By Duke Harten

“I’ll give you Wendy Gutierrez for Jason Quince,” said Mr. Spitz.

Mrs. Stevens laughed. “Dream on,” she said. “I picked up Quince straight out of first grade. Gutierrez bounced around second for what, a full year?”

Mr. Spitz shrugged. “I’m not saying she didn’t take her sweet time. But she knows all the states and their capitals. Plus, she got bronze in the science fair.”

“All the capitals? Really?”

“Scout’s honor.”

Mrs. Stevens paused. “Sweeten the pot.”

“Jamie Cork?”

“I’ve eaten meatloaf smarter than Jamie Cork. Don’t insult me.”

“I’ll give you my fourth-round draft pick next year.”

“You’re hot for Quince, huh?” Mrs. Stevens thought about how much she’d like a cigarette right now. “Hey, no running!”

- - -

“Did you hear Mr. LaRoche is putting out feelers on Declan Steer?” said Mrs. Dwight, peeling a clementine.

Feelers how?” said Ms. Conroy. She peered into the fridge, looking for her Tupperware.

“He wants to get rid of Steer, bulk up on spelling and grammar.”

“You’d have to pay a pretty penny for Declan Steer,” said Ms. Conroy. She sighed. Someone had taken her Tupperware again. She suspected Mrs. Tannenhouse, that vindictive old goose.

“Not as much as you might think. A Machayla Greene or an Evan Morales—maybe throw in one or two second grade prospects. Declan’s a geography whiz, yeah, and his history is, like, unassailably solid. But the kid wouldn’t know a times table if it hit him in the family jewels.”

Ms. Conroy considered this. She could use Declan Steer in her class. But was she willing to part with Evan Morales? He was reading at a seventh-grade level, for chrissake. She decided to take a look at Steer’s report card, just for kicks. Just to see.

 - - -

“You hear about Jamie?” said Bobby R.

“No,” said Bobby M.

“Got sent down,” said Bobby R.

“No way,” said Bobby M.

“Jack told me. He’s gonna be in Mrs. Tannenhouse’s class.” Bobby R. picked up some sand and let it run through his fingers.

“Oh, my God,” said Bobby M. He picked his nose.

“I know,” said Bobby R.

“Here comes Sarah,” said Bobby M.

“She’s gross,” said Bobby R.

“I know,” said Bobby M.

“Here, let’s throw rocks at her,” said Bobby R.

“Yeah,” said Bobby M.

 - - -

Mrs. Tannenhouse, forty-two and unmarried, considered herself a spinster. She considered herself a spinster despite also considering herself a feminist—she acknowledged inwardly that the term ‘spinster’ is antifeminist in that it implicitly ties a woman’s worth to the man she marries (or, in Mrs. Tannenhouse’s case, does not marry). She considered herself a spinster because the younger feminists on the faculty (like that bitch Ms. Conroy) happened to have achieved male companionship and, if you were to get right down to it, Mrs. Tannenhouse craved that achievement, too. What’s wrong with wanting male companionship? That doesn’t make you not a feminist, wanting a guy. But wanting a guy and not being able to get a guy, and then aging—that makes you a spinster. Look it up in a dictionary, Mrs. Tannenhouse thought as she gazed out her classroom window at the playground, a tuna fish sandwich half-eaten in her hand. The definition is clear. From where she stood, she could see Mrs. Stevens and Mr. Spitz working out a deal.

“Mrs. Tannenhouse?” said a voice at the door. It was Vice Principal Adams. Mrs. Tannenhouse got the feeling sometimes that Vice Principal Adams (divorced) would like to sleep with her, but she doubted whether there was any long-term potential there. Besides—she’d mucked up enough professional situations in her career to make the mistake of bedding a superior again.

“Yes?” she said.

“Just wanted to let you know: Jamie Cork’s been optioned to your class by Mr. Spitz.”

“Okay,” said Mrs. Tannenhouse, “Thank you.” Vice Principal Adams nodded once and left.

Mrs. Tannenhouse threw her tuna fish sandwich in the bin. “What’s for lunch today, Ms. Conroy?” she said to the empty room, and opened up the Tupperware she’d stolen from the faculty lounge. It was fajitas.