Shane said I needed to be more social, network with the other teachers. I told him it was pointless. Davenport Boys Academy didn’t appreciate unwarranted ambition. For now, I was happy to eat my lunch in the front office, talking to Martha. She was like my mother except I didn’t know her address.
“Siesta’s over,” she said. “Don’t leave the kids unattended. They devour their own.”
I chuckled and slipped my tuna-on-wheat back inside the brown bag. Shane insisted that he help out, no matter what the doctor said about easing back into minor physical activity. That afternoon, the district required all teachers show a safety video illustrating the difference between “good touch” and “bad touch.” Martha told me to brace myself for lewd comments.
“Kids aren’t kids anymore, Rand.” She pointed a sealed envelope at me. “You’re lucky to be a bachelor. I can’t imagine opening my front door and hearing silence.” She tossed the outgoing mail into a bin. “I hope Heaven is a quiet place.”
The kids hadn’t really clicked with me, and it was close to Halloween. I’m not sure what I expected. Miss Hall, who taught next door, believed their generation was ripe with autism, an army of social retards. Most days, I felt like a kennel proprietor, making sure one kid didn’t bite another and that they all got to the bathroom and looked presentable at dismissal. Playing the video, I could text Shane and chat with someone who experienced puberty. I’d forgotten to check my messages at lunch.
I stopped, the first boy in line colliding with me, when I heard a child’s screams piled over a woman demanding that he be still. Be still and it’ll be over! I feared the commotion might block our path to the classroom. My forehead grew moist and my pulse quickened. I knelt down to the kid that hit me; he was still rubbing his nose. I told him that he was in charge and asked the class to line up against the wall. They must wait either for myself or another teacher. Did they understand? They nodded, grunted, moaned, chirped—everything but actual speech.
Turning the corner, I found Miss Hall struggling with one of her second-graders. Miss Hall wore heavy makeup and pearls to class. She didn’t believe in wearing flats. I admired how ably she was staying upright in three-inch heels. It didn’t register why they were fighting until I saw the wooden paddle in her hand.
A few times after leaving the bar, Clayton contacted me, usually through Facebook, a few times through Adam4Adam and Manhunt. He called once. I left his messages unopened. I didn’t answer the phone unless I knew the number. Our paths were meant to part—it was the universe’s decision, not mine. I turned thirty that winter.
Every time Miss Hall aimed for the kid’s bottom, he jerked out of the way. I could’ve backed around the corner and pretended I didn’t see, but she spotted me. She thanked God and called me over; I had no choice.
“Grab his other arm,” she instructed, panting. “Get him by the shoulder.”
“Miss Hall, you know I don’t support corporal punishment.”
“And I don’t support standardized testing, but I do it anyway. Grab him, Rand!”
I hesitantly reached for the flailing boy. He was surely too young to experience pleasure from a spanking. I held him lightly at first, but his resistance forced me to tighten my grip.
Miss Hall and I pinned him against the yellow tile wall, his face mashed against it. Miss Hall asked if I wanted to get in a lick or two. I turned away and ignored that familiar tingling in my buttocks. I couldn’t look at Miss Hall. I knew she’d enjoy this.
She spanked him. She spanked him again. She spanked him until he cried out. It was over, and they still didn’t know anything about me. After thanking me, Miss Hall whooped with exhaustion. She shoved the boy, ordered him to return to class. Just before opening the door, he stuck out his tongue. “My daddy beats me harder than that!” Miss Hall brandished the paddle like a flyswatter, and the boy rushed inside. A rumble of voices echoed from behind the door.
Miss Hall smiled, twisted her pearls. “Guess you need a man sometimes, huh?”
“Yeah, I suppose.”
She punched my arm. “Shake it off.” She reached for the door. “I wish I could take that paddle to some of these parents. A lot of people need a good spanking.”
After firing up the computer and pulling down the screen, I opened the video file and collapsed behind my desk. Some teachers liked to hold a discussion before showing the film. I simply gave instructions to keep their eyes open and mouths shut.
Shane had left six texts, five of them within the last ten minutes. Blood raced through my veins, horrified that our arrangement had finally broken his spirit, left him mumbling in a corner, wondering why I hurt him if I truly loved him. I didn’t expect to read Clayton March’s name. At some point over the years, I told Shane about what happened at the bar. I even told him what happened at the day care over fifteen years ago. He nodded and offered compassion; that was all I had the audacity to seek. In a series of texts, Shane told me that Clayton had been attacked inside a client’s home. His head was bashed in. Apparently, he was a social worker. It was all over the daytime news. My lover begged me to call, his last text insisting we’d get through this.
You’re not alone, he wrote. You’ll always have me.
On the screen, a dumbass actor in a plush bear costume told the boys that a “bad touch” is when anyone fondles parts of your body covered by your swimsuit. I’d never thought of it that way—easy enough to remember. I didn’t recall what Clayton looked like, and I didn’t know which incarnation I should recall—the stern prepubescent teacher or the confused man who promised to pray for me. It wasn’t until the boys’ caterwauling reached ear-splitting level that I looked out onto the classroom. There is no mercy in this world.
Chet Bedlam had his uniform pants pulled down to his knees. He stood on a chair before the class, thrusting his hips back and forth while rotating left and right so every boy could see. His penis wiggled like a caught fish. He shouted “bad touch” over and over. Later, I wondered why he chose that phrase over “good touch.” He’d rendered both absurd.
I stormed to the front of the class and grabbed his arm. Chet twisted and yelped like a barnyard sow, but he couldn’t escape. I slapped his buttocks, slapped them till my hand burned. He just kept screaming. I finally stopped and sucked in some air, and he toppled from the chair, landing on his back. No one spoke, the plush bear’s singsong voice filling the room. Chet at last wailed, clutching his head as if it were filled with helium and ready to soar.
Chet tugged up his pants and crawled away. My class stared at me. So much fear in their eyes, I felt myself growing hard. I almost told them about my first bad touch, how much I liked it, how much I convinced a good boy to like it. Chet would tell his parents and that would be the end of me. Boys needed discipline, however, they needed rules. I had a unique perspective on the matter.