By Katie Burgess
The students are making new memes about me. I shouldn’t look, I know—why do I care what teenagers think? But it’s a reflex at this point. Like right now I’m in a disciplinary committee meeting, and this mom is fuming about how we’re being “draconian.” To be honest, I’ve forgotten what that word means. And as long as I’ve pulled my phone out under the table to look it up, I might as well see how I’ve been Photoshopped this week.
They used to use images of that stingray being tickled, and the text would say, “Mrs. G when we keep stealing her laser pointers,” or “Mrs. G when I make another phallic sculpture in class.” I wasn’t sure how to take it when I first came across the account. I asked my student teacher if I should be offended, and she said, “No, they’re saying you’re, like, chill? You laugh things off.”
“All right. LMAO, I guess. Do they still say that?”
She gave me a pitying smile.
Of course, that stingray is actually in distress. Its mouth is curled up in a way that looks like a smile to humans, but it’s really suffocating. When the video went viral there were a lot of copycats accidentally killing stingrays all over the place. The aquarium here had to close down the touch tank.
This is where Shawn would be patting my shoulder and saying, “And you’re fun at parties, too!” Or he would have, before he ran off with a waitress from the Bottoms Up Lounge.
Anyway, the kids stopped making those memes. Now they copy and paste my face onto pictures of cops. I don’t have to ask what that means. So maybe I was too hard on the princesses. And maybe I wouldn’t have been on a better day, I don’t know. But look, they’re legally children. If I walk into a bathroom and catch them lighting up a bong made out of a Starbucks cup, my contract requires me to report that, no matter how much they cry and say I’m jeopardizing their college acceptances. I could lose my job if I didn’t, which I can’t afford, not since Shawn emptied our account to take his waitress down to the Keys.
I’d mainly offered to help the drama club paint the King Lear set after school that day because I thought staying busy would be good for me. But five minutes into priming the castle walls I remembered how it was back when Shawn and I decorated our first apartment together. And I knew I was about to cry. I darted up to the second-floor bathroom, assuming it would be empty. Which I guess is what Regan and Goneril also assumed when they were looking for a safe place to shotgun with Cordelia.
They’re all suspended. But today we have to decide whether Cordelia, the lone senior in the group, will be barred from walking at graduation. Her mom is telling us how Cordelia’s poor grandmother, who grew up on a farm and didn’t get to finish high school herself, has already booked a plane ticket. How it will crush her if she can’t see her only grandchild walk across the stage.
I do feel sorry for them. I can imagine the phone call to the grandmother. I bet she’s already packed. I bet she’s spent weeks telling her friends at bingo how proud she is.
Here’s the thing—the second I walked in on the princesses, they panicked. Then when they saw it was me, their faces all took on the same expression. That trusting smirk, like they knew I would look the other way.
“Oh, hey,” Cordelia said, giggling as she exhaled a puff of smoke.
I knew that smirk. I’d lived with that smirk. I saw it the day I asked Shawn who he was on the phone with, and he said, “My secret girlfriend!” and winked. Many a true word hath been spoken in jest. Hey, I may not know “draconian,” but I’ve read some books.
We go around the conference table, and the committee is evenly split. It’s down to my vote to decide if we’re going to ruin a grandmother’s week, aye or nay?
I think again about that smirk, and I vote “aye.” The mom looks like she might be planning to stab me in the parking lot.
I get my things together as the vice principal tries to calm the mom. I wonder what Shawn and his waitress are doing tonight. Maybe they’re out on the water. I picture him taking hold of a stingray, showing it off to her. “Check it out, baby, he’s smiling at you!” he’s saying, and he tickles it until it dies laughing.
Katie Burgess lives near a mayonnaise factory in South Carolina. Her work can be found in McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Smokelong Quarterly, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. Read more at katieburgess.fun.