by Jason Gersch
By the time Mr. Geant arrived, the students of class 232 were already buckled into the seats of a short yellow bus idling outside the school. He waved to the teacher, shrugging his shoulders as he passed what the mainstream kids had nicknamed “The Tard Cart”.
“Hurry up and punch in,” Mrs. Willis called out of a bus window.
The principal waited just inside the double doors. Her eyes followed his movement as the security guard waved him past the front desk into the lobby.
“School begins promptly at 8:35 A.M., Mr. Geant,” the principal sang, doing what seemed to be her best impersonation of Julie Andrews.
Mr. Geant nodded as he walked into the office, pulled his card from slot 78, and pushed it into the time clock. Most members of the faculty only needed to move their time cards from the “in” side to the “out” side. Only those members of the staff who were repeatedly late were required to get the time stamped each morning and afternoon. On his way out of the office and back through the lobby, Mr. Geant lifted his arm in the principal’s direction and smiled, exposing his teeth.
There were thirteen children and seven adults on the bus, not including the driver. Mr. Geant sat down on the seat behind a young boy with Down syndrome who was chanting and bopping his head. Mrs. Willis sat across the aisle flipping through the signed permission slips.
“Sorry,” Mr. Geant offered her silence.
“We were giving you five more minutes, then we were leaving you,” Mrs. Willis said.
“Mr. Geant, we were gonna leave ya,” the child in the seat behind him, Travon, said.
“We sure were,” Mrs. Willis said.
“Sorry, there was an accident on the BQE. How’s Daniel doing?”
“So far, not too bad,” she said, pulling her dreadlocks back and tying them into a ponytail.
“I still don’t think he should’ve been allowed to come,” Mr. Geant said.
“Can’t leave a kid behind unless he’s been suspended. You know how hard it is to get a second grader suspended?”
“That’s ridiculous. At least they should have made his mother come. She bore him, let her deal with him.”
“That’d be like having another kid,” Mrs. Willis laughed.
Mr. Geant slumped down in his seat. Someone had written Fuk Scool in red marker on the seat in front of him.
He stretched his neck over the seat, “How ya doing today?”
“Ood.” Daniel began slapping his bald head in the rhythm of his chant. Mr. Geant shut his eyes and tapped his foot to the beat of Daniel’s slurred words.
“Sing the Uncle Moishy song,” Mr. Geant said.
Daniel continued chanting. Mr. Geant’s words had twisted the volume knob up.
“What the hell is he singing?” Mrs. Willis whispered, leaning across the aisle.
“It’s the latest hit he learned at temple. Definite top forty material.”
Two weeks before the trip, during the Wednesday fourth period art class, Daniel had premiered his chant. The art teacher, Ms. C, drew an example on the board, line by line, instructing the students to mimic her strokes. Daniel held his black crayon with an upside down fist. Pushing down hard, he scribbled across his big sheet of white paper.
“Un,” he declared.
“We just started, buddy,” Mr. Geant said, helping Jamal draw a Brontosaurus neck a few desks away. Daniel started screaming Hebrew words. He chucked his black crayon, sending it spiraling into the spelling tests hanging on a bulletin board across the room. His chair crashed over. He raced around, grabbing whatever he could to send it flying. Board games and books. Puzzles. Dolls with heavy plastic heads. All the time, chanting. Was that Hebrew? No, it couldn’t be. It was a tribal war song, belted out to stir the fear in man and beast! It meant the hunt was on!
Mr. Geant trailed Daniel around the room, trying to intercept the projectiles. When Daniel was caught and restrained, the room was in shambles and three students needed ice packs. His mouth hung open, emitting no sound, but obviously laughing. Clarissa sat on the floor, holding her head in her hands, sobbing.
“Don’t worry, sweetheart. You’ll be alright,” the art teacher said as she stroked the child’s hair.
“Alright?” Clarissa repeated.
“You’ll be ok.”
A mentor teacher visited the classroom after Daniel’s tantrum. She was an older woman who hobbled as she walked. A veteran. She took Daniel to the back of the classroom and sternly told him to sit there without moving. When he complied and was sitting, vacuously staring out a window, she pulled Mr. Geant aside by his elbow.
“What you wanna do is… you have an old sweatshirt? A pullover one?”
Her breath smelled of tuna.
“Well, bring it in. When he gets outta control like that just put the shirt over his head, but don’t put his arms in the sleeves. Make him sit down in the back, and then you just tie the sleeves to the chair.”
At first he only stared. Then, “Thanks for the advice,” Mr. Geant nodded, his eyebrows arched.
When the bus arrived at Randall’s Island, there were more than thirty buses wrapped around the parking lot.
“Thanks a lot, Mr. Geant,” Mrs. Willis said flatly. The children began howling.
“When are we getting off?” Travon whined.
“Off?” Clarissa repeated.
“I’m hungry!” Jamal shouted.
“Hungry?” Clarissa repeated.
“Mrs. Willis, Travon spit on me,” Jonathan complained.
“Spit?” Clarissa repeated.
“Did not!” Travon yelled.
“Yesh you did, yesh you did,” Jonathan rebutted.
“Yesh?” Clarissa repeated.
The adults tried to calm the children down by leading them in a sing-along. By the time the pigs on Old MacDonald’s farm were saying oink, the kids were nearly clapping in unison. The small yellow bus slowly looped around the lot until it was class 232’s turn to get off. Mrs. Willis named partners, told them to hold hands, and led the two crooked lines of students to their assigned area on the bleachers, almost on the top bench of section two. Mr. Geant walked in the back of their group, lugging a large blue cooler that held the children’s lunches. Each individual bag contained a sandwich (two pieces of white bread and three slices of cheese), a carton of grape juice, and a small bag of carrots. No napkin.
Soon, carrots littered the ground twenty-five feet below the bleachers. Daniel sat by Mr. Geant. He was the only kid in the class that brought his own lunch to school every day. The rest of 232 ate the free hot lunch the cafeteria provided. Daniel’s lunch bag was always filled with the same things: a container of Ensure, a large bag of Cheerios, and a peanut butter sandwich, no crust, cut diagonally. Daniel ate quietly.
The sun was blazing high overhead, hardly a cloud in the sky. Kids filled the bleachers and field. Volunteers wandered through the stands while everyone in the stadium ate, offering to face-paint any kid who wanted it. A woman with thick glasses smeared black whiskers across Daniel’s cheeks and then orange stripes on his forehead and chin.
“I uh igah,” Daniel growled, arching his fingers, pretending they were claws.
“Don’t eat me,” Mr. Geant said, making his voice shake. He fell to his knees, opening his palms and crossing his arms to make an X in front of his chest. Daniel slowly stepped toward Mr. Geant.
“Eat him! Eat him! Eat him!” the surrounding children cheered, letting bits of food drop from their mouths.
“Eat him?” Clarissa repeated.
Daniel hugged Mr. Geant’s leg, opening and closing his mouth like he was chewing.
“That’s enough,” Mrs. Willis said shooting a glance at Mr. Geant. “Everyone throw your garbage in the bag so we can go play.” The children ran back and forth across the benches of their section collecting bags, wrappers and cartons.
“Baa-froom,” Daniel demanded, still clinging to Mr. Geant’s leg, looking up at him like with deer eyes and a bald head.
“First you have to let go,” Mr. Geant said.
“Baa-froom!” Daniel grunted angrily, tightening his grip.
“Not ‘til you let go and ask nicely,” Mr. Geant instructed.
Daniel dropped his hold on Mr. Geant. Still kneeling, he looked up and tranquilly said, “Baa-froom ease.” His arms stuttered up and down with each syllable.
“Alright. Much better. Let’s go, little man.”
A week before the field trip, right after the second period reading lesson, Mr. Geant led Daniel to the closest bathroom in the school.
“Which do you have to do?”
Daniel pulled his pants and diaper down at the urinal, looked back at Mr. Geant smiling, and proceeded to do number two.
“What are you doing?”
Daniel stomped in it like he was stomping an invasion of roaches. Nearly naked, singing an Uncle Moishy song, Daniel lifted each leg high and then brought it down hard, leaving a trail of fecal footprints on the floor. Mr. Geant tried to stop him, but each time he got close Daniel raised the soles of his sneakers up in the air toward him. Daniel soon tired himself out and stood still, panting, brown smeared down his legs and across the linoleum floor. Mr. Geant quickly darted back to the classroom to get a pair of latex gloves, an extra set of clothes, a diaper, and the baby wipes Mrs. Willis had insisted that Daniel’s mother send in after his first accident.
Mr. Geant tied Daniel’s extra tee shirt around his own face like a cowboy about to rob a bank. Daniel laughed silently. His arms swung up and down like he was trying to fly away. The box of wipes was empty when they finally got back to the classroom.
The bathroom at the stadium was chaos. Children were running around screaming, one was splashing the others with water from the sink. They smacked each other. They whined about their schools and cursed their teachers.
“Get back to your groups. Why aren’t you with any adults?” Mr. Geant shouted.
The children scattered. Daniel entered a stall, turned around, and dropped his pants and diaper.
“Os-uh or,” he grunted.
“No, no, no. I don’t trust you little man.”
“Os-uh or,” Daniel screamed.
“If you try anything funny, no games for you.”
A few minutes later, Mr. Geant heard the toilet flush. Daniel exited and sidestepped to the sink.
“Good boy, you remembered that we wash our hands.”
Daniel and Mr. Geant made their way back to the bleachers. The class had finished cleaning up their mess. They were scattered around the field in the center of the stadium, participating in different games. The fifty-yard dash was taking place on the running track that enclosed the field.
“I unna ay,” Daniel whined, looking up at Mr. Geant.
Each year, this carnival was set up as a treat for all the special education students. There were never any real rides. No roller coaster. No Ferris wheel. The field was split into three sections, each with the same set of games: a soccer goal punt, a ring-toss, a Frisbee throw, a beanbag throw, and T-ball.
“What do you want to do first?” Mr. Geant asked, taking hold of Daniel’s hand.
“Hi- be,” Daniel said.
While waiting on line for his turn, Daniel began chanting. He jerked his hand away from Mr. Geant’s, running diagonally across the dirt field and then over the track, interrupting a class’s run of the fifty-yard dash. Mr. Geant pursued. When he caught up to him, Daniel plopped to the ground. He threw fistfuls of dirt, creating a cloud of dust that hung around him, all the time screaming his chant.
Mr. Geant tasted mud and wiped his eyes clean across his sleeve. Grabbing Daniel, he pulled him back to their assigned area, their headquarters for the day. Daniel flopped in his hands, struggling more and more the closer they got to the bleachers. Those around them watched with disappointed faces.
“No games for you, buddy-boy.”
Daniel screamed and stamped his feet on the bleachers. “We’re not going anywhere until you calm down.” After trying to run several times and screaming himself hoarse, Daniel settled. They sat in their assigned section, on the second bench from the top, just the two of them.
“I unna ay!” Daniel grunted and ducked down, attempting to crawl underneath the bench, below which was a twenty foot drop. Instinctively, Mr. Geant leaned over without standing, grabbed Daniel by the waist and lifted him back up to his seat. As he pulled Daniel up, Mr. Geant heard a loud crack and felt a sharp stabbing pain in his lower back. Mr. Geant grabbed his back and grunted while Daniel laughed silently in unison with Mr. Geant’s throbbing pain.
After two weeks in bed, dazed from the Vicodin his doctor had prescribed, Mr. Geant was ready to go back to work. His eyes were red and hardly opened when his girlfriend, Lisa, coaxed him up and out of bed. She had already showered and dressed for work, which was also in a school. Her first grade lesson plans had been prepared and packed the night before and waited for her in a sleek, black shoulder bag. Dressed in a long black skirt, her hair pulled back into a ponytail and glasses that rested almost at the tip of her nose, she was a walking, breathing stereotype.
“I swear to you, he was in every dream I had,” Mr. Geant said as he ate Cheerios at the dining room table.
“You sweated all night,” his girlfriend said, coming in and out of the room, searching for her cat. “The pillow is drenched,” she called from the bedroom.
“I remember one. I was at work. I walked into the classroom and he was there, waiting, but he was ten feet tall. He was chanting and tossing crayons, so I told him to stop. He grunted first but then he bellowed this… this… howl. And then he charges me. I couldn’t get away. He grabbed me by my ankle, lifted me up and slammed me into the ground and bookshelves. He knocked out my teeth.”
“He’s just a kid,” Lisa laughed. “It’ll be fine.”
“He cracked the chalkboard with my god damn head!”
“That was a dream. He’s a little boy. A six-year-old little boy.”
“He’s not. He’s a spawn of hell.”
“Stop it,” she said like a teacher would.
“You don’t know how it is. You’re spoiled. Mainstream kids on Long Island, what a joke. I’m in the coliseum fighting lions and you’re hugging bunnies in a petting zoo.”
“That’s a good one, you should write that down.”
“Maybe I need one more day. At least that way I can find out what happens to Hope. She’s been locked up in a castle for a while, Bo is going to find her soon.”
“Are you kidding? Tell you what, I’ll set the VCR for you. Ok? Then you won’t miss anything.”
“You better not tell anyone,” slurping the left over milk from his cereal bowl.
“Tell them what? That my twenty-seven year old boyfriend is obsessed with Days of Our Lives? You’ve gotten worse than my mom.” She had found her cat and was now serving it breakfast.
“Don’t compare me to her. I’ll never be that bad.”
“Yeah, ok. You wouldn’t even talk to me when I called the other day.”
“Well, you should’ve known better than to call during my shows,” Mr. Geant said, finally smiling.
“Just go and get it over with. It’ll be harder the longer you wait,” she said.
“Now you sound like my mother.”
“Just go. I promise, he’ll only be three feet tall,” Lisa said gingerly.
“Don’t talk to me like I’m one of your students.”
“I wasn’t,” she said pulling a chair close to him and sitting down. “Come on, you know you need to go back. Just go.” She smiled at him and rubbed his back gently.
“I don’t know.” After a minute of silence Mr. Geant admitted, “I’m scared.”
Mr. Geant dressed slowly, grimacing at each tug of his clothes. Lisa knotted the laces of his shoes so he wouldn’t have to bend. They walked to their cars together and kissed. He wrapped his arms around her back, pulled her close and gave her a long hug, the kind one receives at a funeral. Lisa pulled her car away first, waving, watching him get smaller in the rearview mirror.
Mr. Geant sat in his car for a few minutes, fumes pumping out of the muffler. The driver side door swung open and slammed shut several times before he put the car into gear. On the highway, he drove the entire way without switching lanes. He didn’t tap his fingertips on the steering wheel or sing along with the music playing on the radio. Whenever a car entered the highway he graciously waved them ahead, mouthing the words “no problem” or “my pleasure” to the incoming drivers.
After puttering along in the right lane for over an hour, he put on his right blinker and slowly looped around his exit ramp. Up and down, back and forth, he crisscrossed the street grid looking for parking. A woman carrying a Shar Pei puppy was getting into a red mini-van a few blocks from the school. He pulled behind her and waited. After she pulled away, he parallel parked, grunting as he twisted his body to see out the rear window. He sat in his car for a few minutes, fumes pumping out of the muffler. The driver side door swung open and slammed shut several times before he finally pushed himself onto the street. His eyes meandered from house to house as he walked to the front school entrance, stopping for a moment outside a construction lot to watch a forklift lift up a pile of sheetrock.
After punching in, he struggled up the stairs, the click of his cane echoing down the empty hall.
Jason Gersch is a NYC based karaoke man just coming off a decade-long hiatus from writing. A few of his stories have been published in small zines such as Heist, 11211, Freight Train Magazine, and Rhapsodia. Currently living as a recluse in Sunnyside, Queens, Jason is finishing his first novel. He can be found on Facebook, but has not yet figured out Twitter.