Blue-eyed social studies teacher Claire Peabody pushes open the door to the faculty lounge, letting herself in and shutting out the sweaty stink of youth that permeates the middle school’s hallways.
Inside the lounge, the air smells inviting, thanks to an autumn breeze blowing through a propped-open window that intermingles with the rugged woodsy scent of a colleague’s cologne and a freshly brewed pot of Hazel Nut coffee.
Two of the three tables, each smallish and round, are occupied. Claire says her “hellos” to three teachers sharing a table near the door, then nods at Alex Fuentes, the colleague wearing the woodsy cologne. Alex, who teaches Spanish, is sitting alone at the table by the propped-open window, munching on a Bartlett pear and going over his notes for an upcoming lesson. Alex looks up, pushes his wavy hair away from his face and gestures for Claire to join him. “What a happy coincidence that you’re taking your break now too,” he says, flashing his pearly whites and feigning surprise, even though there’s nothing surprising to him about her arrival.
Claire fixes herself a cup of coffee, grabs her lunch from the refrigerator, crinkles her button nose at something funky inside and slams the door shut. “Why do people leave their old lunches behind in the fridge like that?” she grumbles with true irritation. But her mood shifts to sheer delight as soon as she settles herself in at the table with Alex. She takes a small bite of her Anjou pear and a big bite of her turkey sub, then sips at her coffee. Under the table, she rubs her foot against Alex’s leg.
Claire and Alex assume, incorrectly, that no one in the middle school knows about their romantic adventures. There’s no reason for secrecy; they’re both single. But they decided it would be better, professionally, to keep it private.
At the other table, lanky shaggy-haired English teacher Jason Stojanovic summons his colleagues’ attention and mouths the words “love is in the air.”
Short and wiry Russ Menendez, who teaches music at the school and on his own time plays upright bass in a local jazz band, smirks in utter amusement. Science teacher Trevor Ford, who has never fully mastered the skill of reading lips, leans in and whispers “what?” Jason mouths it a second time and gets another “what?” from Trevor. “I’ll tell you later,” Jason says.
Jason launches into a joke he promises will be “boffo,” but when he gets to the punch line, Russ snarls and Trevor groans. Trevor Ford, a robust man with graying hair and a grandfatherly voice, points a friendly finger at Jason. “Good Lord Jason! I’m the one who’s got the reputation for telling corny jokes, but your joke was cornball to the extreme.”
“Agreed,” Russ says. “Ah, fuck you both!” Jason shouts in a friendly huff. “Okay fellas, here’s another one,” Jason says, hoping for a chance at redemption. “What were Benito Mussolini’s famous last words?”
“Probably something in Italian,” Russ says, laughing at his own remark. “Don’t know,” Trevor says, “just tell us; what were Mussolini’s last words?”
Jason melodramatically thrusts his hands around his own neck, widens his eyes, droops his tongue out of the side of his mouth and makes choking noises.Trevor laughs, then Russ laughs louder.
At the other table, Claire Peabody clears her throat and loudly addresses her colleague. “Well Jason, that would be moderately funny,” she says in an arrogant tone, “if Mussolini had been hung by the neck. But he wasn’t. He and his mistress were shot to death. Their bloodied bodies were brutally dragged through the streets of Milan and then hung upside down by their feet, to the morbid delight of an angry mob; really quite horrific.”
“Hanged,” the English teacher says with his own fair amount of arrogance.
“Excuse me?” Claire utters in a testy voice.
“Hanged,” Jason says again. “Curtains are hung. Banners are hung. Wind chimes are hung and.” Jason pauses in mid-sentence, a smug smile spreads across his lean face. “And some men, men such as myself, are well-hung. But when it comes to executions, people are hanged, not hung. That’s the grammatically correct word, hanged, not hung.”
Claire glares at Jason, then turns away. She sips at her coffee, silently counting to ten. She pulls a pen and notepad from her handbag, writes down something, folds it into fours and passes it to Alex, who eagerly opens it expecting to read some lovey-dovey words. Instead, Claire’s written words say: “Jason Stojanovic is a jackass!!!”
Alex smiles, says “absolutely,” refolds the note and sticks it in his pocket.
At the other table, Russ Menendez, assuming it’s a love note, tingles at the thought of Alex and Claire’s secretive workplace romance. Russ can’t help but think what a dreamy couple they are; Claire, so beautiful; Alex, so handsome. Russ tells himself he’d like a crack at either one of them. Or maybe both of them in a kinky three-way. He takes a deep breath and pictures them naked. Russ Menendez is not the kind of guy who blushes. But he is fully aware that if he did possess that trait, he’d be blushing right now.
Russ is the only one who notices the note passing hands. Trevor is too busy devouring what’s left of his microwaved chili. Jason, tapping his long fingers against the table, is stewing over Claire’s put-down of his Mussolini joke. He punches the table to get Russ and Trevor’s attention, then mouths the words: “She is such a pompous ass.”
Russ, still daydreaming about Alex and Claire, plus now wondering if Jason’s claim to be well-hung is true, blurts out a half-laugh. Trevor sets down his spoon, leans in and
Jason mouths it again and Trevor whispers “what?” again. “I’ll have to tell you later,” Jason says in slight frustration, then checks the time. “Break’s over,” Jason says, rising from his chair, eager to get the hell out of there.
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Paul Germano lives, works and plays in Syracuse, smack dab in the center of New York State. Germano’s fiction has been published in roughly 50 print and online magazines including Boston Literary Magazine, Bright Flash Literary Review, The Drabble, The Fictional Café, Sledgehammer Literary Journal and Voices in Italian Americana. His writing has appeared twice previously in Word City Literary Journal with “All Shook Up” (creative nonfiction) in September 2021 and “Erie Boulevard” (flash fiction) in November 2021.
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