed grading, and a stack underneath from last week. There was a list of parents she had threatened to call but wouldn’t. Most of these disciplinary calls were from her last period class, a group dominated by clever girls determined to make her cry. She had escorted two of them to the office today after a fight that involved hoop earrings and torn hair weaves. The fake hair on the floor made her queasy, but an unknown student had cleaned it up in the few moments she had stepped out. A quiet kindness.
There was a rumble in the hallway, and she heard kids running, lockers clunking open and slamming shut. The teacher should be in her doorway, providing the thin illusion of supervision.
Right outside of her classroom, someone unleashed an impressive litany of curses. The teacher walked to the open door.
“Whoops, my bad,” Mike said, laughing. A lanky kid with a wide smile, he looked down at her, held his hands up in surrender. The teacher summoned her stern face.
“Won’t happen again. We don’t have any homework, right?”
“The handout I gave you. And reading.”
Mike turned to the group of boys who always followed him around.
“Y’all got that? Do your homework tonight!”
There was good-natured chuckling, muttering. They wouldn’t do the homework, but at least it wouldn’t be because they hated her, the way they hated Mr. Lalo across the hallway. She made a shooing motion with her hands.
“You all are going to miss the bus.”
The boys tumbled puppyish down the hall, talking over each other and reverting to swearing as they passed the office. She watched them go with a half-smile, fanning herself with one hand. It was even hotter in the hallway than in her classroom. She had sweat through her silk sleeveless blouse early in the morning, and perspiration marked the fabric under her arms like tidelines.
She stood in the hall watching the last of the stragglers leave, and only half-wished she was at home. Her apartment had air conditioning, but its lackluster wheeze did nothing but drive her mad with its ineffectual, noisy self. That night she would turn on the local news while she ate ramen and the essays waited, still unmarked, on the coffee table.
She wasn’t in a hurry to get home, but the vice principal had mentioned stopping by to discuss the teacher’s inability to create a visually engaging bulletin board. With no desire to be around for that interaction, the teacher returned to her own desk, rummaged in the back of the drawer for her keys. She felt around. She did not find them. She opened the drawer wider and peered inside. Gum, confiscated marbles and ball bearings, a tiny purple plastic ninja. A golf ball. Pencils. No keys.
She stood up, puzzled. She heard a commotion outside that sounded like the prelude to a fight, a particular screaming kind of laughter. She walked over to the window, a paltry thing that only opened three inches. The teacher peered out at the faculty parking lot across the street.
A horn blasted, then blasted again. She had almost turned from the window when a car drove down the street. Her car. She squinted. It was impossible. It was impossible, but there it went. The sun was hitting the windshield in a way that shielded the driver and passengers from her scrutiny. The horn blared as the car cruised away. The teacher watched the arms of her students sticking out from every window, waving up and down like oars propelling the vehicle through the humid air.
A knock on her door and the teacher turned to see the vice principal.
“About that bulletin board,” he said. Somewhere in the distance, the teacher heard her car’s horn bellow. It sounded like a wild thing, finally freed.
Sarah Starr Murphy is a writer and teacher in rural Connecticut. She’s an editor for The Forge Literary Magazine. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The Baltimore Review, Opossum, Pithead Chapel, and several others. She taught English in Baltimore and New Haven and is always inspired by middle schoolers.