Chapter Description: Clark starts his day of "learning" in the Little's classroom.
Hand in hand in hand we walked out of the cafeteria and through the empty courtyard of Oakshire Elementary’s open campus. I grimaced with most every step. I’d never had to walk around with a messy diaper, but my head was on a swivel for other reasons besides the newfound mass in the back of my pants. There was still that lingering, gnawing fear at the base of my brainstem of being seen. One of my old students would walk by and notice me again; rubbing salt in the wounds of my soul.
Rationally speaking, I was likely drawing more attention to myself in the act of looking around. Rationally speaking, I needn’t have worried. It was only the second week of the school year, just after breakfast, and none of the other teachers were likely comfortable enough to allow their students to walk the campus. Even the safety patrols, those most responsible and privileged of teacher’s pets wouldn’t be allowed to run anything up to the front office past eight o’clock.
The only students not in their classrooms were the preschoolers that I used to teach. That damage had already been done.
I wasn’t rational, though. I was Alice through the mirror, in a world that looked so much like what I’d been used to but behaved so differently. That’s what I told myself, anyway, to help the shock. Rationally, I knew the world hadn’t changed. I was just on the wrong side of the wooden bars, now.
Didn’t stop my heart from pounding louder than my feet on the pavement.
“Awww,” Billy snickered behind me. “Wussa matta? Is the widdle baby sad cuz he’s got poopie in his pants?”
My nose wrinkled and my lip curled back into a snarl. Diaper shaming? Really? From a guy who shat himself moments after being seated? I really had fallen down a rabbit hole. “Says the guy who’s incontinent,” I hissed back over my shoulder.
I would’ve preferred to cuss the sonofabitch out, but I had the carrot of Cassie hanging over my head. I had to be ‘good’. Besides, I liked the word ‘incontinent’. It sounded smart. Sophisticated. Grown-up.
“Not incontinent,” bald headed Billy hissed back. “Just unpotty trained.”
“What’s the difference?”
Billy’s smile was not friendly. “You’ll figure it out, new kid.” I did not like the way that sounded.
Our waddling toddling parade of losers circled around the back of the building and Zoge opened the door to Beouf’s classroom, and held it open while we trudged inside. The handhold chain weaved itself out into a semi-circle near the whiteboard.
By our feet were tiny X’s. It didn’t take a genius to figure out what we were supposed to do. Nevertheless, I didn’t sit right down with the other Littles when Ivy and Billy released my hands.
The mush in my pants had already been spread around in my seat from the ordeal at breakfast. Sitting back down wouldn’t spread it more, at least not significantly. There was just something that I found repugnant about the idea of willfully sitting in my own filth: Like it was an admission of guilt or failure. Adults didn’t just willfully ignore what was going on in their pants.
“Ivy,” Beouf instructed a bit too late, “don’t sit down, yet. Go to your mommy in the bathroom.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Ivy stood up and did a curtsey. She peeled off and half-jogged to the bathroom like an excited child. Ivy was a ‘good girl’. Ivy got changed first.
“Don’t you sit down, either, Clark.” Beouf told me.
I felt a faint flicker of hope. Did that mean I was getting changed next? “Should I go wait by the bathroom door, or…?”
“No, no.” my former mentor told me. She took my hand and pulled me into the middle of the semicircle. I heard tapes being ripped off and amplified by the nearby bathroom walls. “Come here.”
My mouth went dry, and Beouf pivoted me to face the other Littles. “Boys and girls,” she said, “Class. We have a new student with us today. I thought before we started our morning meeting, we could take a minute and get to know him better.” She patted me on the shoulder. “Go ahead, Clark. Introduce yourself.”
I stood there, with at least seven pairs of unfriendly eyes staring back at me. Ivy being there wouldn’t have made me feel any better and I had no idea where I stood with Chaz. My mouth was dry and my pants were wet. I was acutely aware of the smell emanating from the back of me and I found myself with the most curious case of stage fright.
It was a nightmare. I was a teacher, even if I was unemployed, it was my job to be able to talk to people. I’d talked to kids every day as if it were the most natural thing in the world. These weren’t kids, just people being forced to play the part against their will. And they hated me.
“I’m Clark,” I said. My mind went blank. What else should I say? My age? My education level? Did any of my hobbies or adult life really have any bearing anymore? Would talking about it even help my case, either with Beouf telling Janet that I was ‘good’, or with my fellow ‘classmates’?
I shuddered a bit. There’s a reason why being called to the front of the class to give a report for a book you didn’t study is a near universal nightmare. The whole ‘pretend the audience is naked’ trick is a psychological trick to make the people judging you seem vulnerable and less threatening. They already looked plenty vulnerable sitting there, surrounding me wearing baby and toddler clothes. I’m pretty sure everyone save Ivy would have preferred to be in the nude.
“Go on,” Beouf patted me on the back. “Tell them more about yourself, Clark. You’ve got a room full of future friends who just want to know more about you.” A look on their collective mugs put the lie to that.
“Um…” I stopped and held my breath in anticipation. Ivy had come back. She skipped right over Billy and tapped a Little woman on the shoulder. The girl got up wordlessly and went to Mrs. Zoge by the bathroom’s changing table. They had a diaper changing order or something, and I wasn’t next. Ivy sat down in her spot, her criss-crossing legs not doing much to hide that her new diaper was pink. At least one of us was getting what they wanted…
Ladies first? Little who just got changed picks who’s next? A preselected order or rotation? It didn’t matter. I wasn’t getting changed next. Beouf and Zoge were probably going to make it so I was changed last; a petty bit of revenge for my stubbornness at breakfast or a way to condition me to getting used to staying in an unclean diaper.
I sighed. “I’m Clark,” I repeated.
“We know that,” Billy said back, sarcastically. “Duh.” That earned him a warning look from Beouf. Billy shrunk back down. Beouf still had her ‘teacher face’ down pat.
“I’m thirty-two years old,” I said. “I used to be a teacher here.” Another thing they already knew, but a way to test the waters.
“Clark…” Beouf said. She let my name hang in the air. A bit of warning; a bit of worry. Good Little dolls weren’t supposed to talk about their old life, evidently.
“I have a bachelor’s degree in elementary education with certification in that and early childhood education with ten years of experience and I used to be married.” That was stupid of me, I knew. I just wanted to say it out loud, though. To maybe get a bit of sympathy. To rub it in Beouf’s face of exactly what she was doing to me.
Speaking of rubbing, a massive hand gave me a firm pat on the backside. Not enough to hurt me. Not enough to even make a sound upon contact. Just enough to remind me which of us was ‘the teacher’ and which one was ‘the baby’. There was the line. I was on thin ice
My nostrils flared. “My favorite color is green…” I switched gears. “I like the Muffets, but not the Muffet Babies or Muffet Littles or whatever they’re called.” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a guy in shortalls; blue pinstripes and some cartoon animal on the bib obscured by his arms crossed over his chest. No one would mistake what he was wearing for anything ‘adult’.
I watched him roll his eyes as I talked and searched for words. I read his lips and heard him mutter. “Helper…”
“I am not a helper!” I didn’t raise my voice. I didn’t stomp my feet. I didn’t lose my temper. I didn’t ball up my fists. But I didn’t look away, either. I didn’t fucking blink.
I wasn’t a Helper. Some people reading this might disagree. I myself have waffled back and forth on it. But standing there in a fucking sailor suit and smelling like a baby, feeling as low as I’d ever felt gave a certain kind of clarity.
I never willingly helped the Amazons hurt Littles. I never told, nor tattled, nor set up someone who wasn’t already adopted to get snatched up. Did I go out of my way to empty the unjust playpens and melt the ball pits of tyranny in the world? No. Not that I didn’t want to. I just wasn’t in any kind of position to resist; just like a lot of us. Just like a lot of the people (I hope) who are reading this now.
“Huh? What?” Shortalls said. “I didn’t say you were.”
I didn’t reply. I didn’t argue. I didn’t break eye contact. The girl who’d just gotten changed came back and tapped the girl called Annie on the shoulder. Annie got up slowly, not quite wanting to miss the unfolding drama.
It might have been just but for a solid silent five seconds, I was standing in front of the class and had caught someone disrespecting me. For one twelfth of a minute I was still a teacher. Finally. He looked away and said “Sorry…”
“Clark?” Beouf asked. “What’s wrong with being a helper?”
I felt a heat on me and realized my mistake too late. Everyone but shortalls was staring. No more bored but contemptuous gazes and instead a mixture of outrage and fear. I’d let a bit of our lingo slip in front of the giants, broken some bit of unspoken prison code.
Whether or not Beouf already knew what the term meant when Littles used it was irrelevant. I’d let it slip that I knew about it. It would have been like telling her about a certain website or a certain style of party. Some things remained secret and sacred, even when they weren’t.
I looked up at the woman who’d first betrayed me. “Nothing, Mrs. Beouf.” I said. I smiled. It didn’t reach my eyes and I knew it. “I said heffer. I thought he called me a heffer. Like a cow. I’m self-conscious about my weight…” It was a flimsy lie at best. The kind a naughty child concocts when he has no other options.
A lightbulb! Change the subject! “I also like yoga,” I said to the rest of the class. “It’s good for my weight and I don’t have to wear tights like ballet.”
Warden Beouf wasn’t having it. “Jesse?” she said to shortalls. “What did you say?”
Shortalls looked to me and then to Beouf. More changing and cooing sounds echoed out from the bathroom before he responded. “I said he was a...heckler,” Jesse finally said. “He used to make fun of me. Before…”
Another paper thin lie. I held my tongue. For once I didn’t mind being accused of something I didn’t do. I looked at the other inmates. They seemed to be relaxing ever so slightly.
The teacher looked to her far left. “Ivy?” And just like that the tension ratcheted up a notch. “What does ‘helper’ mean?”
The most mind fucked out of everyone put her finger to her chin and I held my breath. “A helper is when you’re a good baby and you try to help the grown-ups as best you can, liiiiike when I bring my Mommy a new diaper when another baby is out, or when I’m going grocery shopping and not in the cart, but I get things on the bottom shelf so Mommy doesn’t have to bend over.”
Ivy shook her head. “I don’t think so.”
I tugged on Beouf’s pant leg. “Can I sit down...or get changed now...or...?” Even sitting in my own filth for another few minutes would have been preferable to the amount of attention I was getting.
A hand shot up. “I have a question!” It was Billy because of course it was. “For Clark!”
“Go ahead,” Beouf said.
“Who’s your Mommy or Daddy?” Billy asked. He looked at me. Unblinking. Staring me down.
This was a trap. I felt Beouf looming over me from behind. I swallowed my pride. “My Mommy’s name is Janet Grange. But I call her ‘Mommy’.”
Annie’s hand was next. She and Billy weren’t done trolling. “What kind of diapers does your Mommy put you in?”
I winced. This was a hazing; a reminder to themselves and to me that I wasn’t any better than them. Not anymore. “I’m wearing a Monkeez. I need to be changed.” My voice was level. Soulless. Let them get their jollies in.
“Wait..” A dark skinned woman who’d I’d later learned was named Mandy giggled. “You’re not potty trained? I thought I heard you crying at breakfast that you wanted to go potty.”
More sounds of diapers being changed. I didn’t even notice who’d switched out with whom. “I’m…” I chose my next words carefully, “...getting used to not being a big boy anymore.” I wanted to choke on the words just saying them.
“Do you wanna play on the playground later?”
“Yeah, Ivy. Sure.”
I looked up at Beouf. Had I danced enough? Said my lines to her approval? Apparently. “Good job, Clark.”
I started shuffling over to my ‘x’ on the floor. I barely noticed the feeling or smell anymore. “How’d they get you?”
It was Chaz calling out. I turned around. I looked the kid in the eye. And I lied. “Nobody got me. I went potty in my big boy pants and so the grown-ups figured out that I was really a baby pretending to be a big boy.”
Jesse looked up from the floor and uncrossed his arms. There was a blue elephant on the bib of his shortalls. “Me too,” he said.
Mandy nodded. “Me too.”
Billy didn’t say anything, but his stare wasn’t quite so intense or as mocking as it had been before.
We were all lying and knew it. I took a certain solace in that. A new ritual, perhaps. Then Ivy ruined it by missing the point and saying, “I was always a baby!”
I sat down and closed my eyes, grimacing to hide my distaste for the little mindfucked wretch. “Sure, Ivy. Sure.” I had enough to be disgusted by anyways.
Beouf took a seat on the floor, crossing her legs. “Okay, kids.” she said. “Time for circle time! Clap along with Miss B!”
The strangest thing had just happened: Everyone started clapping. And singing. Clapping and singing, and doing cutesy practiced hand motions. None of it was in any kind of language that I understood.
“Chō, chō ha ni tomaru,
Happa ni akitara sakura to asobu,
Sakura no hana no ue de,
Teishi shite saisei shite saisei shite teishi!”
Not speaking a lick of Yamatoan, I had absolutely no idea what it meant. It could have been a morning greeting song, or a remixed lullabye, or a foreign radio jingle for all I could tell. But everyone else was singing it. They knew the lyrics if not the language.
Beouf didn’t speak a lick of Yamatoan as far as she’d told me, and so I assumed she was singing it phonetically. Of course, there’d been lots that she hadn’t told me. All I could do in that moment was sit there in my messy pants and observe.
I started to itch just thinking about it. I did my best to ignore how disgusting I was and focus on the singing and the accompanying hand signs. Or is that what Beouf and Zoge wanted me to do: To deaden my disgust and become fascinated by foreign nursery songs from a land where everyone my height was confined to a cradle?
It didn’t matter. There wasn’t much else I could do. I admit I didn’t think of Cassie; mostly because I didn’t want to imagine her looking at me in my present state. Besides, there was no backing track and no video so it couldn’t have been hypnosis. Not in the typical sense.
The second song seemed to be about the weather...or maybe it was the Yamatoan alphabet? A circle and a semi-circle hand could have been an ‘o’ and a ‘c’. Then again, it could have been a sun and a moon. I wasn’t sure. Did Yamatoa even use the same alphabet as us? I didn’t think so. Maybe it was about shapes.
The next song might have been about body parts or colors. People kept pointing to different clothes. Maybe it was about clothing? Hard to tell.
The third one was definitely about animals. That’s how I learned that not even onomatopoeias were universal. I saw fingers used to simulate horns and noses pushed up to be snouts, but heard nary a ‘moo’ or an ‘oink’.
The whole thing was mystifying in a sense, and I suspected that was the point. How easy it would have been to become conditioned by all of it. New rituals. New routines. New culture. Different language.
“You’ll get the hang of it eventually,” Mrs. Beouf said to me with a smile and an overly friendly wink. I had the strangest feeling that she wasn’t just talking about circle time.
The next song started, and I was caught off guard when two hands scooped me up under the armpits. “Omutsu o kōkan suru toki ga kimashita.” Zoge had finished changing Chaz and was now picking me up. I’d been so preoccupied trying to suss out the meaning of the songs that I’d become otherwise oblivious.
“Is everything here in Yamatoan?” I asked once we were almost in the bathroom. A silly question. I’d walked into Beouf’s room enough times to know that this wasn’t a language immersive classroom. The question was more of a way to inoffensively make my displeasure known.
Zoge laid me down on the changing table, pulled the restraint over my chest and slipped my pants right off me. The elastic waistband and the wide leggings made it so my shoes stayed on. “Just in case you wiggle. I don’t want your nice white shorts to get dirty.”
Great. She was ignoring my pointless question. Typical.
The door was left open. Always open. That way any administrator or Amazonian adult could peek in and see that the Little on the changing table wasn’t being abused by their caregiver behind a closed door. At least not abused in a way Amazonian society didn’t approve of.
It was very likely that the last time that bathroom had offered any form of actual privacy to its occupant was two weeks prior when I’d had my close call during teacher pre-planning. I didn’t know when it had served that function before or it likely wouldn’t be serving that function again for a long time.
Shit. Had it only been two weeks ago...?
“Let’s clean the baby up,” Zoge cooed at me while she pulled at the tabs on my absolutely putrid padding.
I kept my mouth shut and made the mistake of staring up past the cooing and smiling face directly above me. I saw myself in the ceiling mirror, again. I still looked like every bit like a baby. More so with a brown lumpy smear in my diaper and a sailor suit top just above.
The reflection did more than to hammer home how the giants now saw me. It also caused me to well...reflect: When you’re an adult, there’s something that feels fundamentally off about laying down and getting your ass wiped for you.
I stopped staring at my privates and found myself staring more and more at my hands of all things. What did I do with my hands? If I had been allowed the simple autonomy to bend over, I could have at least rested them on my knees. What now?
Looking in the mirror, leaving them by my side felt awkward for some reason. I tried crossing my arms, but the mirror showed me just looking like a sulking child, to be taken no more seriously than pouting Jesse in his shortalls. I put them behind my head but that looked like I was luxuriating as the old diaper was disposed of and its replacement unfolded. Resting them on my stomach just looked compliant and comfortable, something I was decidedly not. Pulling on the straps would have been an exercise in futility besides being definitively ‘bad behavior’.
My pulse quickened as my frustration built. I couldn’t stop looking at myself! It was either look at my own bum as Zoge’s gloved fingers dipped in a jar of rash cream and spread them on my cheeks, cooing at me in a foreign language, or cover my face in shame...which of course would have been interpreted as me playing peekaboo. I was too wound up to close my eyes.
The thought of Mrs. Zoge dangling plastic keys over my head and me gleefully reaching up just to keep my digits busy bust into my brain. I curled up one knuckle and bit down as hard as I could just to chase the terrible thought out. “Do you want a pacifier?” Shit! I should have seen that coming.
She finished by powdering me and taping the new Monkeez on. “Mrs. Beouf told me a few things over the weekend,” she said to me. “I bet it’s much easier having a grown-up change you than having to hide it and try to change yourself.” She gave the front of my diaper a pat. “Don’t worry. Ivy went through a similar phase.”
I ground my teeth and grumbled, “I bet Ivy did…”
Zoge ignored my mumbling, and tossed her gloves in the diaper pail. She booped me on the nose and said. “All done! I love you!”
I wrinkled my nose as if the phrase was equally foreign coming from her as any number of Yamatoan nursery rhymes.. She loved me? Yeah….no thank you. Needless to say, I did not say ‘I love you’ back.
The restraint came off and I was quickly scooped back up onto Zoge’s hip. Alarm bells started ringing in my head Zoge hadn’t put my pants back on! “What about my-?” I started to ask.
“We’re not going back outside until lunch,” Ivy’s Mommy told me. “I’ll change you right before we go to the cafeteria and put them back on, then.” Then she added. “If you need it.”
So it was either let myself be paraded around pantless or give up on holding it in until at least after lunch. There went any delusions of me having the slightest choice this day.
Zoge sat me down on my feet back in the semi-circle she’d plucked me up from. My hairless legs were exposed down to my socks and the white and navy trimmed shirt barely skimmed the top of my diaper. Foolishly, I yanked down the front, even though I knew it would accomplish literally nothing in terms of modesty. At least I’d found something to do with my hands...
A few of the girls looked at each other knowingly, and giggled behind their palms. A few of the boys, too. They’d all been there. We’d all been here. “You look very cute, Clark.” Mrs. Beouf said once I’d sat down. “And I bet that new diaper feels a lot better, too.”
I reeled inside and failed to contain the shades of pink blossoming all over my body. “Yes, ma’am.” This was how Beouf must work: Keep her students off balance. Shake our worldview. Keep us disoriented so we compromise themselves again and again and again until ‘compromised’ becomes the new normal.
“We’re going to break into our center rotations and use our visual schedules.” Beouf told all of us. “Ivy? Can you show Clark how to use his visual schedule?” Ivy nodded and then grinned at me. “Okay everyone. Let’s go!”
I got up from the floor and tugged my shirt down. It was stupid but it made me feel better. “Come on, Clark,” Ivy said, gently but firmly tugging at my wrist. “This way!”
I started to follow and then stopped as the fresh crinkle of the new diaper slapped my earbuds. “Fuck,” I whispered to myself. “I just accidentally thought of us as students…”