THE SUBSTITUTE by Amy Kiger-Williams
by Amy Kiger-Williams
The children make a ball the size of a cantaloupe out of looseleaf paper and book tape. They throw it across the classroom, not listening to my adult cries of “Stop it!” All I want is quiet. These children don’t know how to behave. They are boisterous and loud, and I wonder what their parents would do if they were left alone with them for five minutes. I don’t even want to be here with these children. I am substituting, a thing I do when I am only left with ramen and frozen corn in my larder. Substituting is the emergency brake of my life, the ripcord on the parachute. It keeps me from crashing harder, falling farther than I otherwise would.
These children are wild and out of control. They are not doing the work their teacher left for them, but instead some are playing poker in the corner. Others are using the rest of the roll of book tape to encase the left sneaker of the smallest kid in the class. These children toss the ball across the room, the object whizzing toward my head. I lift my hand in the air and grasp it. It was in motion, and now it’s not. The children gasp. I am too old and worn to participate in their homemade games. I am of the adult world, I am the one who is asking them to grow up, to take things seriously, yet they don’t want to. I am falling hard and fast. I might not be the best role model for these children. They look at me and roll their eyes. I roll my eyes back at them. They are not nonplussed. They’ve seen this look in adults before.
But I hold the ball in my hand for a moment. I keep it in the air, holding it before them, a jerry-rigged, disappointing, cobbled-together world in my hand. They expect me to throw it back to them because I am the sub. I have a light bill that was due last week. I am tired of their shenanigans, and other things, as well. I already ate the last bit of pretzel dust in my lunch bag. There are no more snacks at home. They are wearing me down. I have nothing to lose. I hold the ball for a moment too long, and then, with great deliberation, I throw it at the loudest of them all.
Amy Kiger-Williams holds an MFA in Fiction from Rutgers Newark. Her work has appeared in Yale Review Online, X-R-A-Y, Ghost Parachute, and Juked, among others. She is at work on a novel and a short story collection. You can read more of her work at amykigerwilliams.com and follow her on Twitter at @amykw.
Image credit: Forest Simon on Unsplash