Day 131: An Excerpt
by Tom Noonan
It’s a blotchy day, clouds are cast out in pairs across the sky like cheap fishing tackle, and I’m treading in the fluorescence of a high school classroom. Ms. Shannon, my U.S. History teacher, is drawing up a map of the thirteen colonies. She makes mistakes, goes back, erases sloppily, leaving trails, dusty breadcrumbs, and her shirt untucks partially, another miscalculation of her accumulated proportions. It’s her first year at Georgetown High School. Her first year teaching, actually. She decided to pick it up after logging what her colleagues considered more than extensive time researching colonial eating habits for the North Carolina Museum of History. “Moving on up,” she’d told us on her first day. We chuckled, assuming incorrectly that she was joking.
By today, though, we’ve already gotten over all the initial jokes, the size of her glasses, how she forgets to drop the y in “colonies”. Now there’s a new punch line. I make eye contact with Johnny. We know something, so we don’t laugh. Not yet.
It had only taken Johnny a few weeks after meeting Ms. Shannon to start drawing dicks on the blackboard in her classroom. He was always drawing something. During his freshman year, Johnny got called out for doodling during class, and when the teacher asked him to present his work to everyone, he held up a picture of a stump with giant, twisting roots. “It’s a picture of my parent’s love life,” he said.
His dicks started off small and on the fringes of the blackboard. He’d get to class 5 minutes early every day and put one up there, right in the middle of the blackboard, unmistakable. When Ms. Shannon came in and saw the dick, she would erase it silently, not making eye contact with any of us, and we’d laugh into our textbooks, sharing the prank with miniature portraits of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. Soon the dicks began to grow, taking up more and more of the blackboard, colonizing the blank space, and each day, Ms. Shannon would erase it, never saying a word.
She’s finishing the map now, an awkward and disproportionate reimagining of the past. The classroom has one of those chalkboards with two faces, the kind you can slide upward to reveal a second black sheet and don’t have to erase what you’ve just written. “This is our country’s baby picture,” she tells us, pausing optimistically for a laugh. She finds no takers. Her voice still has the stale crust of a museum tour guide.
Johnny sits forward, waiting for her to slide the first face up. She finally obliges, and the class erupts. Fifty dicks, ten rows of five, stretch out across the chalkboard, a rank and file of soldiers at full attention. Ms. Shannon’s shoulders drop and she collapses in the direction of her chair, surrendering. Her sobs are so deep a teacher in the next classroom over calls the police. The clouds glide across the sky, tempting fish that aren’t there. Johnny laughs through it all.