* make us famous


High noon, Friday. In the cafeteria, the students crouched over greasy formica tables exchanging profanities in their indecipherable argot. The halls of the main building would have been utterly deserted if it were not for the despised, who wandered restlessly from classroom to empty classroom and unpacked their secret stores of sorrow in the toilet stalls and the library carrels. These pariahs, ugly and awkward, travelled alone, shrinking from contact even with their own kind. But no one bothered them during the lunch hour, and they roamed the dim and dusty passages at will.  

The south end of the second floor.  Here, behind a scratched and scuffed aluminum door, was the faculty lounge.

The teachers came to the faculty lounge to drink cup after cup of bitter, tepid coffee. They sat in sagging armchairs, alone or in groups of two or three, exchanging snippets of malicious gossip and horrifying stories of administrative abuse. Some were hunched over stacks of papers; others stared hopelessly at the OSHA posters and the emergency exit plan affixed to the wall with yellowed scotch tape. Their clothes were crumpled and threadbare, their flesh thin and flaccid.

The door swung open and hit the empty water cooler. The head of the Mathematics Department, Derek Smuts, stood in the doorway holding a huge glossy textbook under one arm, his massive body reeking of stale sweat and Bengay. His black hair was plastered to his skull with grease and his tiny eyes were lit with a savage fire: he was looking for a fight. He glared glared savagely around the room, his eyes two black bullets.

“Fucking hell,” he said, loud enough for everyone to hear. He waddled, roiling mounds of flab, to the percolator and poured coffee into a paper cup. The other teachers fell silent for a moment, then resumed their conversations in hushed tones. They all watched Smuts warily out of the corners of their eyes.

“Fucking hell.” He threw the textbook to the ground and it hit the thin brown carpet with a dull slap. He took a swig on his coffee. “I got thirty-seven fucking kids in Algebra II and thirty-six fucking chairs in my room. Every fucking Friday morning, some asshole comes and takes a motherfucking chair out of my room. Every Friday morning, I gotta send some kid out to find a chair before I can start the class, and the little pricks are climbing the walls by the time I get the fucking chair. What sort of a goddamn asshole thinks this is funny- to take a fucking chair outta my room every week?”

His voice had risen to a shrill shriek and his jowls quivered furiously. Everyone in the room stared at him. An English teacher, a rail-thin woman with a nervous disorder, began to sob into the sleeve of her cardigan. The woman sitting next to her dug around in her purse and found a travel pack of Kleenex.

“Who is the asshole?” He pointed at an ancient biology teacher, whose classroom was across the hall from his own. “Is it you, Percy? I don’t care how old you are. I’ll knock your fucking head off.”  

Percy’s watery blue eyes widened with terror. He shook his head quickly. “You know me. I’m too old to steal chairs,” he croaked. The droopy red wings of his bowtie jiggled under his chin as he swallowed his parched fear.

“Hanes? We all know that you like to steal things.” He glared at the football coach. Someone snickered- everyone knew that Hanes was screwing the headmaster’s secretary, who was married to the school librarian.

Coach Hanes stood his ground. “Fuck you,” he said, “I don’t need your fucking chairs.”

The crowd tittered, but Smuts wasn’t taking any lip. His head jutted forward. “Fuck me? Fuck me? You wanna see if you can fuck me?” He turned around and, slowly and deliberately, topped up his coffee. When he was done, he took a long drink and set the paper cup down on a table next to a dusty stack of Education Week newspapers. He got himself upright with a grunt and headed toward Coach Hanes.

When Hanes saw that Smuts was coming at him, he set his cup down and took a deep breath, pounding on his chest like a baboon. Blood lust flushed his brown leathery features. Near him, a tense clique of skinny French teachers began to re-apply their makeup, whimpering softly as they watched the scene in their compact mirrors.

Hanes and Smuts stood face to face. They could smell each other’s pungent caffeinated breath.   

“You really want this, Smuts?” said Hanes.

“I’m gonna fuck you up,” growled the head of the Math Department. Little beads of sweat glistened on the rubbery skin of his forehead. He rolled up his shirtsleeves, revealing a tattoo of the Pythagorean Theorem.

The eyes of the faculty were glazed with helpless fascination and their moist slack mouths hung open. Their blood beat hotly with a single rushing pulse. A red haze thickened in the air.


The next Monday the whole school assembled on the football field to mourn Derek Smuts, head of the Mathematics Department. Clutching at their travel mugs, the other math teachers made tearful speeches that the wind whipped away into the grey and desolate sky.

After the ceremony, Percy, the old biology teacher, shuffled back to his classroom and wrote “Smuts” on the back of his stolen chair with a Sharpie. His dry cackle rattled in the still air like a dead branch. The lunch bell sounded.