Chapter Description: Some of Clark's complaints about Mrs. Beouf's class are being addressed, just not in a way that is particularly grown up.
As usual, the sun wasn’t up when I got into Mrs.Beouf’s room first thing in the morning. Neither was Beouf. “Sorry Ms. Grange,” Zoge said to Janet. “Mrs. Beouf is already up front.”
“No problem.” Janet said. “Should I give her Lion there or just leave him with Clark?” she patted the diaper bag. Lion’s head was poking out of it.
“Mrs. Beouf would be best, I think.” She looked down at me and then at Ivy. “Even if we have favorites, we shouldn’t play favorites.”
“Yeah…” Janet blushed. “We are kind of biased, aren’t we?”
I rubbed the corner of my eyes, and yawned. Give me the damned stuffie or don’t. Just quit talking about it.
“Maybe we should do a playdate some day.” Janet suggested.
“I think Ivy would like that.”
I was too tired to argue. I would’ve thought I’d be used to being up this early without coffee. Not so, evidently. It didn’t help that after the store, I’d redoubled my efforts in trying to keep Janet awake via baby monitor. “Eight minutes” I said, after checking.the wall clock.
My captor was kind enough to take the hint. “Bye Clark,”she said. “Be good. Mommy loves you.”
As was tradition I did not reply, just stood there while she kissed me on the temple and trotted off, diaper bag in tow.
Zoge closed the door and looked directly at me. “We’re going to have lots of fun today, Clark.”
No we weren’t. I might have lots of fun, or they might have lots of fun, but we weren’t going to have any fun. Our respective sources of amusement were at completely cross purposes. “Okay.” I yawned. “Whatever.”
Ivy crinkled up and pulled on her Mommy’s skirt. “Mommy! Mommy!” she said. “Can I be green? I want to be green!” They were making green diapers now? I yanked up the toddler shorts over the plain white waistband of my Monkeez. It would slip back out with just a few steps, I knew, but it was all I could do to keep myself cognizant of my surroundings.
Janet had had the kindness to keep me out of Hippobottomuses or Koddles the rest of the weekend. They hadn’t been uncomfortable as far as diapers went, but hang-ups don’t go away that easily. Watching the hippo stencils disappear when I’d wet was kind of disturbing; like it was rubbing my forced accident in my face. Just then, I had the realization that I was learning to differentiate between different brands of diapers. Fuck my life.
“Pleeeease, Mommy. Can I be Green?” Ivy pressed. She added in what I could only assume was the same plea but in Yamatoan.”
Zoge brushed her pet’s hair out of her face with her hand. “Very well, my love. You can be green when we get to the buses.” She added, “As long as you clean up the dollhouse before we go.” The crack that followed was either Ivy’s underwear being extra crinkly or her breaking the sound barrier to tidy up Beouf’s play area.
That woke me up. No way were they talking about diaper changes during pick up. That begged the question: What were they talking about? What kind of ‘fun’ was Beouf planning for us?
One way or another I was doomed to find out. Ivy finished cleaning up the mess she’d made before my arrival and then waited by the door like it was the entrance for a roller coaster ride. Typical teacher’s pet.
“Come along, children,” Zoge said three minutes before the bell. My body on autopilot, I took Ivy’s hand, she took Zoge’s, and we walked out
“Ivy,” I asked. “What’s going on?”
“It’s a surprise!” she said. “You’ll see.”
“Come on,” I whispered. “How about a hint?”
“Nope, nope, nope.”
My anxiety and my competitiveness were mixing together to make a cocktail. If we were going to find out as soon as we got to the bus, I wanted to know at least thirty seconds before those cheese wagon doors flung open.. I needed to.
“Okay,” I coaxed. “I get it. You don’t really know.”
“Clark…” Zoge let out a warning. “You’ll find out in just a minute, baby.” Even whispering, it’s hard to go undetected when the guard is holding the hand of your chief informant’s other hand.
“You’ll find out when we get there.” Ivy echoed. To punctuate it, she stuck her tongue out at me.
“Sorry, Mommy.” I was beginning to see why Amy bit her.
I didn’t need to coax a hint from Ivy afterall. As soon as we rounded the corner. I started to piece things together. The surprise wasn’t something that could be hidden. Standing there in the dawn light as the buses were rolling in, Beouf had a white mesh bag slung over her right shoulder. Seeing Lion tucked under her left arm, it didn’t take a second to figure out what was in the bag. Beouf was going all in on the stuffies today. The plush faux animals, save mine, had been emptied from her closet and decorative areas and then shoved in the bag. I could see rounded paws and heads pressing out from the inside like balled up diapers on the inside of a pail.
Something wasn’t adding up. What did this have to do with Ivy being ‘green’?
“Morning, Mrs. Zoge!” Beouf said as we closed.the distance. “Morning kids! Ready to try something new?”
I was not.
“Uh-huh!” Ivy bounced.
Beouf put Lion and the bag down at her feet and opened it. That’s when the final piece presented itself. A long, flat, blue nylon rope came out of the bag first “Hook ‘em up.” Beouf said. She tossed a rolled up length to Zoge.
“I want to be green! I want to be green!” Ivy let go of her Mommy’s hand, but kept me bolted to her.
“Of course, my love,” she said. “You can be green.” She unrolled the rope, so new and stiff it was just barely out of the packaging.
It wasn’t just one rope. The main length of nylon ran straight through with a loop at either side, big enough to fit comfortably in an Amazons’ hands. Threaded in and intersected throughout the main rope were shorter sections of rope, made from the same sturdy material, but colored differently: red, orange, yellow, green, and purple. The ends of these ropes were loops too, only the loops could be fastened and adjusted with buckles.
Beouf already had access to communal high-chairs. Now she’d gotten whole-group toddler leashes.
Zoge knelt down and buckled and end the emerald green tether around Ivy’s waist. “There you go. I’ve got a green girl.”
Ivy let go of my hand. “I don’t have to be line leader if I don’t want to any more!” Ivy beamed. Green was second to last, closer to Beouf’s end than Zoge’s.
I met her with a scowl. “Good for you.”
Zoge stepped over the mass of nylon, and held up the other end of the green tether. “Hold still, Clark.”
Even if I didn’t have to hold her hand, I’d be chained to the biggest mind fucked Little in a mile radius. “Can I have purple instead?”
Still kneeling, Zoge dropped the rope and moved me back one row. “How’s this?” She didn’t wait to start buckling me into my restraint.
I took a moment and examined what I was being bound into. It was tight, but it fastened on like a belt; no shoulder or leg harnesses. “Good.”
The buses had started filing in. The Little transport, even if it came in last, got there plenty fast. The rest of the class came out of the bus in twos with reactions ranging from curious to awestruck while they were moved from sitting restraints on the bus to standing ones on the sidewalk.
“Yellow! Can I be yellow Mrs. B?”
Soon, like the lost Little Animals in the story of Moses’s Ark, we were lined up two by two, tethered by rainbow rope. There was enough slack in it so that even Chaz in his stroller could be tethered. A real daisy chain gang.
“Gibson!” Billy yelled to me. “Look! No hands!” LIke an idiot he wiggled his wrists and grinned like he was doing a beginner’s dance class. I didn’t so much as try to hide my contempt. “What’s your problem?”
Billy was at the front. Everyone could hear him.
Screw it. “They’re treating us like idiots!” I shouted back. “Too dumb to even hold hands!”
Beouf caught my reply. “That’s not true at all,” Beouf said. “We did this for you guys.”
“Yeah right…” I huffed.
“Just listen and wait.” Beouf said. “Mrs. Zoge?” The two opened up the bag and started passing out the stuffed animals. Lion was last. “Everyone got their stuffed friends?” Beouf asked.
Everyone nodded. Some cuddled and nuzzled the inanimate objects in their hands like they were actual pets.
“We’re trying something new this week.” Beouf said. The buses had hauled off, and her voice rang out in the morning air. “If you like it, we can keep doing it. If you don’t, we’ll go back to holding hands.”
“What are we doing?” Tommy asked. He didn’t even raise his hand, the mass of cotton he was hugging preoccupied him.
“We’re going to breakfast,” Beouf said. “Just like every other day. We’re trying this because when your stuffies talked to us they said there were some problems. Mrs. Zoge and I are fixing some of those problems.”
“Isn’t this gonna take longer?” Jesse called out, his voice a hungry whine.
“Not if we get good at it and everyone cooperates.” I waited for Beouf to shoot me a warning look. None came. “The cafeteria will wait for us. So will the buses.”
“Why do we have the stuffies now?” Mandy yelled out.
“In case your stuffies want to tell us more,” Beouf said simply, smiling like she was enjoying herself.
“Can we still hold hands if we want to?” Annie asked.
“If the person you’re holding hands with is okay with it, sure.”
Billy and Annie immediately shifted their animals and interweaved their fingers together.
“We’ll find out more as we go. Let’s go.”
Beouf took her position pushing Chaz’s umbrella stroller and held the back end of the group’s walking rope. I walked along, faintly listening to the adulations of my so-called peers.
They saw increased freedom. I saw the truth: We’d been demoted ever further. Now we were babies incapable of self regulation and needing to cuddle stuffed animals just to get from one place to another. That’s how the rest of the school, the rest of the world would see us. We were no longer trusted with holding each other prisoner, and now the only luxury we were receiving in turn was the ability to hold both hands in front of us.
“What are we gonna do?” I looked down at Lion and realized that I wasn’t exactly talking to myself.
“You dropped Lion,” Beouf said behind me. She didn’t even have to break her stride to pick him up off the pavement. “That’s okay. I’ll hold onto him.”
Still walking, I yanked my shorts up again. Elastic waistbands and smooth plastic over bulky padding were not a great combination. Everyone else still lacked the freedom to make such micro adjustments. You couldn’t pull up your shorts or pull down the hem of your dress, or futilely tug out at the bottom sides of a onesie if you were holding a stuffed animal all the time. Couldn’t do it when holding hands either, but hand holding stopped once we got to our location.
“Did Brollish get you the money for these?” I asked Beouf.
“Nope.” Beouf said. “Bought this myself. Do you like it?”
We both knew the answer to that. “Are the stuffies coming with us to lunch?” I was careful not to say ‘our stuffies’.
“If you’re good.”
“What happens if we’re eating messy food?”
“We’ll put them somewhere safe where they won’t get messy.”
So she was giving us a voice and adding emotional value to the stuffed animals, and also controlling when we could use that voice. I peered up front. Annie and Billy were making their toys make out with each other. Chaz was headbutting his.
Was I losing them? Had the stuffies been tampered with? Given some kind of addictive pheromone spray? Was that even a thing?
The surprises didn’t stop when we got to the cafeteria. The food carts had already been brought out. Dry cereal on top. Bottles of milk in the middle. And on the very bottom of the cart.
“Diapers?!” Shauna screeched loud enough for everyone who hadn’t straggled off to class yet.
The Amazons kept fielding questions as they switched us from rope to highchair. “Only for emergencies,” Zoge said. “Like if we think you’re about to leak or something.”
“Or if you poop as soon as you sit down…” Annie glared at Billy.
Billy shrugged like it was nothing.
“Emergencies only,” Zoge reiterated. “Only if we think you need it. If you poop and we’re almost done with breakfast, you’ll just have to wait for Circle Time just like everybody else.”
“No complaining if you don’t like color or decoration either,” Beouf said. “It’s just like the changing table in our room. You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.”
I shook and turned beet red from my seat. In addition to the highchairs and bottles of milk, everyone in the cafeteria would be associating us with stuffed animals, and stacks of diapers.
“Why didn’t you do this before?” Sandra Lynn asked, surprising me.
Beouf kept peeling back cereal lids. “Honestly? I didn’t think of it. Listening to your stuffies gave me and Mrs. Zoge ideas on how to better teach and help everyone.”
“We couldn’t have done some of this before this year,” Zoge chimed in. “We couldn’t take kids away to change them before. Not in here. Not with those rickety old high chairs.” She sat down at her spot in the center, seeming content.
“Yeah,” Beouf agreed. “A real ‘all hands on deck’ thing.” She passed out the cereal, and most of us immediately started picking at it with their hands. No spoons offered or asked for. “I’m glad we had that teachable moment with Miss Skinner last week.”
Only one of those replies was from Zoge. Only one of the echoes was from Ivy. Bread and circuses: They were tricking us into giving up our adulthood by making our infancy slightly more comfortable. I pushed the cereal away, having lost my appetite.
“At least drink your milk,” Beouf shoved a bottle of milk in my face. “I’m not going to make you eat the whole thing, but you gotta have something for breakfast, bubba.” I saw that glint in her eyes. She was compromising, but would only compromise so far. Either I’d take the bottle or she’d hold it in my mouth for me.
I took it and started sipping on the cold cow juice, literally drowning my sorrows. I wasn’t the only one capable of malicious compliance, it seemed.
“Thank you, Clip Clop!” Sandra Lynn hugged her stupid horse. “This is so much better!”
A chain reaction immediately followed.
“Thank you, Chomper.”
“Thank you, Pam!”
The Amazons shared pearly white smiles with each other, clearly pleased as punch.
I tilted the bottle back, lest spontaneous stupidity become expected. I couldn’t be told to say ‘thank you’ to Lion if my mouth was busy working a rubber teat. The pacifier took its place when I wasn’t thirsty.
“Clark? Do you want Lion?”
Vehemently, I shook my head. “Aw,” Beouf cooed. “So sad. But that’s okay.” It was okay for Beouf. Everyone else was having side conversations with one another. Not about things that they missed, or terrible trespasses that had been done to them over the weekend, not the kind of things that I liked to talk about.
“Mookie is from outer space, he knows a form of martial arts that is impossible to do with bones. That’s why he doesn’t have any.”
“Hansen has a beautiful singing voice, but they’re very shy.”
“Cool. What kind of songs do they like to sing?”
They were building fucking elaborate backstories to their fictional friends. I could have sworn it was Thursday night. Meanwhile I could only sit back, fume, and pee my pants.
It got empty and quiet enough in the cafeteria to where everyone could hear everyone else. The Littles talked amongst each other and their new toys, while Zoge and Beouf took turns wiping down tables, faces, and hands. The preschoolers ate with disciplined silence, with Tracy giving them quiet nudges of encouragement. Ambrose stood at the head, glowering the entire time.
We were being tricked into acting far more childish than we should have, and three year olds more closely resembled inmates in a supermax. It was enough to make me want to rip my own eyes and ears out.
“I love you, Jessennia!” Ivy hugged the octopus in between bites.
“I thought his name was Akka,” Beouf said.
“It was. But Clark told me his name was Jessennia.”
“Clark isn’t right about everything,” Beouf said. “That’s your stuffie now. You can call him what you want.”
‘Clark isn’t right about everything’? More like ‘Clark doesn’t control the narrative like we do’. I felt like screaming. I dropped the paci and searched for the plastic bowl of dried cereal to fling into the air. No such luck, unfortunately. Beouf had been careful to move it out of my reach.
Ivy looked at the purple octopus with the top hat and wire rim monocle. “No. I think he’s right this time. Clark?” she called over to me. “Do you wanna teach me how to do an Albienese accent so I can copy what Jessennia is saying better?”
I started to say ‘yes’, then corrected myself. “Nope.”
“Don’t worry, dear.” Zoge said. “Clark’s just a little grouchy this morning. He gets like that sometimes.”
“He always has,” Beouf agreed. “But he’ll come around. He always does.”
“They always do,” Zoge nodded. She gave Sandra Lynn a quick pinch on the cheek.