"Abstinence and Propriety" by Kristine Brown

She lined us against the wall, hands tied purple, clenched teeth concealed by dirty blindfolds.

"The more you blink, the more it'll hurt."

My eyes widened, whites showing. Determination failed, yardstick swung. Shins burned as splinters cracked. My pocketed phone stilled.

"It wasn't too long ago when my daughter was struck by lightning. Look at page 43. It says no showers, no phone. No joke. When the electrician came to our home to fix our line, he told me, 'It's a miracle she lived.'"

Oh, Ms. Swanson, you aren't teaching this year. And in your room I learned that teeth lost in tetherball matches could be saved with milk cartons, laughing at the blind who can't read French betrays false pride, and despite what anyone says, the Holocaust really happened. Your lectures play in my mind, like songs from the ‘90s recorded on my cassette player late last week.


"What exactly happened in first period? What set her off? I know you didn't do anything."

So here I sit, questioned. And it wasn't too long ago when you pulled me into your office another time because I told the cheerleaders to "Fuck off." When I answered affirmatively, your face became resin cured. You told me I wasn't a lady, and sent me off.

"You're one of the most mature kids in your grade. If anyone could help us assess the situation, it would be you."

"There are twenty-eight other kids in the class."


"She walked into class, put flowers by the sink. She told us it was from the police officer. The one who gave Mikey detention because he threw batteries from the third floor balcony. You obviously know it's sex ed week, so the lesson was about that and other stuff. And some of my friends like to joke and ask questions and obviously she can't answer them because she's conservative, has pictures of George Bush—"

"That has nothing to do with anything. We teach abstinence. We practice responsibility. Proceed."

"So we're talking about conception and I asked her if a zygote was what you'd consider a thing with life. She couldn't answer. And Chris, he asked her what it meant to 'shoot a blank.' She said she couldn't answer that either. She'd go to jail, or something bad like that. Could she?"

"Nah. Suspended without pay, maybe. No jail. What else?"

"Chris asked her what a beejay was. She gave him a weird look, and said, 'This is sex education. Either pay attention to the PowerPoint or stop asking irrelevant questions. You're thirteen years old and you don't know what a blue jay is?'"

"Okay." Madame Vice President sips Capri-Sun from her tumbler.

"So that's when Chris asked what she and Officer Branski were doing in the boys’ room. Then he pointed out she was wearing slacks in class, but in there, it was a blue skirt."


"She didn't say anything at first. Some of us in the front giggled, but no one said anything as she called him up to stand before the class."

"Hold your hands up!" Dictionary, Merck Manual, Grey's Anatomy, Encyclopedia Brittanica. These are essential in a seventh grade science classroom.

"Don't you fucking shrug, Atlas!"

No one ever said that. Except my mom after Taco Bell nightshift. Not the part about shrugging and Atlas. Just fucking. Fucker. Motherfucker. Fuckity fucks.

The books got higher, arms bent sore. She called us up. Just ten kids. Against the wall. She brought out the blindfolds Scrabble-assorted with words like nasty. Easy. Vamp. She had ten.

"This is what they call a random sample!" The yardstick of authority no longer leaned against the computer desk that hosted a monitor harboring the blissfully unseen.

But out of ten, treatment was uniform. Indiscriminately daring to believe.

"So does she get fired, or suspended without pay? What's the fucking difference?" Five other names were already written on the Post-It Note next to the grown-up Sippy cup. In third period, we recently learned about unreliable narrators.






Her fingers drummed against her desk, bony foot swaying like a weed whacker fueled by Red Bull.

"You're free to go."

I unrolled my jeans.