Copyright is held by the author.
“COME IN, Margaret, and have a seat.” Principal Peters looked up from the mess on his desk and watched the young teacher standing in the doorway. She pulled up a chair and sat down.
“I’m afraid you’re being declared redundant at this school,” he announced, almost casually. “Board policy,” he said, as if that explained everything.
Redundant. It was a word she had written many times in the margins of her students’ essays, and now it was being applied to her. It seemed life moved in a circle.
“I’m sorry, Margaret, it’s out of my hands.” Her principal gave her a solicitous look. She wondered if he had practiced it at home in front of a mirror.
Margaret said nothing. She knew he was waiting for some sign of recognition — something to indicate she didn’t blame him. Something to signal she was on her way out the door. But she just sat there, speechless.
He was getting impatient. The news couldn’t have come as that much of a shock. Everyone at their school knew about the problem of declining enrollment. Bumping teachers, no matter how competent in their field or beloved by their students, was a simple matter of mathematics — and money. It wasn’t personal.
“We’re going to miss you around here, Margaret.” Principal Peters said, prompting her to respond. He needed to speed things up.
Still she said nothing. But then, what could she say? “Thank God it’s me and not you.” For a moment she felt an overwhelming urge to giggle. She ran her tongue along the edges of her teeth. That gave her mouth something constructive to do.
The two people sitting in the principal’s office had one thing in common. They both began working at the school in September, three years earlier. That, however, was where the similarity ended.
She was a new recruit, fresh out of the Faculty, and he had been around for decades. She was looking forward to a long career in education, and he was counting the days until he qualified for early retirement. That was when he was going to give his healthy pension fund a good work-out.
“I’ve been declared redundant?” She said dully. It wasn’t what he wanted to hear, but it was something.
“Well,” he drawled, “in a word, yes.” He cleared his throat. Might as well get on with it — earn his pay. “I guess you want to know where you’ve been assigned?”
Margaret’s eyes darted from side to side, as if she were looking for an escape route. This was the moment she had been dreading — and with good reason.
No one was ever bumped to a good school — the ones where kids were motivated to learn, respectful of authority, and, by any societal standards, civilized. No, teachers who were bumped, more often than not, ended up in places where armed policemen patrolled the hallways. At the particular school to which she had just been assigned, a boy took issue with being dressed down by the vice-principal, and assaulted the man in his own office. It was front page news.
Everyone inside the system understood. Teachers without seniority were thrown to the wolves.
Margaret’s mind started to wander. She flashed back to another time when she was declared redundant. Funny how one experience can call up memories of another. Maybe it wasn’t funny afterall….
He was late coming home.
It was a Tuesday, her birthday, and she had tons of marking, so they had agreed to wait until the weekend to celebrate. She sat on the sofa wondering if it was too early to order a pizza. Where was he?
After only 18 months of marriage, she expected him to be on time for this night of all nights. Maybe he was late because he decided to stop at the convenience store so he could surprise her with flowers. That was possible. Wasn’t it?
He walked in the door without saying a word. No kiss. No roses. Not even a card. Just this abject look of misery.
Fear seized her.
If he had gotten fired or wrecked the car, she could handle it. But what if it was something more serious — something that would land him in the hospital…or worse. She waited for him to speak. When he didn’t, she asked the obvious. “What’s wrong?”
He took a deep breath. “I have something to tell you,” he said in a voice as solemn as an undertaker’s.
“Okay.” She held her breath and waited.
“I’m in love.”
Margaret got up and started for the kitchen. “It’s getting late. I’ve got to make dinner.”
“Wait,” he called out in a panic. “Didn’t you hear what I said? I’m in love.”
“Yes, you’re in love.” Margaret sat back down. She wondered if they still had leftovers from yesterday’s meal she could throw in the microwave. Maybe toss a salad. People need vegetables.
He started speaking rapidly. Get it all out at once. “I’m in love. It’s a girl in my office. I’m sorry. I can’t help it. She’s The One.”
Margaret stared with disbelief at this stranger sitting in her living room. “If she’s The One, what does that make me?” she asked wearily.
“I don’t know,” he said, studying the nap in the carpet.
“Well, I do,” she answered. “Redundant. That’s what.”
Her mind sought for something to latch onto. Then she remembered the words of one of her professors at the Faculty. “A teacher is a professional. You must act with decorum at all times.” That was it! She now knew what she had to do.
Stay calm. Keep it together. Be cool.
Her husband had started speaking again. Time to focus.
“You don’t understand,” he said earnestly. “This is serious. I’m moving out. Tonight.”
“Really?” she said. “Tonight?” She thought it over for a minute while he watched her intently.
“Not soon enough,” she said, heading for the kitchen.
“Do you have anything you’d like to say, Margaret?” Principal Peters stood up, hoping she would get the hint. He was finished with this bit of business, but he couldn’t just tell her to leave. After ruining her day, and quite possibly her career, it was bad form to order her out of his office.
She decided to linger. What difference did it make? She wasn’t going anywhere.
The phone rang.
Principal Peters glanced at the call display button. “Sorry, Margaret, I have to take this.” She was thinking about getting up to go, but there was something about the expression on his face that kept her in her seat.
“Yes, I understand. When is this scheduled? I see.” Principal Peters looked like he was going to pass out. “Sure. Thanks for calling.”
As wretched as she felt, Margaret was worried for the man. “What is it?” she asked, genuinely concerned.
“That was the Board,” he said weakly. “I’m being transferred.”
“Oh?” She wasn’t sure how to respond. “Where are you going?”
“Can you believe it? Same place you’ve been assigned? It seems, once again, we’ll be working together.” He dropped down heavily in his chair like a dead weight.
She got up to leave. “Well, I guess I’ll see you around,” she said, heading for the door.
She waited until she was on the other side before she burst out laughing.