Chapter Description: Near the end of his first week in the Littles' class, Clark gets introduced to a new class wide pasttime.
“Pssst” Tommy whispered to me on our way out of the cafeteria after breakfast. “Clark.”
I snapped out of my haze and pivoted sideways as much as I could look at Tommy while still being forced to hold Ivy’s hand. “What?”
Unbelievably, I was more than slightly hungover and had been debating whether or not to go in my pants now or hold it till after Circle Time on the off chance that it would be an annoyance to Beouf and Zoge. My stomach made it very clear that it might not give me the choice. A baby wipe was starting to look awful good just then…
“It’s Why Day,” Tommy hissed.
“No,” Tommy repeated himself. “Why Day!”
Did Amazon grade booze affect listening comprehension too? “What?”
“Just watch and go with it,” Tommy said. “Oh, and don’t tell Ivy.”
I blanched. “Why?”
“That’s the spirit, dude!”
The real spirit beame crystal clear during Circle Time. Beouf had elected to do diaper duty and Zoge was in front of the class and ready to roll. “Alright boys and girls, let’s start off this Friday right!” Sandra Lynn’s hand shot up into the air. “Yes, Sandra Lynn? Do you want to be changed next?”
A bit of snickering floated into the air.
Zoge seemed slightly confused. “Why what?” She was still using her gentle, musical ‘talk to babies’ voice. “Why would you want to be changed next or…?”
“Whyyyy….” Sandra Lynn froze. “Can’t we go to the playground instead?”
“It’s not time to go to the playground,” Zoge said.
From her place on the floor, Shauna raised her hand. “Why?”
It clicked right there. I had had students in the past who pushed boundaries by saying “Why”. Said, not asked. The point wasn’t to find out ‘why’, the point was to stall; to make the teacher talk more than you and to talk about what you wanted to talk about, or to prevent them from teaching. I’d seen plenty of three and four year olds do it before. I’d heard stories of third and fourth graders resorting to it, too. Never though, had I seen a planned massive ‘group why’.
This is what happened when you grouped people aged not quite twenty to almost forty together and treated them like children.
“We have a schedule,” Mrs. Zoge kindly explained. Patient. Too patient. Cultural bias, perhaps? Maybe a language barrier? I’d have shut this down right away if not ignored it. “Right now, our schedule says we should be doing Circle Time so we can start our day off right.”
Jesse took the lead “Why?”
Before he could be answered, Zoge came out of the bathroom. “Clark, you’re up.”
Jesse redirected his question to Mrs. Beouf. “Why?”
“I’m not answering that,” Beouf responded. Yup. Beouf was wise to it. Damn, I hated that I still respected her on some level.
I waddled toward her and she took me into the bathroom. As if by magic, my shortalls became a dress when Beouf quickly unbuttoned them and slid the hem up over my still dry and clean Monkeez. “Oops!” Beouf said. “Not yet Sorry, hun..” I saw myself wince in the ceiling mirror. The illusion of anything covering or secure was shattered with my ‘pants’ so far up above my waist and my diaper so easily accessible. For supposed ‘underwear’, diapers didn’t stay under much.
“Maybe not long though….” Beouf brought me out of my padded naval gazing.
Outside the bathroom, the others were drilling Zoge mercilessly.
“Guys?” Ivy asked. “Why do you keep asking that?”
Beouf started buttoning me back up. “Ugh,” she huffed. “‘Why Day.’” She rolled her eyes as she reassembled the illusion of privacy and personal agency that were my clothes. “Not even two weeks in and they’re doing Why Day…” Like any kid tradition, the adults were more than aware of what was happening and seemed to barely tolerate it.
“Jesse,” she called out of the bathroom. “Come on, baby boy. Diaper time.”
Chaz was close to giggling like an idiot. “Why?”
Mrs. Beouf stepped out of the bathroom. “Mrs.Zoge?”
“Yes, Mrs. Beouf?”
“It seems like our little ones are full of ‘Whys’ today.”
“It would appear so, Mrs. Beouf.”
“Almost like it was a Why Day.”
“Now that you mention it, Mrs. Beouf, I think the Little ones might be playing Why Day with us.”
There was a quiet but collective gasp from the others, punctuated by Ivy asking, “What’s Why Day?”
The Amazons went on without her. “What are we going to do about this, Mrs.Zoge?”
Zoge tapped her chin in mock thoughtfulness. “I think that if our students have so many ‘questions’ about the playground, then maybe we should take the time to answer those questions instead of going to the playground.”
“I think that’s a very good idea, Mrs. Zoge,” Beouf continued on with the script. “I think that if too many Little boys and girls decide to ask ‘Why’ without really meaning it, then the whole class is gonna lose playground time at the end of the day.”
Nine sets of teeth clicked together in silence. “Go on Clark and sit down, I’ll check you later big boy.” Big boy? Eight pairs of eyes honed in on me and concentrated. “Jesse, come on.”
Jesse walked past me and shot me a case of stink eye.
I went back to the circle, my stomach twisting itself in knots due to nerves instead of tequila. I’d already done the social calculus: My classmates thought that Why Day was a secret trolling tactic, Beouf just flaunted that it wasn’t. I was the new guy who’d just been trusted with it and Beouf revealed what she already knew just after taking me into the bathroom. The very Helper-ish nickname of ‘big boy’ was the nail in the coffin.
“What?” I said. “I...I didn’t need changing yet…” I sat down, not even believing myself.
Zoge started leading the same songs we had sung every day that week. The songs were so ingrained in just about everyone’s skulls, they were able to multitask by singing along and shooting me dirty looks every chance they got. If looks could kill, I’d be shoved into that bug zapper again and left there until my skin peeled off.
I started clutching my stomach and rocking a bit to hold it in and distract myself. Besides the usual reasons an otherwise healthy thirty-something wanted to fill the back of their pants, the mob that might just form while I was being cleaned up gave me extra pause.
The worst luck of the draw, and I’d lost any momentum I’d gained in making connections with people who might talk to me like I was halfway myself. Things had reset back to Monday. Further back, even! On Monday I was the former collaborator. Today, in their eyes I was just a snitch. Whether on the prison or the playground, snitches didn’t get much; certainly not allies. At least I’d still have Ivy…?
I shivered from all the cold shoulders bumping me. Chaz’s lip turned up in disgust crawling by me. I took my token over to Mrs. Beouf’s teacher table, clenched my cheeks and sat down. This was going to be a miserable day that might just spiral into a more miserable everything. I hadn’t even thought I could go lower.
“Hello, Ivy! Hello, Clark!” Mrs. Beouf chirped, taking her seat and gathering her materials; likely another cognitive dissonance inducing. If a Little could justify how an apple and an orange were essentially the same thing, they could be taught to justify how their age could be measured in years and still be treated as if it were counted in months.
“Hi Mrs. B!” Ivy said back. “Ready to play?” Leave it to Ivy to talk to the Amazons in their own patronizing patois and unironically.
Beouf seemed pleased. “Just about, Ivy. All I need to do is shuffle.”
I reached forward for the deck of flashcards. “I’ll help!” Who knows. Maybe I could make ‘Whoops’ a thing.
Beouf cradled the cards away from me. “No thank you, Clark. Unless you want the mittens back.”
I brought my hands back to my stomach. “No ma’am.”
An audible scoff behind me. Damn. That hadn’t been the way to build back any good will. I stopped focusing on what Beouf was or wasn’t saying. All the social capitol I’d built up over the past week was being undone by a misconception.
I had no idea how to fix it, either.
I started grimacing to myself. I couldn’t be alone. I wouldn’t be able to handle it. This place day after day after day? With no one besides Ivy, Beouf, and Zoge to talk to? They wouldn’t need New Beginnings to break me, just isolate me from all the other people that saw me as a person.
“Mrs. Beouf,” Ivy asked. “Why can’t we go to the new playground in the morning?”
Unlike Sandra, Ivy was legitimately curious.
Beouf prepared to deal out the game cards. “Let’s not worry about the past or the future and just have some fun in the here and now.”
This was my chance. The others wanted to see that I wasn’t a snitch or a collaborator? Their memories had been that short? Fine. I’d show them. I’d show them good.
“Why?” I said to Beouf. “About the playground, I mean.” I didn’t yell, but it was nothing like a whisper.
Beouf shot me a questioning look. “Clark?”
I gestured over to Ivy. “For Ivy of course.” I said. “I think it’s an honest question. Why can’t we go out to the playground in the middle of the day?”
The more experienced teacher adjusted her glasses. “Because our playground time is at the end of the day, not the beginning,” Beouf said. “It’s our schedule, and keeping to a schedule is important.”
I looked at the timer on the wall. How long could I keep this up and how many people would notice? The other inmates wanted Why Day but only wanted to say ‘why’? Amateurs. I might not make it the whole day, but I could stretch it out. More to the point, I could make a scene. Clock started. Game on.
“Is it?” I countered innocently enough. “Doesn’t research show that children learn better when they’re actively engaged? Why not help with our collective learning by letting us learn through our interests?’
I started turning in my seat, half gesturing to the others. Heads were starting to turn.
“Research shows that children need structure and routine,” Beouf was still prepping the latest cognitive dissonance-inducing propaganda disguised as a flashcard game. Correction, not prepping; more like absentmindedly shuffling while she tried to placate me.
An errant thought: Was I getting more patience because of how long Melony had known me?
“How’s that?” I pressed. I already knew the answer, obviously. This time one week ago I was still a fairly well read educator. But the answer was not the point.
Beouf gave me the answer I knew she would. “Because kids learn better when they know what’s going to happen. It’s easier to play Hide and Seek when you already know the rules.”
That got Ivy’s attention in the wrong way. “Hide and Seek?”
Beouf started trying to deal out the flashcards. “Speaking of ga-”
I cut her off. Loudly. “Is that so?” Her answer made sense, but I wasn’t interested in understanding the world around me. “We need structure? Repetition?”
“Tommy, eyes to yourself.” Zoge said.
Beouf was trying to regain control. “Yes. Now-”
“Why can’t we do the game we did on Monday?” I interrupted again. “I liked that game.” A lie, but arguing in bad faith doesn’t require you to tell the truth.
“That was Monday. Today’s Thursday.”
Zoge stopped to redirect. “Shauna? Billy? Don’t look over there. Annie…” I didn’t need to look around. I knew who they were looking at.
“Oh,” I feigned understanding. “So we’re going to play that game every Monday and this one every Thursday?”
“I thought routine and structure was important.” I put on my best confused face; the polite and well meaning one I had mastered dealing with Brollish and a million others just like her. “Do you mean that only some structures and routines are important?”
“Yes, Clark.” Beouf replied. She was getting impatient. Almost snippy. Had to keep it going. Had to keep Beouf talking.
New tack. “Or do you mean that there’s a... like a…” I patted my leg as if I was trying to find the right words. Accurate emotionally, but my definition of ‘right’ likely contrasted from Beouf’s. “Like, there’s a framework, but room for variation? Like jazz?”
Beouf paused and her demeanor became more pleasant. “Yes, actually.” She thought I was learning! Got her!
I was tempted to follow up with ‘Who decides?’ and add in a good old fashioned ‘Whyyyyyy?’ but a direct challenge to Beouf’s authority would get me shut down. Instead I chose, “How do you decide?”
Ivy was looking back and forth at us like she was watching an expert tennis match. Really, this was more of a verbal sparring match, and I was boxing way outside of my weight class due to authority.
“Can we play the game now?” Ivy asked. Her voice was steadily rising with impatience.
Idea! Opportunity! I pivoted in my seat and looked at Ivy. “Is it a good game?” I asked her.
Ivy nodded enthusiastically. “Uh-huh! Let’s play! I’ll teach you!”
“Better than the one where I beat you?” I clamped down so hard on my tongue so hard it was in danger of bleeding just to keep from smiling.
“You didn’t beat me!”
“Are you sure?”
Beouf “Clark, why don’t we play a new game? Then you can see who does really well.” Nice redirection, I thought. Now for one of my own.
“Mrs. B,” I pressed, “Who won on Monday; me or Ivy?” I put her in the middle of it, when by all reasonable estimates she’d already put that snippet of Monday out of her mind.
Ivy stood up out of her chair and raised her hand. “Me-me-me-me-me!”
Beouf was beginning to show the first signs of being well and truly flustered. “I don’t think of it in those terms, Clark. I think of it as an opportunity to learn-”
“Like what?” I started to stand out of my chair but another cramp forced me back down on my ass. A diaper change would be a great way to get me shut down. “What are we going to learn?”
Beouf made a lowering motion with her palms. “Hold on, hold on, no need to get ahead. Ivy, go ahead and sit down.“
Like a good girl, Ivy sat right down. Me? “Can I play standing up?” I asked. Knees shaking, I stood up. Any moment now my body would start pushing on its own. I was fighting two battles at once and no realistic chance of winning either.
There was such a thing as a moral victory.
“Turn around, Mandy.” I still had an audience.
“How about we just sit down?” Beouf was getting frustrated. Nice.
I pressed my own agenda. “What will that accomplish?” Beouf was dealing out the cards and no longer waiting. I was losing her. The baiting could only go so far. “Mrs. Beouf? Mrs. Beouf?” I would not be ignored. “Mrs. B.? Beouffy? Beouf?”
“Clark, I need you to sit down so that I can teach.” She was doing her best not to feed into me.
“Why do you need that? I can be quiet and pay attention while standing up.”
Beouf avoided eye contact and just kept dealing cards. “Because unless all students are sitting down, my head will explode.”
My face contorted, and not because of what my insides were threatening “What?”
“If you don’t sit down,” Beouf repeated herself, “My head will explode. It’s a teacher thing.”
I opened my mouth to argue the absolute absurdity of that. No one with any common sense would think that! Not even someone as far gone as Ivy! Instantly, my brain generated a dozen counter arguments and I almost started to give them.
Instinct kicked in! This was a trap! Don’t debate on her terms!
“Oh yeah,” I said. “Exploding teacher head syndrome. I used to get that all the time.” I looked Beouf directly in the eye as I ‘yes anded’ her. “Mine always grew back after a second. My students loved it. Does yours not grow back?”
Frozen there in her chair, I saw the slightest hint of anger from the woman. Considering everything I knew about her, that likely meant that her head did feel like it was on the verge of spontaneous combustion. “No, Clark.” she said. “Mine doesn’t grow back.”
“How do you know it’s going to happen if it’s never exploded?” If smiles could kill, Beouf would have been a dead woman.
Fuck it. Prepare for killshot. “Whyyyyyy?”
Beouf huffed for a second and closed her eyes. When they opened, I knew that this round of my new game was over. “Clark. Sit down.”
“I don’t argue with my children,” she replied flatly. “You can either sit down at the table and play this game with me and Ivy, or you can sit in Time Out.”
I jolted a bit. Time out? Pushing Beouf far enough to where she’d send me back to my old classroom?! The sensible part of me was terrified at the prospect of seeing yet another aspect of my world turned on its ear. The reckless nihilist in me was cackling in delight that it was this easy to push Beouf’s buttons. Guess which part was winning?
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the timer. Had I really been keeping this charade up that long? “How long do I have to choose?”
“Choose now, or I’m choosing for you.”
I put a slight tremble into my voice. “Are you gonna be mad at me if I make the wrong choice?”
Beouf started to shake her head. “This isn’t about me being…” she stopped herself, wise to my ploy. “Clark. Choose.”
BEEP BEEP! BEEP BEEP! BEEP BEEP!
The timer went off!
I stepped out from my chair and pushed it in. “New center! Gotta go check the schedule like a good-!”
“Clark.” Beouf was around the table and picking me up. “You’re done. My choice.”
“Why? I didn’t do anything!” A blatant lie but if it could work for politicians...
“You know what you were doing.”
Truth. “What’d I do?!”
Instead of carrying me through to my old classroom, she took me over to her desk and dug out a tiny yellow footstool. She plopped me right down on top of it. “Stay,” she said, like I was a naughty puppy.
“I’m just aski-”
I settled. “I’m just trying to learn,” I insisted. When you lie, lie big. “Why are you being so mean?”
She put the pacifier Janet had clipped onto the bib of my shortalls that morning up to my mouth. “Open up.”
I moved my head to the side so that I could squeak out, “Is it a gag?” Another question that I already knew the answer to. Of course it wasn’t a gag.
“Open up,” she repeated. An involuntary moan of pain gave Beouf the opening she needed. The bulb entered my mouth and I didn’t even have to wait to be told to close down. “Don’t spit it out. Don’t talk. Just sit there. You can suck it if it helps calm you down.” She turned her back to me. “Mrs. Zoge, can you see Clark where he’s sitting?”
“Yes, Mrs. Beouf.” Zoge wasn’t the only one.
“If you see his pacifier out or his mouth or him trying to get up before it’s time.” Inwardly, I smirked. What was she going to do? Tell Janet? Big whoop. I already knew she wasn’t a spanker. “...take his pants for the rest of the day.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Zoge called back.
My lips puckered when I heard that. My knees angled together and wrapped my arms around them, teetering on the stool. On perfect ironic timing, on cue, the inevitable happened and my irritated guts got revenge on me for inexplicable binge drinking. Bladder joined in on the fun. At least it wasn’t a loud one.
My jaw clenched and as a result the pacifier started bobbing a bit in my mouth. The big rubber bulb didn’t inflate, but I still started sucking on it, nervously. In my show of solidarity, I’d opened myself up to a thousand tiny anxieties.
It had only been a week and I’d already lost track of how many diapers I’d been forced to wear, but I was still infinitely more comfortable with them being concealed. Not even a full week and Beouf had figured out a big button of mine to push. Big enough that I would have rather sat in my own mush and suck on a pacifier than get up and suffer a repeat of Monday’s Dress Code.
I pictured myself being paraded to Lunch or the bus loop with no coverage whatsoever and felt my face flush. Everyone important already knew...but then everyone would see. It was irrational, I know, but the thing about irrationality is knowing about it doesn’t help. If only the Amazon strength rubber could be bitten through. At least I wasn’t hurting my teeth working out something that felt halfway comfortable on the stool.
“You can check your schedule in two minutes,” Beouf said. She held up two fingers as if I couldn’t understand her or count that high. Victorious, she walked back to her teacher table while the other Littles hustled and bustled to their next activity. “I’ll set an extra timer and let you know.”
That settled it in my mind beyond a shadow of a doubt. Gloves were officially off. Honeymoon was over.
I sat there, sucking on the pacifier, wincing with every inhalation. The looks of admiration from my peers were giving me strength and regaining my nerve while sulking in my setback.
Setback. Not defeat. I wasn’t done yet. Not by a long shot. My mouth continued working on the pacifier, fuming. Two minutes? Two minutes! How old did she think I was? The nature of the penalty told me she was serious, but the duration communicated a perceived fragility.
I started to breathe through my mouth to try to calm myself. Sit still in a dirty diaper long enough and your brain stops noticing what’s going on down there. Turns out that can happen in less than two minutes. That and I was on a roll. “Why Day’ wasn’t over. Not by a long shot. But how-?”
An egg timer went off.
“Clark, you can take your paci out.” Zoge called.
“Do you want to go check your schedule now, Clark?” Beouf called from her table. “Or do you need some more time?” Several heads turned to look at me, wondering what I would do. Baiting Beouf had been the first step. Cementing my status and ensuring solidarity would need at least a second. “Either is okay, but you’ll have to wait the rest of the activity. I’m not gonna check on you every two minutes. It’s cool down in time out or go play on the toy shelf.”
Cool down? Something was starting to cool but it wasn’t me. Resiliently, I grabbed the pacifier and held it close to my lips. “Whyyyy?”
“Okay, that sounds like a choice to me,” Beouf said. “Paci back in, bud. We’ll see if you feel like acting like a big boy when the regular timer goes off.”
Big boy? Big boy!? Big boy didn’t mean ‘big boy’. It meant being compliant; being a teacher’s pet; being a Helper. I was a lot of things, but by the end of the day, once and for all, no one would accuse me of that.
Step one was baiting Beouf. I’d been doing that since Tuesday. I’d just now completed step two; defiance. Granted, it was defiance reshaped as a form of compliance, but the glances that my new peers spared me validated it. They all knew what was going on.
Meanwhile, I took the time to stew and ponder. Fucking ‘big boy’. What a joke! I would never be ‘big’ enough. I would never be ‘mature’ enough. I would never be anything more than a ‘child’ not fit to argue with. Always under someone’s thumb to be cooped up or put away and have to follow standards that even a teacher couldn’t follow with reliability.
DO YOU KNOW HOW IMPOSSIBLE IT IS TO GET A TEACHER TO RAISE THEIR HANDS IN A DAMN FACULTY MEETING?!
Sucking on the pacifier, putting on a quiet show, I started to plan my next move.
Extended time out was a strategic move, I told myself. A longer time out possibly meant throwing other routines off. I might become a distraction to the others, possibly put more pressure on Zoge to keep peeking up from her small group to make sure I was complying with Beouf’s directions.
No such luck nor such willpower. I was being quiet and wasn’t ready to act out further. I just ended up chilling on the footstool; looking complacent and compliant like a good Little baby. Even if the others did occasionally sneak a glance at me, it didn’t achieve what I wanted it to. It disrupted nothing. It accomplished nothing.
I was too stubborn to go to a play center and get back with the program. Too afraid to get off a simple stool. Well played, Beouf. Well played.
She’d found my limit.
They’d found my limit.
I’d found my limit
BEEP BEEP! BEEP BEEP! BEEP BEEP!
“Check your schedule, everyone! Clark? Getting up or do you need more time?” Even the way she said it was infuriating to me on a personal level. She didn’t even sound particularly bothered or angry anymore; like she was doing me a favor and offering me extra time to sort myself out instead of threatening me with more isolation. Knowing that was the point didn’t make it any better. Admitting that after a fashion that was exactly how I’d used the time made it so much worse.
I stood up and stepped into Beouf’s view. “Getting up,” I said reluctantly.
“Okay,” she said. “Go check your schedule.” Reluctantly I nodded and marched to the visual schedule. “Hold up!” I felt her reach out and hook a denim shoulder strap. I cringed as she patted me. “Yup. I smelled something. Mrs. Zoge, will you reset my center real quick?”
Mercifully, the change was quick, and Beouf didn’t talk to me until I was sealed back up. She carried me back to her table, set me down on my feet, and got down on one knee. “Mrs. B. loves you,” she said softly, “and I know you’re going through a lot, but I can’t let you misbehave and set a bad example.”
Play it cool, Clark. Play it cool. I averted my eyes to control my temper. “Yes, ma’am.” I said.
“If you need to go and sit back on the stool, it’s okay to tell me,” she said. “Just tell me with real words and not fake questions.”
‘Yes ma’am.” Suitably cowed, I went and took the icon off for the reading center. Dropping off the token, I plopped down on the nearest bean bag and continued to sulk.
Ivy looked up from an easy read book she’d have to have read at least three hundred times cover to cover. “You got in trouble,” she teased.
‘And you don’t?” I asked her. Another question I already knew the answer to. In a way I was using Ivy as a warm-up to an eventual re-match. Easy mode.
Ivy grinned from ear to ear. “Nope! I’m a good baby. I don’t pretend to be big.”
“Why not?” I ignored the implication that I was only pretending. I’d only get so far with someone like Ivy. Ivy was the poster Little for collaborators, tattletales and yeah, Helpers.
“Cuz I’m not. I’m a baby.’
Now that my downstairs were cleared, something was brewing in my upstairs. “I thought pretending is what babies did best,” I said. “Does that mean you were really a frog on Tuesday?”
A befuddled expression warped Ivy’s features. Based on a whopping four days of data and a decade of the briefest of glimpses, I’d already deduced that she was something of an outsider. Even the girls who talked to her seemed to do so out of a simple pity. This might have been the most complex conversation she’d had since Zoge had snatched her up back in Yamatoa.
Like a tumor, an awful idea took root in my brain. “So why don’t you pretend to be a grown-up like the other babies do?”
Like the advice I’d given Chaz and so many Littles before him, I was looking to rebel, looking to disrupt, looking to subtly piss in somebody else’s cereal. Ivy Zoge was such a perfect Little success story, paired up with me to be a ‘good influence’. Right before me was a golden opportunity; or at least a fun one.
“What do you mean?” Ivy asked.
I pursed my lips together and took in my surroundings. Beouf could technically see me, but she was preoccupied. Zoge could hear us if she was listening, but Chaz was yacking her ear off and we had the bookshelf as a visual blocker. “We’re not grown-ups, right? Just pretending?” I forced my voice into a conspiratorial whisper.
“But you’ve never.pretended to be a grown-up? Ever?”
“Yeah…” She paused. “I mean, no. I haven’t.”
“Maybe that’s why the others won’t play with you as much, Ivy. You won’t play our favorite game.”
This was it. This was my win condition that day.
Step One: Bait Beouf and do it better than the others. Make it obvious that I was on board with these Little tricks and that I could do it better than most.
Step Two: Openly defy Beouf to cement that I wasn’t anything like what anyone suspected.
Step Three: Subvert expectations and coax the ultimate teacher’s pet into playing along.
A week prior, I would have said something like this was beneath me. Back then I had a life, a house, a different last name and a wife. I’d wanted to live my life being a good influence to Amazon children. That didn’t work out, so I might as well try to be a bad influence on my fellow captives. Or so I reasoned.
Ivy’s skull might as well have been transparent. I could see the gears turning with every word I spoke.. “You think that’s why?” She whispered back.
“Maybe,” I lied. “One way to find out.”
She scooted up close to me. “How do I play?”
“It’s easy,’ I told her. “Just ask questions.”
“Now you’re getting it!” I winked. “Grown-ups ask each other questions all the time.” I felt like a certain snake in a garden. I was loving it! “All you have to do is ask as many questions as possible. It’s a game.”
Ivy thought for a second. “Sooooo, do what you were doing?”
I clicked my fingers and pointed to her. “Exactly!”
“What if I get in trouble?”
“Everybody gets in trouble,” I told her as nonchalantly as I could. “I just got in trouble. Would it really be so bad if you were like everybody else?”
Ivy pouted out her bottom lip. “Hmmmm…I don’t think-”
“Come on Ivy,” I dared to place my hand atop hers. Cassie forgive me. “I thought we were friends.”
Calling myself her friend was like giving a shot of whiskey to a recovering alcoholic. When she stopped and breathed in, I knew I had her. Getting Ivy to agree to it was too easy. If a thirty something woman is convinced that she’s a baby, you can convince her of anything.
“Okay.” She whispered back. “I’ll play.”
“If you can’t think of a question,” I reminded her, “ just ask ‘why’.”
“Just ask why,” Ivy said to herself. “Just ask why. Just ask why. Just ask why.”
A few minutes later…
BEEP BEEP! BEEP BEEP! BEEP BEEP!
Schedules checked. Tokens deposited in basket. Seats taken.
“Hello, Clark. Hello, Ivy.” Mrs. Zoge said in her gentle, quiet way. “Are you two ready to have some fun?”
She slid out a blank sheet of paper to each of us. “For this you’ll want to be using your non-dominant hand to color your emotions.”
“Why is it called ‘dominant hand’, Mommy?” Ivy started.
I slid my pacifier back between my lips to hide my smile. Game on.
“Dominant is the hand your brain wants you to use, my love,” Mrs. Zoge passed out some thick crayons. “It’s the hand that is in charge.”
I kept silent and urged my proxy onward with my eyes. “So it’s like the Mommy and Daddy hand?” Oh? That was a pretty good one.
“You can call it that if you want to.”
I grabbed a crayon so that I could resist the urge to slap my own forehead. I cleared my throat, and mumbled past the mouth guard.
Ivy bit her lip. “Oh yeah! Who is more Mommy and Daddy hand? You or Daddy?”
“Me.” Beouf’s assistant didn’t so much as hesitate. Yikes. I’d never met Zoge’s husband, but an unpleasant image that I never wanted to picture jammed it’s way into my brain. An air of suspicion settled of Zoge and she noticed the still-blank paper. “Ivy, my love, what are you doing?”
“Nothing!” Ivy was such a rookie at this sort of thing that beads of cold sweat started forming. “Why?”
“Are you feeling well, Ivy?” her Mommy asked.
Zoge narrowed her eyes, peering intensely through her glasses. “Why do you keep asking why?”
Ivy was all but shaking. “Um...why?”
Zoge started speaking Yamatoan. It still had that gentle, musical quality she had when she spoke, but Ivy started to look very, very tense.
A few more words from Zoge that I couldn’t understand. This time more clipped; less musical; almost forceful.
“Dōshite?” Ivy wasn’t having nearly as much fun as I had been having.
Zoge kept speaking, but I couldn’t understand her. Her words all tumbled and folded in on each other. It might as well have been one unbreaking string of babbling tongues to me.
Ivy understood. “Dōōōōshite?”
The only word out of Zoge’s mouth that I understood next was “Ivy”.
Zoge placed both palms flat on the table. “Ichi…”
“Dōōōōōōōshite...?” Ivy looked to me for support. I pretended to look away.
Zoge continued “Ni…”
Uh oh! I didn’t know Yamatoan, but even I recognized the tone and steady pace of a warning count. If I had any mercy or decency left in me, I would have spoken up or told Zoge to stop, or asked my own inane questions to draw the heat off of Ivy.
It’s not what Cassie would have done.
Ivy broke like a dam, blubbering in her seat. I don’t know what punishment her Mommy threatened but it was enough to traumatize her. Bawling, she pounded the table with balled up fists. “Dōshite! Dōshite! Dōōōōōōōshite!” The girl sounded like a death sentence had just been handed down.
“Mrs. Zoge?” Beouf called over sounding concerned. “Is Ivy alright?”
“All will be fine, Mrs. Beouf.” Zoge called back. “Ivy just needs to learn a lesson.”
I looked around the room. All eyes were on Ivy. Bit by bit, I saw our classmates piece what had happened through half-heard snippets.
“Did Ivy say ‘Why’?” Jesse asked.
Very quietly, Zoge replied. “Yes. She did.”
That elicited a chorus of giggles.
Beouf tried to reassert control. “Don’t worry about it, dear. Back to work.”
“Why?” Tommy asked.
“When someone is making a scene we tend to our own business, remember? Don’t pay it any mind. ”
“Why?” Sandra Lynn now.
“That’s between Ivy and her-”
“Why?” Chaz interrupted.
“Why?,” Jesse said.
Mandy and Shauna piled on with their own “Why?” a second later.
“It’ll be fine.”
“Why?” Billy and Annie looked like they were on the verge of trying to start a chant.
Someone listening in might have heard it as an overlapping flock of seagulls. To us though, it was victory. In that glorious moment, Why Day was back on!
“Hmmm,” Mrs. Beouf said in a very scripted monotone. “Mrs. Zoge do you think the children should have a longer nap this afternoon? Maybe skip the playground altogether?”
‘I think that would be very appropriate, Mrs. Beouf.”
The squawking stopped, and was replaced by a discord of ‘AWWWWWWWW!’ and general grumbling. We had flown too close to the sun and were being punished. I was part of that ‘we’ however.
No playground and the other Littles saw me as one of them?