Humor Strange

Free Wheeling Free Association and the Theme Park Rangers of Death

By Phillip T. Stephens
5,715 words · 21-minute reading time
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From the author: Helena Button—lifelong feminist, and college writing teacher—can't bear another creative writing class assignment on free association. What can they write that she hasn't read a hundred times? But her wise-ass white trash student Alex will write deliver a roller coaster of free association that breaks free from his paper and hurtles into her classroom.


Helena Button touched her silver-blonde hair and tossed her feather boa over her shoulder. Just like a white-winged dove, she sang to herself. Unfortunately, the sight of the class waiting inside the door brought her crashing back to earth.

In the parking lot, she counted the days to retirement, a prospect she never really thought about until last evening. Retirement, an almost impossible image to conjure, and practically pointless for an associate professor denied tenure years before. Especially one forced to pick up adjunct classes at the community college just to make ends meet thanks to expenses she incurred thanks to her loser ex-husband. (A husband three years behind on child-support and who never paid a day of alimony since leaving her for a flat chested TA who, in turn, left him for the Dean of Sociology.)

Only last night Diana Dilcox, her Dean and cherished friend (who protected her from six different Department Chairs with agendas that shifted as often as the wind) told her after six glasses of wine that she planned to retire a year from May. Which left Button dangling in the wind with thirty-five years in the University’s service and no firewall (she believed that to be the new buzzword) to protect her.

Button practiced her Ujjayi breathing to unbind the knots in her heart chakras, then buzzed through the classroom door to face the heathen horde. Before she stepped across the door plate, her laptop case slipped from her shoulder to her left elbow, and her bag slid from her right elbow to her wrist. Her heel caught the door plate, and she barely caught the door jamb with her right hand at precisely the moment her case flipped forward on the strap and, not being secured properly, the laptop inched free from the lid.

The dumpy kid with long hair—the one who sat closest to the door—stumbled from his chair to grab it before it crashed to the floor. For the life of her, Button never remembered his name. She only recognized him at all because he only wore food t-shirts and ate peanut butter sandwiches in class, leaving a ring of crumbs on the table and floor for the janitor to clean. Button would have thanked him except for the sight of Regina and Cooper leaping from their chairs to snatch a piece of paper the other students passed around the table.

Cooper wadded it into a ball and hid it behind his back, morphing his face into an obsequious grin. “Good evening, Ms. Button.”

Regina and Cooper, the class rich kids. He with skin tight jeans and her with skirts so short she need never worry about hiding her panty lines. Cooper failed to submit a single written word after three weeks of class. Button fully expected him to show up during finals week with his daddy’s lawyers demanding an A for attendance alone.

Button left Morris holding her laptop and charged into the room, pointing at the culprits with her right hand, even though her bag tried to pull her wrist to the floor. “Show me that. What is it?” Thinking to herself, even as she shouted, What the hell am I doing? Are we back in high school?

“Nothing,” Cooper said, and she might have dropped the matter, but he backhanded the paper wad to his stoner friend Charles who batted it back and forth between his hands like a hot coal.

Button never saw Cooper without Charles (probably Cooper’s ready supply of weed and other party drugs). She thought Charles might hand the paper ball to her, except Bob, the wiry kid with the Jesus skin on his phone, who never failed to point out that women, Blacks, the President, immigrants, and liberals would send the country to hell in the devil’s hand-woven handbasket, snatched it from his trembling fingers and hid it under his leg.

Her foot didn’t fit quite right in her boot, but Button hobbled to her place at the conference table, slammed her bags beside the overhead and leaned across the table. She opened her palm and said gently, “Play time’s over. Just give it to me and let’s start class.” Bob kicked it under the table.

Poor Morris continued to stand by the door with her computer. Perhaps she should acknowledge him, but a firm commander quashed rebellion before the flames spread. She kneeled to look under the table, chiding herself for mixing her metaphors. However, clear thinking required action, not purity of prose

She saw no sign of the purloined paper. A different culprit snatched it. She squatted on her toes and held herself level with the table, peering just above the surface to reconnoiter her young rebels. Sweat formed at her brow. Even at six-thirty in the evening, the coastal Texas sun hammered the classroom windows as though it meant to melt the glass and the students with it.. Button hated these early-September days when the air conditioning buckled under the siege machines of heat.

No one moved. She checked Naomi, a Black student with her head shaved to her skull, dressed in sleeveless work shirts and steel-toed boots. She ripped off her sleeves to display her neck-to-wrist snake and dragon tattoos. No, Button thought, Naomi was too no-nonsense for this kind of game, but if she did play, she would never buckle under pressure.

Creepy Alex, the white trash wannabe with homeboy cap and baggy clothes (usually a zipper jacket and Old Navy sweatpants) leaned as far back in his chair as possible without sliding under the table. He held his arms fully extended, fingers wrapped around his iPad as though the keep away game escaped his attention entirely. His disinterest made Button suspect him most of all.

Alex questioned Button’s every word and followed every move with hooded eyes. He sat in the center of the room next to Jennifer (her brightest student and the closest to a liberal—or at least feminist—in the class). He also sat directly across from Button’s chair, as though waiting to catch her in an outrageous politically incorrect statement that he could carry in complaint to the Chair.

Yes, Button placed her bets on Alex, until she heard a giggle at the far end of the table. By the window. Marlene the hippie always sat by the window, probably so she could drift outside in a drug-induced dream state. Button rose to her feet, which at five three likely intimidated no one, and cast a laser glare in the girl’s direction. Marlene tried to hide another giggle behind fingers decorated with tie-dyed nails.

Definitely Marlene.

“For Chris’ sake,” Regina said and snatched the paper from Marlene’s lap. She reached back to toss it but Button scrambled to the end of the table before she could release. Regina counter moved by stuffing the wad into her cleavage.

Button cleared her throat. Marlene jumped from her chair so she could pass. Button stuck her open palm Regina’s smug face. She could easily pick it up, it rose from her breasts like an advertising display, but Button knew the rules about personal contact with students. In fact, she felt certain she crossed several lines already.

Morris still stood by the door holding her laptop. He always chose the seat by the door so he could bolt before any other students when she dismissed the class. Button presumed he regretted that choice now.

“Give me the paper.”

“This isn’t high school.”

“Your behavior, not mine..”

Regina’s father distinguished himself from the hundreds of other Houston real estate developers by advertising on afternoon television driving a Cadillac with amply bosomed blondes holding martinis and Winchester rifles. She covered the paper with her hand as though swearing on the Bible, and said, “It’s personal business.”

“So personal you showed everyone else,” Button said. “Hand it to me or I take it because it’s clearly public property the way it’s sticking out right now.”

Casting Button glances that implied she wished she carried her own Winchester rifle, Regina pulled the paper from her bosom like a snot-covered tissue from a box and handed it over between her thumb and index nails.

Button took her seat beside the overhead and thanked Morris for saving her laptop. “You can bring it to me now,” she told him. Then, as though the paper were no big deal, she made a production of hooking the laptop to the projector and arranging her notes while ignoring the wadded ball.

Despite her cool performance, the temperature rose. She thought back fondly to autumns at Michigan State and evening classes in Morell Hall with her mentor Diane Wakoski— with open windows and fresh breezes blowing across the grass and into the room.

She missed the diffused lighting as well. Not the harsh buzzing neon of Houston classrooms. Houston lighting clashed with the blistering rays of late day sunlight and washed the room to cast a yellow-white pallor on student skin. The lighting made them look like zombies. Not zombies picking Button’s brain for morsels of wisdom to carry into the world, but leaving her skull in the gutter like a cast-off potshard before shambling away, still suffering from misdirected hunger.

Button longed for her days as a student when teachers challenged her to think with real questions and demanded her best in response; not the current classrooms where she catered to students who considered her their employee. Who expected an A for regurgitating every word she said and sucking up after class.

Intro to Creative Writing my ass, she thought. More like Intro to Creative Cluelessness. The girls thought they were feminists because being “women” entitled them to free passes. The boys pounded on iPhones to score points killing pigs with birds.

With playtime over, the students tossed themselves around the conference table like debris after a storm. Most of the girls, at least trying to sit at attention, prepared to write down everything without thought to prove their due diligence. The boys either slumped in their chairs, feet extended under the table with phones at arm's length and thumbs dancing across the screens, or else faces slumped over their arms pretending to scan their screens but really minutes away from deep and uninterrupted stupors.

What happened to the students of her day? Students who couldn’t wait for class to engage in the odyssey of creative exploration? Who sat prepared at the conference table a good five minutes before their professors stepped through the door? Who waited with their pens out and recorders arranged so they wouldn’t miss a word? After evening classes, like this one, they followed their professors to local watering holes—even the lecherous drooling wolves who lured them there with less thought to dispensing wisdom than chasing skirts.

Button taught creative writing, but she aspired to unleash artistry and genius. She wrestled for three hours nightly to open these minds to the great writers and poets of the age. She knew they never learned to write by reading romance novels or watching Jet Li.

Virginia Woolf, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Doris Lessing, Zora Neale Hurston, Kate Chopin, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty.

Sadly, her Chair suckled at the bosom of transactional analysis—the Sesame Street seventies pablum from which her professors weaned—Ken McCrory, classrooms in circles and free writing exercise after free writing exercise. A tradition the Chair insisted Button perpetuate and to which she finally capitulated. (First, because she repeated herself constantly and even osmosis failed. These morons wrote down every word she said and they still couldn’t remember a single thought she shared. And next because free writing allowed them to latch onto something—however insignificant—in their brains to write about.)

She decided to open the wadded paper. She fought back her gasp. A naughty picture of herself bending over, labeled, “Ms. Button’s Bottom.”

She knew Alex drew it. He and his little iPad with its drawing apps. The only one not to take part in the keep away game. Nothing spoke to his guilt more loudly, more loudly.

A strange one, that Alex, with his iPad and trade-paperback sized portable printer. In a modern University like Houston, students still complained when they couldn’t turn in handwritten papers. He wirelessly printed in-class assignments.

Whenever she passed Alex, she the lingering odor of Paco Rabanne followed, Paco Rabanne, the cologne to which teen boys graduated when they outgrew the ritualized male mating pheromone of Axe. It drifted from him in waves of feminine intolerance. How could Jennifer stand to be his friend? (Although, now that Button thought of it, Jennifer probably doused her own neck and shoulders with Barbie Mi during her turbulent high school years.)

The students waited for Button to react, suppressing giggles, thinking they got her goat with their little piece of erotica if such an elevated description even applied. Little did they know how appropriately they timed their little gag to the lesson she prepared for today.

She labored over today’s exercise on Joyce and Molly Bloom, hoping to inspire them to transcend beer, bongs and butt tattoos. (And to stop the chair’s accusations that she harped on women writers.) But now, well, she’d use the lesson to turn the tables. And maybe—just maybe—the passage about fellating a statue might set their little ears burning, if not lube a few gears in their sex-addled brains.

If nothing else the shock of discovering that sex and pornography preoccupied the general population generations before the Internet might prompt a scintillating paper or two.

Ms. Button’s Bottom indeed. Let them see a real Button in Bloom.

”Joyce’s passage explores the thoughts of Molly Bloom, who cuckolds her husband, the novel’s protagonist, Leopold Bloom. The passage also projects Joyce’s fears over the infidelity of his own wife Nora Barnacle, whom he horribly abused.”

She broadcast Joyce and Nora’s images from her laptop to the projector.

“Joyce refused to seek treatment for their mentally ill child. He moved Nora from their homeland Ireland to Paris and then left her at home while he drank away their income with his artist buddies. What woman wouldn’t stray on him?” She flashed through images of Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, and Sylvia Beach, whom she had no doubt they would never remember.

“In her youth she trysted with the actress Laura London*so the flow of fears in Joyce’s own mind give rise to free association concerning Nora’s infidelities..” She flashed London’s image on the screen, secretly proud of herself for having tracked one down on the Internet. In college, she wrote a paper on their illicit relationship, a paper for which her professor—a man, of course—graded her harshly and accused her of making tenuous connections.

She read the passage where Molly dreams of fellating the statue. The girls scribbled even though they could read it on their own. The boys, well, she had no idea what the boys were doing. Were they looking it up on the Internet, or just surfing for porn? Alex held a stylus over his iPad, jotting, typing, and scribbling. Occasionally he whispered to Jennifer, but she smiled and focused on her notes.

Button paused and waited for the class to come to attention. In her student days, a teacher’s dramatic pause foretold the moment of an important announcement or revelation. Today’s students took it as time to Tweet.

She’d fix that. “With this in mind, what does this passage stir in the recesses of your own brains?” she asked.

They stared at her with open expressions, half the boys not even aware she stopped speaking. The girls held their pens above their notebooks, wrists eager for permission to begin writing again. Alex, and it would be Alex, threw his shoulders back, crossed his arms—almost in a dare—and said, “It stirs the conjecture that we’re doing another free writing exercise?”

Only Alex could not only take the wind from her sails but shatter her midships like a cannon blast. Especially since she did, in fact, intend for them to free write about the Molly Bloom passage.

Fortunately, no one noticed the brief showdown.

As usual, the students wrote in a panic, their faces squeezed like oranges twisting into the juicer. The girls in a panic to avoid crippling brain freeze because their self-esteems denied them the ability to see themselves with academic futures. The boys’ faces contorted in constipation, trying to squeeze out even one word like a single dingle clinging for dear life at the end of the wipe (admittedly a male metaphor but appropriate considering). Part of the stress stemmed from wrestling with pen and paper since none of them was used to text outside of their smartphones. Most, no doubt, she attributed to the stress of tweaking the pitifully poor connections in the right sides of their art-starved brains.

Alex, however, scared her. With his determined smile, he resembled nothing less than serial killer stalking prey. His fingers danced across his virtual keypad faster and faster, his face illuminated by ungodly inspiration. Button’s stomach turned at the thought of a young man so inspired by the image of a stone cherub penis.

The wall clock ticked off minute after minute, a surprising anachronism in a digital world. In the far corner of the room, she heard the soft chirp of a game score from Manny who thought he connected his earbuds.

She allowed thirty minutes. Only two managed more than a hundred words—Jennifer and Alex. Alex’s printer hummed and hummed. And hummed. Twelve pages. She shuffled his to the bottom of the pile. If she read slowly, perhaps class might end before she read that far.

She started with Regina’s. As expected, an anguished piece about a girl whose mother won’t buy her a Porsche. Nothing at all to do with Molly or Leopold. She sighed. Now to stroke her egos. The first rule of millennial education: never disappoint. “Profound insights, Regina. You might have tied it into the passage in Ulysses a little bit more.”

Naomi’s. Trash talking the bitches at the Sharpstown Mall. Still no Molly or Leopold. “How inspired, Naomi. Perhaps if one of the bitches resembled Molly Bloom.”

Marlene. A girl named Carlene loses it at a rave. Not at all biographical. “What depth of feeling, Marlene. Maybe Molly Bloom could have been thinking back on her night going to a rave.”

Jennifer. A halfway decent piece about girlfriends hiding in plain sight. One of them wants to have sex with a boy who turns out to be a mannequin. Finally a connection to the reading.

“Nice,” she said. Unfortunately, department politics dictated you no longer hold one student out in front of the others as the model to emulate lest you foster jealousy. “But somewhat vague. It needs more detail. We want to know who the girl is and why she dreams of this boy.”

She made it through the girl’s material. As much as she wanted to refer to them as “women.” (It was, after all the mantra of her generation.) When a man referred to her classmates as “girls” they verbally castrated him. These creatures, however, remained light years of awareness beyond the brain power necessary to graduate to womanhood.

Button waded into the boy’s assignments desperate to find anything nice to say about the inane drivel. Such as Bob’s rant about a cop wrongly jailed for shooting an evil black kid. “The niger drawed on Brave Oficer Bob with too Heckler and Koch 45 compact tacticals. Bob only had his servis revolver and the manhood his father drilt intwo him from birth.”

Don’t even worry about the assignment, Button thought. “Bob, I can’t help but wonder if Brave officer Bob isn’t a projection of you. On the plus side, your spelling seems to have improved.”

Charles’ incomprehensible prose about smoking weed while watching the Simpsons left her completely baffled. In fact, the only parts she understood were “smoking weed” and “Homer Simpson.”

“Charles, you really should work on your diction.”

Charles ran his hands through his hair, speaking into the table at the same time. “But, like, you got the symbolism of Bart growing up to become Homer only to be Bloomed by his wife Marge cause he wouldn’t share his primo Big Buddha, right?”

Button couldn’t believe Charles articulated Joyce so well, even through the lens of his marijuana haze. Accident or coincidence? She wondered.

“You got all that from what Ms. Button read?” Naomi asked.

“Well, yeh? Didn’t you?”

“Interpretation is subjective,” Button said. “It takes years of training to read correctly.” She almost failed to notice Naomi and Charles bumping phones to share numbers. She doubted they traded digits to set up a date.

Only Alex’s paper remained. As much as she hated to admit it, she held the best example of writing submitted. He’d scribbled a last-minute title on the first page: “Theme Park Rangers of Death.”

She glanced at the clock. “Only twenty minutes left, and this looks rather long.” As she expected, Cooper and Regina grabbed their backpacks to leave. Morris’ chair was empty before she finished the sentence. Well, empty except for bread crumbs covered with peanut butter.

Jennifer raised her hand. “You could start at least.” Cooper and Regina continued toward the door. Cooper flashed Jennifer a dirty look. Charles fumbled with his duffle bag, looking torn between Cooper and Jennifer’s suggestion that they stay for the story.

“I kind a wanna hear the story,” Charles finally said. “Alex writes like weed on speed.” Cooper waved a fist at him, but Charles dropped the duffle between his feet and hooked his feet around his chair legs like anchors. Marlene leaned across the table to high five him.

Button thought she saw week old weed smoke break free from their sleeves. Naomi flexed the snakes on her biceps. “I’d like to hear it too.”

“I’ll read as much as I can,” Button agreed, trying her best to suppress a disappointed sigh. Cooper and Regina made no attempt to stifle theirs. Cooper stretched a sigh so dramatically he ruffled Regina’s hair. Regina, in the meantime, dropped into Morris’ seat. Cooper stomped back to his spot next to Charles.

Button cleared her throat. “Deep in the subterranean basement of the U of H Science and Engineering Research Building, Professor Leopold Bloom and his team conducted unauthorized research into velociraptor DNA. He knew it was forbidden but it came to him during a fevered dream when he was a lowly TA while his wife Molly carried on in the next room with his supervising professor Dr. Thomas Rex, a man known for his big head and tiny hands.

“The shameless Molly and lascivious Dr. Rex tormented Leopold night after night with their fellating and lovemaking, often leaving their dirty laundry tossed loosely around Leopold and Molly’s tiny two-bedroom married student housing apartment, until Leopold made it his solemn vow to upstage Rex with a discovery so revolutionary it would forever devour his mentor’s contributions to science.

“That night the incubator alarms rang—the eggs ready to hatch; the event horizon, if you will, consuming every previous event in his life. The first egg cracked and the tiny creature appeared, followed by another and then another. His team broke open the champagne and prepared to upload the videos.

“But the creatures continued to grow. The experiments dislodged the genetic inhibitors controlling aging. The raptors devoured Leopold, devoured his team assistant Leslie, and even devoured the unfaithful Molly who continued to research at his side.

“Little did they know, the Theme Park Rangers of Death, who averted similar disasters in a major motion picture and three mediocre sequels, stumbled across Leopold’s plans during an Internet sweep and waited outside the lab in case disaster occurred. When the beasts burst through the building doors, they leaped into action. Three Jeep Rangers fully equipped with missile launchers, laser blasters and a team of five fully trained rangers with plasma rifles (action figures sold separately) scrambled from the parking lot to the lobby entrance.

“Col. Ron Alpha, team leader, gave the command and the team followed the raptors onto the green, firing three precisely timed missiles at the fleeing beasts. Unfortunately, Bloom blended shark and cheetah DNA into their matrix for speed and maneuverability and the missiles wandered past them into the frat boy SUVs illegally parked in handicapped spots.

“The laser blasters skipped past the Raptors and into campus police cars answering the alarms about a major ruckus outside the science lab. ‘Colonel Alpha,’ breathlessly shouted Lt. Sara Sweetbottoms, his lusty but hard bodied second-in-command, ‘these bastards are tougher than we thought.’

“They chased the raptors through the lot, into the main road, into faculty parking, across the main and into the Roy G. Cullen general classroom building where Helena Button held her creative writing class. The team abandoned their Rangers and pursued on foot.”

End of page 7. The clock read 9:30. Saved by the bell. “Well, that’s it for class tonight,” Button said. “We’ll pick this up Thursday.”

“No way,” Naomi said. “You just got to the good part.”

Charles pumped his fist in the air. “This story rocks. You can’t leave us hanging sis…I mean, Ms. Buttons.”

Button glanced around the room. Even Cooper looked rooted to his chair. Against her better judgment, Button flipped to page 8.

“The creatures burst through Button’s door and leaped onto the conference table tossing the scared students against the walls. Once in the confines of the tiny classroom, however, the beasts lost the room to maneuver. Sergeants Deeks and Dovers took the first two out with their plasma rifles, blasting them through the windows.

“The survivor, the alpha female, was a cunning bitch. She went straight for Ms. Button’s throat, hoping to hold her hostage. Colonel Alpha took the corner and Sweetbottoms rolled under the table to take her out in a plasma crossfire before she could mutilate any more students. But at what cost? For the crossfire also quadrasected Ms. Button’s body, leaving nothing standing but her Stevie Nicks boots and a blue wisp curling toward the ceiling in front of the board.”

Even though four pages remained, Ms. Button lost her grip on the pages.

“I do not wear Steve Nicks boots.”

She couldn’t believe that was her first reaction, and yet she still glanced down at her feet. Well…, maybe they could be seen that way, they were maroon suede. But that wasn’t her intention. Although she wore out her Walkman playing “Stand Back” in college.

Get a grip on yourself, woman, she thought.

Every one of her students waited to see what she intended to do next. Not like students anticipated their college exams so much as deer walking into a clearing and discovering dozens of hunters with high-powered rifles aimed at them. “I see I finally have your attention,” she said. Only when she said it, she felt like she morphed into the deer in the sites.

She tried, unsuccessfully, to catch her breath. And realized she inadvertently threw the gauntlet to that wiseacre Alex. And he drew first blood.

She also realized she wasn’t thinking, she was speaking out loud. Even worse, that little uppity blonde Jennifer gripped Alex’s shoulder as though declaring him the winner. Little post-modernist liberal Jennifer— postmodernist liberal meaning sell-out and see the “big picture.”

“Ms. Button,” Jennifer said, “I know you fought for women’s rights, but there’s so much more to women’s rights than in your day. There’s a bigger picture.”

Button clutched her clavicle, choking on the tiny pocket of air remaining in her throat. The naive little know-it-all actually had the nerve to say those words?

“Bigger picture?”

The classroom fell silent as every student realized Jennifer ushered forth a never before spoken blasphemy. No one could articulate the nature of her blasphemy, but they knew she blundered into one.

Ms. Button coughed. Delivered a pregnant pause and coughed once more. “Is this what modern education’s come to? Why, women have made no progress at all.” The blood rushed her face like the charge of the last brigade.

She leaned across the table, even though Alex tried his best to look away. “It’s your fault." She grabbed his chin between her fingers, forcing him to face her. “It’s all because of smiling smart-ass…” she put her free hand to her mouth, unable to believe he provoked her to use such language, “…so-called satirists like you.”

She grabbed the papers, rolled them into a thick baton and briskly beat Alex about the head and shoulders.

Alex threw up his hands. “Ms. Button, it was an assignment.”

But she didn’t hear him over the roar in her brain. She smacked his hands, his shoulders, his neck, his chest.

“I didn’t think. My mom says I’m too impulsive.”

Jennifer put her hand on his shoulder. “Don’t apologize. That’s the old you. Be the new assertive you.”

Button continued the thrashing even as she dressed Jennifer down. “And you, Ms. Transactional Analysis. This is writing, not Pop Psych 101.”

“Hey, that was my writing. Not hers.” Alex's voice lacked his usual combination of sarcasm and combativeness. Button knew she finally established her position as the authority in the classroom. She battered his ears, the crown of his head, his fingers, his iPad, his nose.

Jennifer poked him again, this time in the back. “Stand up for yourself.”

He sat straight. “Jennifer’s right. This is creative writing, not Poly Sci 212 Mollifying Your Feminist Teacher.”

Button dropped the papers and grabbed Alex’s collar. She lifted him from his seat. One of his moronic male allies threw up his phone to take video and the others followed his example, which only made her madder. Jennifer stuck her hand between them, the three of them tangled and before Button knew what happened, Alex’s jacket unzipped from his neckline to his navel.

Jennifer dropped into her chair and apologized. Alex pushed his chair all the way to the wall, standing to escape the women’s fury. Button lost her balance and collapsed to the floor, knocking her chin on the table, but still allowing her full sightline of the room. Alex’s jacket fell open to reveal a tight sport’s bra binding his breasts to her chest. Cooper leaped from his chair to the window sill shouting, “No fucking way.”

Ms. Button scrambled against the molding but couldn’t get her grip. Finally, Naomi grabbed her forearm and lifted her into her seat.

Jennifer grabbed the two halves of Alex’s jacket and tried to reconnect the zipper but the zipper head clattered across the conference table and off the edge. Alex clutched the pieces below his breastbone and stared at the floor so he wouldn’t have to face the class.

Bob rose from the table and announced, “I will not share a classroom with an abomination from the Lord.” He exited with his nose so high in the air he missed breaking it off on the door frame by inches.

“I told you there was a bigger picture,” Jennifer said.

Ms. Button pointed her finger, which trembled so much she thought it might go into an epileptic seizure. “You’re a woman?”

“I’m a man,” Alex said.

“He’s a man,” Jennifer said simultaneously. “But biologically the state still treats him as a woman.” She fumbled in her purse and found two safety pins. She helped Alex fasten his jacket to cover the bra. “Which is why I would think you, of all teachers, would be more sensitive.”

Regina said, “Yeh, you being a feminist and all. You should be okay with his expressing his inner male.” She crossed a pair of legs underneath a skirt that barely covered her hips when she stood. Then she reached into her backpack for her clutch and removed her makeup case.

Cooper slid back and forth against the window sill, his palms gripping the wood so tightly he could have pulled out the frames with a tighter squeeze. He muttered over and over, “No fucking way. He’s a queer. He’ll want to marry my sister. Or my brother. Or my sister. Or my brother.”

Charles finally grabbed him by the elbow and slapped the side of his head. “Dude, you should be so lucky, the assholes your sister sleeps with.”

Alex said, “I’m not gay, I’m a heterosexual male in a woman’s body. And, yes, as a biological woman, I should be allowed to write and act like a male.” He tried to force his zipper to catch but nothing happened. Then he slammed his fist on the table. “I’m still a feminist. And I don’t treat women like shit the way you treat men, Ms. Button.”

Button flattened her right palm to her chest. “I don’t treat men badly.”

The class chimed in unison, male and female.

“Could have fooled us.”

“Yes, you do.”

“Seems like it to me.”

Jennifer raised her hand. “I have an idea for an assignment, Ms. Button.”

Button gathered her class notes and stuffed them into her portfolio. “We’ve had enough writing today, Jennifer.” She clicked the Windows shut down button on her laptop.

Jennifer ignored her. “Let’s write a story about what happened today. You’ll be the main character. We’ll write how our characters really feel about your character.”

Ms. Button opened her mouth to veto the suggestion but before her words emerged, the class agreed unanimously it was the best English assignment ever. She glanced at the papers which she still had to retrieve from the floor and realized she lost the energy to argue. All she wanted was a bath with her pink Himalayan crystal salts, a glass of Quivera Sauvignon Blanc and a pipe full of banana kush.

At least she excited them about learning again.

Now she just had to explain to her chairman when he saw the videos on Youtube.

Hell's Grannies is available on Amazon.

*This is, in fact, a fabrication of Ms. Button’s mind. There is no evidence that Barnacle and London engaged in anything beyond friendship.

This story originally appeared in Hell's Grannies: Kickass Tales of the Crone, ed. April Grey (Lafcadio Press, 2015)..


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Phillip T. Stephens

Living metaphor.

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