A week after the PTO board meeting, Rita Malloy accosted Richard Gray in the school hall at dismissal. She wore faded jeans and a black sweatshirt emblazoned with words, PHILOSOPHY: I’M IN IT FOR THE MONEY. “I meant what I said last Thursday,” she said. “The PTO’s goal should be to replace Miz Rutherford and bring the school into the 1960s.”
Her favorite decade, no doubt. “I don’t know—”
“She’s a closet segregationist. Another reason to despise her.” She adopted a pensive expression. “Then again, I’ve hated her for ten years, at least.”
“That long?” Richard recoiled in amazement. “What happened?”
“I was breastfeeding Bertie in the cafeteria. Don’t look so shocked. It was empty, no big deal. I’d been working with Catherine’s fourth-grade class. Bertie was four months old and hungry. What could I do? I took the blanket I carried around and shut the doors behind me, went to a corner, and turned my back, hunched over, meek as a mouse. Ten seconds after Bertie starts, I hear the door creak like in a horror movie. Her. My blood curdled. Hell, my milk curdled. ‘What are you doing?’ she asks, real cold. ‘Nursing my baby.’” Rita wagged her head back and forth as she recounted. “‘You can’t do that here. What if a child saw it?’ ‘Every child has seen it.’ ‘I don’t allow it in my school. You must leave.’ Just like that. That’s how it started with me.”
“I see. She’s a baby-starver.”
“Exactly!” Rita cried out. “You know, I’ve got a confession of sorts. Bertie was Stanford’s going-away present. I was forty-two. Ah, such memories. Did you know we named him after Bertrand Russell? Everyone thinks he’s named after the Sesame Street character. The gay one.”
“You were divorced right after that?”
“More or less. Don’t look at me that way. OK, we weren’t big on formality. We’re not really divorced because we never really married. You must think I’m just an old hippie.”
“Old hippies are cool. Got any Grateful Dead concert tapes I can borrow?”
“Shut up. When I told him he’d knocked me up he said, ‘That which does not kill us, makes us strong.’ I said, ‘Bullshit, asshole. That which does not kill us makes us sick.’” She sighed. “He still comes by sometimes, when his grad student du jour locks him out. What can I do? I’m a sucker for a bald philosophy professor who’s always late on child support. He’s … familiar. It doesn’t seem odd to crawl into bed and—”
“Too much information, Rita.”
“We’ll probably end up together, old and toothless. I hate sleeping alone. So, any time—”
“I need to get Nick,” Richard blurted, then saw the principal approach. His Detention Avoidance Reflex caused him to step away from Rita. Miz R gave them a warden’s smile, as if they were a pair of bumbling inmates caught trying to escape. Richard kept moving, leaving the two women who had long ago abandoned attempts at civility staring at each other. When he returned with his son, both were gone.
* * *
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