Cult Illustration #21, ball point pen on paper, 11" x 8.5"


        This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either
      the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.


The Kindergarten teacher, Ms. Roberts, had decided to "shake it up a little" on the morning of the half day that Ms. X would substitute. This effort was intended as a benevolent aid. She left insructions to take her brood to a special free breakfast in the cafeteria. Ms. X studied the scribbled message over and over because it seemed like a puzzle with half sentences and arrows to other half sentences, and “do this first” spliced between more fragments up against a very strict warning about a diabetic girl, Natalie, who had fallen ill the day before due to something she had eaten in the classroom. Ms. X read the words “emergency” and “diabetic coma” and began to get uncomfortable. In the meantime, children were hauling in packages of candy and cupcakes and all manner of sweets for the Valentine’s Day party that was scheduled for the following day. Ms. X followed them to the cache which was readily accessible on a low book case. She covered it with the teachers bulky sweater and eyed Natalie nervously. The girl stared back at Ms. X, accusingly.

The bell rang and the children slithered into their assigned seats. Ms. X started off in a reasonably focused way, managing things, and answering their questions, and trying to keep an eye on all. She seemed to be gaining control, at least she was in control of herself and that was what the Substitute Teacher's Manual stressed in Chapter One: the only person that you can really control is yourself. Ms. X thought that this statement should have an exclamation point at the end because it seemed more like a joke than a studied observation.

The prospect of executing the free breakfast trip continued to gnaw at her as she noticed these kids were operating on auto-pilot, even at this early age, and their routine didn’t seem to fit the sub plan. Half the class brought in box meals from the cafeteria and began to disassemble them, peeling back the plastic wrappers from the plastic tubs of sugary cereal, splashing chocolate milk over it and slowly dipping in their plastic spoons. Pop Tart wrappers were torn with teeth, juice boxes probed with straws, and Ms. X didn’t know what to make of it as she watched the diabetic girl flit between students asking them about their food stuffs. Rousing these kids to parade them off to the cafeteria when most of them had already settled in with their breakfast was a dreadful thought, but maybe it would be a good diversion.

She herself was distracted with Monica, the girl that sat farthest from everyone and had no name tag on her desk. She tipped off Ms. X right away with her special attributes. Ms. X knew from her Substitute Teacher's Manual, that this was the one that she should befriend, and assign the duty of privileged helper, but there were others like her, in degrees, and Ms. X was becoming disorientated.  Monica soon had things her way, running back and forth in the classroom, hiding behind book cases or under desks, and shrieking like a bird.  Against her better judgment, Ms. X interrupted the calm children who were nibbling their sweet breakfast, and instructed them to line up for their journey to the cafeteria. It seemed like the best course for getting control of Monica and the other malcontents.

The disorder was alleviated only slightly by the trip to the lunch room. Ms. X watched with dismay as the children grabbed elaborate foam trays from the aluminum scaffolding service entrance. She peered down at the free lunch. The contents of these gifts were hermetically sealed, their windows exhibiting bright rainbow colored pleasing shapes.

Once the children were seated at their tables, the plastic containers were ripped open, the foods fingered, and then thrown aside almost in one sweeping motion. Ms. X found this obscene, but as she contemplated what could be done, she determined that she was powerless in the face of the cafeteria machine.

Industrial-sized garbage cans on wheels were scooted to each table as the children reveled in the sport of disposing of their booty. She grew ill as it dawned on her that this whole process, from the pickup to the garbage depot, was an integral aspect of their education.

Back in the classroom, amid the turmoil of children running to the little john in the back of the room, and throwing things, and fighting with each other, she was to read them a book about transportation. Here is where I’ll get their attention, thought Ms. X, I’m good at storytelling. As she began in her dramatic voice, she was undone again because they had read the book the day before and were thoroughly bored with it. Not at a loss, Ms. X began to make up her own story and the kids began to listen. Ms. X was thankful for this small reprieve, not because she began to feel human, but because six nicely dressed adults with an aura of purpose entered the room and stood in front, smiling, and looking around. They spoke a few words amongst themselves then began to file out. Ms. X had already stood up, perplexed, (not so much by them but by the whole experience thus far) and noticing her wanton expression, the leader, a young man who happened to be the Assistant Principal, said that they had just come in to take a look at the sink in the back of the room. Pausing again as if he had forgotten something, he asked her how it was going so far.

“Not so good,” replied Ms. X, needing the catharsis of a small beam of truth, if only for a moment, to make up for all the other delusions she had about this thankless job. Without a thought the man told her to use the call button just under the flag and someone from the office would come straight away and take the offending child off her hands. Ms. X nodded, but this was something she never did because she would be calling them all day, every day, and then she would be out of a job. After all, couldn’t anyone handle a group of five year old children? 

Then a little girl, who had asked to use the bathroom, was urgently pulling on Ms. X’s sleeve, whining that there was something wrong with the toilet. Kids had been constantly tugging at her and complaining all morning, but she knew in the way the girl spoke that this was something serious so she walked over to peek inside the john. At least two roles of toilet paper had been unwound and dropped into the bowl, and ribbons were dangling over the seat. More soggy clumps were on the floor and she was seized with disgust, imagining herself now responsible for fishing it out, wringing it, and placing it in the garbage.

Somewhere deep inside her, everything skidded to a halt. Those few moments of quiet abomination were breached by the whimper of the little girl and Ms. X turned to see her shaking and holding her crotch and warbling “I need to go!” Ms. X took her hand and quickly dashed to the classroom next door to ask the teacher if she might oblige the girl. As she interrupted the teacher, Ms. X noticed how quiet and attentive her class was.

“Our toilet is clogged up,” she sighed.

“Just call the office and tell them and they’ll take care of it.”

Saved! Thought Ms. X. and she flew back into her room, pushed the button and asked for someone to come and unclog the toilet.

“And,” she said as if ordering a side dish, “Could you have someone come and get Monica?”   

Monica had been the last one in the bathroom, she had actually asked Ms. X if she could use it. That was progress, but now it was evidence. In a matter of minutes a tall man in a green uniform appeared carrying a mechanical hand and with polite regard he made his way to the back. To think that I was going to stick my hand in there, reflected Ms. X as she eyed his tool. Next came a large kind-faced woman and she headed right for Monica and escorted her out the door.

Now’s my chance, thought Ms. X, to get this Kindergarten act together. Ms. Robert’s instructions included a drawing project and the sub finally felt in her element. With elation she passed out the post-it notes and began to explain to the class that they would now be able to draw their favorite form of transportation on this small square of paper. Intrigued, the children snatched their scraps of paper and fingered the sticky strip and positioned them this way and that on their desk, while Ms. X readied the easel. She drew lines for three categories which she titled, air, water, and land. Feeling clever, she drew clouds above the word “air”, waves above “water”, and a road winding through two mountains above “land”. This, she speculated, would make it really simple. She swung around to find the children a bit confused about what they were supposed to draw. Ms. X felt she understood their reluctance. How boring, she thought.

“Okay then, let’s make this a bit more interesting. Make something up, make some new type of imaginary machine that can travel. It can have fins or flippers, or wheels or wings!” she said excitedly. “When you finish, you can bring it up to the easel and stick it in the right place.”

One by one they finished, but most of them drew animals, save one robot and one bus. Ms. X proceeded in that vein, enjoying their little sketches and expounding on the properties of turtles and fish and birds and with the bus, she suddenly perked up.

“Buses stink!” she effused. But many of the children rode buses every day and were quite offended.

“No!” one large girl yelled and then “No!” they all yelled in unison.

Undaunted, Ms. X took her marker and scribbled a black cloud of smoke behind the drawing of the bus.
“Their fumes stink! But children, we will do something wonderful about this one day,” she said in her most dramatic storytelling voice and all eyes were on her now as she championed some interesting facts she had heard that morning on an internet podcast, an interview with a designer and scientist called a Bioneer. Of course, she never repeated the things she heard verbatim, her renditions were always somehow more fantastic and colorful, but she had no doubt her exaggerations were quite possible.

“Someday, those buses will create perfume, clear sweet perfume!” she called out like a circus master with wide eyes and arms outstretched. Three or four children giggled while others gazed at her in wonder.

“A-a-a-and,” your cars will run on water. You won’t have to go to the gas station to buy gas, oh no, your cars will create water and run on water. You will just need to start them off with a little water from the sink!” The children were going wild now, cheering, enthralled, calling out “No, no, no!” and waiting for the next pronouncement.

Ms. X raised her voice in a crescendo saying, “We will live like wild animals, never taking too much, never wasting what we take, and we will be like the Turkey Vulture, picking the bones clean from road kill!”

Wild cheers erupted and Ms. X put her hands up and softly pumped them until the little ones became quiet and expectant. Pleased with herself, she called on another child to bring their picture up to the easel.

Suddenly, and it was suddenly because that’s the way things happen in the classroom, Ms. X swung around and was confronted by the kind faced woman who had taken Monica away and who seemed to take on the shape of a giant Panda Bear, her big black and white head squarely in Ms. X’s face. She wanted to know the general details of Monica’s disobedience and Ms. X motioned to the girl’s desk which had its contents scattered about on the floor beneath it and then she began with a list of offenses, most notably, the clogged toilet. The Panda Bear disappeared and Ms. X was alone with her newly exceptional class of kindergarteners. On they went with their discussion which was turning into an expose on the many fascinating abilities of wild animals.

She appeared again, the Panda Woman, and she told Ms. X that she was needed in the principal’s office to talk to Monica’s mother. The Panda Woman would take over the class while she was away. Ms. X did not like this development, but she proceeded to the location while telling herself to be calm and composed.

The door on the principal’s office had a large window with a clear view of the principal sitting at his desk, his attention turned to the little girl sitting at his side, while the mother was out of view. Ms. X peered in for a moment, taking stock of her superior. The principal was a Gray Fox, she decided, slim, sleek, with a buffont of black and silver hair. He appeared a debonair sort of fellow.  Ms. X surmised that he was capable of conning himself into the hen house, or in this case the school house, and she did not really look forward to a conference with him, and worst yet, Monica’s mother! She knew, already, that this would be more than just tense, but the knowing failed to dampen her totemic animal exercises as she took a breath and entered the principal’s office. She almost bowed politely, but stopped with a couple of nods to the principal and the mother, then limply shook their hands.

Monica’s mother was a Baboon. A large one with hanging breasts but that’s not why she was so frightful, thought Ms. X. What made her monstrous was that she lived in a zoo. She was born there, not captured from the wild, and her life in a cage had impaired her ability to know herself as a real Baboon.
There seemed to be a misunderstanding about the toilet. Monica had convinced her mother that another girl had not flushed and so when Monica flushed, the toilet got stopped up.

“Oh, no”, said Ms. X and searching for a few words that would adequately describe what the girl had done, “it was a sculpture.” Silence. Ms. X decided to elaborate for her startled audience. “She unwound two roles of paper and created a sculpture. This was not an accident.” Her testimony had been so convincing, she could feel the Gray Fox’s eyes smiling on her.

When Baboon spoke, her lips curled back exposing large canine teeth and hot stinking breath. She proclaimed her outrage with hostility, and with pretty good diction too, which Ms. X understood was the type of wording she used when trapped. Baboon looked directly at Monica who was seated before her, but the words and anger in her voice were striking a different target, the Gray Fox and Ms. X. What proceeded, was a strange speech, rather Shakespearean, listing all the in-vogue ways that Baboon disciplined her child. I have, and I have not, and then she said it, as if from the side of her mouth, “I have not beaten you yet, but you leave me no choice.” The Fox seemed pleased with this performance, so he excused Monica in the manner of a diplomat, asking the small girl to be so kind as to eat her lunch on a little card table just outside his office. Now the Baboon turned to Ms. X and said, proudly, that Monica would never ever behave this way for her, she wouldn’t dare.

Ms. X, without estimating how real she could be in this situation, which was often her personal failing, said in a very calm and deliberate way, as if she were some kind of Guru Psychiatrist,

“If I knew that Monica would get beaten for this I would never have taken her out of class. Beating her will NOT work.” 

Ms. X believed it, that is why she said it, but she was channeling something she had been hearing about on talk radio. Torturing people. Water boarding was what it was called, did not work, according to one of the experts. 

“It just doesn’t work”, Ms. X said with authority. Baboon was speechless for about 5 seconds and that was a long time for her, but even so, she was ready with her rap.

“You have no right to tell me how to raise my child!” And she said a few more things that may have sounded like they were plausible, but for Ms. X, the jig was up.The principal stirred from his seat and Ms. X could sense that his cunning turned cowardly. He didn’t seem so much a fox anymore but a parched cadaver propped up in expensive clothes. And then he spoke.

“Ms. X, we do not tell parents how to raise their children here.” (Here, as in this place, which had suddenly determined Ms. X as the outsider, the Substitute Teacher who had obviously never completed her instruction manual) He said something else to go along with that but Ms. X was burning now, into ashes, and they were scattering from the top of her head to her feet on the floor. All she could hear were the jeers of the audience in some alternate reality, some type of TV show where people scream and spittle flies out of their mouths and then they have to be restrained as their clothing peels from their shoulders and their bare legs flail and a mob in the background cheers wildly.

Very quietly, she said, “Oh I did not know that”, but she knew.
She knew more than that. Her Substitute Teacher's Manual warned her that any person who suspects child abuse and does not report it is guilty of a class B Misdemeanor. The usual posters were hung around the school warning her, and parents, children, and teachers that they were to watch each other very closely. If Ms. X had understood her manual clearly, however, she would have known that the rules guiding all of this child abuse pathos were very specific and sequenced and the problem here was that Ms. X had openly accused the parent to her face! The Principal had to get rid of her now. He said thank you as he nervously jerked up, but Ms. X was ahead of him and before he could excuse her, she was out the door and in this way she felt she had one-upped him.

When she returned to the classroom, she was still shaken by what had happened, but she decided to let it go as soon as she recognized that some of the children smiled at her and appeared relieved to have her back. The panda faced woman had taken to jerking around a large cardboard box of measuring cubes, shaking them into the center of the grouped desks while the kids put their hands up trying to grab them as they bounced off the laminated surface and scattered around like colorful confetti. Ms. X knew these were the wrong cubes and she began to collect them telling the woman that the correct cubes were neatly packaged on the Teacher’s desk.  This was the only part of the sub’s lesson plan that Ms. X understood entirely. Panda got it only halfway. Ms. X felt a twinge of satisfaction for her astuteness on this matter even as she continued to burn inside. Panda helped her pass out the new cubes and solacing herself, she began to show them how to use the cubes to measure things. Brilliant, she thought, if only I had such cubes in Kindergarten, maybe I would have developed some mathematical skills. As she rushed around with renewed enthusiasm for this novel way of learning, catching the ones who didn’t get it yet, and giving them a flash course, she looked up to see yet another woman standing beside the teacher’s desk. Ms. X approached her. Somewhere in her logical brain, Ms. X heard the children greeting the woman and asking if she were alright, but Ms. X still hadn’t registered that this was their teacher.

“I’m Ms. Roberts.” she said standing there as if drugged, her glassy eyes watching the children as they veered in their seats.

She seemed paralyzed, or maybe she was having an out of body experience, observed Ms. X. To be helpful and competent, the sub provided a quick explanation, pointing to the kids that needed more help with the math cubes and as if muttering to herself, let a few words slide about Monica, and the mother, and the principal’s office.

“Yes,” said Ms. Roberts in her drugged manner, “we’ve been trying to build a case against her.”

Ms. X left for the day, without saying good bye to anyone, without saying she was leaving, without a good feeling, she left. She felt wounded but it was the kind of wound that would last for perhaps the rest of the day, like heartburn, acidic, traveling up and down the center and stifling the voice. Certainly it was much lighter than the worst of wounds, the one that extricates a student from their master. This wound, the shunning, covers everything somehow, the family, the spouse, workmates, friendship, ceremony, community. This wound is really called exile, a kind of death. Not sacrificial death which is quick, usually clean, a slice across the jugular, the flow of blood, bulging eyes, the galloping to green pastures. No, banishment is a slow, excruciating death fraught with humiliation, loneliness, disease, and starvation.

Ms. X found herself walking alone by the ocean lamenting her loss. Because she understood her own dark nature so honestly, she took responsibility for her failed stint as a full-fledged member of the priestly class at the Foundation. In rebuttal, or maybe it was self-defense, she stopped, turned to the waves that bounded towards her and pleaded, “Perhaps you were not fair with me?” And it helped her to feel consoled. She found herself thinking about the Association, or the lack of, all through her days. It would come to mind in the idle times before and after subbing, or at lunchtime in school. Sometimes the remorse would come suddenly, in the middle of a mundane task, and she would awaken as if from a dream and be stunned by the fact that she was out. It was a second of stillness and then another second of disbelief and she would ask herself, “What happened?” The feeling was similar to leaving the body, losing the material self, emptiness so deep and profound that it transcended loneliness. She supposed it was something akin to the moment you realized you were dead!

She knew the Substitute Teacher wound would heal quickly, but it was irritating, and nudged her into thinking about the half day in kindergarten. She knew there was a subversive thread basting the tattered bits of her crazy quilt experience. The cafeteria personnel had harassed Monica. The manager of that cavernous room was seething with hate and she grabbed the girl's arm and whispered something cruel in her ear. She frightened Ms. X, her energy was so repellent. The cashier accused Monica of stealing the free breakfast. The custodian of large garbage bins had grunted something about "cheating" to the child.  It was orchestrated like some comic sketch and Ms. X was incredulous, circumventing slowly in place, turning to witness each character as they accosted the little girl.  

The Guru had a saying for the ones who he encountered and then spat out, or those like herself who hung around for years and, finally, were banished. Their lives were "in the toilet". In other words, they were shit and needed to be flushed. Ms. X adopted the metaphor. It suited her, even if it was old fashioned or just old like the Guru. She always suspected it might become her own moniker. She recalled the times when the Guru rationalized his energy spent on derelict associates. He characterized them as honorable endeavors, speaking of a man or woman he prevented from some odious fate, like the one he initiated and inadvertenly prevented from becoming a serial killer. Perhaps the Guru was now spreading the word on Ms. X, that she had been prevented from going insane, and this story would be repeated, over and over, with more and more detail, by the wife.


Cult Illustration #8, ball point pen on paper, 11" x 8.5"


© 2017 Lea Atiq, all rights reserved