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John Bear

As Ms. McCaren walked past me, our eyes met briefly. Hers were narrowed, beady almost. A coy smirk rose ever so slightly from the corner of her mouth. My eyes were squinty and bloodshot from the low-grade marijuana I had smoked outside the physical sciences building before fourth period. It was now fifth period, and the high had degraded into low-level paranoia.

She looped around the last desk in the row, three back from where I was sitting. I could hear the clickety clack of her heels as she headed back toward my desk.

“Mr. Bear,” she began. “How is your book report on ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ coming along?” she asked, her voice slowing to punctuate every third word or so.

“I haven’t started it yet, ma’am,” I said, a twinge of snicker accentuating my answer. I closed my eyes for a beat. When I opened them, Ms. McCaren was staring down at me.

“I assume you haven’t even started reading the book. Have you, Mr. Bear?” she said. She continued to hit every third word. My heart felt like it was beating too fast.

“No, I read the book,” I said. (This was likely the truth.) “I just haven’t written the book report.”

“You’re lying,” she said. “But we will find out whether or not you read the book.”

She lifted up the jacket on her pool table-colored pant suit jacket and pulled out a chrome Colt Python.

“Anything you feel like saying, Mr. Bear?”

“Is that the school district-issued firearm, Ms. McCaren?”

A slight chuckle swept through the 44-student classroom. It stopped when Ms. McCaren’s head did a slow pan across the room.

“Why no, Mr. Bear. It is not. I never felt the 9 millimeter had sufficient stopping power. Particularly not when students are hopped up on PCP.”

“I swear, I’m not on any drugs. By the way, the chrome is very nice. Is that stock?”

“No, it cost extra.”

She pressed the 6-inch barrel of the .357 pistol to my temple. By now, sweat was rolling off my forehead and onto the desk.

“Well, it’s very nice.”

“Thank you. Who wrote ‘Slaughterhouse-Five,’ Mr. Bear?”

“Excuse me?”

The hammer fell on an empty chamber. I jerked away from the barrel.

“Yeah, Ms. M,” called out Todd, the class bully. “Kill that fag.”

“You pipe down,” Ms. McClaren shot back. I couldn’t see, but I imagined she was giving Todd “the look.”

“Who wrote ‘Slaughterhouse-Five, Mr. Bear?”

“Kurt Vonnegut.”

“Good, Mr. Bear.”

“Ms. McClaren?”

“Yes, Mr. Bear?”

“Do you think you might have lost your passion for this kind of work?”

“No at all,” she said as she pulled the trigger again. “I love children.”

“Just asking. Are there really bullets in that gun?”

“Just one. Fill in the blank — ‘Everything was beautiful and nothing …'”

“Nothing hurt!”

“You know? I think you have read the book.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I’ll expect the report on my desk tomorrow.”

“Billy Pilgrim!”

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