Shrieking Human Tumbleweed | Maureen O’Leary

The Witch Who Eats Children

The waistband of my pantyhose are digging into my stomach which is too full really because I overdo things. I can’t say no to what I like. The principal calls me into the office and I can tell from her skirt’s sausage-like fit that she is wearing Spanx as well and I want to lick her neck and tell her everything I am feeling but I don’t. Instead I smile and shake her hand, grateful that I brushed my teeth before this and hoping she can’t hear the screams calling from my throat. She wants to know my experience, my philosophy of education, my theory of classroom management.

I want to share that my mortgage is coming due. My credit card is exhausted. Can she relate? Robbing Peter to pay Paul is a no win situation for a witch without an income. The principal asks if I have questions and my thighs burn where they rub together and I think, I will release myself in a ripping apart of these tights, this straight skirt, these high heel shoes. I think, I will run through the forest naked, I will dance around a fire, I will pull flesh between my teeth and blow through tiny fingerbones as if they were whistles. Instead I ask, what is the pay scale, what are the benefits, what are the options for a 401 k?

The Principal

I want to act like a tough cookie with the applicant for the first grade teaching position. I make a steeple with my hands and I think, Tough Cookie. The red nail polish on my right middle finger is chipped. I am light-headed from intermittent fasting. My neck is hot, turning red I bet. The current first grade teacher is quitting in the middle of the school year for a job in tech data management. The teacher shortage you’ve heard about is real. There is no one else applying and I want this woman. Her eyes are brown as warm chocolate chips and I wipe my hands on my skirt and think, Cookie.

My thighs flex under the desk and the office fills with the scent of spruce and bay leaves and to hide my confusion I suggest a walk through the school and tell Nancy in the front office to hold my calls. In the hallway our heels echo. My voice is a bird flapping against the windows as I say competitive salary scale and pension plan. The applicant makes a noise in her throat like thunder and though we are indoors a gust of wind rushes through our hair.

A student looks up from her worksheet as we clack clack past the classroom door. Her eyes are wide, her hair lovingly pulled into braids. She’ll never be fifty-two years old facing over a decade of a job she doesn’t hate and doesn’t love. She’ll never have to settle for lattes with women she met online whose faces she can’t remember five minutes after leaving the coffee shop and this makes me glad. The applicant stands at the doorway, her back straight as a dancer’s. She is not noticing me. She is staring at the child.

The Child

There was a witch that came to school today. She wanted to eat me.

Nancy In The Front Office

In training we learned what to do if we hear screaming in a school. Run toward the crisis. Throw a stapler at the attacker’s head. You probably won’t survive but you may cause a distraction and save a child.
When I heard the screaming I did not run toward. God forgive me. I ran away.

The Current First Grade Teacher

From my students’ names you would think I work at an old folks’ home. Margaret. Katherine. Thomas. Ethel. It’s Ethel the woman has by the arm. By has I mean biting. By biting I mean as if the child’s forearm is a barbecued rib. Ethel screams. I throw a stapler at the woman’s head and smell woodsmoke and pine trees. The principal grabs the woman from behind and it must be the stress from this toxic work environment because for a split second the two women are naked. For a split second the two of them seem to be dancing out of the room.

Ethel rubs her arm and cries. There is no blood. There is no broken skin.

The Carpool Driver

They got in a car together but I didn’t see where they were headed. I was at the scene because getting to the pick-up line twenty minutes early is the only way to get everybody to soccer practice on time on Thursdays. I listen to audio books while I wait, whatever. It’s fine. So, I saw two naked ladies run out of the school building together. And when I say run I mean kind of barrel out in a jumble of arms and legs. I’m just telling you what I saw. It was a shrieking human tumbleweed.

The Principal (Again)

If this were an audiobook: The snap of elastic when torn asunder. The rip of polyester blend when shredded and kicked away. The clack of the applicant’s teeth as I pull her away from the child. My own feathered voice rising: Pay attention to me, to my blood, the rushing of my heart, the pulse between my legs, the pulse between you and me. Break my skin, my love. My darling. Break my skin.

Maureen O’Leary lives in California. Her work appears most recently in Train Poetry Journal, Live Nude Poems, Hush Lit, Coffin Bell Journal, Black Spot Books’ Under Her Skin, The Esopus Reader, Passengers Journal, Punk Noir Magazine, Tiny Frights Magazine, Reckon Review, Patchwork Folklore Journal, and Feral Poetry Journal. She is a graduate of Ashland MFA. 

Twitter: @maureenow 

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