March 9, 2011 by Ray Yanek
Prompt: A character’s defense mechanism
Word Count: Under 1500 words
Deadline: Wednesday, March 9, 2011 4:30 pm EST
Dubbing the Shield
He twirled in place, stopped, smoothed his tie. Took a breath. Then another. A big breath.
They were coming. Holy shit. They were coming.
Of course they were. They always came. They would come in a phalanx, exuding the scent of sweat and shampoo, body odor and perfume. Some would laugh and chuckle; others would mope and wine. They would all have that goddamn stuff pumping through their veins that made them unpredictable, wild, rash and they would tear into him like a Sizzler buffet.
He put his finger to his lip. Sizzler did have a buffet right? Fuck it. It didn’t matter. He got the point.
He paced four steps forward. Stopped. Spun on his heel. Paced four steps back the way he came.
This day was no different than any other.
It was a lot different. He’d be evaluated on what happened today. Judged. On this one day. All the work and planning he done before this didn’t matter. It was all about what happened today.
Relax. That was the key. Never let them see you sweat and all that. He read a book about meditation once. Or was it about tantric sex? Shit. He couldn’t remember. If it was about meditation, he wasted ten bucks because all it did was put him to sleep. If it was about tantric sex, then he wasted…
He had a flask in his coat. Scotch. A couple stiff swigs of that would calm him down.
No. No. No. He couldn’t do that. They’d smell it on him. He should have brought the vodka.
A new idea struck. He’d piss himself. He was damn close anyway. That’s what he heard they told women to do who were about to be raped, and raped he was most definitely about to be—mentally at least. They would break his soul, rape his mind and leave him there in the dust.
He looked at the wall clock. The second hand skittered forward. Almost time. He sneered at the clock and flipped it the finger.
Exhaling, he decided against peeing himself. Too embarrassing. He’d never live that down and he wasn’t too keen on spending the day chafing under wet khakis.
His shoulders rolled. He smoothed his tie again, then the front of his pants. He rubbed his knees briskly, until he felt the heat of the motion on his skin.
He peeked up and spotted the fire extinguisher hanging on the wall. He paused the rubbing and felt his eyes go wide. After snapping his fingers, he stood straight, skittered toward the extinguisher and took it off the wall.
Fight or flight response. That’s what he was experiencing, right? He couldn’t fly. There was nowhere for him to go, so he hoisted the fire extinguisher over his shoulder and shinnied against the wall nearest the door. He’d fight then. He’d knock the shit out of the first little mutant bastard to come through that door and set an example for the rest of them. If that didn’t work he’d go apeshit commando…
No, wait. Going commando meant not wearing any underwear.
Deflated, he lowered the fire extinguisher and placed it back onto its holder. The clock continued to click behind him. He put his back to the wall and let himself slide down to the floor. This was ridiculous. He was trained for this sort of thing. He’d been doing it for years.
Maybe that was the problem. Maybe he’d been doing it for too long. Everyone in the sports world talked about the long-term effects of multiple concussions. Hearts and souls could be concussed too, and he’d taken so many hits maybe he should be riding the pine.
There were others though, others who had been doing it for far longer than he and they didn’t spend the morning doing shit like this. They didn’t go home, eat a hot, buttery bowl of valium and watch Seinfeld re-runs while their wives Googled area divorce lawyers.
But they were different from him, and not just in the mental health department. Their positions were secure. They didn’t have to worry about all the stuff he did, about performance reviews, and mandated tests, and all the other stuff.
Those people didn’t let days like this one, days on which the whole caboodle rested, get in their heads. If they succeeded, they succeeded. If they failed; they failed. They really didn’t seem to give a shit one way or other. And they still got paid.
But really, in truth, they were no different from him at all. He held up his hand then ticked off the first finger, then the second, the third, the fourth. With only the pinky finger remaining, his eyes narrowed. He had been a part of the unit long enough himself.
How the hell could he have forgotten about that? Maybe he did need to lay-off the valium at night.
A thin smile broke across his face, just as the obnoxious ringing that signaled the onslaught was about to begin pierced his ears.
* * *
He loosened his tie then flipped the end up and down a couple of times. After a moment, he took the tie off completely and tossed it into the corner by the file cabinets. He reclined in his chair, put his hands behind his head, and closed his eyes.
The door creaked open, but he didn’t start. He remained as he was, humming the Seinfeld theme-song in his mind before realizing Seinfeld didn’t have much a theme song.
The door opened again. He heard the cacophonous blast of screams and jeers outside the room, but he didn’t care. He didn’t care that the mutant bastards coming into the room were probably staring at him, waiting for their chance to pounce and fuck up his day.
He didn’t care that none of them wanted to learn anything he had to teach; didn’t care how they did on state test scores that didn’t really measure much at all or that had no bearings or consequences on those that took them. It no longer upset him that the school board was run by people who had no idea what happened in a classroom, or that the administration wanted him to do more with less. No longer would feel ashamed that to the community he was nothing more than just a tax-sucking parasite with summers off.
He used to care. He used to care a lot.
He wouldn’t tell these kids to put away their IPods, turn off their phones, or just basically try to stay awake. He didn’t care that only half of them brought their books to class and the idea of having a writing instrument on their person was akin to having them carry around an infectious case of herpes.
He wouldn’t worry himself sick at night wondering if Jonny’s Dad came home drunk and smacked him around again. It would no longer break his heart to find out Suzy was only fourteen and sleeping around. It wasn’t his concern that Tommy didn’t have a coat to wear in the winter, or that Gary Busey couldn’t keep up with all the partying Becky was doing.
A tear fell from his eye. He wiped it away.
It wasn’t his concern. He had to protect himself first.
Now, he would merely sit behind his desk like all the other old-timers and bask in the warmth and security of their shields—the shield that he hereby dubbed “Tenure”.
That’s all anyone believed he had been doing anyway.