You ever fantasize about that one hot teacher? She’s usually blonde, beautiful and damn sexy. She styles her hair into a loose bun with individual strands of soft yellow curls framing her face. The two top buttons of her white blouse are never fastened. Revealing just enough cleavage to tease while still remaining respectable.
Well, no one ever had thoughts like that about Mrs. Thornton, our biology teacher.
Of course I can’t read other people’s minds, but Mrs. Thornton sort of discouraged lustful thoughts. If not through her physical appearance (She was plump, without being fat. She held her body rigid, but she didn’t move stiffly) then with her forceful personality.
She inspired fear in all of her students with this mystical idea of adult authority. We would never reach that kind of adulthood, her attitude implied, no matter how many years we gained. No matter if we obtain mortgages and car payments, children and grandchildren. Her authority was as unattainable as the clouds in the sky. And just as untouchable.
It was under that authority I married my childhood sweetheart during my senior year in high school. I’m African American, medium brown skin, and clean shaven. My wife Jen Lowe was white. Mrs. Thornton was all to happy to express her disapproval at the time.
“Greggy,“ she called me. A name I absolutely detested. “Now that you’re a married man, I hope you’ve given some thought about manual labor. Something involving your other muscles.”
How I hated her.
Still, after two years we were baby free and living a reasonable happily ever after. That is until Jerry invites us to Thanksgiving Dinner.
“How about it, Greg?” Jerry says on the phone. “I’ll do the cooking this time.”
That right there tells me something is wrong. Normally, I invite him to Thanksgiving. It’s part of an unspoken pact we made when we both lost our parents at the age of sixteen. Not to mention, I’m also the better cook.
“You? You know how to roast a turkey?” Unbidden, I picture Jerry with his spiky blonde hair and impish grin, pulling a hot burning mess out of the oven, flames leaping everywhere.
“No, of course not. Don’t go crazy over this, but do you remember Mrs. Thornton?
“Yeah.” My fingernails immediately rises to my teeth to be gnawed on, and I force it back down again. Such a stupid, childish reaction to a long ago memory.
“We got married last month. She’s going to do all the cooking.”
A beat of silence while my mind digests this.
“Well, good for you then, Jerry. Good for you. You know I always thought Thornton was such a …” Suddenly I feel Jerry’s anger radiating from my phone. I swallow the rest of my thought and let my words to trail off.
“Bitch?” He replies coldly.
The term I’m actually thinking of is lesbian. But Jerry would have been offended by that too. I keep silent.
He laughs. “I’m sure she’d agree with you. She’s well aware of her reputation at our school.
“So, she’s changed?”
“Let’s just say she was covering up her true nature. The real Thornton as you call her is a kind, sensitive and yes even a sensual individual. She brings that side out of me as well.”
Really? I think to myself. She must be involved in some serious BDSM then. Now I picture Ms. Thornton in dominatrix gear. Shiny black hair pulled in it’s usual tight bun. Her chunky body stretches unbearably tight in a leather corset. Her spit-less mouth is hard and unyielding. Except instead of holding a black whip in one hand, she wields a kitchen carving knife. You’ve been bad Greggy!
Part of me wants to chuckle at this image, but instead I accept his invitation.
A week later I’m standing at the front door of Jerry’s apartment. Jen is still back in the parking lot, unpacking a Turkey Tetrazzini casserole for our hosts. Even when invited to Thanksgiving, she still doesn’t understand that she’s not responsible for the turkey this time. It’s something I find both endearing and irritating about Jen.
I could just knock of course and enter. There’s no need to wait for Jenifer. Yet, part of me hesitates. I’m not sure why, except I do know really. Because I feel like I’ve just been sent to the principal’s office and behind that door was some monstrous version of principal Garret, just waiting with a wooden paddle for my ass.
You’ve been bad, Greggy.
Jen joins me, her frizzy, red curls bouncing up and down as she rushes to my side.
“I wonder what she’s like now.” Jen asks as she stands with me before the unopened door.
“Don’t know. Jerry says she’s changed a lot.”
“What’d she say when she found out we hooked up?”
I shrug. “I don’t think she approved at the time.”
“Why? Was it the black or white thing or cause we’re too young?”
“Probably a little of both.”
“Really?” Her brown eyes sparkle and her lips split into a wide grin. “I hope it does bother her then. I hope she clenches her ass a little tighter each time we …”
She stands on her tip toes and kisses my slanted smile. That’s my Jen-ger fire.
“They’re taking a long time to answer the door,” she says as she settles back down.
“Oh, well …The reason could be because I haven’t …uh, knocked yet.”
Jen raises both eyebrows at me. “You’re twenty one years old and you’re still afraid of her?”
That does it. I grasp the door knob, and the door surprisingly swings open unlocked.
Jerry comes bounding toward us like an enthusiastic puppy dog. “Hey gang. Nice to see you. Can’t wait to start the festivities huh?”
We shake hands, then I watch carefully as Jerry and Jen press their lips on each other’s cheeks. The two of them had dated a few times in high school before she met me.
He’s married, I remind myself.
Yeah, but dude is Mr. Thornton now. Who could blame him if …
“Where’s your wife?” I ask with a tight smile.
“Oh Becky? She’ll be down shortly. Wants to make an entrance, I guess. Can I offer you something to drink? A tour of the place?”
Becky? Becky Thornton? I never knew her first name. It sounds ridiculously casual when combined to the dark, brooding name of Thornton.
Jerry gives us a quick tour of the apartment. It’s modest but clean. When we’re done, Jen offers to keep an eye on the food in the kitchen while Jerry and I escort ourselves to the living room, beer cans in tow. Truth is she wants to make sure we continue our male tradition of bumming in the living room with the football game on.
There is a wide screen television available but no one turns it on yet. Not with the elephant in the room. I decide to dispel it immediately.
“So you’ve done it, dog.” I lean across the coffee table and fist bump him. “You had sex with a teacher. That’s every guys’ dream.” Just not with Mrs.Thornton.
He may have detected my unspoken subtext. “It’s strange how love can come for you from unseen corners. Sometimes, there’s a special someone who can see you, Greg. I mean the real you, when no one else can. I used to think I was a piece of shit. It effected everything I did. Caused me to be a real grind. Becky saw through that crap and she wouldn’t allow me to feel sorry for myself. She saw the adorable, fun-loving kid in me. She loved me even when I couldn’t love myself.”
“You seem happy.” I mean it.
He smiles and takes a sip of beer. “Put the blame on Becky”.
At that moment a woman enters the room carrying a tray loaded with hors d’oeuvres. I don’t recognize her at first, she is so demure, so quiet. Her hair is tied into a loose braid that lays almost sexily across one bare shoulder. She wears a blue dress. While her body is still thick, there is a looseness to it that I never saw before. Flowing where there once were blockages. Yielding, where she was once was hard. This, ladies and gentlemen, is Mrs. Thornton?
“Greg,” she says when she sees me. She put the tray down on the coffee table and takes both of my hands in hers.
There should be butterflies and flowers entwined in that braid, I think to myself.
“Mrs. Thornton.” I reply. The name still slides out despite her remarkable change.
“Please call me, Becky” She peers over my shoulder. “And Jenifer. How nice to see you again. You caught quite a catch with Greg.”
They exchange hugs and kisses and we all sit down.
At first no one says a word. It’s just too weird. This former teacher who had to be at least in her mid thirties, lurking among us and dressed like a Disney Princess. But Becky manages to soothe our nerves. We talk about marriage, the prejudices against youth and age, (not racial refreshingly enough.) The societal pressure to have children. How hard it is to save money on minimum wage jobs.
Surprisingly Becky isn’t condescending about any of it. If Becky ever was the teacher I remember, the one that used to assign me the job of fetching coffee and picking up after the other students, there is no sign of her now. I allow myself to relax.
And then the fire alarm goes off. A loud BRRREEEEE sound that causes my heart to skitter in my chest.
“What the fuck?” Jen says and rushes into the kitchen ahead of Becky. Jerry and I exchange glances and follow the girls.
It’s just like it was in my imagination. Except instead of Jerry holding the burning bird, it’s Becky with the blackened turkey on a tray. Her face is in total shock.
“It’s ruined.” She screams over the alarm.
Suddenly I picture the four of us in a parody of a Rockwell painting. Instead of happy, warm, white faces sitting with delight at the table there’s Becky with the burnt up bird. Jen snickering behind her cupped hand. Jerry attacking the smoke detector with a broom stick. And my black ass taking it all in. Call this artwork, Freedom from Fucked Up Idealism. I laugh out loud.
Becky seizes on me. Eyes fierce and full of hate. I take an involuntary step backwards.
Then Jerry rescues me by circling Becky in his arms. It’s like he’s roping a horse at first, but eventually Becky stops struggling and relaxes against him.
“I wanted everything to be perfect,” she whispers.
“I know you did.” He kisses her nose.
Becky isn’t the same after that. We sit down to dinner, Jen’s turkey tetrazzini, now the star of the show. Plenty of unburnt side dishes. No reason why we can’t continue as before. But I sense a darkness in Becky. An inability to realize that this is just one of those things you recall with fondness later in the years to come. Remember darling when you burnt up the turkey? Ha ha ha.
She begins with little comments.
“Sit up dear, you’re slouching”
Jerry, who is in the middle of one of his crazy stories, straightens up with hardly a glance at his wife.
A few moments later, “Don’t talk with your mouth full.”
“Babe, will you let me finish?” To Becky’s point, all that mashed potatoes in his mouth looks pretty disgusting, I think inwardly.
“I would if you could tell the story correctly. What would help is if you chew and swallow your food first.”
Now he rolls his eyes. “Babe, just stop it. Okay, stop it.”
Becky seizes on him the way she did to me earlier. Eyes blazing.
“Gerald …” Gerald? “Let’s discuss this in the kitchen, shall we?”
Suddenly I feel sorry for …Gerald?
“Fine.” He throws his napkin on the plate and the two of them go to the kitchen.
Soft murmurings drift toward us. Jen and I strain to hear what’s going on.
“Wow. I hope I don’t ever get that bitchy.”
“You have.” I say distractedly. I’m still thinking about that Gerald name. How it’s sudden use seems like a threat and why is that?
She gives me a playful shot in the arm.
When they return Jerry/Gerald is noticeably subdued. He shuffles to his chair face down, lips pucker forward in a frown.
Becky looks maliciously pleased …as if she just roasted Jerry’s cock and ate it.
“Jerry, you cool?” I ask.
“Leave me aloooone!” He wails. The wounded cry from my own childhood when Mommy gives me or one of my brothers a pow-pow for bad behavior. He turns around in his seat so his back is facing us.
My mouth opens wide. I blink.
“What did you do to him?” Jen whispers.
“We had a discussion about how rude it is to correct your wife in public.” Mrs. Thornton continues while attacking her meal as if she were merely commenting on the weather.
“What the fuck?”
“No cursing if you please. We are all adults here.”
Three of us are adults. I look at Jerry. There is a tear running down his cheek.
“I’ll speak to you anyway I like, you Disneyfied skanky-ass bitch. What the fuck did you do to Jerry?”
“Jenifer,” Becky says brightly or really Mrs. Thornton. Because that’s who she is now. “I want to see you in the kitchen. Now.”
“Bet ya’ ass, I’ll see you in the kitchen. I’m not scared of you.” She shoves her chair so violently from the table that she almost tips over backward.
The situation is moving too fast. I wish there is a pause button I could push so that I have time to think.
“Jen,” I shout at her as she rises.
She turns on me. It’s that same headlight glare she gives me, when we get into our own little tiffs at home. Don’t you dare stop me, that glare says.
So, I don’t. Instead I return my attention to Jerry. I snap my fingers in front of his face. He ignores me completely.
Jen and Thornton depart for the kitchen. I hear the same soft mutterings as before. But no shouting from my Jen-ger fire. No sounds of cussing or the crash of broken dishes. That alone makes me nervous. I’d relax more if I could hear the angry noises of them arguing.
Jen returns to the table with that same headlight glare. So, she’s still in there. I tell myself. I close my eyes with relief. Mrs. Thornton also returns with that same pleased, just ate roasted cock for dinner expression.
“Jenifer, do you have something to say?” She asks pointedly.
Jen’s thumb creeps into her mouth. Her other hand tugs on her left earlobe. “I sorry,” she replies around her thumb.
“Good girl” Mrs. Thornton replies. “Maybe we can now enjoy the rest of our dinner in peace.”
“Hell no.” I rise from the table. “I don’t know what you did to my friend, or my wife. But the shit stops here. You understand? Bring back both of them!”
Mrs. Thornton hardly glances away from her meal. “Let’s discuss this in the kitchen.”
“No, I don’t think so.”
Now she looks up. Some dark emotion briefly crosses over her face and then passes. Apparently my refusal isn’t part of her game plan.
“Because you do something to them in the kitchen. I don’t know what. Cut off their cocks …”
“I cut off your wife’s cock, Greggy?”
My face grows warm. I’m not sure what I hate more. That she stings me with my own suggestion that Jen has a cock, or the use of my vile nickname.
I get up and walk around the table until I reach her. I lean my head towards hers. “Undo the shit you did to my wife and Jerry. You do that or I’ll …”
“What? Call the cops?” She interrupts.
But I see the trap. What could I possibly tell the police? Excuse me officer, but Thornton here turned my wife and friend into mindless idiots. Please put her in jail.
She raises her hand. “No, that’s quite alright. It’s a shame you’re not as brave as your wife.”
“Because you’re afraid of me. That’s obvious.”
“I’m not afraid of you.” On its own my left hand starts to tremble so I pound it on the table once more for emphasis. Jerry jumps at the sound.
“Then prove it. Let’s discuss this in the kitchen.”
I close my eyes and imagine the good ending. We enter the kitchen that is still the same modest cooking area it’s always been. There’s no caldron bubbling with magic. No bats flying about the cabinets. But there is the oven, a common every day oven. I’ll open it up, shove her in and crank the temperature to 500 degrees. Isn’t that how it worked in Hansel and Gretel? The witch gets cooked.
The good ending.
I reopen my eyes and stretch out my arm in a you-first gesture. Thornton leaps at my invitation and rushes towards the double doors that leads to the kitchen. Part of me knows my oven plan is useless. In reality I’m walking to my doom, but I still don’t hesitate. Maybe because despite the contradictory evidence, it’s hard to believe this five foot tall woman could possibly be a threat to my six feet and three inches self. But mostly it’s because of Jen. Even though those tearful brown orbs don’t belong to the same woman who gazed at me with admiration when I told her I was going to be the CEO of my own company some day, I can’t disappoint my Jen-ger fire. Despite her changed personality, she can’t ever be allowed to think me a coward.
It’s not like she’s going to cut off my cock and eat it for real, I tell myself. I imagine again Mrs. Thornton in her leather outfit wielding a knife. Goofy and terrifying at the same time.
I steel myself. We enter the kitchen.
When we come out, my mind is thick. A blur.
I trip over my shoelaces and fall to the floor. That starts Jen snorting,
“I’m telling!” I say hotly as I stand up. I’m telling on you, Jen.”
“I don’t care” she sing-songs. “Who ever tells it, dealts it.”
“That’s about farts.” Jerry says pointedly.
“Enough, all of you!” Mrs. Thornton re-enters. The grownup who’s in charge. I love her. At least I think I do. She’s much nicer then Jen. That’s for sure.
You want to know what happened, right? I know you do. It’s hard to explain ‘cause I not the same no more. I not grown up no more.
She cut me, alright. But not my wee-wee. Eew, that would be gross. That’d hurt a lot too. But she didn’t do that. No, she cut the part of me that makes me smart. Bye, bye grownup Greg. He’s gone forever. I don’t mind much really. ‘Mostly ‘cause, I forgot what grownup Greggy was like.
I sit back at the table and Missus Thornton nods. She’s happy now. She says that if I’m good I can join her in the bedroom later tonight. That might be fun. I tell her okay, but I not smart no more. She say that don’t matter. She say I always was a good student.
Chere Taylor lives in Orlando, Florida and shares her home with her teen daughter, two chihuahuas, five cats and one X-ray Tetra fish. She enjoys reading and writing and tends to have a sneaky respect for the inexplicable. Chere has studied creative writing at Western Illinois University and her fiction has won several contests on Scribophile and the Fiction Factory website. She has been published in several magazines including A Thin Slice of Anxiety and Granfalloon. She also currently has a story under consideration for the Pushcart Prize.