On my way to work the car tire pops on a small porcupine
at the curve where the kids speed and five roadside crosses are
maintained. I struggle a bit, flinging the wheelchair from the back seat,
and wheeling along the shoulder toward school. A Celica pulls over and a
blonde gets out. She approaches me cautiously, cobra-like, swaying side to
side. She has what appears to be a dead koala affixed to her back.
"What happened, Professor?" she says.
"Iíve ruptured my tire on a pointed animal."
"If youíd like I can give you a ride to school. If youíd
like." She had been to my tree house just recently with two boys. Theyíd
made off with the duck family, one of my prizes. The boys carried the
mother and two ducklings. This girl picked up the last duckling, and they
all scrambled away just before Big Daddy pulled in. Because of this Iím
apprehensive. I learned day one on this gig, you never know what these
students are up to. Sheís also in my fifth period, gifted.
But sheís helping me into the Celicaís passenger side
before Iíve accepted the offer. She folds my chair neatly and tucks it in
the trunk, ties it down with black yarn from her koala.
"Iím sorry I canít figure your name offhand?"
"Ever," she says, "Itís actually Evelyn, but Iím from
the South where they say it like Everlyn. You always call me Ms.
Quick in class."
She cranks the car, expertly drops it into gear, then
pauses. Her hands fall into her lap and sheís still, closes her eyes, then
grits her teeth like an angry chimp and moans a little.
"Pardon me for a moment," she says, then vibrates.
"Are you okay?" I ask. She holds up one finger and
continues with the vibrating.
I adjust the seatbelt, stare straight ahead. I eye her
with the peripheralóher hands jumping on her knees, right foot up and down
on the brake so we roll then stop, roll then stop, slowly tipping her head
back and forth in a nodding motion. I straighten the pleats in my slacks,
stroke my beard. I count the reflections of my face in the cracked side
view mirror, consider pitching myself out the door when the wheel gets
close to the ditch. She shakes herself like after a good pee and
apologizes, then steps off the clutch. Without even looking she swerves
back onto the asphalt.
She guns it as we race through the bends leading to
school. "Again, Iím sorry about that. Itís an odd thing that happens to
me, the result of an unfortunate accident."
"No problem," I say.
"Iím a virgin," she says. "I swear it."
I donít say another word. Several more bends and weíre
there. She helps me out, unfolds my chair, and apologizes again. I thank
her and she roars off to the student parking lot.
Iím the first handicapped teacher here ever, and the
principal installed these shoddy wooden planks as a wheelchair ramp. I
engage the parking brake so as not to roll backwards as I open the door.
But thatís not my concern this morning.
Behind his back the teachers call the principal "Big
Daddy" because he throws his weight around. I call him Big Daddy to his
face as a joke. We watch TV together at my tree house often, discussing
our failed lives over World Wrestling Federation, soap opera sports. He
hired me on after I busted through an abortion clinic with a personalized
Louisville Slugger wedding gift bat, losing my job at the University as
professor, losing my legs when the abortion doctor shot me in the base of
the spine to protect himself, losing the Wife because of her love for the
abortionist and not for me, all unprofessorial behavior apt to cause local
controversy. Yet amid local controversy the principal declares me simply
the most available qualified candidate to teach gifted high school health,
which the state requires for graduation. He adds that I was acquitted
anyhow. The abortionist in fact dropped charges he felt so bad for me,
which I appreciate. He didnít have to do that. So the school brings me in
on one-strike-youíre-out probation.
"Iím going to need your AAA," I say, slamming the office
door behind me. "But let me ask you something."
"Shoot," he says. Heís clicking through WWF Divas
Online, one of the few pleasures of the sort he allows himself.
"This Evelyn Quick from gifted just gave me a lift. Is
she epileptic or something?"
"Epileptic?" he says. "No, nothing that serious. Watch
out for that one."
"She seized up on you? Shook a little bit, maybe
I nod. He hands me the AAA card.
"You want to hear a story, Professor?"
"I always want to hear a story."
"The story with her has to do with a claim. One doctorís
assertion that somehow, at randomÖThe right button in her head or
something. That was his conclusion. To every second opinion, sheís
definitely got some misfiring synapses, but they donít even show up on the
"Head trauma, Professor. Now she randomly orgasms."
"Orgasms. Can that be?"
"Itís weird business, I agree, if itís true. Now are we
on for SmackDown tonight?"
Youíd think the gifted kids would be the best. That this
would be the class teachers clamor to get. But they are the terror. This
one group caused the early retirement of six teachers in the previous
school year, an important reason Big Daddy was able to bring me on.
And they are clever. In the three weeks Iíve been here
theyíve managed to fully uncover the circumstances about me and the by
default manner in which I came to teach them. They do not approve. They
found my acre and have begun disassembling my lawn. I am powerless to stop
them. The police, who are all pro-choice, think itís funny. Big Daddy
thinks itís just part of what we have to put up with as teachers. The
kiddiesí pranks. This is especially cruel of him though. He knows what
the lawn decorations mean to me. He knows.
The Wife and Iíd started collecting them early on in the
marriage. If she had a bad day, instead of bringing her flowers Iíd show
up with a birdbath. When I got the flu sheíd come home with a naked cupid
who peed ground water. Thatís how it started. We realized that was getting
boring real quick and went for the esoteric, the tacky, the tasteless.
Thereís the grinning gargoyle curio shelf, a pair of flashing highway
construction barrels, herds of frolicking pink-eared antelopes, lots of
dogs, toadstool stools, miniature horses suspended with sturdy wire from
decorative pails, the obligatory lawn jockey, and of course the mother
duck and her ducklings which seemed just entirely too wholesome for anyone
to make off withóalmost all vandalized by my kiddies. All thatís
left now is the grinning gargoyle, a single frolicking antelope, and the
The kiddies methods are predictable by now. They simply
smash those without any lifelikeness. The birdbaths are reduced to rubble,
the highway barrels sawed into piles of plastic squares. The animal-like
ornaments they swipe, replacing with notes written in the voice of the
stolen ornaments, describing why they, the ornaments, chose to leave me.
The notes are held down with fist-sized rocks.
The lawn is so overgrown with grass and weeds these
days, the chair canít make it through. Thereís a path from the driveway to
the tree house elevator thatís paved. But I wake up to my missing
animal-like lawn ornaments replaced with notes that I canít even retrieve.
So I call Big Daddy. Heíll arrive and wade out into the yard, then read
them to me.
The duck family note read: Dear
Professor, You should know our departure has nothing to do with the
weather. You might be telling yourself that perhaps we just went south for
the winter. This would be wishful thinking on your part. Our intentions
are so not migratory. Our time with you has been most unpleasant. As a
mother Iíve been embarrassed to raise children around you. You are a fowl,
fowl human being. It is no wonder your wife fled. We are hastily following
suit. C-ya, The Ducks.
I ask Big Daddy to put the notes back under the
appropriate rocks. Sometimes the rocks get turned over and the notes blow
When I arrive at the gifted portable the mother duck is
shattered across the makeshift ramp. I recognize the feather patterns in
the ceramic chips. I crunch over them as I slowly roll up the flimsy plank
into the portable.
Todayís topic is Dimensions of Wellness. The diligent
boy, Michael, jots notes tremendously, dabbing sweat from his forehead
with the sleeve of his shirt. None of the others pay attention. Every now
and then Ricky Champagne quacks softly. They forge blowguns from cafeteria
straws and needles attached to spitballs. A dart barely misses my ear and
sinks into a chalkboard eraser. If I maneuver nonchalantly, giving the
impression Iím ignoring their attacks, they eventually get bored and turn
on each other. When they aim for my head I can scratch my shoulder with my
ear or my chin with my chest. But if they aim for the body, I have to be
ready. The chair isnít as responsive as Iíd like. So I take some hardy
Sure enough two of the bigger boys come forwardófor a
second I think theyíre coming for me and finger the mace in my breast
pocket. But they hook their elbows underneath Michaelís arms, lifting him
from his desk and inserting him into the materials cabinet, which they
lock. Then one of them chunks the keys at me. I try to dodge nonchalantly
and they hang in my spokes. I continue on the Wellness Continuum of
Their aggression is not only physical though. They are
masters in psychological warfare. At the moment they are laughing about
Michael, scrawling love insignias on notebooks, reaching their grubby
hands through the holes in the backs of chairs. I try to regain whatever
authority I ever had by describing the four dimensions of wellness:
Physical (proper nutrition, exercise, avoiding harmful substances),
Intellectual (gathering information, problem solving), Emotional (self
control, enthusiasm for life, high self-esteem), and Social (make friends,
cooperative, productive member of society). But none of them are
Ricky Champagne shouts out "Leg" and the entire class
goes silent. For a second, thrown out there like that, the word disorients
them. But their painful, wide-eyed stares drop to my leg, which still gets
the twitches even though I donít feel below the waist. Iím confused
myself. Itís a part of me I donít consider even. Now I donít consider it
even a part of me. But Ricky Champagneís accusatory shout-out to my
anatomy causes me, the whole class in fact, to consider it. I look down at
the leg, which is ever so slightly pulsing. Then I look up again and
theyíre all caught up with it, blank-faced, open-mouthed enchantment. The
word hanging in the air like that leaves them no choice.
In back, Ever pulls tacks from the bulletin board and
gnaws on them. She vibrates occasionally and looks around to see if anyone
The rest of them are fixated on my leg, which is
pathetically skinny, devoid of muscle. The cuff of my pant leg crooked,
revealing a dirty white sock, underneath a bald cream shin peers out. I
fix the cuff then animate furiously, turning circles in the chair, trying
to divert their attention from it.
But theyíre ready for me. "Hand," another boy shouts
when I scrawl wellness charts on the chalkboard. Then they all stare at my
hand. A small liver spotómy firstóunderneath the big knuckle. The skin is
wrinkled like when you straighten a crumpled sheet of paper. I shake the
hand and move it around. Their eyes follow. My hand then trembles a tiny
bit. I write to keep it in check, "For tomorrow PP. 120-162, Defense
Mechanisms: Repression, Rationalization, Compensation, Projection,
Idealization, Daydreaming, Regression, Denial, Sublimation, Displacement,
Reaction Formation, Negativism..." My hand jumps, scraggly, incomplete
lines. I hold it in front of my face and peer through my fingers at the
class, still transfixed, as if my hand was some thing theyíd never
The bell rings, breaking the spell. The sound of the
word "Hand" is replaced with the sound of zippers on backpacks, shuffling
papers, sneakers on the tile floor.
"Bye, Professor Crazier Than A Shithouse Rat," Ricky
When him and the bigger boys are gone I let Michael out.
He thanks me and copies the assignment off the board, looking back at my
leg as he leaves, then at my hand, then at my face.
I wheel myself to the faculty lounge, where the walkways
are too narrow for the chair. If I want coffee I have to lunge from the
chair and wriggle across the room to the coffee pot, which is empty when I
get there. I prop myself against the wall then and read pages 120-162 for
tomorrow over and over, watching my hand turn the pages, waiting for
someone to come and reach me the coffee filters.
The only things worse than the kiddies are the red
squirrels. When up in my tree, they stalk me as well. And this tree house
isnít your ordinary thing. I built it myself in the oaks right around the
time I found out about the Wifeís affair with the abortionist. I slept
here when she didnít come home and I could walk. It has outlets,
insulation, running water, an electric platform elevator that operates on
pulleys, brown carpet, and several pump pellet rifles scattered around.
Once I got out of the hospital with the handicap, being alone in the house
was intolerable, so I started coming up here again. It was in part a
penance. It made life more difficult and kept me in constant jeopardy. Now
the electricity is shut off in the main house. The doorways there arenít
big enough for the chair and the carpet is impossible to wheel through.
Everything there reminds me of her anyway.
We started off with normal gray squirrels. They were
almost tame, cute, their numbers slim. Before she left, I bought the Wife
the Holy Grail of yard dťcor, interactive yard dťcor at that, a device
resembling a little windmill with pegs on the ends to which sheíd attach
corncobs smothered in peanut butter. Attach that whole apparatus to a tree
and the gray squirrels would tip back on their hind legs respectably, spin
the mill until they got hold of a cob, clean the kernels of peanut butter,
then drop the rest for the birds. Sometimes they slipped and clung to a
rotating cob and me and the Wife would laugh, mauling grapefruits on the
back porch. I donít know where the red squirrels came from but they
started showing up one day. They kept the gray ones at bay. Theyíre
smaller than the gray squirrels with white spots on their chests. These
red squirrels took flight from faraway tree limbs and pounced on the corn.
They held tight and ate peanut butter, kernel, cob, everything, and the
Wife and I admired their determination and vigor.
Yet the red squirrels kept multiplying. Our yard, trees,
ornaments, everything overrun with them. They chased away the innocent
gray squirrels. They kept the birds out of the birdbaths. They nested in
the grinning gargoyle curio shelf. And one day we retired the mill when a
red squirrel leapt from an overhead limb and bit the Wife.
But theyíd moved in for good. Now they burrow their way
into the wood of the tree house. They store nuts and moss there. They mate
and fight on the roof at night. They squeeze in under the windows and
deposit squirrel shit in the carpet. The pellet guns are for them, not the
Big Daddy and I meet AAA then he follows me to the tree
house. Iím relieved. His car in the driveway is enough to keep the kids
away. At home my four garage windows are busted and two red squirrels dart
in and out in a game of chase. Even though I donít use the place it
infuriates me. I lunge for one as it scurries by, forgetting for a moment
that I canít walk. The Principal rights me, and we adjourn to the tree
house for SmackDown.
"They trespass everything," I blubber, gauging the
patter of small feet in the tree. I try to get into the match, but the
sound of their ratty feet in the tree just has me going tonight.
"Thank God for this sport," the Principal says.
"Iíll take these rodents from beneath," says I, grabbing
a pellet gun and wheeling toward the elevator.
"Iíll keep you posted," the Principal says.
On the ground I take aim at anything red that moves, but
my pellets suck dirt. Then I pump the thing up again. After five I can
barely do it. Youíd think my arms would have gotten stronger wheeling
around all the time. But itís the opposite.
Ever steps out from the trunk like a tree sprite and
almost gets shot. She hands me the last duckling, unharmed. She plops to
the ground, drawing her knees up close and binding them in her arms. She
flicks her earring and taps the koala backpack in her lap. I rest the
rifle across my armrests.
"Youíre the only teacher to know, you know," she says. "Whatcha
"I think your situation is unfortunate," I say.
"Thereís lots of things I miss about being normal," she
"What are you doing here, Ms. Quick?"
"Itís Ever," she says. "I wanted to apologize."
"For what? You helped me today."
"For when I was here with those boys. They found out
where you lived from the auditorís website," she says. She explains that
sheís seldom asked to go along on anything.
The Principal hollers: "Annihilate the bastards,
Champion! The Rockís in the middle of his speech, and theyíre munching
through the wires." Ever looks up.
"You better go now," I say.
"Thanks for returning the duck," I say.
Back upstairs I prop the pellet gun against Big Daddyís
recliner. The duckling goes on top of the TV. "Did you hit any of them?"
"Iím a lousy shot," I say, as the electricity flickers,
then goes out.
Big Daddy is called out of our lunch when another
student wrecks at the curve in the road. It interrupts the liverwurst and
mustard sandwiches made for us by the secretaries. Gerald and Gerard.
Theyíre old men too, but gay and living together. They somehow got in the
habit of fixing us lunch every day because we are very old helpless men
and they are slightly younger old helpless men. They keep a small radio in
the main office constantly tuned to the Christian rock station.
With Big Daddy gone, I filter through the files. Evelyn
Marquee Quick. 162 IQ. Family from Sewanee. Never received a grade below A
in her entire academic history. But last year, an odd blip. She was absent
from school for a solid two months. I can make out "bingo accident" on the
doctor notes, but the absentee forms are blotted out, ripped, damaged
beyond readability. I hear steps outside the office, stick the file back
into place, and roll back to my liverwurst as Gerard pops his head in the
"No fatalities reported," he says. "Damn the jaws of
Well the accident just served to rile them up. When it
comes time for my class they are heaving textbooks at walls, and rolling
small nails under my wheels. Iím talking techniques for managing stress:
"Visualization. Deliberate daydreaming about pleasant surroundings. A
defense mechanism." Ricky Champagneís eyes feast on me. I can see right
through to his little brain, pondering my physicality, searching for just
the right part to declare focus upon. I glance down at myself as well,
practice standard defensive body language, arms folded across the chest.
"Crotch," he announces.
And Ever spits a tack. "Why donít you just shut up, Rick
Champagne. Everyone knows youíre nothing but a hyperactive,
pre-pubescent, bald-peckered hormone cluster and no oneís all that
The class goes silent, but now they consider him,
emasculated before us all. He tries to come at me again, though by less
clever means. "Youíre saying itís healthful to daydream? This is whacked,
everyone knows only freaks sit around daydreaming all day. Or those whose
lives are so miserable due to their own stupid actions they have no choice
but to daydream." He chuckles, implies me, looks around the room for
Ever stares him down. She shakes her head slowly then
reverts attention to the front. Everyone else follows suit. It is the
first time I understand her power, whether the orgasms are real or not.
How her peers must be scared of her and in awe of her. How their barely
pubescent minds canít comprehend her. How the mystery of the female orgasm
must seem so clear to her. How some women go their whole lives without
even one and this girl has multiples every day that seize her foundation.
Ricky Champagne straightens up in his chair. Then he
bolts, bawling and blubbering like a kindergartner, out the classroom
I capitalize quickly and get through like three daysí
lessons in one 50-minute period. Itís amazing. I teach again. Health is
all of a sudden a magical thing. Their eyes glitter with recognition. Some
of them write notes. When the bell rings they wait for me to dismiss them
before packing up. I say, "Youíre dismissed." I feel healthy.
Then I ask Ever to stay after class.
"Hold on a minute, Ever," I say.
Michael stops on his way out the door. Heís always the
last one to leave class, generally after my releasing him from some sort
of container, so he feels uncomfortable. He looks from Ever to me.
"Fascinating stuff this Immune Response Mobilization, Professor," he says.
"Would you be able to explain to me again the communication between the
helper T cell and the B cell?"
"Letís talk about that tomorrow, Michael," I say. He
nods, shuffles, then looking back as if betrayed, slides out the door.
"Yes, Professor?" she says.
"Why did you do that?" I say.
"Youíre welcome," she says.
"Well thanks," I say. "I owe you twice."
"Hold on," she says, reaching out and taking both my
wrists in her hands. She looks at my face. I look down at her white
knuckles. She shakes.
"Ever," I say, "Are you faking these?"
Her eyes are like drops of mud. She tightens her grip.
"It starts around the baby thing, then shoots all through me."
The electrician explains to me that, indeed, small
rodents apparently chewed through the electric wires. Though he doesnít
know how they managed that without barbequing themselves. Then we locate a
formerly red now charcoal squirrel at the bottom of the tree. "Guess they
couldnít," the electrician says, laughing. He goes to his truck and comes
back with a Miracle Whip jar filled with powder. A strip of tape across
the top reads "Strychnine."
"This prevents recurrences," he says. "And I donít have
to honor no guarantee."
I thank him. He patches the wires up and leaves. Then I
bring out the wifeís old mill. Attach juicy cobs of sweet corn to it and
coat them with extra crunchy peanut butter and a sprinkling of strychnine.
This is the difference between the kids and the red squirrels. The kids
are way too smart to fall for this. But the red squirrels come right away.
I park the chair on the porch and eat a grapefruit like
me and the wife used to. In no time at all they wretch and plunge from the
tree. It reminds me of a time when Big Daddy and me were merely
acquaintances, former classmates. He was just a friend who answered the
phone at the high school when I wanted to go out for beers. I was taller
than a lot of tall people.
The squirrels crawl and writhe through the weeds. Their
filthy red bodies flip around. They crawl toward the little rocks where
the lawn ornaments used to be like theyíre crawling toward their pitiful
little tombstones. I chunk the grapefruit rind and hit one on the head.
They squirm until I almost canít take the joy anymore. And finally, almost
all at once, theyíre still.
Jeff Parker has recently published fiction in The
Iowa Review, Black Ice and Cutbank. He received an MFA
in creative writing from Syracuse University. The Ellen Levine Literary
Agency is circulating his first novel.