I’m not supposed to leave them, my sixth graders, but I did, and now I’m in the teachers’ restroom smoking an American Spirit. They’re probably rifling through my drawers and bag, gnashing on my mints (which never help with my acid reflux), but I couldn’t care less. “I can tell you’ll be a great English teacher with us,” the Duval County representative said at the teachers’ fair last year. I don’t know what she saw in me—because she barely looked at my resume, which was pitiful. “Thanks,” I said. “That’s my plan.” And it was, or so I thought. I wanted to get out of a stifling job as a legal editor. The job paid $820 biweekly and had crappy benefits. To make matters worse, it offered a “workout boot camp” every Tuesday evening. I also wanted to move because my ex had left for New York, leaving me to pay the rent. It didn’t help that she had caught me wearing her emerald evening dress. “I can’t believe I wanted kids with you,” she said in her last text to me.
A knock. “Mr. B”—it’s the assistant principal—“are you in there?” She’s right up against the door. She’s the kind to have those stick figure car stickers on her rear windshield—and she does. A man, a woman, five kids, and four cats.
I blow the smoke into the toilet. “Yes,” I shout, throwing the butt into the water. “One sec.”
I wave my hands around, knowing that it won’t do any good to get rid of the smell. I look at myself in the mirror and realize how horrifically hungover I look. I unlock the door and see her standing in the middle of the hallway with her arms crossed.
She says, “Meet me in my office.” Then, “Someone’s coming to watch your class. Again.”
A metal chair holds open my classroom door; it’s probably the same one Bronson, one of my kids, kept throwing around my room last week after I told him he couldn’t play on the computer. As I walk by my door, one of my other kids—Kenneth—says, “Ooh, Mr. B’s in trouble.” Then all the little fuckers laugh. The assistant principal tells them to be quiet and keep working. “But we don’t got any,” another kid says. I begin to walk faster.
“Mr. B,” the assistant principal says, “where’s their work?”
I keep walking.
I soon turn right, toward the main office, but I can’t do it—I can’t go in. The clamminess of the school grows even more stifling. I push open the heavy front door and head into the parking lot. The sun tries to cut its way through the clouds. A squirrel flings itself onto a nearby tree. Then I realize I left my car keys in my bag, but I just keep walking, walking straight across the parking lot and up the road, past Spanish moss hanging like drag queens’ wigs in the nearby oaks.