Mrs. Longstaff was tall, with big white curls that bounced when she walked, each curl like the bushy tail of a squirrel. She was fair in color, with thin lips that pursed for most every emotion she had, save for when she was mad, then she smiled. In the off chance that someone dared cut their eyes in her direction, or happened to discover the multiplication table on the back of their ruler during a math quiz, she would smirk, push off her left foot and glide across the floor on her woren chair with four wheels until she reached her coat cabinet. As casual and silent as she was, a bystander would think she was making a routine glance at the time or to double check she hadn’t forgotten her umbrella. But we were her students, and we each knew what a chair ride to the cabinet meant.
We would all look around, eyes searching for her victim and tighten our necks to contain the laughter that we knew was soon to come. She would reach into the cabinet and pull her purse out onto her lap, never once shifting in her chair. She would shuffle her hand around in it, sometimes humming softly, until she found it…her choice mode of punishment. When her hand stopped shuffling, she would glance over the top of her glasses just to acknowledge that she knew, she had our full attention. Then victoriously she would hold out to examine (as if it had changed colors on its own since the last time) a tube of her bright pink lipstick. She would apply it quickly, with much less drama then the purse hunt and spin her chair until she faced the direction of the culprit. Still never leaving her seat, she would take her long legs and outstretch each one after the other, slowly revving the chair back into a steady speed across the floor until she reached, in this particular memory, Lizzy Nelson.
Liz sat right next to me and was one of a handful of white kids in the class. My eyes got big as I turned to see if Lizzy too realized her dawning fate. She knew. Her face beet red, her right pointer and middle finger were glued together rubbing a small circle at the center of her forehead hairline in nervousness. I overheard her mom say once at one of our sleepovers, that Lizzy was going to go bald in that spot if she didn’t quit. Lizzy’s mouth was slightly parted as if she wanted to say something, but she just kept rubbing and staring at Mrs. Longstaff until the four wheels stopped just a foot shy of her tennis shoes. A big smile spread across Mrs. Longstaff’s face and as she leaned in, Lizzy turned and buried her face in her arms on top her desk, her voice yelped high pitched and muffled through her sweatshirt threads,
“No! Mrs. Longstaff, please!”
The whole class burst into laughter and over my shoulder I heard Davis Baugh yell, “Do it!”
And that’s all it took, almost on cue, the whole class chorused “Do it, Do it Do it!”
Mrs. Longstaff sat back in her chair, still smiling, staring at the back of Lizzy’s blond ponytail, her face protectively nuzzled in her arms. Mrs. Longstaff quieted us all with her hands, palms down.
When a hush finally fell, Mrs. Longstaff announced,
“When I say no talking, Elizabeth Nelson, I mean no talking.”
She crossed her arms, still leaning back and raised her eyebrows, waiting for a response. Lizzy turned her head in her arms slow motion, so that her right cheek and eye were exposed. She peeked out and made eye contact.
“Well? You know the rules,” said Mrs. Longstaff staring back, eyebrows still arched high.
Lizzy slowly brought her head back atop her neck and sat up. She sat on her hands, squeezed her eyes shut and grimaced her mouth as if she were holding in vomit; or was she going to laugh? I am sure it was a mix of emotion.
The class inhaled, and Mrs. Longstaff puckered her lips. As she planted two thin pink lines right in the middle of Lizzy’s cheek, she made an exaggerated kissy sound, which caused the whole class to once again, exhale into rolling laughter. Lizzy opened her eyes. She was flush as a ripe watermelon now, but I saw a smile through her grimace as she turned to Davis and stuck out her tongue while Mrs. Longstaff outstretched her long legs one at a time again until she resumed position in front of the room, seated next to the overhead projector.
She cleared her throat, signaling us to focus. “Now. Where were we…”