Last words & epigraphs
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This work first appeared in Gargoyle, issue #2. Please respect the fact that this material is copyrighted. It is made available here without charge for personal use only. It may not be stored, displayed, published, reproduced, or used for any other purpose without the express consent of the author or artist.
Donna B. Kaulkin
The principal looked through the window to the parking lot filled with cars, his fingers drumming impatiently on the desk. At any moment she would appear. That woman. Ever since their first meeting he had been disturbed by her, by the way she walked into a room and took over. And not in the usual feminine way, either. She was like a witch, carrying with her an aura of power. Although her blonde hair was soft and beautiful, her body round and voluptuous, her mind was cold and calculating. She seemed shrewd, and he was fervently afraid of her.
Whenever she was near he found himself weakening. He couldn't move his gaze from her face and her hair. Supposedly, he was the one who was hard and cold, but in her presence he became confused; he the victim, she the oppressor. When she left him, it took a long time for his power to return.
Now he watched for her. He liked to watch as she walked from her car to the building. She probably knew that she was being watched, probably expected it. His eyes stared through the clear panes of glass and his heart beat rapidly. There was no joy in this.
Finally, her car appeared in the lot. He had not seen it enter and now suddenly it was there. She was here. She wouldn't disappoint him. She never had. He could depend on her to arrive punctually, to walk in and take command. Right out of his hands. It was his office, his staff, and she took over; and he felt helpless to stop her.
He wondered if anyone noticed his weakness, if they were laughing at him; but no, he didn't think so. She had a way of manipulating all of them, throwing around insults and sarcasms, then softening them with smiles. No one knew whether to be insulted or charmed. Everyone was confused and weakened. Each probably felt like her personal victim, just as he did. If that was the case, there was nothing to worry about. She hadn't singled him out for the game.
Now he felt depressed.
She had walked into the building and was waiting in the outer office for him. Sighing heavily, he got up from his desk and walked out to meet her. How breathtaking she looked, laughingly relating a story to the secretaries. They were smiling happily in response. Look what she does to people, he thought. Makes them laugh, weakens them. Then she strikes." Her story ended abruptly when she saw him and she thrust out her hand. Another of her infuriating habits! She liked to shake hands like a man. It was his tendency to lead a woman, to touch her shoulder or her back, to walk behind her, but she didn't allow it. She always maneuvered herself around him so he couldn't provide protective gestures. Often she touched him in ways that suggested his vulnerability, her strength.
When they were seated in his office, he behind his desk, she crossed her legs demurely in front of her. "I must be frank with you," she began. "Our discussions do not seem to be leading anywhere. I have gone over the curriculum changes with your faculty and they are agreeable. The school board has recommended the changes and you claim to be amenable to them, so what is the problem? Why are you fooling around with this instead of taking action?"
He didn't know. Indecision had never been a problem before. He had always known what he wanted to do and how to do it. "It's not a question of 'fooling around'. These things take time. I can't make a decision like this without giving it proper consideration. There's too much to lose if we act quickly and without thought."
"Thought," she wailed. We've thought about it for two years. The program is in operation in every middle school but this one. You are the only hold-out. Now look, your personal views represent only one segment of this community. This school should represent the whole. If you don't begin to organize the new structure immediately, there's going to be trouble."
She was threatening him. He felt his blood pressure zoom. Look how calmly she sat there, swinging her leg, her shoe dangling dangerously from her toes. She wanted him to give in. After all these years Of successful resistance, she wanted him to give up. Uh, uh. Unconsciously, he shook his head. "And what, um, what is this trouble you suggest, Mrs. Hayes?"
"Ms." A smirk briefly appeared on her face. "I suggest that if you don't hop to it, we will begin with petitions to enlist community support. From there, it will be legal action, which the board does not relish, as you know, and ultimately, you will be out of a job."
These last words were spoken with an unbearable softness. He stared at her in astonishment. Had he heard her correctly? She could not have uttered such menacing words in that sweet tone. Her appearance belied the possibility. Softness, so much softness. His body ached all over. He had a sudden impulse to cry.
And all the while, as he suffered, she sat there composed her shoe dangling. "Mrs. Hayes," he collected himself and said evenly "I think I'll take my chances. I've come this far with what I believe to be right, and I have no intention of changing at this late date."
She rose from her seat and held out her hand across the desk. "If that is your final word," she said calmly, "then I'll say goodbye. I have no intention of wasting any more of my time."
He was stunned. It was happening so quickly. He held her hand fleetingly, in a daze. She was leaving. He had waited for her all his life and now she was leaving. Silently he screamed, begged her to stay; please stay, please stay; he thought his head would burst from the pain. . .
But aloud he said nothing and she left.
He didn't watch her through the window. He locked the door and rested his head on the desk. How could this happen to him now? Why, why had she come along precisely at the moment of peace and order? It had taken so long to arrive at this state of mind. All of the struggles were behind him. He had planned to relax. He had so looked forward to these years.
Suddenly, a bell lunged through his reverie, causing his head to jerk up violently. The day was over. There were no conferences scheduled for that afternoon, nothing to attend to. He could go home. Outside his window, the world languished in a lovely balance between winter and spring, between afternoon and evening. The Bradford Pear was about to burst into bloom; the jonquils were already flowering. And momentarily, the students would be crashing through the double doors, on to the lawn, through the parking lot. Life would explode.
Touched by a sense of urgency, he lifted the receiver and phoned his wife.
"Hello," answered a voice, almost a song.
"Hi, dear. I think I'll be coming home early today. Would you like me to pickup anything on the way?"
She giggled slightly. "of course not. What makes you ask that all of a sudden?"
"I don't know. I just thought . . . you might need something. Will you be there? Are you going out anywhere this afternoon?"
"No, dear. I'm here. I'm preparing dinner. What's wrong with you?"
"I don't know. Something. I don't know what," he answered sadly.
She laughed again. "It's all in your head. Spring fever. C'mon home."
"O.k. I'll be there soon."
He hung up the Phone and stared out the window, pensively, unable to move,
to get started. Something--despair, disappointment, he couldn't identify
the feeling--was overtaking him. It was the woman. Mrs Hayes. Ms. Hayes.
He wanted her so badly. He could no longer delude himself about it. He
did not want to resist her any longer. He stared at the phone as if, mind
to mind, he could force it to ring, to burst forth in her soft, sweet voice.
How many times had he thought about calling her? Sat here just like this
drumming his fingers on the desk, staring at the phone? Once, in a moment
of resolute power, he had pushed the buttons that would unlock the distance
between them, heard the soft bells announce each cipher, and then, her
voice, as soft as the bells, as commanding as bells. He had quickly pressed
On another day, when curiosity about her had overtaken him, he had left
school at lunchtime and driven to her street. It was a cold day and old
snow was piled along the curbs and in the gutters. As luck would have it,
what rotten luck! She was outdoors, the only
Now he had to decide what to do, whether or not to confront her. Surely she was having similar thoughts about him. Else, why would she harass him so? Why did she continually break into his life and upset things? She deliberately tried to titillate him with her short skirts and her soft voice. She was probably waiting for him to make the first move.
But, his wife? He had never betrayed her. They had been married happily for so many years. Their children, grown now and far away, were still close to them in spirit. Could he find the means in the face of this terrible temptation, to remain faithful? He didn't know. Again, he was close to tears. His shoulders began to move convulsively. There didn't seem to be an answer to his dilemma.
He buried his face in his hands, Why now? Why now? He ground his forehead into his palms as if he could grind down the substance of his thoughts. Day after day he was plagued with questions and problems in his work, his home, always, all throughout the long arduous climb from teacher to principal. But there had never been any real difficulty in deciding what to do. It had always been easy to find correct solutions for there were so few correct answers. And thank God he had always known them all. Thank God.
He rubbed his eyes and looked up out the window. With relief he looked around the room. Suddenly, surprisingly, the confusion that had muddied his mind, rendered him useless, was gone. Everything was orderly, his desk the black vinyl visitors' chairs that lined the wall opposite him. Everything was in its proper place. No ornamental devices could distract him from his purpose. All balance had been restored.
Astounding! he thought. Astounding. Smiling to himself, his power surging through him once more, elevating his shoulders, his jaw, giving to his step a youthful, prideful air, he took his keys from his pocket and left the school.