THE BAD STUDENT
1460 words by Stanley Lieber
I tear a sheet from my notebook. After some fidgeting I manage to produce a cigarette. I lean back against the concrete wall of the building, my rat-tail poking into the scruff of my neck. It's rather uncomfortable. There is a commotion from somewhere, over near the basketball courts. After a brief period of silence, the school bell rings. I curse, sub-audibly, taking my place in line. I'm careful not to crumple the cigarette as I conceal it within my sleeve.
Recess is over.
I'm antsy. I shift my weight from one leg to the other. This jostling brings to mind Frankie Willard, made to stand with both feet planted inside of a single tile on the floor. Punishment for having spoken out of turn. Frankie complained that because of his great size, he would surely topple over if he were not permitted to sway from side to side. The teacher sarcastically denied his request -- structural integrity be damned. No, Frankie would have to stand firmly within the square, maintaining his posture for the duration of the class. At the time, I too had regarded Frankie's claims as spurious. Does an office building need to sway from side to side? It seemed ridiculous. A man should be able to stand still.
Today I'm of a mind to view Frankie's situation in a different light. Standing still in this line is impossible. Despite myself, I've begun to sway from side to side. Fuck it, Frankie was right all along.
At the moment, no one is watching me. I disregard protocol and resume my cigarette. Smoke slinks from the burning cherry, a string of ten-dimensional nothingness. Or so I choose to perceive.
The boy in front of me rotates his head to an obtuse azimuth, asks to bum a cig. I am more than happy to oblige. From my pocket I produce two slender folds of paper, offering one to my companion. He's still in possession of the lighter I made for him, so we're all set. Good to go. From time to time, I'm happy to supply free product, as a short demonstration will often serve to spark demand. When one's business is illicit, establishing the perception of good-natured magnanimity is wise. Happy customers are quiet customers.
And quiet is a baseline necessity for my mission.
Just as the fresh cigarette taste is making itself apparent, our teacher pokes her head around the corner. She notices us stragglers, lately fallen away from the back of the line. She's displeased to note that we're still here, leaning up against the wall, each man enjoying an individual smoke. She approaches swiftly and proceeds to bend our ears. That's when she realizes who I am. Quite comically, this new awareness halts her scolding, mid-sentence. She directs the other boys back to the classroom and then turns to me, a stupid look on her face. She pulls me by my rat-tail into a deserted corridor. The contact is exhilarating.
I'm going to score.
The woman has been shooting me these kinds of looks all semester. A couple of times she's caught me adjusting my visor, straining to catch a peek through her blouse. Instead of voicing an objection she usually just smiles. It's crossed my mind that she may even fancy my attempts to look down her shirt. Consider: she's the only one of our first grade teachers who will wear shorts in summer. To my knowledge, this is technically against the rules. I turn these thoughts over in my mind, one after the other, as I consider my immediate future.
She tightens her grip on my shoulder.
I brace for a kiss.
Instead, she snatches the cigarette from my lips and sends it careening over her shoulder, skittering down the corridor. Well, that wasn't quite what I expected. I think to myself that it's convenient this corner of the building is devoid of traffic. Could she have planned our confrontation days, even weeks, in advance? Have things really progressed to that level? Gradually, the woman is drawing my attention to infinite new dimensions, threading my string through myriad vortices, the resulting matrix a blunt satire of our tessellating material realm. She's the teacher? I'm fit to burst.
She parts her lips as if to speak. Softly, softly.
This must be it.
"So. You believe that folding pieces of paper into the shape of a cigarette, then selling them to your classmates is a good way to make friends, Thomas?"
The tenderness I sensed only moments before is now vanished. She's trying her best to be stern. I can't say why, exactly, but this only excites me more.
"So far it seems to be working fine," I offer, straining, barely containing myself. "I have plenty of friends."
"I've seen you outside, pretending to smoke, for weeks now. The students here look up to you, and I'm disappointed in how you've chosen to repay that trust. I want you to think of how you're influencing them, Thomas."
"I'm not coercing anyone," I correct gently, so as not to rend the gossamer fragility of the moment. "I'm simply providing a service. There's an obvious demand and I'm only too happy to fill it. Surely you realize, this sort of equitable transaction is the very basis of our free economy, which ensures the continuity of --"
She kisses me.
I break free.
"-- the very continuance of our society."
She doesn't seem impressed with my argument.
From my jacket I produce a conspicuously pristine piece of equipment. The object fairly leaps from its place of concealment. She is somewhat startled, tries to mask her reaction, but the sudden adoration evident in her eyes will not be suppressed. Does she know what this is, then, after all? Removing her hand slowly from my own, I raise the object to my chest (her waist) and finger the switch that brings it to life. She jumps as a holographic image grows out of my palm. I have to adjust my visor again before I'm able to see it.
So, this is Prince Rogers Nelson. Not exactly an imposing figure, but in relation to his framing, here in my hand, it hardly matters. Reports indicate that my teacher is quite enamored with this miniature entertainer. By all rights he was a fine composer, but some say he actually considered himself to be the physical reincarnation of the Egyptian Pharaoh Ahkanaten. There was a spate of controversy around the time he decided to found his own religion.
The unexpected appearance of the tiny man seems to be doing the trick with my teacher. As PRN begins to vibrate, I angle him beneath her skirt.
"Just lay back," says Prince.
She does as he says.
While she is momentarily stunned, distracted, I remove the remaining contraband from my pockets, depositing several paper cigarettes onto the window ledge behind me. Shortly thereafter, the spring breeze carries them away, floating them ever downwards, towards the unnaturally green summer grass of the courtyard. All evidence of my wrongdoing thus disposed of, I snap closed my gadget and switch to manual, gazing deeply into my teacher's eyes as I finish her off.
She's some time in coming. But once sated, her body goes slack. At last, I relax my arm and place my hand on her exquisite breast.
To my great surprise, she recoils. It seems I have ventured too far. She smiles awkwardly and pushes me away, leans her head out of the window to see what I've been up to all this time she's been writhing under the ministrations of the holographic Prince. Her face shoots completely red, full of blood. The view from the window, of course, is unremarkable, but it's not the landscaping below that concerns her. She sees the paper cigarettes scattered about the courtyard and deduces that they must belong to me.
She begins to lecture me. Even these playthings, which are not real at all, still set a negative example for the other students. Such toys glorify the act of real smoking. I should have known better than to engage in this sort of thing while at school. The premises is also a commerce restricted zone, blah blah blah, etc. She is scrupulous to avoid any mention of her orgasm, though I sense the experience is still very much on her mind.
Overall, it proves to be a lackluster brow-beating. I consider the context of present events set against the larger backdrop of my mission and decide that her appraisal of my behavior is irrelevant. At twelve years of age, infiltrating the first grade has been a cakewalk. If this doesn't boost my grade average I don't know what will. I swear, I'm ready to graduate CU/FARLEY. Let's hope my father and the Chief see things my way.
I acknowledge her statements as I shove my hand into my pants and scratch my groin.
As we return to the classroom, I reach out to hold her hand.
I probably don't have to tell you that I use the same hand.