Chapter Description: "Why Day" comes to an unexpected conclusion
The rest of that Friday morning passed by without either open defiance or clever subversion. The rebellion that was ‘Why Day’, once quashed, turned into a bunch of quiet whines and attempts to suck-up in order to get playground privileges back. No more ‘Why?’. Instead the question became varying degrees of ‘Am I being good?’.
“Yes,” Beouf, or Zoge would sum up. “That doesn’t mean you’re getting the playground back today.”
Honestly? It was kind of pathetic. Just the threat of going one day without going to the playground and all of them were starting to crack. I couldn’t be too mad at the sudden tail tucking. All it had taken to put the fear of Beouf into me was the threat that I might have to walk to the cafeteria in nothing but my Monkeez.
Naptime came and went, but had been no longer than usual. Those of us who could fall asleep after a bloating lunch of spaghetti and meat sauce did so. No chocolate milk was handed out, the true sign of the Amazons’ displeasure.
I managed to stay awake staring up at the ceiling. I wasn’t afraid to sleep; I’d come to the conclusion that the gentle music Beouf would sometimes play in low barely perceptible volumes was not subliminal or hypnotic, just boring. I just wasn’t tired.
Occasionally, I’d roll over and look at Shauna, also staring at the ceiling. She’d sometimes roll over and face me; we’d make eye contact briefly and then one of us would turn away. All the excitement of waiting at a bus stop. It was still more interesting than Tommy in the other nearest crib. Tommy was asleep. Every now and then, I’d see him paw at his face or smack his lips. I started placing bets with myself on how long before he started sucking his thumb.
No one talked. The baby monitor right by the door would pick up anything louder than a fart. It was an older model than the one in my nursery but it would keep Beouf aware of any and all conspiracies and whispers.
We did not languish in our cells the rest of the afternoon, however. The threat of an extended or prolonged naptime did not manifest. Just like every other day that week, we were taken out of the cribs, changed, and then made to wait for the process to be repeated down to the last not-quite mindfucked prisoner. And Ivy, too, I guess.
I did my best to hide my own grimaces of disbelief. As much as I resented her on a personal level, there was also a little bit of professional training that was also shaking its metaphorical head at her.
She’d made a threat of withholding playground time for our disobedience. If she didn’t follow through with it there’d be less of a reason for the class to take future threats seriously. Getting us out of the cribs after mentioning that we’d have a much longer naptime was such a bush league move.
Perfect. Underestimate us. Don’t follow through when they're cute and the prisoners would just learn to act cute when they were in trouble. The exact wrong type of lesson to teach.
It’s why I winced when Billy had the gall to ask, “are we getting to go to the playground?”
Goddamnit, Billy. Never correct your opponent when they’re about to make a mistake.
As it turned out, Beouf wasn’t going to make that kind of mistake. She wasn’t going to force us to wait in a prolonged and restless timeout. She was going to do something much worse.
“Mrs. Zoge and I gave it some thought while you were down for your naps, and we decided that keeping you in your cribs for naptime longer than usual wouldn’t be fair.”
A collective cheer went up. I held my breath.
“You still haven’t earned your playground time,” she said. Cheers immediately turned into groans.
Zoge turned on the classroom projector and shined it onto the board. “Are we going to get to watch a movie?” Annie asked. If we were, we certainly weren’t now that she said something about it.
“Not quite,” Beouf replied. “You might not be going outside, but you still need your exercise!”
The screen synced with Beouf’s classroom desktop and an UsBox video was paused, just past the opening credits. Frozen in place were a man and a woman, Amazons likely, standing on a hardwood floor. Behind them was a mirror wall with a wooden rail running along it horizontally to the floor. In other words, a generic dance studio.
Based on the neon colors of their unitards, the lady’s big curly hair, the pastel trim on the walls, and the faded quality of the footage signaled that this show was anything but new. I was very likely in diapers the first time around when this schlock was filmed; even if I didn’t know what schlock it was. I might not even have been born yet it looked so terribly retro.
“Oh no!” Sandra Lynn moaned. “Why?!” Ivy just sighed and looked deflated. Evidently it had been a while since Beouf had broken out this particular punishment.
“Spread out and give each other room so that everyone can move and see.”
Even as we complied, Sandra Lynn repeated herself “Whyyyyy?!” It wasn’t a question. Neither was it a challenge or attempt at subversion. This ‘why’ was the whining plea of desperation; the call out to an unlistening higher power to intervene on one’s behalf. No help was coming.
Zoge clicked play and an annoying synth keyboard assaulted our ears while the two models stared blankly at the camera. The camera closed in on the man, an Amazon with a spray-on tan and what might have been a mustache or a dead caterpillar. “Hi kids! It’s your old pals Newton and Olivia!” He better have been a fantastic workout instructor, I thought, because the man sure wasn’t an actor.
The camera swung over “Are you ready to work up a sweat, stretch it all out and have fun?”
“NOOOOOO!” More of us were joining in. It wasn’t going to fix anything, but when complaining is your only avenue, you take it.
“THEN LET’S DANCERSIZE!”
I quickly realized that the reason I hadn’t seen this particular video before: It was awful. Just plain awful. I have since learned that Dancersize was, in fact, a single season workout program aimed at promoting physical fitness for children and adopted Littles. It was sold to Pennycade and ran in syndication for nearly five years before an executive decided to pull the plug and take it off life support.
It claimed to combine elements of ballet, yoga, and aerobics to a hip soundtrack that would really make children of ‘all ages’ want to ‘get out there and dance’. In my personal, unbiased opinion it counts as psychological and physiological torture. I don’t know who the target audience should have been, but it wasn’t actual children, and it certainly wasn’t Littles used to the playground.
“Let’s do some plies!” The woman, Olivia strained while smiling. “Assume first position! Up on your toes!”
“You heard her!’ Beouf said. “Let’s do this!”
Newton started counting. “Plie-one-two-three, up-one-two-three. Plie-two-two-three, up-two-twothree”
“Only six more to go!” Olivia beamed.
The groans and moans from our Little audience almost drowned out the cheesy synth soundtrack that was put in place for anything that might have merited a royalty fee. “Uuuuug! Why?!”
“That’s right! Feel the burn!”
“Don’t forget to tuck those tailbones!”
Ballet is hard. There’s a reason there are so few professionals. It’s also impossible to do well dressed like a toddler. Even with perfectly clean and dry diapers, not yet swollen or expanded from use, it’s difficult. ‘Graceful’ is not a word that would be used to describe us.
Chaz, our classroom crawler, got no reprieve either. Zoge placed two chairs beside him facing out and hovered over him ready to catch him. Apparently, Chaz’s reduction to rugrat was a matter of impaired balance and equilibrium instead of weakened leg strength. Their chairs might have offered him some support, but not enough to stop the intense burning we were all feeling. “WHY?!”
The jumping jacks, running in place, torso, and place toe touches came fast and furious. “That’s right, kids! Keep it up! You’re doing great! Really get the blood pumping!”
Newton and Olivia weren’t even sweating. They either did all of this in multiple takes that were masterfully edited together to make it look easy or they were on drugs. Based on the glazed over looks in their eyes and the too wide smiles, it was probably drugs.
I was at least able to keep up with the yoga segments. The downward facing dog transitioned naturally into the child’s pose which was just a quick segway into cat stretches. All of that was just a resting warm up for the pushups, sit ups that followed.
“I’m so pumped,” Olivia said, “I think I could do fifty!”
“Fifty? Why not a hundred?” Newton smiled back.
“Let’s go, kids!”
No. I did not do that many pushups or situps. No one did. “Keep going guys,” Beouf nagged at us. “This is your exercise for today. You don’t have to keep count, but do your best!” To show off, Beouf spread out on the carpet in front of everyone and started keeping base with the thirty-something year old workout tape. “See? I’m doing it too!”
I might be bragging on myself, but I felt great. I was panting, and burning, and sweating with the rest of them, but I was exhilarating in it. This bizarre and painful workout was the most adult thing I’d been allowed to do all week. Even with the terrible keyboard notes and the way too peppy voices egging ‘kids’ on to do the impossible, it still felt like I was being treated closer to a thirty-something in boot camp than a naughty child.
The marathon ended and the two Amazons on screen climbed to their feet. “Now that we’re all warmed up,” Olivia smiled. “LET’S DANCE!”
The classroom became a herd of yowling cats. The ‘Why’s’ were of the damned. To my classmates, this was torture. They were Sissyfuss, forced to push a boulder up a hill unless someone saw up his too short skirt and then he had to start over for all eternity. They were Tantrumuss forced to stand in a river of pudding that would forever lower whenever he went to scoop up a glob and a bottle that was just out of his grasp being hung directly overhead. Amazon and Greasian myths are messed up.
Point being: being deprived of their precious playground time was punishment for my classmates. Having to ‘Dancersize’ was torture. If not for my own stubbornness and pride, I would have agreed and joined in with the moaning and groaning.
The screen froze. Beouf was back up and standing in front of the class. We all stopped, aching and sore and panting. Beouf looked at a clock on the wall. “It looks like we’ve got about ten minutes left before we have to get everybody ready to go home,” she announced. “You all were very good just now. Would you like to finish the workout video?”
“NOOOOOOOO!” came the response.
“Would you like to get some fresh air and go play on the playground!”
A small, knowing smirk crept into Beouf. “Then line up, my good Little boys and girls.”
WHOOOOSH! The other nine all lined up at the door, quiet and orderly. Chaz crawled up into Zoge’s arms. Their resistance shattered and traded in for ten minutes of playtime.
I lingered for a second, feeling completely baffled. I went up to Beouf. “Why?” I asked.
“Because,” she said. “Punishment is just the consequence of a bad choice. You were good, so you earned another choice.” She shrugged. “That and you’re all basically good kids. And it’s Friday.”
Feeling defeated, I shuffled into line and went outside with the rest of them.
Less than half an hour later at the bus loop, two giant, feminine hands covered my eyes, blocking out the world. “Guuuuess who?”
A long, weary exhale just made me deflate and slump my shoulders. With the exception of Wednesday’s magnificent cry fest, this was how Janet greeted me after school. “Hi…” I mumbled halfheartedly.
Up, around, and over and I was back on her hip. “How was he today?” She sniffed. “Wow, you’re sweaty. Someone’s getting a bath as soon as we get home.”
Beouf clicked her tongue. “He was a handful,” she said. “I think it might be a full moon or something. All the kids were acting up today.”
Ivy moaned and said something in Yamatoan. A tap on the head from her Mommy was enough to silence her.
Janet caught on quickly enough. “Wow. Even Ivy misbehaved?” Ivy hung her head in shame like she was being carted off to the stocks and a mob of angry villagers were tossing rotten fruit at her head.
Stoically, Mrs. Zoge explained. “She did. My daughter is learning the cost of being naughty. No dessert tonight.” I actually craned my neck so that I could properly glare down at her. That was why she’d been so upset? That’s what had her breaking down into tears? Dessert? Really?!
Playground time and dessert. My rebellion had failed due to playground time and dessert.
Beouf and Janet went on without me. “Though he is using his paci more, so that’s good. He’s learning to self-soothe and placate an oral fixation.”
Shit! I let the pacifier drop out of my mouth. All that hiding guilty smirks all day had had an effect on me, and of course the typical Amazon response was to attribute it to something they preferred.
“Awww,” Janet said, picking up on it right away. “You shouldn’t have said anything about it. Now you know he’s going to go out of his way to avoid using it again.” The two teachers shared a knowing laugh at my expense. Sad part was that they were right.
Back in Janet’s arms at the bus loop, I sulked reliving the relatively lax punishment. So close to some kind of victory; moral or otherwise; and yet so far away. Story of my week. Story of my life.
“It might have been his babysitter,” Janet said. “She’s a good friend, but a real softie at heart. I think someone might’ve gotten the wrong idea about what grown-ups will let him get away with.” More knowing tittering at my expense.
Beouf removed her glasses and rubbed her eyes, showing the first signs of wear and tear. “Babysitter?” she yawned. “Why a sitter?”
“I had a meeting to go to.”
Beouf’s yawn came out low and loud. “A meeting? What kind of mee-...” She stopped her yawn. “Oooh!” She placed her glasses back on her face. “You know you don’t have to get a sitter for those. You can bring him along.”
“Yeah,” Janet said. “I know now. Next time.”
There was that somewhat lazy, somewhat awkward pause that so often happened between good friends who didn’t know how to end a conversation. My frustration and anger settled into a tiny bit of sadness thinking that I should have been a part of that instead of a prop on Janet’s side.
“Yep,” Beouf echoed the sentiment. “Gotta do that paperwork and lesson planning so that we can get the weekend started.”
“Same here,” Janet agreed. “Have a good weekend.”
“You too,” Beouf started walking away. She paused long enough to wave at me. “Bye Clark! See you Monday!” Her voice lilted up to a quirky squeak. I openly rolled my eyes. That only made her cackle.
“Let’s go, baby,” Janet murmured to me, shouldering her purse. I cocked my head and stared at her opposite shoulder. That was new. Why would she have her purse if we were just going back to her classroom?
“Where are we going?” I asked. My question went ignored.
Zoge saw something, too. “Ms. Grange?” she asked. “Where are you going? Your classroom is that way.”
“Gotta stop by the front,” Janet tried to say nonchalantly. Tried; but failed. Her voice had acquired a certain nervousness to it that I just couldn’t quite put my finger on.
Janet had answered Zoge’s question loud enough that Beouf stopped and doubled back. “Up front? Now? Are you sure?” Now Beouf sounded concerned. When Beouf sounded worried, it was time to either celebrate or worry too.
Given the circumstances I chose option B.
“Yeah. I’m sure.” Janet said. I was completely lost, and it was becoming unnerving.
Beouf pursed her lips together and squared her shoulders like a soldier psyching themselves up for battle. “Want us to come with?”
“No,” Janet shook her head. “I’ve got this. Thanks.”
What were they so concerned about? I had no idea. I’d been cut off completely from their communication. Amazons now talked over me when they were unconcerned and hid from me what they were really bothered about. Good thing I didn’t have to wait long.
Like a recurring nightmare, the events of Monday afternoon started repeating themselves. I gripped into Janet’s shoulder, hooking my fingers into her bra strap beneath her shirt while she opened the door to the front office and practically glided in. Raine Forest was directly across from us and talking on the phone. I tightened my grip, making myself false promises that I would be able to hold on instead of being torn off.
Please not again. Please not again. Please not again!
My prayers went unanswered. Janet whisked her way to the side and put me down on my feet despite me trying to sink my claws into her. She held my hand to keep me rooted in place while we waited for Raine to hang up the phone. I could feel my throat tightening up. Not again. Couldn’t someone else watch me while she peed? Anyone? Literally anyone?
“Hell-o” Raine addressed Janet after she’d hung up the phone. “Signing out early again?”
“No,” Janet said. Her tone had become casual as if she were making small-talk. “Once this week was enough. Can’t use up all of my time off at once.”
Forrest faked a chuckle while her gaze drifted down to me. “Need me to watch your Little one for a bathroom break?” I saw that same vicious glint in her eye. “I don’t mind.”
Softly, Janet let go of my hand and reached over to her purse. “Actually I wanted to talk to you about that.” She flipped open her bag and dug inside.
“Oh, I didn’t mind,” Raine repeated. “No trouble at all. He was an absolute angel. For a Little, anyways.” Bitch had the gall to wink at me, as if we shared some precious secret together.
By the time Raine had finished winking, Janet’s hand had stilled itself. She had found what she was looking for. “Oh, I know. Clark can be a handful. Mrs. Beouf was just telling me how his entire class was acting up today.”
Raine put on a face of mock surprise. “Clark!” she said to me. “Really? You too?” She shook her head and clicked her tongue. “Littles,” she switched her attention to Janet. “What are you gonna do?”
“Just love them the best we can,” Janet smiled. “It’s all we can do.”
Raine was so relaxed she was leaning back in her chair. “Couldn’t agree more,” she said. “Couldn’t agree more.”
“I’m glad we agree,” Janet said. “It’s why I wanted to share one of these with you. As a gift. As a way to say thank you.” Janet showed Raine what was in her purse.
Out came a very familiar looking box. One containing cream filled chocolate bon-bons. Janet lifted the lid and Raine’s eyes got wider and wider all while her mouth puckered up smaller and smaller. “A...gift?”
“Yes,” Janet said. “As a gift. To say thank you. Between co-workers. Maybe even friends…?” Slowly, deliberately, Janet reached in, into the middle of the box where the safe chocolate lay. “They’re good. See?” Slowly, deliberately, she offered the box over to the school receptionist.
Still sitting in her chair, Raine scooted back, appearing smaller than Janet. “No, that’s fine.” Her voice was wavering. “Thank you for the offer. I’ll be happy to watch your baby anytime. For free. No payment necessary.”
Janet pressed forward. “Please. I insist. As a friend. You don’t want to be rude, do you?”
A new type of deja vu was setting in. This time with a queer kind of role reversal. I took the chance and inched closer next to Janet. I saw Raine close her eyes and gulp. “I’m on a diet.” Her voice had acquired a nervous crackle.
“Are you?” Janet said. Said. Not asked. It’s very possible to ask a question without really asking a question. “So if I open that desk drawer of yours I won’t find a box just? Like? This?”
“Ha-ha…” Forrest’s smile and her eyes were miles apart. “You got me, Ms. Grange. You got me.”
Yes. Yes she did. “Please,” Janet said. “Call me Janet. We’re friends. Aren’t we?”
Raine was starting to quiver. She had to reach up and dab the droplets of cold sweat off of her forehead. “Yyyyeeeeah….?”
I heard Janet’s fake smile fade from her voice. “Then take one, Raine. Take a chocolate. I’ve already had one. Why won’t you?”
Forrest’s eyes darted to the lower right of her computer, then up to Janet. She was calculating on whether she could eat one of the training chocolates and make it safely to a toilet ...or to a doctor. This late in the afternoon, Raine was in no real danger of messing herself at work; but her dinner plans might suddenly be altered.
“Eat. A. Chocolate. Raine.”
“Okay!” Raine’s voice came out as a pitiful, almost Little squeak. She reached in, grabbed a chocolate and stuffed it into her mouth. Her eyes slammed shut and remained. Her mouth worked and scrunched up, knowing that not only was she eating poison, but not even one that her spice loving palette liked the taste of.
She swallowed and her eyes fluttered open in...pleasant surprise? “Chili flakes?” She licked her teeth. A surprise bark of a laugh tumbled out of her. “Not a training chocolate?”
“Not a training chocolate,” Janet echoed, simply. Then she leaned over and in a soft, monotone whisper she said. “This time.” The color from Raine’s face started to drain. “If you ever give food to my baby boy ever again, if you so much as talk to him without my permission, that will be a real training chocolate you eat.” If I hadn’t inched in previously, I wouldn’t have heard the threat.
Raine was now rearing back in her chair with nowhere to go. “I...I...I…”
“I don’t care if you’re Brollish’s pet,” Janet hissed. “You mess with him, you mess with me and I’m crazier than you’ll ever be. Do you understand?”
Janet stood high and spoke up. “Do? You? Understand?”
“I...I...I...I’m sorry!” Raine blurted out. She put her hands up like she was afraid she was going to be physically assaulted. Her voice was loud and rang out, implicitly calling for help. No one came. The health clinic had already been shut down, no parents or coworkers were present, and Brollish’s office was too far away. Janet had either been lucky or had chosen her moment perfectly.
Janet calmly backed up and put me back on her hip. The lids to her eyes lowered halfway, like a lioness contemptuously viewing a mouse. “I don’t care.” Then we left.
“Where are the other chocolates?” I asked once Janet whisked me out of the front office back towards her classroom.
“Down the garbage disposal.” Janet told me, her voice shaking from adrenaline and rage. “You’ve got nothing to worry about there, hun.”
I asked the only question I had left. “Why?”
“Because I don’t want you getting into them and thinking they’re regular candies. Those are for toilet training big kids by making them have to go potty more often. Those are why you’ve been having more poopy diapers than usual.”
I brushed aside the fact that I had no ‘usual’. “No.” I said, pulling back and twisting so I could look her in the eye. “Not that. Why?” She knew what I was really talking about. She had to have known me better than that.
Janet came to a stop just outside the door to her classroom and looked me directly in the eye.
“Because sometimes me saying I’m sorry just isn’t enough.”
Didn’t see that coming. Neither the action before it nor the answer.