THE TEACHER by Melissa Benton Barker

THE TEACHER by Melissa Benton Barker

The teacher hated the children. Ashley with her electric fence and Michelle with her little doll and Daniel with his frog. Each child had their own special Show and Tell day where they would stand in front of the class with their locked knees and their dirty elbows, talking at their classmates in that sing-songy voice that so often belonged to children. Or sometimes they would stand and speak with fixed eyes and a raspy monotone. It seemed they were always going on and on about their ancient plastic toys or their homemade play things fashioned out of twigs and rope or their slavering pets—which were the worst. The children weren’t allowed to bring pets to school but they were allowed to draw pictures of their pets and to hold up the pictures while they droned on and on. One time, Daniel, a boy with perpetually dirty knees who smelled slightly of sewage, brought his pet frog to school in a plastic shopping bag, which is what he used instead of a backpack. When he pulled out the frog in front of the class it was obvious that the frog was not long for this world, its skin having faded to the color of bone. Daniel very well knew better than to bring a frog or any other kind of living creature for Show and Tell, so the teacher made him hold out his knuckles. Then she shoved the window open and made Daniel drop the frog out onto the hot pavement that they called the schoolyard. The boy sniffed a lot when he sat back down at his desk. The sniffing was as close as he dared get to crying without begging for more trouble. Ashley leaned over and whispered something to him, so then Ashley had to hold out her knuckles too. It was the first and only time Ashley had to hold out her knuckles, and therefore somewhat shocking. The class was on good behavior for the rest of the day, all pencil-scratching and sweating; the room permeated with the quiet, metallic sweat of children. At the end of the hour, the bell rang and the class let loose in a muffled stream of footsteps that snaked through the hallways and into the yard, then out the chain-link fence to the single road that led through the clusters of trailers and husks and rubbish and scrub-brush that made up the homes of the town. The teacher wiped down her desk and then wiped down the childrens’ desks with a nostril-burning liquid from her spray bottle. When she finished, she went out into the schoolyard. The sun was already setting, a grim line of light squeezing out over the horizon. So little light these days; gray, gray, gray, and then a brief flash of orange and then darkness. Daniel’s blanched frog croaked softly under the window, turned onto its back and waved its limbs listlessly as if blown by a non-existent breeze rather than moving of its own volition. The teacher found herself squatting, then reaching out, then lifting the frog into her hands. The clammy thing pulsed against her palm. A small being, surprisingly and persistently alive. She placed it into the small pocket above her breast. It curled there, sang softly against her for an hour or two or maybe more.


Melissa Benton Barker's writing appears in Tiny Molecules, Five South, Best Small Fictions, and other publications. She co-edits the flash fiction section at CRAFT. Melissa lives in Yellow Springs, Ohio, with her boxer-pit mix, Izzy. They enjoy taking long walks in the woods together.

Art by Jaime Goh

Read Next: THE BABY by Jamy Bond