Thank God for good coffee.
I stretch and pour myself another cup from the small perk behind my desk. It’s a necessary affectation when the alternative is stale, brown-dyed water from the staff room vending machine. Today I’ve had two cases of bullying, a fist fight between pregnant cheerleaders and, to top it all off, a phone call from a shrink back east. My mother has gone AWOL. Again. Today I need coffee that’ll stand up a spoon.
Three fifteen. Just enough time to finish the last bullying incident report before the bell rings and I join the exodus as gleefully as any student.
Tap tap tap.
A slim youth slides into the office wearing a smug smile and a tight white T-shirt: Brandon Crawford in all his cocksure glory.
“I’m glad you’ve learned to knock, Brandon. What brings you to the guidance department on this lovely afternoon?”
“In general, the intolerant wrath of Mr. Higgins. In specific, aliens, lust, Billy Bob Thornton …”
Seventeen and so damn clever in his own eyes. He’s a carbon copy of the boys I despised in high school, because I couldn’t stop falling in love with them. He sprawls his lanky body across a metal chair and tilts it back precariously, daring me to challenge his little speech.
“Aliens, eh?” It’s 3:20 and I really don’t care.
“Yeah, aliens that all look like Billy Bob Thornton. I was telling Marcy how they gave me all these useless powers, like now I can tell whenever people are thinking about sex.”
My mind inadvertently flips back to this morning. Warm sheets and a little pre-breakfast cuddle with Vijay that led to …
“There you go! You just lit up like a Christmas tree.”
That smug smile again.
“C’mon Brandon. You tell anyone that you know when they’re thinking about sex and what’s the first thing that pops into their head? Nice try.”
“No, really. Some of the teachers here are damn creepy, like Higgins, for instance. He goes all radioactive any time Marcy’s in the room. And Gillespie. It’s almost creepier that he never lights up. What is he, some kind of a Eunice?”
“‘Eunuch.’ It’s okay to be candid here Brandon, but the principal’s sex life is still not an appropriate topic for speculation … So, Billy Bob Thornton is the new Elvis?” I’m trying for a topic with less potential to end in litigation.
“You know. Elvis held hostage, piloting the ship, being worshipped by the aliens. Standard tabloid stuff.” I should know. I grew up in the penumbra of my mother’s Weekly World News addiction … and moved three provinces away when she showed up at my graduation in a tinfoil hat.
“Naw, Elvis wasn’t there, just a bunch of Billy Bobs bobbing their heads and shining lights in my eyes. I haven’t figured out if the Billy Bob in the movies is one of them or if they just kind of modelled themselves after him.”
“And they gave you super powers?”
“Not super, useless mostly … Like I can see everywhere I’ve ever walked. It’s like a friggin’ sparkly snail trail behind me. And if I’m in a room at home and I’m like ‘oh I’ve never stepped in that exact spot beside the TV’ I feel like I have to go step there. It’s friggin’ stupid.”
I raise an eyebrow at the pseudo-swearing, but it’s 3:25 and I pick my battles. He actually looks a little bit ruffled despite the deliberately nonchalant posture and I wonder what’s below the surface of this elaborate fabrication.
“That sounds like a compulsion Brandon, but that’s rather out of character for you. Is there something else that’s bothering you?”
“Yeah, this whole thing is messing with my head a little. I hear a sound like a brass band when people are hungry and that is driving me crazy. My mom’s rail thin, really takes care of herself, but I didn’t know she’s always hungry. The other night I was like ‘Mom. Eat a sandwich for chrissake. You’re giving me a goddamn headache.’”
The last time I saw my mother she had forsworn vegetables, claiming that the wider she grew, the more easily the Mothership could relocate her. The hospital dietitian nearly had an aneurysm arguing the point. “Agnes,” she’d say, “no alien is going to want to abduct someone with scurvy,” but Mom would just point her pinkie fingers at the carrots and try to will them off the plate. Before I left she told me the risk of diabetes or a heart attack was nothing compared to the chance to fly through the stars again.
I wonder if I’ll go visit when they find her this time.
“What happened then?” I ask, returning my attention to Brandon.
“I tried earplugs, but no dice. It’s like it’s coming in straight through my skull.” He leans in over my desk and lowers his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “Then some old bird told me about tinfoil. It works fine at home, but even I couldn’t pull that shit off at school.”
The confident grin is back. I have definitely been had. But who the hell told Brandon Crawford about my mother? No one makes fun of my mother except me, and today I am not in the mood. I feel like punting the little punk out of my office, but instead I feign ignorance. I give Brandon my best I’m-not-letting-you-get-under-my-skin-you-little-bastard guidance counsellor smile.
“The buzzer is going to ring any moment Brandon. Anything else about these useless powers you need to tell me before you go?”
He cocks his head to the side and points his pinkie fingers toward my forgotten cup of coffee.
“I didn’t say they were all useless.”
The spoon is standing up and stirring in lazy circles of its own accord as the cup leaves the desktop and floats smoothly into Brandon’s outstretched hand. He takes a long sip, eyes laughing above the rim.
“Agnes is right about one thing. Telekinesis ain’t half bad.”
Laura Lee McArdle writes in Winnipeg Manitoba, where she is sustained by a potent admixture of family, home-grown vegetables and very good coffee.