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  • Writer's pictureMarie Smysor Watson

Hall Pass

And just like that - my oldest son (little more than a baby, mind you) became Mister Watson this week. Following in his mommy's footsteps, he applied and was granted his substitute teaching license. He taught his first classroom yesterday, fourth grade. I won't reprint his report of the experience, except to say he definitely earned his pay (and some stars in his heavenly crown.) Still, he's back at it today - like we Watsons do - which recalled to me a story I wrote over six years ago, when I was the fresh meat. It should be comforting to all to know that high school now is the same as high school then, forever and ever amen!

“What in God’s name was she wearing?”

The voice is high pitched, smooth like cream. I recognize it from my last class. Kaitlynn was her name. She’d cheerfully helped me out with roll call, and told me goodbye with a crooked smile when the class ended.

Today I’m subbing for high school chemistry. Yesterday it was special needs kindergarten. Tomorrow - seventh grade social studies. A well-paying job, if erratic, affording me time to write. Right now, though, I am in the bathroom, in the stall marked Teacher’s Only, (even though I’m not sure I should be using it, since I’m only a sub.) My pants puddle around my ankles. I have a mild bladder infection, so says the doctor, only today it’s not so mild. And I’m on the next-to-last day of my antibiotics.

“Some people think they can pull anything off,” a second voice chimes in. Much lower, more throaty. I don’t recognize it, but through the crack in the bathroom stall, I see a flash of hot pink, long straight blond hair. She was in the last class too, but she hadn’t said a word. I struggle to come up with a name. Gracie? Maybe…

It’s my prep period, which only means that I can write or play on my phone or read, since I have nothing to prep for. Mostly I spend the time looking through the teacher’s desks for inspiration. The things I find are sometimes sweet (a note from a first-grader to his teacher, expressing his deep uprishe-ashun for her), sometimes hilarious (a Trojan Magnum in the male PE teacher’s bottom drawer, under an ungraded stack of Rules of Badminton tests.) Only once have I found something that caused me to shut the desk drawer quickly, my stomach loopy. I was subbing for Junior English, and the teacher (a Mrs. Barnes, who, judging by the picture on her desk, was teetering on the brink of retirement) had a Ziploc baggie with several locks of human hair in it, different textures and colors. I haven’t been called to sub for her again.

“She’s one of those who thinks she’s all that. You can tell,” said Gracie (Georgia?)

Kaitlynn sighed. “She probably peaked in high school.” Much laughter, high and tinkling, like new windchimes.

My bladder releases all at once, a sharp stream causing me to suck in my breath through my teeth. If the girls hear, they don’t acknowledge.

“And what’s with the stupid glasses? Really? Jeez-us.”

I touch the frames of my glasses as I finish up my business. The burning stops as soon as I’m done. My face is hot. The entire building is overheated.

“I just hope my thighs never get that big. I’ll have to kill myself.” I look down at my thighs, spread across the toilet seat. I hunch over them, suddenly protective.

“Oh my god, this fucking hair,” says Kaitlynn. I imagine her shaking it out, like a shampoo commercial, running her fingers through it, fluffing it out so it falls perfectly to one side. I can see my own hair, flat and dull, out of the corners of my eyes.

“Please, bitch. Your hair always looks fine. Mine looks like a hot mess.” This was untrue: Gracie/Georgia’s hair fell like a smooth waterfall over one shoulder during first hour, shiny even under the dull fluorescent light as she bent over her in class work.

“We better get back to the library, Gemma– Donkey Face will be shitting her tights if we’re out any longer.” The poor librarian, Mrs. Donkafuss, always wore ridiculously patterned tights no matter the weather.

“Really – who gives a fuck about the Dewey Decimal System? I can just look it up on my phone. Teachers are so re-” The abrupt bang of the door closing is immediately followed by an unsettling silence.

I wipe up and exit the stall. A faint smell of strawberries – lip gloss? – lingers around the sink area as I wash my hands. Otherwise the bathroom smells fairly sterile, like industrial antiseptic with a faint trace of something rotten underneath.

Krissy Korman is a Kunt, it says in loopy letters next to the paper towel dispenser. I dry my hands on the rough brown paper that hasn’t changed in texture since I was a schoolgirl with thin braids. I pull a pen from my pocket; I don’t even think twice about it. Awesome Alliteration, Asshole! I write in my own scrawling hand, right under the original graffiti.

I step back and smile. I don’t bother to check my hair or my makeup before I leave, but I do make sure to hold the bathroom door with one hand as it closes, so it does not bang behind me, so I don’t disturb the quiet of the nearly empty hallways.

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