Eleanor Sutton, PhD, had been at Bakerfeld College far too long. Twenty-eight years to be precise, not including the years she’d been an adjunct (three course load at Bakerfeld, four at a for-profit, two at a prison where she taught inmates how to diagram sentences, and none of it would cover the various debts her late husband, Gregory, had graciously bequeathed her).
Eleanor Sutton, PhD, would never recognize the effects of what her vacuous colleagues deemed as “teacher burnout.” That was to be expected from them, she supposed, and it was exhausting trying to keep up with the lingo, especially when she’d had such difficulty deciphering the edu-speak of administrators and educational “consultants” who came and went, flitting about, leaving lasting damage upon what was once standardized, reasonable, and orderly.
How times change, and Eleanor was in no mood at her age to keep up with it all. Instead, she remained rigid in her course planning and kept her syllabi at a respectable fifteen pages. There were things she simply would not tolerate, such as tardiness and late assignments, but she was convinced all of it was necessary to prepare the self-involved layabouts for the difficult road ahead.
Because she kept her work-week as routine as she was able, Eleanor felt the need to amuse herself with the occasional diversion away from the tedium of the classroom. Little, savory moments she recorded in a journal she kept by her bedside. Sometimes, she’d even indulge in a glass of cheap table wine she’d stored away for those special occasions when the day’s bit of fun had gone particularly well.
Last Thursday, for example, had been a good day for a lark or two. In the morning, just before her early class began, Eleanor made her way over to the breakroom to photocopy instruction sheets. While the Xerox machine grumbled and churned, Eleanor checked her mailbox. All she found there was a flyer for some pretentious-sounding conference, its title an acronym she didn’t care to learn. Rochelle Dawson’s mailbox, however, was much more interesting anyway.
Rochelle Dawson, M.A. from some barely accredited online university, was often involved in those sorts of take-back-the-night campus events Eleanor found a colossal waste of time. Not only that, she sounded like a horse when she laughed. Her mailbox had been filled with notifications, flyers, and manila envelopes with a red “CONFIDENTIAL” stamped upon them. Eleanor pulled out one of the envelopes, unfastened it, and peeked inside. In it was a letter from one of the mental health “counselors” Bakerfeld had hired over the past year (not one had an M.D. or a PhD, so their titles were, frankly, as pathetic as they were). Apparently, a student had taken issue with something Rochelle had said to him in class. Rochelle had attempted to soothe him, which had only angered him further, and he’d struck her across her face.
Eleanor remembered Rochelle had taken a sudden leave of absence, and the situation with the violent student had undoubtedly been the reason for it. Still, coddling would do little in an era of entitlements and egocentrism, so Eleanor took it upon herself to teach the imbecilic “counselor”—not to mention that politically correct, bleeding heart dingbat Rochelle—a lesson in harsh reality. Plus, it would serve to amuse Eleanor for a good portion of the morning while she attempted to teach nincompoops how to edit a basic essay.
She removed the handouts from the tray and then made a number of copies of Rochelle’s letter. Afterwards, she placed a copy in each faculty member’s mailbox. She made it out of the breakroom just in time as a couple of her department colleagues passed her on their way in, ignoring her as they usually did, chatting about some silly soiree they’d attended at the president’s house over the weekend. Eleanor had been invited as well, but the thought of having to watch them play sycophant had made her want to vomit.
Later that morning, Eleanor was delighted to find a lengthy email chain of outrage from her colleagues in her inbox, each one having cc’ed the deans, the “counselor” in question, and the VP of Academic Affairs.
So much for student privacy.
The afternoon had been even better. Daryl McHattie, PhD in some frivolous interdisciplinary line of study, often left his snack foods in the breakroom cabinets. He had a particular hankering for chili Fritos that stained the fingertips orange and made one’s breath reek. Eleanor found herself caught in the breakroom on more than one occasion, trapped by Daryl’s pontificating prattle and his stinking breath, so she decided to sprinkle a smattering of glass shards in one of Daryl’s open Fritos bags.
Around lunchtime, Daryl had been in class, watching student presentations and munching on those disgusting chips. Eleanor had overheard that he’d tipped the bag into his open mouth, shaking out the crumbs, and had crunched right into the glass bits.
Such ridiculous hysteria over the incident, but Eleanor supposed it had done enough damage to keep that moron’s mouth shut for a change.
Besides, it had also been hilarious.
This week, Eleanor might find something else amusing, something entirely new. She’ll take her time in planning the event, however, since she’s been behind on her grading, and she’s learned over the years that giving conscientious feedback on 150 poorly written papers often takes a considerable amount of time.
In reality though, this week, she’ll be passing that pile of paperwork to a colleague who’ll eventually be wrapped in a grey haze of mourning and regrets, devastated by the loss of a coworker he had never really known. For while Eleanor Sutton, PhD, sits shuffling and organizing student work at her desk during her office hours, a student enters her office, a hand behind his back, his gaze flat.
She looks up from her busywork, and her lips form a tight smile at the strange young man and his blatant intrusion.
“Is there something I can help you with?” she asks him.
His arm snakes from around his back. He has a .38 in hand, now aimed at her forehead.
“You know that thing you said that one time? That wasn’t funny,” he says just before he fires.