The New Game
The children erect a gallows out of desks, cardboard, and ribbon. A child is hung, and then buried in the locker room under a pile of backpacks. The child is made to remain there, held down by two of the larger boys if necessary, for at least thirty seconds.
“Act properly!” I say.
They laugh, normally.
The children do not understand anything about death. When the time is up, the hanged classmate leaps from the locker room with a candy bar in his mouth. The other children cheer and clap.
Don’t they realize that nothing returns from the dirt? Not ever? Death might as well be a lollipop to them.
Today’s lesson is on sections of the house. I draw on the board with different colored chalk.
“This is the hallway,” I say. “This is the attic.”
“My grandmother lives in the attic,” says Sam.
“You lie!” says Sophie. “You don’t have a have grandmother.”
“I do, I do. She lives in the attic in the sky.”
Sam yanks her hair and Sophie kicks his shin. They go on like this until I shout that there is no attic in the sky.
They ask me where Sam’s grandmother lives.
“The dirt,” I say, pressing my hands to my face.
“Ew,” Sophie says. “There are bugs down there.”
I start telling them about my husband. The way they soaked his body with chemicals and then lowered him into the ground. But the children hold their hands to their throats and make gagging noises.
The next day, Norm comes to school with one of his shoelaces tied around his neck. He is one of the most popular boys and by naptime the entire class is wearing shoelace nooses.
They trip around the jungle gym at recess. I retrieve their laceless shoes from the yard during naptime and toss them in the cubbies.
After lunch, Sophie asks me if she can eat a chocolate bar. I tell her I don’t have any.
“But I need it to live!” she screams. Sophie starts shaking, rolling her eyes back until I can only see white.
“That is not funny,” I shout. “Not funny at all.”
She is already beginning to giggle.
I get to class late on Friday. My eyes are red and sore from the night before.
When I walk into the room, the students are constructing a new gallows out of real wood and rope.
“It’s for the science fair,” Norm says.
“What does this have to do with science?” I say.
“I dunno,” says Sam.
“You’re the teacher,” says Sophie. “You tell us.”
It doesn’t seem to matter anymore. I sit at my desk and sip my burnt coffee.
When Sophie volunteers for a test run, I lift her body carefully to the loop. I’m supposed to hold her there while she pretends to die, then lower her safely to the ground.
The children count down their thirty seconds, but I keep holding. I want them to get a little taste of fear. To realize death doesn’t stop when you want it to.
Instead they just laugh as Sophie wiggles her body. The children fall to the floor and kick their legs in the air. Sam tumbles around the ground like a hyena until he sweeps my legs out from under me.
I’m lying on the carpet, looking up at Sophie. Her face is as blue as a naptime mat.
The other children are standing or sitting around me. Some of them are beginning to cry. Norm tugs on my skirt. It is almost recess.
Sophie’s body is ticking back and forth, marking the seconds, minutes, hours left to fill before the day is done.
Lincoln Michel was born in Virginia and lives in Brooklyn. His fiction and essays appear in Tin House, NOON, BOMB Magazine, Oxford American, The Paris Review Daily, The Believer, and elsewhere. He is a founder and co-editor of the literary magazine Gigantic. His comic strips and comic collaborations appear in The Rumpus and Volume 1 Brooklyn. He can be found online at lincolnmichel.com.