Interim Principal Gregory Jenne has Alopecia universalis. But he is accustomed to this; has dealt with the condition all of his life; survived the childhood taunts; rationalized the rejections; no longer dreams of eyebrows and eyelashes. Having recently celebrated his thirty-fourth birthday, he assesses his present position. He finds that he is satisfied, proud of his accomplishments. Lesser men would have created excuses. Weaker individuals would have hidden in their parents’ basements. He likes to think of himself as methodical. Scrupulous. Tall, his arms are longer than they should be, and this makes it difficult—no, this makes it impossible—for him to find suits that fit. What he has done—resorting to slacks, shirts, bowties, and sweaters (having no body hair, and the building being so cool, the sweaters function rather favorably)—has, while pragmatic, made him, enigmatic. More than this, though, and he swats a fly from his phone, dials the number on his desk, he has made a name for himself. The students like him. They call him Principal Alpaca. Ha, he thinks, whenever donning one of his sweaters (brown and beige cashmeres) hand-picked to better fit the part. That’s funny. He’d love to know the name of the child who—
“Oh, hello,” and he grabs his phone from the desk, silences the speaker. “This is Principal Jenne, from Endwell High School? Am I speaking with Mr. Nye?”
Silence. Just the buzzing from the fly, circling his head.
He is not surprised. As a point of fact, he is impressed that the phone is even connected, and, to that end, that the boy’s father has bothered to answer.
“Mr. Nye, I’m sorry to have to call, but—”
“What’s he done?”
“Bobby. Just tell me what he supposedly done and get on with it already.”
There was a time when Interim Principal Jenne would have pitied Mr. Nye. When he would have told his wife that the man suffered from what he called ‘honest ignorance.’ But his son’s particular sort of prejudice? No sir. Not on his watch. No matter how regularly he came into contact with these hillbillies, this was something that, as a graduate from, and now Endwell High’s building principal, he resolved never to accept. The fly lands upon his desk.
“Well Mr. Nye,” and he clears his throat, “Robert has been suspended. We’re going to need you to come down to the school and pick him up. Directly.”
The man laughs. “Oh yeah? Directly? You planning on telling me what for? Or’d you rather I guess. Who’s to say it ain’t his word against yours?”
“I can assure you,” he says, swatting the fly from in front of his face, “there’s no doubt. I wanted Robert—”
“Excuse me, Mr. Nye, Bobby. I wanted Bobby to explain, to report, I should say, his actions. But your son. Well, Mr. Nye, I’m not quite sure how to say this.”
“How about you use your words.”
“Honestly, Mr. Nye?” and Interim Principal Jenne straightens. “Honestly? It disgusts me to report that Bobby called a classmate the N word. And you need not take my—”
Interim Principal Jenne pales. He doesn’t need a mirror to know how he appears. But shock soon gives way to anger. Indignation. Given his own, unique, pigmentation, he is no stranger to slurs. There are many words he could employ. Names he could use. But he will not stoop to this man’s level. There is no reason to escalate the issue. He was hired, in part, because he possesses, unlike his predecessor, a level disposition. His ability to handle men, he thinks, whose family tree consists of a trunk.
The man laughs. Ripe, fleshy sounds, thick as gunk scooped from a pumpkin. “You ain’t listening, Jenny. None of you do. Surprise? Who said anything about a surprise? Listen. Up.”
“Mr. Nye. Now I’m sorry, but—”
“No, sir. Nuh uh. Now you listen here, Jenny. You’re sorry? I’m the one sorry. You call me at work. You get me off my cows. You tell me you’re suspending my boy for what? It’s a simple question. Answer up. Is the kid, or ain’t he, a ni—?”
Interim Principal Jenne feels the phone against the side of his head. The screen warm with electricity. He looks out the window. The fly, like a sick screensaver, slowly rotates against the perimeter of the glass.
“That’s what I thought,” Mr. Nye says. And he cuts the call.
It is just now May. The grass is green. And the sky? Blue. The fly makes a slow pass around the room, then smacks against the window. Interim Principal Jenne watches it rise, and fall. Rise, and then fall. Flat upon its back, the fly buzzes mindlessly, its wings worthless. And then, he supposes, lowering the phone, it died. It was dead.