Cult Illustration #62, 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.  

Seventh grade Language Arts for Ms. Boyer. Greek Mythology. Hercules. He was a man with a mission to conquer a number of beasts that terrorized the populace. Ms. X began to appreciate the animals that filed in one after the other, the monstrous lion, the poisonous snake with multiple heads, the sacred stag, the wild boar, the giant witch- like birds, and the horses that ate human flesh. Ms. Boyer left explicit instructions to read out loud, and stop reading once the students seemed to be getting tired of it.

Ms. X had early morning planning time so she studied the story in the Teacher’s Manual, and she discovered new things while reading and contemplating the lesson plan. She never wondered how her day might go because she always felt it would be wonderful in the same way as when she played teacher as a child to her stuffed animals. It was a blissful time, but now as she grew old and actually taught, she wondered what she had said to her toys. She had no recollection at all. She was never a good student and her learning was minimal and so it bothered her that she could not remember what she used to say, all by herself when she was pretending to teach. She settled on the belief that she said nothing that connected to anything because she was raised to be a small island of chaos, with all ties cut, especially the mother-child bond. It had been snipped very carefully and silently and even when it seemed to regenerate, erratically between years of frustration, it was always surgically removed. With the help of the Foundation, Ms. X had built a bond to the earth and through that, her heart opened to others, she had been healed, as it were, and she could make connections.

Ms. X was determined to know what she would say now, but things do not always go well, even when the Substitute Teacher is primed and pumped for a marathon day. There are those classes with completely ordinary, healthy looking young people, yet everything begins to fall apart very quickly after her introduction. Some start laughing, some chanting raps, some shouting across the room and throwing things. When it happens all at once, a teacher cannot know how to sort it out. It is meant to fragment consciousness, so that no one gets caught. Clear, pretty innocent eyes hide so many secrets, almost as well as they hide their moral schizophrenia, on their very own small island of chaos.

Vocabulary first. Once she got them to focus on their vocabulary worksheet, Ms. X began to call on students to give examples of antonyms for the word affliction. When she called on a boy he said “hit”.  Ms. X thought for a moment and decided she would accept this answer.

“Okay, good, the word is hit.”

“Tit?” asked another boy and the class erupted in laughter.

There is no squelching bedlam in these situations. Ms. X figures out why certain students act the way they do at the very end of class, when the culprit approaches her, apologetically, producing his or her little slip of paper with sleight of hand. These little missives request her to check the boxes indicating whether the student has behaved tolerably in the various categories outlined by the IEP, otherwise known as their team of “Individual Education Planners”. Ms. X conjectured, briefly, why the title “Substitute Teacher” had not yet been revamped to symbolize something exclusive and vital, but there were too many other things to be curious about.

The Substitute Teacher’s Manual expressly forbids asking any student the question, why? Why did you do that? Because, of course, one expects a whole slew of silly, even obnoxious answers that only deepen the “Questioning Trap” like, “I hit Brian because his face is ugly and I only wanted to readjust it.” Yet, on occasion when Ms. X uttered the word “why?” she never received anything but silent eye contact and after that, an honest answer wrapped in a terse account that summed up the horrible truth of their tortured lives. Father’s in jail, or the next stop is the school where only rejects go, or my mother was killed . . . .
And then the misbehaving stops because the relationship changes and the energy exchanges in a new way, where the student and Ms. X are at home together with grief.

There is nothing at all in the manual that talks about that. It is not pity, but something different, like glue at the joint. She says a few things to the boy or girl, in a way that cannot be rehearsed, in a way that has nothing to do with animal training, as Ms. X is so fond of describing her Substitute Teacher’s Manual. These small conversations are always conducted in a very intense bubble.  Recognizing this, Ms. X fancies herself a great healer and decides that her only hope to practice her divine gift is to learn how to focus her intent and grow these experiences quickly, for as many as she can possibly handle in a class session. This does not seem ludicrous to Ms. X until later when she decides that these reveries are only messianic visions invented to maintain a level of sanity and human decency in her daily existence. At times it is the only thing she can find rewarding in her shallow, inconsolable life.

Eight Grade Creative Writing, for Ms. Boyer

When the students enter, Ms. X can see what a difference one grade level accrues on the budding adults. They are tall, polished, bosomy, and made up just-so for the occasion of sitting all day in a procession of stale colorless rooms. The bell rings. A stern, quiet looking man enters several minutes after everyone is seated. His blond hair is neatly cropped and a flashing gold chain hangs from his tanned neck. His shirt is gray and soft over his muscled chest. Ms. X mistakes him for a teacher or maintenance man, or some type of authorized individual. The way he makes eye contact with Ms. X, cool and gray like his shirt, makes her think that he might even be spying on her. Anxiously, she tries very hard to get everyone quiet. This would be absurd, of course, because they have already sized Ms. X up as a sub that would require minimal pressure to subdue and push aside so as to pursue all-out pleasure, the kind that lives within the confines of a classroom. Out of protocol, however, they give Ms. X a moment of their time to read the instructions left for them by Ms. Boyer. The gray eyed wonder takes his seat, and now she understands that he is a tardy student. 

“Sharon is to pass out your folders and you are to work on a news story, a feature story, and an advertisement. If you need help, you can use the newspapers over on the cart.”

Cries of approval ring through the cluttered room. The uproar becomes hot and is punctuated with guffaws and shrieks of laughter. It’s a party. With hands covering her nose and mouth, a girl jockeys between the desks, garbling a request to go to the bathroom. Ms. X is beside her now as she approaches the door and sees blood oozing from the girls cupped hands. Ms. X has no idea what the girl’s face looks like or what her name is.

“Her nose is bleeding!” shouts a gleeful female voice from behind. 

“Go to the nurse!” Ms. X calls after the fleeing girl.

Stopping at the doorway, holding back her instincts with her arms stretched to the door frames, Ms. X resists the urge to follow the poor injured girl. She is never, ever, to leave healthy students alone. She turns swiftly, about face, to find the party commencing at full hilt. She bounds back in. There are a few drops of blood on a desk and a meager drizzle down the back of a chair. Ms. X ignores it even as it becomes a kind of silly center piece for the students nearby who amplify it into a crime scene. Too many things are happening. Another girl offers to help the bleeding student and Ms. X excuses her. Somebody, perhaps a friend, wipes the drops of blood away, but another irate girl demands Ms. X call maintenance and have it properly sanitized. 

“That’s blood, it’s dangerous!” she shouts.

But too much is going on and Ms. X refuses to act on this. Concerned that somewhere in her consciousness, she is failing a test, she studies the chair and desk but finds it clean. She remembers now that the Substitute Teacher’s Manual made the same point about infectious blood, and something about having the student clean their own mess if they are capable of doing so. And then she decides to forget about it altogether. 

Ms. X takes her clip board and slowly ambles around the room, stooping to ask a student for their name so that she can make a list of the ones who seem somewhat composed and appear to be doing something productive. The gray eyed wonder is using markers to color a blue and red confederate flag.  “Appeared to be doing something” is exactly what Ms. X writes as a heading for the list of names that she intends to leave for Ms. Boyer. To keep it short and to the point, she prefaces this by describing the class with one word: pandemonium. She looks at the word and is pleased with herself, realizing that it is of Greek origin, a combination of Pan, the god of music, and demonium which means demon.

Ms. X sits back, in the corner of the room, at Ms. Boyer’s desk, and looks at them. She thinks, “these are my people”. This is my community, my neighbors, my tribe, my nationality. She felt fear. Fear had crept back into her life since she had been expelled from the Foundation. At the Guru’s instruction, one was trained out of this emotion. Ms. X remembered how powerful she felt, having the ability to extinguish fear to the point that she rarely ever experienced it. Sometimes the initial stage, like a worry, would seep in and then she would instantly dismiss it. She felt triumphant, yet there was no getting over it with the Guru. Many times she felt fear of him, his stature, his intellectual prowess, and she would be very careful of what she said in his presence. But her silence could not protect her. In a rare moment, she would observe the Guru’s vulnerabilities and this would produce a sickening fear, spreading through her veins like venom, and she would need to forget about it very quickly or the fright might alter her consciousness altogether. 

Ms. X wondered in those days just how cowed the wife had been. She often confided in Ms. X, telling her that the Guru obsessively read her emails, sometimes answering the inquiries himself in lengthy conversations. He checked her cell phone too, to see who had called and occasionally listened to her messages. He tracked his wife by constantly calling her.  This was something everyone knew, and she was made to be punctual or there would be trouble.
Ms. X understood how deeply disgusted the wife was with the Guru as a sex partner. She could recount several times when, in the company of a clutch of women, the wife revealed how repulsed she was just trying to get the overweight old man into a coupling position. One time in particular, she divulged this scene during the contemplative time just after initiation. The group had welcomed a new member into their all-female clan, at the most treasured level, by sacrificing a she-goat, two hens, and several pigeons to a feminine deity. The whole affair took place at a potent shrine in the woods, a vortex of energy, the kind that resides in bubbling caldrons and hot kitchens.

Silent, after the killing, amid their red spattered vessels, bowls of congealed blood and rocks, and their primitive looking staffs, each woman gathering her items close to her. The wife usually produced all manner of knick-knacks to be consecrated so that the women had free gifts to go with their costly idols. This was the day that Ms. X looked at those trinkets with conscious suspicion. She left her party favors in the mound of bloodied sand, circled with the smoldering ashes from the ring of fire. She intended not to retrieve them save the rocks which she still believed in.

The women sat in a circle then, waiting for their turn to speak when their mentor, the wife, spilled the beans on the Guru. Usually talkative and prepared, the women didn’t know what to say and stared at her blankly. Ms. X guessed that they were as uncomfortable with the information as she was. Ms. X also thought that the wife was trying to disabuse them of the Guru’s reputation, hurting him in the worst way possible, without him ever knowing.

However, Ms. X was pretty sure that he would know, soon. He was skilled in the art of fortune telling, “The Rembrandt of Divination” he used to quip. One cannot be a Guru of his renown without a fine tuned sense of knowing, she thought. Her suspicions were confirmed when the wife complained to Ms. X that the Guru had a habit of sending her porn that popped up on her computer screen at the most inopportune moments, like when she had a client seated beside her. Or the times he gave her supplements which were really aphrodisiacs that she would pretend to swallow and then throw away.

As Ms. X sat gazing at 8th grade, she was wonder struck at the strength and force of their disobedience. Many of them were spoiled, over fed, over medicated, or pumped up on self importance. They were corralled mostly in their lives to be this way and to act stupid and then it was all suppressed with great skill by every institution that claimed them. When they outnumbered their supervisor, however, they could not be held accountable for anything. She knew at that point, somewhere in her nation, people in power were consulting their lawyers about putting tiny hidden cameras and microphones in the classrooms.

Surveillance cameras were already evident, in the halls, the entrance ways, the auditorium, and in the cafeteria, but the classroom would be next and then the toilets. Indeed, she conjectured, it had already happened, somewhere. 

As she sat writing her note to Ms. Boyer a young man approached her desk. He was the first to begin the mutiny, a slim kid with brown skin and dark eyes. His first act in class was to move across the room to sit next to a pale, prim white girl in short shorts. He began to stroke her bare thighs with lotion and swiftly Ms. X was by their side asking him to go directly to his seat. He pulled his hands back but refused to move. Ms. X grabbed the lotion bottle from the desk and repeated the order. After another moment he began to stir, asking for his lotion bottle back and then it took him several more minutes to finally move while Ms. X stood firm staring at both of them. In the meantime, a dozen other indiscretions unfolded.  

Now, he was pressing his body against the teacher’s desk, facing Ms. X . He was holding up a worksheet with his fingertips. Like a white surrender flag, he fluttered it in front of her face, showing her that he had nearly finished it. 

“Yes?” Ms. X said, disguising her thoughts which were: What do you want? What are you trying to tell me? What the hell is wrong with you?

“I finished,” he said in an acquiescent tone.

“Isn’t that the paper you were copying?” Ms. X asked unabashedly, having seen him cheating on it earlier when she perused the room making her list. She had commented to him about it then, but at that juncture, she was invisible to him. She had been nonexistent to most of them, as she lurked about scribbling the names of pupils eager to extricate themselves from impending retribution. Our future leaders, she noted.

Now this fellow was belatedly attempting to get his name on the hero’s list. He was altogether helpless and caught, and Ms. X felt his weakness but could conjure no sympathy and so she just looked at him and smiled. He shrugged, debased even further by the unsaid, and left.   


  Cult Illustration #14, ball point pen on paper, 11" x 8.5"


© 2017 Lea Atiq, all rights reserved