“Connie! You are the slowest student in this class!”
My eyes were unfocused as I stared down at my desk. This wasn’t my first reprimand; and though the teacher’s comments still stung, they’d started to lose their ability to inflict terror. Once again I was caught vandalizing my desk. Though in retrospect, vandalism should be limited to describing irreparable damage in my view.
That day I would not be dissuaded from my fantasy into the oh-so-fabulous world of Math. Long division is for suckers. Everyone has a calculator, so why all the torturous calculations? Still my reprimand wasn’t as harsh as what she had handed out to others.
My Mother and I had laughed about unfortunate Mrs. Keil. Mrs. “Keil over and die”, as we lovingly referred to her, was the angriest substitute teacher I’ve ever had, but she didn’t deserve what happened to her. Not quite.
Exasperated that I had drifted off mid-lecture, my portly teacher announced loudly:
“Only CRAZY people talk to themselves!”
I don’t know why, but that sentence always stuck with me. Actually, until that moment, I don’t think I realized I was making my cartoon drawings speak out loud.
I remember knowing the climax of her outrage was drawing near. Her lips were bluish and pursed, that vein in the middle of her forehead was near pulsing outward. The droopy hanging skin on her fat neck quivered as if she were an over-fed chicken and I her next kernel of corn. I fascinated that her rather large gold cross was wedged into her cleavage leaving the gold chain slack as she loomed over my desk.
“You’re going to stay late again, and you’re going to scrub EVERY desk in this room! And don’t think for a second your Mother will save you this time!”
Mrs. Keil shouldn’t have been there. Mr. Gray was only supposed to be gone a couple weeks. Over-sized, over-important, over bearing Mrs. Keil, hounded anyone arriving late or speaking up in class. She did roll call every morning as if she couldn’t remember our names after nearly two months. The previous week, to make an example, Jaime was led to the front of the class by the back of his arm. She released him with a slight shove - he stumbled towards the chalkboard.
“Now Jaime…” she said in a forcibly sweet voice, “tell the class what you just did.”
He was a middle-sized boy with dusty brown hair and unkempt clothing. Jaime had chewed up another eraser. Bits of sticky eraser had been spit down the barrel of his newly commandeered Eraser-Launcher. The red pin stripes looked especially sharp on the cafeteria straw. It had yet to find its place in the hall of Eraser-Launcher fame. It would earn its place in due time.
The desk in front of my half-closed eyes betrayed the marks of my guilt. The form of a cartoon boy was now just a little smudged from where my palm had been covering it. Mrs. Keil was crescendo-ing in her lecture of my poor character.
Perhaps it was because I had never laughed at Jaime when the bigger boys pushed him down the hill at recess. Perhaps it was because I had been the one supplying Jaime with “borrowed” erasers, lifted from vacated library desks. Perhaps it was necessary to right the wrongs in our world, and bring a balance to the Force.
Whatever the reason, Jaime chose that moment to come to my rescue. He had just bitten the perfect nugget of eraser and rolled it in his mouth. The chosen bullet was the perfect size and slipperiness, lubricated with loathing and justice. The bullet was launched as Mrs. Keil was straightening from the near 90-degree angle of her tirade. “THHWACK!” the eraser smacked proudly as it ricocheted off the abundance of wobbly neck. She turned slowly toward her new prey. Her face reddened by the second. Jaime’s swelling pride deflated as the full force of Mrs. Keil’s irascible temper turned toward him. We watched in silent horror as Mrs. Keil took only one step forward before clutching her chest and falling heavily between our desks.
We were all silent for a moment. That one moment of near-perfect silence allowed me to hear two truant students echoing down the hall, likely abusing their hall-pass privileges. Then the whole classroom erupted into nervous laughter. Vociferous cackles reached the truants who began wandering towards the commotion in our room. The laughter started to break off awkwardly when Mrs. Keil did not stand up and shout at us that we would all be in detention. Something in our small world was askew. I’m not sure who realized it first, but soon the kids were running for the principle’s office shouting
“The Grade 5’s killed Mrs. Keil!”
In a moment the nurse, principle, and many other students and teachers who had heard a commotion were crowding around the door to our room and speculating over the prone form of Mrs. Keil. I recalled my mother’s phrase at that moment, and couldn’t help the wonder in my voice when I spoke out loud:
“She really is Mrs. Keil over and die”.
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