UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI

Fair Game

by Brian McVety

 

      “Did you know that hazardous is one of only four words in the common English
language that ends in d-o-u-s?” Thad asked Sarah, as he sipped his beer.

She didn’t say anything, knowing there would be more.

“Isn’t that interesting? Like, of all the ways to make a word, there are only four
that end that way?” He looked at her, smiling, as if impressed with his own genius.

“Is there anything you don’t know?” she chirped.

“I’m sure there is.” A bit of yeast and beer remained in his glass, brown-bodied cells
clinging to the bottom. “I’ll let you know when I find out what.” He gulped it down, then burped loudly.

They sat in the taproom, lingering after their colleagues had left. The first Friday of the month meant Revolvers, a local brewery that had opened last year. Thad had started the gatherings last fall, as a way to bring the school together.

Sarah had been teaching there for a couple of years. She used to work downtown, in an underfunded district that had seen its numbers dwindle for years, until one day the annual pink-slip she found in her mailbox each June actually meant that cuts were taking place instead of just the warning that the budget was thinning once again. She had never wanted to leave, loved the chaos and the kids, but she figured a change to a suburban environment might make her days easier on some level, steadier, more predictable even. She had yet to complain about the parent phone calls, the parent e-mails, the eventual parent meetings. She hadn’t met this kind of support before. There was also the staff, how dedicated everyone seemed to be, to the kids, to each other, to Revolver’s. Everyone, especially Thad, made her feel like she belonged, yet she didn’t know why she felt like she didn’t fit in. She tried to appreciate them, appreciate him. Some days she did more than others.

“Don’t you want to know the other three?”

“Other three what?”

He mockingly shook his head. “Try to keep up, Sarah.”

She feigned annoyance and rolled her eyes. He looked at her with that crooked grin of his. “Tremendous, stupendous, and horrendous. Fitting adjectives, I think.” His grin remained.

“One seems to fit you, for sure. Maybe two.”

“I certainly am tremendous. Maybe stupendous. You’re too kind, babe.”

“Not those two.” She patted him on the head. “Babe.” It was Sarah’s turn to finish
her beer.

“Technically, there’s a zoological term that’s not used often that would make it five.
Apodous. It means without feet. So, I guess I lied to you.”

“Such a jerk.”

“But a loveable one.”

She wondered if he was loveable, had been wondering for a while. He certainly could be a jerk, but he made her laugh, even if it was often at her expense. He was a little older, had been married once, was one of those guys who wouldn’t get better looking as he aged. He was handsome enough, though, for now.

“Should we get another one?” he asked, eyeing her empty glass.

“I’m good.”

“What are you doing later?”

She was at a point in her life when she found that being direct was the most effective approach. She wasn’t sure when this switch had occurred. “Going home. Eventually going to sleep.”

“What a surprise.”

“You saying you don’t sleep?”

“Why sleep when I have my genius to share with the world?”

She knew he was writing a book. He wouldn’t shut up about it. Something about selective breeding in some dystopian universe. He had labeled it a commentary on Margaret Sanger. “It must be exhausting being you.”

“It can be. I might need to distract myself from myself.” He stared at her.
“Want company?”

She debated, knowing that she should say no, that that was the professional thing to do. She knew before it came out of her mouth that it might be a mistake, but she said it anyway.

“Okay.”

He smirked. “Really?”

"Ask again and I’ll change my mind.”

“Do you want me to really stop asking?”

Sarah wasn’t sure. She liked that he liked her. It had been a while since she had been liked. She had dated enough, sometimes seriously, sometimes not. It’s not that she stopped trying. Rather, she had grown content with the way her life was. It was easier in many ways. She hated the way people didn’t understand this. But, it had been a while since she had gotten laid. “Yes, I want you to stop asking.”

The bartender brought over their tab. “My treat?” Thad said.

“I don’t think so,” she said, taking out her wallet, the one with the faces of famous first ladies all over it a student had given her as a gift.

“Such a woman.”

“Not my treat either,” she said, putting down enough money for half the bill. “And you’ve got the tip.”

“Just the tip?” he said, winking at her.

She rolled her eyes and realized how strong the beers had been when she stood up. He put his hand on her lower back and guided her to her car. She knew it shouldn’t go anywhere, couldn’t go anywhere, that she wouldn’t let it go anywhere. But, she had forgotten what it felt like to be wanted, even if for a night.

***

Sarah watched the coffee drip from the old coffee machine, its once-white percolator now a faded brown. She sat down, pulled out of her bag a green pen and a stack of essays, but didn’t have it in her yet. Coffee, albeit mediocre coffee, first.

She usually only ventured to the faculty room before school for her first cup, when no one was in there, but she had been displaced out of her classroom because of state testing. She hated giving up her turf. She heard the door open, just as the Pledge was ending over the intercom.

“Morno!” Thad had two coffees in his hands and placed one next to her, despite the
mug in front of her.

“Morno?”

“No. Morno! There’s a difference.”

“What do you mean there’s a difference?”

He didn’t answer but leaned over her and eyed the pile of essays. She could smell his cologne and nearly coughed. “Social Reform in Post-Colonial England,” he said, reading the title. “We aren’t even close to getting there yet, but I like that idea. Social reform. We need more of it.” He sat down next to her, let his foot find hers under the table. “Like no one even uses this room. And when they do, it’s just a smile and a nod.
Barely even a good morning. Reform, we must.”

She looked at him, pulling her foot away. “Maybe it’s just you, Thad. People never seem to stop talking to me.” She looked back down at her essays. He was looking at her.

“What?”

“You’re cute when you grade.”

She didn’t look at him. “I need to focus.”

He reached into his bag and pulled out his computer, his mouth open as he typed. A moment later, the printer spat out a piece of paper. He grabbed it and posted it to the bulletin board. In bold, black letters, it said MORNO! Below, was a letter:

Dearest Colleagues,

It has come to my attention that Ms. Sarah Trubiano has grown tired of the
constant chatter, pleasantries, communication, niceties, and general forms of
human decency that you have been bombarding her with. If you would, please,
leave her the fuck alone, it would be much appreciated. Thank you
.

Sincerely,
Mr. Thad H. Cheswick.

He sat back down next to her and waited.

“Very funny,” she said.

“I know,” he said, smiling.

“Take it down, please.”

“Maybe.”

“C’mon, Thad.”

“Maybe not.” He sipped his coffee again. “So when am I coming over again?”
She remembered the way he snored, how his pillowcase was drenched with saliva when she changed the sheets, how she couldn’t sleep at all after. She remembered how predictable it all seemed. She didn’t regret it, but she didn’t want to admit that it had happened, either. “I told you when you left. That didn’t happen.”

“But it did happen.”

“No, Thad, it didn’t happen. Didn’t happen and won’t happen again.”

He looked like a puppy, wounded but unable to learn a lesson. She looked down at her the essays, not knowing what to do. He grabbed her hand, clasping hard.

“Please. I mean it.”

He let go when the door opened and Mrs. Naples, their principal, walked in carrying a tray of bagels.

“Morno!” Thad said.

“Morno?” Mrs. Naples replied, placing the bagels on the table.

“No, with an exclamation point. It’s the only way to say it.” Thad looked Sarah, smirking, before addressing Mrs. Naples. “How are you doing today, Chief?”

Mrs. Naples unwrapped the cellophane. “To have teachers like you, how could I not be doing great? Look, bagels, because I do care.” Mrs. Naples and Thad shared a laugh. Thad grabbed a bagel before Mrs. Naples had finished taking off the plastic. “How are you guys?”

“Just planning social reform. Trying to change the world.  You know, make a difference,” Thad said. He put his arm around Sarah in mock unison, giving her shoulder a squeeze before letting go.

“I’m glad to see that people are using their prep time for something productive,” Mrs. Naples said, opening a container of cream cheese. “How are you, Sarah?”

“I’m good.” Sarah felt she should say something more but couldn't. They all looked out at the courtyard. The goose was poking at the ground.

“When do you think they’ll hatch?” Thad finally said.

Sarah had heard from the students how some geese had landed a few days earlier. A pair had built a nest in the corner of the courtyard. Tony, the custodian, had found the eggs when he was cutting the grass. He was bending down to get a closer look when a goose arrived, flapping its wings and viciously hissing, trying to bite as it chased Tony away. He left the lawn mower running, didn’t want to go back out there, before finally bringing it back to the maintenance shed, shoving it in without locking the door. He turned to run back into the school but tripped and fell in a mixture of mud and goose shit.  The geese had been the talk of the school ever since.

“Marni will know,” Thad responded to himself, taking out his phone.

“Isn’t she teaching?” Mrs. Naples asked.

“Good point,” he said, sending the text anyways.

A goose came out from behind the bush, began to searchingly poke at the ground. Thad’s phone buzzed. “About 28 days until they hatch,” he said. “Google told me.”

Mrs. Naples gave a tight smile.

“Has Tony lived down the humiliation? I don’t want to tell you that I have seen the video on Twitter, so I won’t.”

“Tony’s dignity is impenetrable,” Mrs. Naples said, still looking out the window.

Sarah felt Thad’s hand running up her thigh under the table. She pushed it away.

“You never know what to expect in this job,” Mrs. Naples said. “Enjoy the bagels. Spread the word.” Mrs. Naples turned to leave when the bulletin board caught her eye. She pulled the letter down. Sarah felt her face redden.

“Is that why you’re so quiet today?” Mrs. Naples said. Sarah couldn’t tell if she was joking. “Grow up, Thad,” Mrs. Naples said, as she crumpled the letter, tossing it in the recycling bin on her way out, chuckling to herself.

“What the fuck, Thad?” Sarah said when the door was finally closed. She stood up and put her mug in the sink. She started to wash it with her fingers, hoping he would just leave.

“What? Just trying to have a good morning,” he said, shoving too much bagel in his mouth and walking up behind her. “Just like I had a great night,” he whispered, leaning in closer to her ear. He grabbed her butt on the way out, squeezing her hard, before he left.

Sarah stiffened, felt the lingering, as if his hand was still there. She didn’t know what to do. She turned off the water, looked out the window, noticed that the goose had gone. She sat down and looked at her essays. She didn’t make it past the title, before the tears started to fall.

***

Sarah had written and rewritten the email a dozen times. This one felt like the simplest yet.

Dear Mrs. Naples,

I wish I were writing this email under different circumstances, but there is a
matter that I need to discuss with you. Could you please let me know when it
might be a good time to meet with you? I appreciate your support in advance.

Sincerely,
Sarah Trubiano

Sarah saved it to her drafts with the others. She wondered if she should just let it go, if it wasn’t that big of a deal. Thad had even come by to see her later that day, had asked her why the schedule was flip-flopped, even though they both knew that it happened every year during testing time. He acted like nothing had happened. She wanted to confront him then, ask him what he thought gave him the right, but students started to come in. She couldn’t help feeling thankful for their presence. She spent the rest of the week avoiding Thad after that.

She debated starting a new draft, wondered if she should address Mrs. Naples by her first name, when she heard a noise at the window, like someone throwing pebbles. Sarah didn’t see anything but the parking lot at first. She started to walk towards the window when the black and white head shot up and tapped on the window again. Sarah didn’t mean to scream.

After the first pair, more geese had arrived. Initially, they merely meandered, sometimes in groups, sometimes alone, over the athletic fields, the walkways, the parking lot. Then they wanted in, the adjacent courtyard classrooms the first targets, followed by reports from the second floor, from the nurse’s office, from the gymnasium. Erin Waterman had even heard tapping on the window in the faculty bathroom. It seemed that any way they could get in was fair game.

Sarah double-checked the lock on the window just to be sure. The goose looked up at her, rapping the pane again, before it started to walk way. She pulled the blind down just as Thad walked into her classroom.

“Someone get killed in here?”

He walked over to the window and lifted the shade. The goose was making its way through the parking lot. It looked back once before heading to the soccer field.

“Someone should do something about them. I heard some students saying they were
going to ask Marni if they could experiment with their own repellents. They wanted
whoever designed the most effective one to get out of the final. I told her she’d win
Teacher of the Year.”

Sarah walked to the whiteboard and started to write her agenda for the next block. He walked to her desk and sat in her chair, putting his feet up next to her computer. “What are you doing this weekend? I’m getting beer, then maybe getting more beer, then probably getting some more beer.”

She kept her back to him. “I’m not sure yet. Might have to watch my sister’s dog.”

“Sounds like a party. I love dogs.”

She was done writing but didn’t turn around.

“So what time should I come over?”

She let her shoulders fall. “No, Thad,” she said to the board.

“What? Don’t like beer all of a sudden? Because I know you couldn’t not like me.”

She finally looked at him. “You can’t do that.”

“Do what?”

She couldn’t tell if he truly didn’t know. “Can’t just act like you didn’t do anything.”

“What did I do?”

“You should at least say you’re sorry.”

“Sorry?” He looked genuinely surprised. “Sorry for what?”

“Are you serious?” She could feel the knot in her stomach tighten. “You can’t just grab
someone’s ass, can’t touch me like that just because you want to.”

He still had his feet on her desk. He crossed his arms behind his head, his armpits a shade darker than the rest of his shirt. “That? You’re pissed about that?”

“Yes, I’m pissed about that.”

“What’s the big deal? It was just a joke.”

She could feel herself growing warmer.

“Look, I was just playing around. I don’t know why it upsets you so much.”

She waited for a “but” that didn’t come. “Well, it did upset me. Does upset me. You’re
lucky I haven’t reported it.”

“Lucky? It was a fucking joke. I thought you’d like it. You liked it the other night.”

“Nobody likes to get their ass grabbed at work.”

“I wouldn’t say nobody does, seems like a broad generalization.”

“Jesus Christ, Thad.”

“I’m sure there are plenty of people who wouldn’t mind. Depends on the job, of course. Kind of comes with the territory in some professions.”

She pushed his feet off her desk.

“What? Sarah, I'm just joking.”

“I have to get ready for class.”

He stood up and looked at her, taking a step closer to her. “Tell me when you’re back to being normal,” he said, putting his arm on her shoulder. “It’s more fun for the both of us.”

She pushed him off, just as the students started to file in.

“Mr. Cheswick, have you seen the geese?” a freshman boy asked.

“They’re everywhere,” another girl responded.

“Mrs. W. said one tried to come into the bathroom.”

“They’re so fire.”

“So fire,” Thad said, fist bumping them as they ran to the window. He didn’t look back as he walked out the door.

Sarah opened her computer, found the last draft, and finally hit send.

***

Sitting outside the principal’s office, Sarah felt like a student, wearing the same doe-eyed look she had seen on so many kids before. She didn’t know why she felt like she had done something wrong. The secretaries had gone home, and Tony was vacuuming the carpets. Mrs. Naples’s door was shut. Sarah didn’t know how long she should wait.

The door to Mrs. Naples’s office finally opened.  She had a phone to her ear but waved Sarah in. “I understand, Mrs. Ziplisky. I know,” Mrs. Naples said, nodding her head.
Sarah didn’t know if she should sit at the little table in the corner of the office or at the oversized chairs across from Mrs. Naples’s desk. Sarah wished Mrs. Naples would make the decision for her by sitting down, but she remained standing by the door on the phone.

“No, you’re right. There should be better communication.”

Sarah opted for in front of the desk. She sank into the chair, feeling like she had made the wrong decision.

“Yes. Yes, I’ve heard they are impossible to get rid of, especially after they nest. I will
certainly keep that in mind. Thank you.” Mrs. Naples ended the call and sat opposite Sarah. She didn’t say anything at first as she typed away at her phone.
“They tell you that most of your days will be spent on the phone. But they don’t tell you
that you will be spending hours on the phone dealing with fucking geese complaints. ”

She finally looked up. “Sorry. I don’t mean to swear, but that was the fourth call today.” She finally smiled.

“So. What’s going on?”

Sarah expected the question but didn’t really know how to begin. “It seems the geese are all anyone can talk about.”

Mrs. Naples looked at her. “I know. But what’s going on with you?” She waited.

“Well, something happened.”

“What kind of something?”

“I don’t even know how to describe it.”

“There’s enough to it for you to be meeting with me after school on a Friday. So, Sarah, what’s going on?”

Sarah exhaled. “Thad.”

“Oh. Thad.”

Mrs. Naples glanced down at her phone, before flipping it over. “What about him? Posting more letters in the faculty room?”

“It’s not just the letters. Sometimes, sometimes he just makes me uncomfortable.”

“I think he makes everyone a little uncomfortable. He has that way about him,
doesn’t he?”

“He certainly does.”

“But he does make you laugh.”

Sarah didn’t respond.

“So what did Thad do this time?”

Sarah hesitated. She had a hard time meeting Mrs. Naples’ eyes. “He grabbed me.
Inappropriately grabbed me.”

Mrs. Naples sighed. “Where?”

“In the faculty room.”

“No. Where on your body?”

Sarah felt the lump form in her throat, felt herself growing warmer. “On my backside.”

“Your back?”

She didn’t feel like she should have to say it. “No. My butt.”

Mrs. Naples sighed again. “What kind of grab are we talking about here?

The question caught Sarah off-guard. “Excuse me?”

“A light tap?” Mrs. Naples said, tapping her fingertips on her desk. “Or a grab?” She
gripped the edge of her desk to emphasize, her knuckles turning white.

“Does it matter what kind?”

“It shouldn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. Context does, though.”

“What do you mean context?”

“Well. It is Thad. And it is you.”

“So?”

Mrs. Naples looked at her, like she shouldn't have to explain herself. “Word gets around, Sarah. Even though it shouldn’t, I know, but word gets around.”

Sarah felt herself flush even more. She knew that schools thrived on gossip, but it was usually about school stuff. She didn’t know what Mrs. Naples had heard. Didn’t think that she could have heard about the two of them, until she realized Thad was incapable of keeping his mouth shut. Half the staff probably knew by now, she realized for the first time. “What does that have to do with anything?”

“It doesn’t. Unless it does.”

“What do you mean?”

“You sure you want to do this?”

Sarah wasn’t even sure what she was doing. “Do what? Report sexual harassment?”

Mrs. Naples looked at her like she was speaking with a child. “Listen. I’m not saying what he did was right. It wasn’t. But these situations can be tricky. I’m just trying to make sure. It basically will be a he said-she said situation. And with your history, it gets a little murkier.”

“We don’t have a history.”

Mrs. Naples had a way of smiling without it appearing like a smile when she was trying to figure something out. It made her seem like she was in on a joke that you should be in on, too. Sarah certainly felt as if she didn’t understand the joke.

“Maybe. Maybe not. A matter of perspective. I just want you to think about this. That’s
all. I'm on the side of fairness, and I just don’t want to see you ruined because of this.
Think about it. If you want to go through with this, we’ll go through with it. Let’s not
just rush into something, okay?”

Sarah didn’t know what to say. She felt a burning inside of her.

There was a knock at the door. Mr. Richards didn’t wait to be asked in but poked his head in. His tie was undone. He had the same expressionless face that he kept while on cafeteria duty. “Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt. Maria, I just got another call. Apparently, they’re canceling the soccer match on account of the field being such a mess. I guess there is shit everywhere.” He glanced at Sarah. “Excuse my language.”

“Okay. I’ll send something out to parents tonight.” She looked back at Sarah. “Think about it,” Mrs. Naples said, picking up her phone again.

She dialed a number and put the phone to her ear.

Sarah walked out of the room, avoiding Mr. Richards’s eyes. A few teachers were walking out the door, so Sarah put her bag down, pretended to look for her keys, pretended that she didn’t see how they whispered, how they glanced her way, how they smirked.

“Enjoy the weekend!” one of them called, after Sarah accidentally caught her eye. Sarah forced a smile before returning to her bag.

Mr. Richards came up next to her. “Lose something?” he said, straightening papers on the counter that didn’t need to be straightened.

“I’m not sure,” Sarah said, before walking slowly out the door, making sure not to
catch up with the others.

***

Sarah spent the weekend trying to make sense of Mrs. Naples’s advice, the words running through her mind on a loop. I’m on the side of fairness. She tried to convince herself that Mrs. Naples was indeed trying to be fair. Maybe it really was nothing. Maybe sleeping with him had complicated things. She didn’t eat much, could only see those words on her eyelids when she tried to sleep. The side of fairness. She remembered the workshop, where the speaker showed a cartoon of three little kids trying to see over a fence, the kids’ heights descending in size. The next picture showed them all getting the same sized box to stand on. Only two of the kids could actually see over the fence. The littlest one still couldn’t. The next slide said, “Fair is not always fair.”

Thad had texted her a few times over the weekend, wondering why she was being this way, why she was so mad. She didn’t respond. She laid in bed when her alarm went off on Monday morning. She had always liked her job, enjoyed showing up each day. The kids always made her laugh, seemed like they wanted to learn, and even when they didn’t, they were usually respectful about it. She could understand why people could grow tired of it, but that notion always seemed so abstract for her. Even on her worst days, there was nothing else she could ever imagine herself doing. But, as Sarah watched the coffee drip in the faculty room, for the first time, she didn’t want to be there. Fairness . Sarah
was starting to see what that actually meant.

She took her coffee and sat back down at the table. She wanted to be back in her room, but there was another week of testing. She took out the essays from her bag, where they had remained all weekend, and started to read. The door opened and she cringed. Marni walked in carrying some mesh netting and a bundle of stakes.

Don’t ask,” she said.

Marni put the materials on the table and poured herself a cup of coffee. She and Sarah had started at the school at the same time, had been placed at the same orientation table, which somehow bonded them, even though they never became particularly close.

“They want me to make sure that nothing happens to the nest. And they want me
to involve the students.”

Sarah had always appreciated how Marni had a way of joking without ever making
a joke.

“I thought they hated the geese and wanted to get rid of them,” Sarah said.

“They do, but they view it as some great learning opportunity or something. Especially for the freshmen. But they also want me to figure out a way to make sure
the geese don’t come back.” Marni took a big gulp of coffee.

“Sounds like a lot.”

“It sure does.” Marni continued to gather her supplies. “By the way. Have you heard
what the kids are saying?”

“Aren’t they always saying lots of things?”

“True. But the kids said that you’re trying to get Thad fired.”

She said it so matter-of-factly that Sarah at first thought she had misheard.

“What?”

“They said they had heard Mr. Cheswick was saying that to a group of kids arguing at
lunch, that he used you as an example apparently, how some teachers also don’t always get along well with other teachers.”

Sarah felt herself turning red.

“They also said that he said you were just mad because you used to date and
now you’re not.”

Sarah couldn’t meet her face.

“Is it true?”

“Seriously?”

“I mean, the kids usually know more than we do.”

Neither of them spoke. Marni refilled her coffee, grabbed the meshing and the stakes, and started to walk to the courtyard.

“Marni, you shouldn’t always believe everything you hear.”

Marni smiled. “You’re right. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to imply—I just wanted you to know what they’re saying. In case you wanted to do something about it.”

“Thanks.”

Marni looked at her. “He can be an asshole. But people are talking.”

Sarah didn’t say anything.

“Well, if you don’t want to grade, I’ll be outside. Wouldn’t mind some help.”

Sarah sipped her coffee while she watched Marni hammer in the stakes. She couldn’t believe he would do it, yet absolutely knew he would. Teachers were one thing, but not students. And she was the one being told to be fair. She knew she wouldn’t be able to grade. She put her essays in the bag and walked out the door.

A few seniors were at the tables, a couple of others lying in the grass on their phones. Sarah felt like they were watching her, even though they didn’t look up. The weather had started to warm, but she felt herself shiver. She didn’t know how they all seemed so comfortable. Marni was pounding another stake into the ground with a hammer. Sarah didn’t ask what to do, but started to unravel the meshing.

“Did you know that geese sometimes band together when they’re molting?” Marni said, as they worked. “They feel there’s safety in numbers. That could be why they’re here.
They feel that way until, finally, one is able to fly off. But they hate it, hate being grounded. It’s not the way they’re supposed to be.”

Sarah finished unrolling the meshing and started to gather the stakes. “Then why are we doing this?”

“Because once they breed, sometimes it’s hard to get them to leave. The goal is to
make them feel safe, but also uncomfortable. They should only be here a few months
and then they should move on, fly off when they’re ready. They’ll be back though. We’ll
have to do more next spring.”

“Where’s the nest?”

“Over there in the leaves. It’s hard to see it unless you get close. They’re pretty good at hiding things. I’m going to go get some more stakes. I’ll be right back,” Marni said before heading back inside.

Sarah struggled to pull the meshing around a stake, the grass long and wet around her feet. She pulled harder. It didn’t budge, so she pulled hard again. When the meshing slipped out of her hands, she stumbled backwards and heard the crack.

“Shit,” she said, lifting her foot and seeing the broken shell. She couldn’t see what was inside it; she didn’t want to.

She heard the hissing before she realized what was happening. She turned and saw the outstretched wings, the black marble eyes locked on her. She couldn’t tell if it was the mother or the father but knew it didn’t matter. She instinctively took a step backwards, hoping it might just go away. When she heard another crack under her shoe, she knew it wouldn’t. She grabbed one of the metal stakes and held it like a baseball bat. The goose hissed again, then charged, honking as it attacked. Sarah swung wildly, grazing its wing. The goose didn’t seem to notice. She swung again and landed a blow to its body. It came at her again, and Sarah swung as hard as she could, connecting with its head, just as it was about to bite. The goose fell down instantly, gray feathers floating in the air around it. Its breathing shallow, the goose tried to lift its head. Sarah knew she shouldn’t, but she swung down hard, just to be sure. The goose lay prostrate, its black marble eyes still open. Sarah’s chest heaved, the stake shaking in her hands. Sarah turned and saw Marni coming out with the meshing.

“Well that's one way to keep them away,” Marni said, arriving next to her.

Sarah let the stake drop. “I’m sorry—” Sarah said. “I didn’t mean to.”

Marni dropped the meshing and put her arm on Sarah’s shoulder. “I know you didn’t. But let’s get out of here. Its mate is going to be pissed.”

They left the bird and walked back inside, past the students who were recording the whole thing on their phones. Marni sat her down in the faculty room. Sarah’s hands continued to shake. Feathers clung to her hair. She looked out the window, at the students excitedly talking and texting as they made their way to the student doorway. She heard the door open behind her; she didn’t have to look to know who it was.

“I know they wanted to get rid of the geese, but I don’t think they wanted the students to witness murder.” Thad walked by them, taking out his phone as well. “I mean, there is probably a better word than murder. Goose-icide? I feel like I should know such things. Marni, remind me to look it up.”

Sarah could feel her legs shaking under the table, as if they weren’t her own.

“At least nobody took video of it. That would be a shame.” When he turned around, he
was smiling. “Would hate to see anybody’s credibility take a hit over something that shouldn’t be a big deal in the first place. Right, Sarah?”

Sarah started to pull feathers from her hair, before bringing her hands to her face and wiping what she thought was sweat from her forehead. She looked at them, and for the first time, noticed the blood.

“Fuck off, Thad,” Marni said, handing Sarah a wet paper towel. “I’ll let Tony know.
You okay?” Marni asked.

Sarah nodded.

“I never knew you had it in you,” Thad said, after Marni had left. “Wish I had known you could be so feisty.” He took out his phone and started to type.

Sarah wiped her face, the paper towel cool but scratchy on her skin. She closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths. When she opened them, she saw a goose fly down, land near the lifeless body. It poked around the ground, its beak passing through the leaves. Suddenly, the bird stiffened, like it knew. It looked around, before wildly honking and taking flight.

Mrs. Naples appeared from the student entrance, a few students trailing behind her, pointing to the feathered mess. Mrs. Naples looked at the bird, lifted her foot as if she were going to kick it, before turning around and saying something to the students.
They walked away laughing, and Mrs. Naples headed towards the faculty room.

“Morno!” Thad said.

Mrs. Naples ignored him. “What happened?”

“I stepped on an egg. Then I stepped on another. I didn’t see it. It was an accident.”
Mrs. Naples continued to stare. “I'm sorry. It just started to attack. I didn’t know what
else to do.”

Mrs. Naples sighed, looked at Thad and back to Sarah. “This wasn’t what I had in mind when I said to think about what you wanted to do.”

“Do about what?” Thad asked, not looking up from his phone.

Sarah looked at her, knowing that it might be a mistake to say it, but she said
it anyway.

“At least something was done.”

Mrs. Naples opened her mouth as if she were about to speak. Sarah looked from Mrs. Naples back to Thad. He held her gaze before looking way.

“What a mess,” Thad said, shaking his head. “Don’t worry, Boss, Marni’s getting Tony to clean it up.”

Sarah clenched the paper towel in her hand and realized what needed to be done. “No, I’ve got it,” she said, grabbing the trashcan between the two of them.  “It wouldn’t
be fair otherwise.”

Sarah walked back into the courtyard, leaving them both to watch.

 


Brian McVety is a teacher who lives in western Massachusetts with his wife and three daughters. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Little Old Lady Comedy, Apeiron Review, Blue Lake Review, and New Pop Lit. He can be followed on Twitter @bmcvety.