When the Old Lady walked into the cafeteria, we all got up like it was time to say the Pledge of Allegiance and went berserk. Except for the intellectuals, who were busy drawing up plans for their balsa wood bridges and arguing about gravity. Except for the pageant girls on their ice floe by the stage, deep in Angora sweaters that were almost dresses, Mariah belting on their Walkmans. None of them knew anything was happening until it was half over, and this was all right because they would have become liabilities when push came to shove.
Phoebe Lynn was chucking corncobs at that kid with the rat tail, just whomping the crud out of him while he ducked and covered, draining him of his humanity. Crystal McManus flicked baked beans so fast that big old Ronnie Turkelton couldn’t think, couldn’t do anything but shut his eyes and hurl that peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwich containing all his hopes and fail to take her out. When he went to reload, she clocked him in the face with her milk carton. Ronnie retreated, milk-beans running down his head, cradling an armful of fruit cups with some nerd’s name on them. He found a table full, debate clubbers sitting there like peasants waiting to become political pawns.
It would have been your garden variety food fight. Over in sixty seconds. But the Old Lady just had to get on the stage. She had to make Mr. Poole, the assistant principal, crank up the prehistoric sound system, which hadn’t worked right since the Junior Astronauts crashed their moon rover into it. Never in her career as an educator, she swore to God, did we think she wouldn’t shut this whole school down? Law enforcement was on its way, did we want that? Was this thing even on? Dale?
If she’d just been able to work that microphone; if she’d just sent in some goons, maybe a couple of lunch ladies, we’d have exhausted our ammunition and slouched off to P.E. with demerits in hand, feeling quelled. But something about the way she kept tapping the mic and saying young ladies and gentlemen turned us into enraged clanspeople, united under one banner, for our land, for our freedom. We grabbed the nearest chicken nugget or spent pudding cup and rushed the stage.
Phoebe Lynn had been holding out on us. She had a Manwich in her fannypack. She took it out of its plastic wrapping, and it was like in war movies, where everybody holds back until one impatient guy with a bow and arrow just can’t take it anymore. She wound up and lobbed the Manwich underhand toward the stage. Time collapsed to those three or four seconds, and the only thing that had ever happened since the universe began was that sandwich closing in, the bun falling away as it hit the Old Lady’s face, the whole thing blowing into meat schrapnel. The rest of us let loose. The Old Lady crouched on the stage under the hail of Funyuns and tater tots and soggy handfuls of salad.
Mr. Poole made a move like he was going to sacrifice himself for her. “Get us out of here, Dale, you idiot, they’ve got beans,” she yelled. He held up the side of his sport coat as a shield for her as she ran down the steps and toward the double doors, toward exile. It was the greatest victory in the history of people fighting for things, only none of us had any idea what our thing was.
Emily Koon is a writer from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College and has previously published work in Quarterly West. She is working on a novel of grotesques and folk magic set in her native South Carolina and can be found blogging nervously at thebookdress.com.