Thursday, June 10, 2010

“Promise Not To Tell” by Len Kuntz

We took her apart ruthlessly, our savage need for destruction a surprise even to us, young as we were.

Our parents said it was no one’s fault, that we were simply the bi-product of this new generation where kids supplanted eye contact with keystrokes.

I don’t know about that, but when you live where we do it’s everything to be bored and nothing to be rich and resentful.

Ms. Johnson’s mistakes were being pretty and upbeat.

The first day of school she danced in the room, perfumed and spry. She wrote her name on the black board and turned to face us. She was a virgin of school academia, shamelessly giddy and out of breath. “This is going to be the best year ever,” she declared without ever having consulted anyone, and we all thought, how audacious.

Kayla threw the first jab. “Why is your blouse so sheer?”

Tyler Lewin said, “Yeah, we can see your light switches,” even though none of us could.

The next day Ms. Johnson wore a boucle cardigan buttoned to the base of her throat. She looked older already, bony and skittish.

We watched her come undone, like gamblers at a cock fight.

We exploited the nervous twitch below her left eye by throwing it back in her face, convulsing in our seats when asked a question, blinking and stammering, feigning Epileptic attacks.

We placed tapioca-filled condoms in her desk and handbag and watched her expression go from confusion to disgust as she made sense of the sticky items.

We described her sexual prowess with Sharpies on the restroom walls and mirrors.

We shredded her car tires.

We prank-called her home phone and cell.

Derrick Williams sent her a text every thirty minutes over a 72 hour period, each message lewd or obscure enough to seem menacing.

We found out where she lived and threw rocks through a bedroom window.

Someone got the idea to kidnap her cat.

“Enough!” Ms. Johnson shouted. “I want Lord Farquaad back. In fact, I demand it.” She slapped her palm on the desk but we all watched her elbows tremble, her chin quiver. “Please, this has gone beyond just me. We’re talking about a poor, innocent feline.”

The back row of the class clasped palms over their mouths. In unison they meowed. It sounded like a graveyard of cat ghosts, seething and vengeful.

“What’s wrong with you?”

The meowing grew louder, more intense until it seemed the floors and walls were joining in.

“You’re monsters! Demons!”

Evan Newquist stood first, the rest of us shortly thereafter, our applause and ovation louder than our unified mewing. As she ran out the door, a wisp of her perfume hung in the air, lemony-tart, yet pleasing.

The next day we gave Farquaad back, but that was it for Ms. Johnson. Someone must have shipped the cat to her because she never returned home, not even to pack.

And here’s the thing—but you have to promise not to tell—I sort of loved Ms. Johnson. I did, yeah. I fell for her the second she came flitting in from the hall, brimming with the kind of hope I’d never seen. And, here’s the other thing, as crazy as it seems, I was doing Ms. Johnson the biggest favor I could by letting it all unfold. The only way to save her was to get her out of here, to another school, another town, far away from all of us.

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