Cult Illustration #59, 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 Literature. Hercules. One last class for the substitute and then she could go home. They came in as quickly as they left, a confusion of young pretty faces, of body odors and perfumes, of colorful clothes infused with the stale smell of home. Voices of all hues rose and fell, books cracked as they were slammed on desks, the door swung back and forth, hitting the stopper with a loud thud. Unspoken conclusions hung in the air, spurned by a quick look at Ms. X. The bell rang and as things settled down, there were rumors of an assembly in the cafeteria. Ms. X was told by a friendly girl that there would be an announcement and then they would have to leave. Ms. X was skeptical.

They began reading Hercules and all seemed to be going relatively well when a buzz happened and a nervous female voice entered the classroom over the PA system, calling the students to a choral assembly in the cafeteria. The kids jumped out of their seats and called to each other anxiously. Ms. X was so relieved she barely remembered to be cautionary, as was her habit, especially when a reprieve was at hand. Randomly, in a high-pitched voice, she called above the din of uprooted students, asking what they should do with their book bags, take them with, or leave them in the room? It was determined that they should take them to the assembly and Ms. X felt even more relaxed knowing that they would be gone for good and she could straighten the room, leaving everything orderly for Ms. Boyer. That was one of the rules outlined in her Substitute Teacher’s Manual – everything must be cleaner than it was when you entered! At least, she remembered it that way, even if it didn’t sound right. Perhaps that was one of the trick questions on her Substitute Teacher Assessment, that cruel test that was mandatory if one was to keep this god-awful-job.

The students filed out like ants and Ms. X was alone and happy it was over. She sat at Ms. Boyer’s desk and carefully composed a letter describing the day. Slowly and deliberately, she erased the chalk board. She lugged heavy literature books and various dictionaries back to their places on the shelves, arranging them perfectly. She aligned desks and picked up crumpled papers. She looked at the clock and seeing there were still 20 minutes left of class, she wondered how it would be if she stole out to her car and got a head start before all the buses and parents and nannies came to pick up the masses. Was it unethical? Shouldn’t she at least check with the office?

She decided to wander out in that direction. She glided through the hallways and heard singing ahead. She slowed as she neared the darkened cafeteria entrance where her contact person, the sub coordinator, stood with a number of other women who appeared to be in charge. All these women looked the same to Ms. X, physically stout, closely clipped and dyed hair, dress slacks, blouses, and rather large plastic-rimmed glasses. One turned and looked Ms. X square in the face and then took a step forward into a beam of light. Yes, that was her. Ms. X approached, feeling uneasy for some reason and not knowing exactly what to say.

“My class is in here,” Ms. X whispered as her mind’s eye took in the happy children on the spot-lighted stage, singing and swaying with surprising ease, nothing like their stunted classroom personas. 

“You left them alone?” the woman gasped.

And in that instant Ms. X knew that she had broken a cardinal rule, yes, she had left them alone for  half an hour. They could have raped or strangled one another in that time, or poisoned the weird kid. Had she been present, she would at least be able to identify the little bastards. And if she did not see who did what to whom, her expert testimony would definitely be needed. She could make something up and it would not be questioned at all because the adults were always right, unless of course, they were the perpetrator, then they were always wrong. This school district had had their share of perps, sexual offenders mostly, found guilty for the first time, allowing them to escape detection with the mandatory background check (illustrating the effectiveness of that measure).

To get through the doors of a school, one had to be finger printed and back ground checked for any offense, save speeding tickets. Yet they hadn’t even googled Ms. X’s name!

Standing in front of these respectible women, she was speechless, aghast at what she perceived as her execution, or at least her expulsion from the ranks of the Substitute Teacher Class. Frozen, the only gesture she could produce was an ignorant frown.

“You left them alone?” the woman repeated in utter disbelief.

“Well.” Ms. X stammered, “I had to put some books away . . . .” and then she peered into the darkened cafeteria at the silhouettes of seated students, their backs to her, all silent and held rapt by the dancing costumed kids on stage. “I’m here”. 

“Do you know where they are?”

“I’ll find them.”

Ms. X slowly entered the cafeteria, ashamed, hot, sweating profusely, frightfully aware that she would have great difficulty locating her class and that all her instinctual powers would need to be employed if she were to right this wrong. Near the very back, she slowly stepped into the isle between two columns of picnic style lunch tables. The kids on stage were performing well, she knew it, but she could not concentrate on them, at all. She studied the backs of kids, the colors and patterns of clothing, the sizes of bodies, she knew that they would be a bit smaller since they were seventh graders.

The woman approached her from behind and hissed in her ear,

“Don’t go down the isle, it will disturb the performance!”

Ms. X felt this an odd thing to say at this point, considering their lives “were in danger”, but she acknowledged it, with false deference. Ambling to the far right side of the cafeteria, furthest from her protagonist, Ms. X took note of all the other teachers who were dutifully standing on the sides of the darkened room watching both the performance and their clutch of kids. By using all her intellectual faculties and eye for detail, Ms. X determined that several of her periods that day were selected to participate in this special concert. Some kids acknowledged Ms. X, waving slightly and nodding. This happened quite often when Ms. X subbed. After meeting certain kids once in the classroom, they were her fast friends but now it became a liability, confusing Ms. X, calling her attention from one table to another, deepening her frustration. Ms. X studied the various kids, trying to find something recognizable, some distinguishing feature that would alert her to the whereabouts of her 6th period class. A girl on the end of a bench looked up and Ms. X knew the face but couldn’t quite place it.

“Are you in Ms. Boyer’s class?” she whispered


“Sixth period?”

“No, 5th.”

Any hope of pulling off a smooth transition from a failed teacher to a good teacher slipped from her grasp. She feigned nonchalance and walked slowly to the back and over to the far left side of the cafeteria, straining her eyes and straining her mind, feeling that soon she would have to make another move, but where? Suddenly the cadre of women in charge, who all looked the same, began nervously tapping the shoulders of teachers and commanding them to retreat to their classrooms. The lights were abruptly flipped on. Everyone blinked under the bright beams and the singing students trailed off. Somewhere in her deep subconscious Ms. X felt it inappropriate to treat art this way, especially the art of youngsters, but her immediate thoughts were still in a baser kind of animal mode. Ms. X watched as tables were called quickly and orderly from the rear, one after another, and kids began to scramble out of their blissful mood, like ducklings stirred by the emergency call of mother duck. Studying the language of the mob, Ms. X saw at once that one mother duck was commanding two broods. Instinctively, that duck turned and spied Ms. X from across the room and so Ms. X sprang into action, finding herself in the center isle, surrounded by students who milled past her, loud and soft voices, all muddled and laughing.

“Here we are!”

called out a boy with dark hair and dark laughing eyes. He was her savior.  Ms. X began to move with him, following him. She felt herself a small sized bird compared with her fellows, and in thought too she was smaller than them. Chagrined, she trailed along.

In the evening, home with her vodka and orange juice, Ms. X would find little energy to do anything but watch TV and this was done for only about an hour before she dozed off. She couldn’t afford cable TV so she settled for public television. In her delirium between sleep and reality she would get annoyed at the piping exaggerated voices which she perceived to be children shouting in the classroom. And she would startle awake, angry to find an intelligently dressed man speaking politely with his co-host.


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


© 2017 Lea Atiq