Leave Those Kids Alone - Short #1

Chemistry class. We file in, ties loosened, shirts untucked, more interested in punching each others’ shoulders than in anything this dusty old formaldehyde-soaked room has to offer. The girls watch and “tsk” at our pointless displays of mid-adolescent masculinity.

Mr Driver ushers us in with a sneer, the invisible telltale fume of his last cigarette hanging in the air around him. “Come on, hurry up. Sit.”

By the time we’re seated and ready, Driver is scribbling furiously and nearly incomprehensibly on the blackboard...

Mg + O2 = MgO

“Magnesium. Oxygen. Put them together, one bright flash, and metal becomes powder. What kind of reaction is this?” He waits a moment, then points. “You. Peter. Tell me.”

Peter looks up, bewildered for a moment, then smiles: “An overreaction.” The class quietly snickers.

Driver throws his chalk on the floor. “Come here,” he says, every inch of his body a scowl. Peter puts his pen down and slowly shuffles his way to the front of the class.

“You think this is funny.” He pushes Peter so hard he stumbles backward, barely keeping himself on his feet. “You think it’s easy coming here every day,” – he pushes Peter again – “putting up with you bloody kids, never listening, never doing your homework, always talking back.” With this last he shoves Peter violently against the opposing wall. Peter catches and rights himself and then launches his body directly at Mr Driver, grabbing him around the neck and head with both arms. The two struggle furiously against each other as they take turns trying to bring each other down.

The class is frozen in existential panic. Do we intervene? Should we get someone to help? What are a bunch of jaded and underperforming students in a grubby, second-rate senior school supposed to do when the order breaks down? Nobody taught us these things.

Peter and Driver finally collapse to the floor in a tangle of hair and spit and untucked sweaters. Peter gets back on his feet first, yanking Driver’s tie up and over his head in one smooth and final motion. He throws it at Driver in disgust, walks back over to his seat without a word or a look at any of his classmates, grabs his books and his bag, and walks out of the classroom.

Driver stands, breathing heavily, the threads of his mousegray combover pointing comically upward. The rest of us slowly remember to breathe again while he gathers himself in silence. Finally, he picks up the chalk from the floor before turning to the class:

“This never happened,” he rasps.