Mrs. Thibodeaux was too busy to die. I wished, hoped, she would have a heart attack and die right now, in front of the class, but she was too busy chewing me out.
"And just what were you thinking when you turned in such a paper, Mr. LeBleau?"
Standing before her desk, I stared at the lemon chiffon-colored cinder block wall behind her, and tried to come up with an answer, but nothing came to me except how much I hated it when she called me Mr. LeBleau. My name was Larry. My initials were L.L. just like Superman's girlfriends, which was another problem altogether.
"Answer me, Mr. LeBleau."
Someone tittered behind me, and I shot a glance in that direction.
Mary, of course. She had it in for me. So innocent looking with those dark curls and those come hither hazel eyes, but she was mean as a cornered rat. I don't know why she hated me so much. I never did anything to her. In fact, I was desperately in love with her.
"Your problems are not back there, Mr. LeBleau. They are here with me. I will ask you once again. What were you thinking when you turned in such a paper?"
"I don't know, Mrs. Thibodeaux."
She raised an eyebrow, a sure sign that she was angry. Mrs. Thibodeaux was ancient—sixty or seventy, at least, maybe more. Her skin hung from her bones like wet toilet paper and was nearly as white. She had silver white hair, almost blue, pulled severely from her forehead into a bun at the back. Her deep-set eyes were a cloudy pale turquoise and stared steadily into mine.
She picked up my paper with the large blood-red F on the front of it and studied it.
"This paper is filthy. There are words in here that would make a sailor blush."
The class erupted.
"That's enough of that," she barked at them. "This is a serious matter. Why don't you all go to the library? I will be there shortly."
I started to follow the class out the door.
"Not you, Mr. LeBleau. I'm not finished with you yet."
Mary flashed me a grin on her way out. I glared at her, but she was already out the door.
"Mr. LeBleau," Mrs. Thibodeaux said after I had resumed my stance in front of her. "I want to know why you wrote such trash."
She had assigned the essay the week before, a three-hundred-word paper using a concrete example to define an abstract term. She gave me the word love. For three days, I agonized about what to write. My first draft, a first person narrative, railed against unrequited love, but it was too clear that I wrote about Mary. I tried to distance myself from the paper by writing in the third person, but that was like disguising my feelings with glass. Frustration set in—then anger. Why did that old bat make me write about love? Why not patriotism or hate, or even angst? I could have easily written an essay on those. Why love? I mean there were so many kinds of love: adoration, affection, fondness, friendship, passion, lust… That was when, in a moment of pure desperation, I had an inspiration. I would write about lust. That would show Mrs. Thibodeaux.
I stole one of my uncle's trashy magazines, copied down every dirty word I could find, and used a teenage nymphomaniac—a curly-haired, hazel-eyed girl whose initials were M.D.—as my concrete example. I didn't think, or even care then, about the consequences. I was angry. I turned the essay in during homeroom, and here I was, standing in front of Mrs. Thibodeaux during her afternoon English class.
"I don't know why I did it, Mrs. Thibodeaux."
"What were you thinking? 'She curved her back like a cat in heat?' That's the most decent line in the entire essay."
I shuffled my feet and stared at the floor. I wanted to cry, throw myself across her desk, and beg her forgiveness since she obviously was not going to die.
"You have always been a good student, Mr. LeBleau—obedient, studious, and polite. This is so unlike you that I just do not know what to think. Do these thoughts really go through your head?" She held the essay out in front of me.
I shook my head, afraid to speak.
"Then why write it?"
I said nothing. How could I explain how I felt? I just wanted to lash out.
"Since you won't defend your actions, there is only one thing I can do. I will show this to the principal, and his only recourse will be to expel you."
She placed her ancient hands on the chair arms and started to rise.
"Yes," she said letting herself fall back into her seat.
"I…I don't know why I did it. I was just mad."
"Go on. I demand an explanation, young man, and I want the truth."
I knew that if I didn't explain myself, she would have me kicked out of school, and I would become the laughing stock of the town. And my parents, oh my God, my parents would disown me.
"I…I tried to write about love. You know, the term you assigned me when you introduced the essay."
I stared at my feet.
"You said that there were many different kinds of love and that the only way I could define it was to give concrete examples from my life or the life of someone I knew."
"Yes, I did say that."
"You said that I could write about any kind of love…"
"Yes, yes, I remember. Get to your point."
"Well, isn't lust a sort of love?"
"If you believe that, there is no hope for you."
She started to stand.
"Wait, Mrs. Thibodeaux." I took a deep breath. "I wanted to write about someone I loved, but I didn't want you to know who that was."
"Are you talking about your crush on Mary Duplechien?"
I jerked my head up and met her eyes. How could she know? Mary hated me, and we never talked except to be mean to each other.
"You're surprised that I know. That's understandable, but very little goes on in my classroom about which I don't know." She smiled, lifting the corners of her mouth a little. "I see the way you look at her, and how she looks at you. And don't think I am unaware that your focus in the essay is a young, uh, lady with the same initials as Mary's."
"She hates me, Mrs. Thibodeaux."
"You're young, Mr. LeBleau. You have much to learn. Continue with your story."
"Uh, I tried changing the essay so that it didn't sound like it was me in love, but that didn't work either. That's when I got mad."
"At you and Mary," I said softly hanging my head.
"At you and Mary, ma'am. I'm…I'm sorry, Mrs. Thibodeaux. I wanted to shock you—get even with you for making me write about love, and I wanted to get even with Mary for making me so miserable." I paused. "Maybe I was madder at myself."
Mrs. Thibodeaux folded one gnarled hand over the other and stared down at them.
"How old are you, Mr. LeBleau?"
"Almost fifteen, ma'am."
"You're young, and going through changes that you will have to learn to control. What you did was a very vulgar and insolent act." She looked up at me. "By all accounts, I should have you thrown out of school for such an abomination." She paused. "However, that would only ruin your life. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
"Yes, ma'am…I mean, no, ma'am. I don't."
"I will give you a chance to atone for your insolence. You will write a seven hundred-word essay defining regret, which I expect to see by Friday's class. Anything less than an A on it, and I will give this…this trash to the principal." She picked up my marked-up essay and waved it in front of me. "Now, do you understand what I'm saying and the ramifications if you fail to comply?"
"Good. Now, join your class in the library. I will be there shortly. One more thing, Mr. LeBleau, do not mention any of this to anybody. Do you hear me?"
"No, ma'am. I mean, yes, ma'am. I hear you."
I took a deep breath and headed for the door.
I stopped at the door and faced her again.
"Try being nice to Mary, and I expect you will appreciate the outcome."
I felt like skipping down the hallway, but instead I stopped just outside the classroom door. I wanted to thank Mrs. Thibodeaux for giving me a break, but she was busy rereading my essay.
About the Author: Jude Roy's stories have appeared in The Southern Review, American Short Fiction, The Sound of Writing, The Fiction Writer, and many other magazines and anthologies. Originally from Chataignier, LA, he now resides in Madisonville, KY.