Victor Has a Fit
K.R. Rosman


The power my fifth grade teacher had over us was stunning. We were that problem bump a small country school experiences every so often, and as we traveled through the grades, two teachers changed schools and another quit. Even our parents said it was because of our behavior. But Miss Elderry was different. She said she could tell when we were about to become unbound because a mood passed through us, like the roll of a kitchen mat getting the dirt snapped out of it. Whenever she saw this, she gave us a look that tightened our stomachs and closed our throats so that no noise, not a peep, could escape our lips. Whenever she gave me that look, something inside me cringed into a tiny ball, taking the blood and the air and the happiness with it. I never knew I had that ball of something until she looked at me. She was amazing. That is, until one day.

Halfway into our school year, the day before Christmas break, Miss Elderry stood at her desk to make an announcement. We had been silent reading because during our Christmas party, Victor squeezed a forgotten bag of homemade play dough with both hands. The bag popped with a fart-like pffffft, and the play dough, which had turned gooey, plopped all over him and three other students. We had finished our relief maps of Idaho sometime before Thanksgiving, so this bag had the smell of forgotten carrots. An hour later, the smell still lingered.

We stopped our silent reading to look at Miss Elderry, because that was what was expected of us. Plus there were paper sacks behind her desk. We assumed these sacks held Christmas candy, the subject of the announcement. But we were distracted by Miss Elderry herself. During silent reading, she had rolled her bangs and affixed them with pink tape, three on each side of her face. I wanted to ask about the pink tape, but I knew it was something I wasn’t supposed to notice.

At that moment, the fluorescent tube above Victor’s desk hummed and blinked. I scratched my ankle to keep from looking at it and away from Miss Elderry, but I couldn’t resist. Victor also looked, but in a worse way. He was an awful student, and he blinked and followed the quivering light as if it were a lifeline that could pull him away.

“Stop it!” I hissed, because I knew she’d crush him if she noticed his eyes weren’t on her, and then she would forget to give us the paper sacks.

As soon as I hissed, Miss Elderry looked at us and Victor pressed his shoulders and head into the coats directly behind him. He was a strangely flexible and small kid, with the ability to fit into cramped places. The maneuver usually worked, but not this time. She put a hand to the pink tape and said, “Victor!”

He pressed further into those coats as if he really believed that she couldn’t see him, then he emerged and blinked his small brown eyes at me. He was my best friend, but I couldn’t do anything about Miss Elderry, and I gave him bug-eyes to let him know.

“Victor, get the janitor.”

He got up from his desk and tried to run from the room.

“Walk!”

Last Friday he tried to set fire to the seat in front of him with a cigarette lighter. When the kid noticed, he got tangled in his desk that connected to his chair and landed in a howling heap on the floor. That was why Victor was near the coats. When he came back from suspension, Miss Elderry pushed his desk so far back that he couldn’t reach any of the students except me. I had to scoot my desk nearer to get the notes he passed.

Our building was old and our books were old and our chairs and desks had the initials and names of grandparents carved into them. Victor hated the tradition of it all because his grandfather had a not-so-secret family up Rapid Lightning Creek, and his cousins were nasty-mean. He told me that if he could have set that seat on fire, he’d get sent to a different school and things would be better. He hadn’t made a real fire, just that sick-sweet smell of wood when it doesn’t burn.

Down the hall, the janitor yelled. Miss Elderry sighed and lifted the skin above her eyes with her pointer fingers. The light continued to flicker and chatter. Jennifer raised her hand in a certain way and at first I thought Miss Elderry wouldn’t call on her. Miss Elderry liked to do things on her own time, but Jennifer knew how to make suggestions by asking certain questions. She could say, What’s in the paper sack? and Miss Elderry would treat it like a game that we would all pretend to like.

“Why do you have pink tape in your hair?” said Jennifer.

“Well! I’m getting married,” she said. “I’ll look like Farrah Fawcett when he proposes. We’re having dinner at the Hydra Restaurant.”

“It’s bad luck to announce an engagement before the ring.”

“I don’t think so.” Miss Elderry squinched her face.

Although not so much at that moment, everyone liked Jennifer, including Miss Elderry. Jennifer might loop her hand into your elbow and walk all fancy with you around the playground. No one thought it was weird when she used words like floral and encapsulate. I didn’t like Jennifer. My mom said it was because I couldn’t walk around almost holding hands with other girls. “Some girls just got it,” my mom said, and I knew she wanted me to be more like some girls. Once Jennifer tried to hook elbows with me and I bolted out of my skin because I didn’t know she was there. And then she was mad at me for a day and no one liked me on that day because Jennifer liked everyone.

“C’mon! Cheer up! It’s Christmas. You’ll see my ring when you come back!”

We shifted in our seats, worried about Christmas because the Shah was keeping his oil again, and all of us had been told not to expect much this year. Those paper sacks held more than candy. They represented something against the Shah. They were made from trees that we cut down and if we could, we would all drive cars that ran on pulp, just to stick it to the Shah. We didn’t need his oil.

Even if she didn’t give us the candy, three weeks without Miss Elderry was something special. When we came back, the school year would be halfway finished, and after summer, we wouldn’t have to see her again, especially if she got married.

“I’ll show you,” said Miss Elderry. “Continue silent reading.”

She sat without saying anything about the paper sacks. She was making swift marks on our Christmas stories, as if she wanted to hand them back to us before we went home. I’d rather have candy. Victor returned but she didn’t notice. He didn’t explain anything about the janitor or the light or why the janitor yelled. He kicked his feet over the floor in a shhkshh-shhkshh sound.

“Stop that.”

She looked up as if to ask him about the janitor, but he didn’t see her. He passed me a note. If I would have taken it, she probably wouldn’t have seen it, but I was bored with his notes—they all said the same thing.

“Karen, bring me that note.”

I took it from him and brought it to her.

“Go to the front of the class,” she said, wagging her finger towards the orderly row in front of her.

“Victor, take your note and stand next to Karen.”

He took his note from Miss Elderry, went back to his desk to tap it, then ninety-degree turned up his orderly row, his head following his motion as if on the end of a lead. He crossed the front of the classroom and stood next to me with his chest pumped up. I saw that we made a picture frame of the class when he walked his way and I walked mine. He took breaths, one after the other, as if trying not to be nervous.

“Take her hand.”

He did.

“Read the note.”

He didn’t need to.

“I love you.”

All the students giggled and whispered and I thought it was finished except he wouldn’t let go of my hand.

“I love you.”

They laughed harder, testing the lengths of Miss Elderry’s authority, but even she chuckled. Her pink-taped bangs waggled like a noodley dogs.

“Really, I do.”

Every student turned to Miss Elderry who had put her head on her desk, and then I saw the rug-snap movement of the room. Victor didn’t understand and he looked blankly around. Now I was the one who couldn’t let go of his hand; it was like holding onto an electric fence wire in the rain. Our classmates’ laughter bounced off the blackboard and the walls and crashed down on us from the ceiling, but they looked ridiculous. Some flopped on the floor, as if they were fish and their lake had suddenly disappeared. Our hands were dry because such a panic had come into us we couldn’t even sweat.

Then he fell, convulsing and twitching as if he were praying country-style. The kids screamed, some with fear and others with more laughter. Jennifer sat directly in front of us, and she looked mortified, probably because she was one of those students who went to that church. Her lips formed words but I couldn’t hear her prayer. Miss Elderry pushed me away and rolled him on his side. I hadn’t even seen her leave her seat and then she was there, as if she had flown. No one spoke. She leaned over him and pressed her fingers into his jaw’s hinge. At first he clenched harder, but she held his head firmly and his mouth opened a little, allowing her to wedge in the wooden spoon that she used to keep order. Then she positioned his head in her lap and kept her hands around his face while he clenched and strained.

“Stop it,” she said. “Please stop.”

He stopped moving. A spot darkened his pants. It looked like a rose blooming in high speed.

“Oh— My God—”

I had seen Miss Elderry angry, but never like this. She took in her own breath, then pinched his nose—

“He should be flat on the floor if you’re going to do that,” said Jennifer.

“You should take the spoon out of his mouth,” said someone else.

Victor fluttered his eyes and the spoon fell slowly until it clapped the floor. I didn’t know if I should stay there and help or return to my seat. He loved me, so I stayed. I didn’t love him back but I was stuck now. His note demanded a response, some affection, like Jennifer’s cool arm, but less snakelike. I sat on my knees and looked down on him. It reminded me of the time we saw a dead weasel in the cleft between our houses. We turned it over with the stick and there were so many bugs underneath. The earth crawled with them and then the crawling suddenly disappeared. It was awful.

“What are you doing? Go back to your seat.”

I wouldn’t go, though. Not until I knew he was all right.

“You probably saved his life,” said the principal from the door.

Victor stopped fluttering his eyes and looked around. His head was still in Miss Elderry’s lap.

“You should all be ashamed of yourselves, laughing at him like that.” Then the principal scolded me directly, “Go sit down.”

I stood back but I didn’t return to my seat. I needed to pee. God, please don’t let a flower bloom on my pants. Miss Elderry gently pushed Victor off her lap as he sat up. His eyes looked dopey and his shirt was spotted with drool. She slouched over with her face in her hands. The principal took Victor to the nurse and I returned to my seat. No one said a word until Jennifer did.

“That—”

“My God. Shut up. Just shut up.”

Miss Elderry was crying and some of her bangs dropped in stiff twists that ended with that pink tape. She wouldn’t look like Farrah later. The release bell rang. Winter break had officially begun but we waited. And we would also have to wait three weeks before we found out if it was bad luck to speak about an engagement before it actually happened, unless she called to tell us, which she probably wouldn’t do. The room seemed cloudy with these thoughts. I couldn’t bring myself to think about the paper sacks.

Outside, the buses lined up and students drifted towards them but we stayed in our seats. Whenever Miss Elderry got tense like this, we relied on Jennifer to ask to be excused or apologize for the behavior of the class, but even she sat perfectly still—her face not a dull mask like the rest of us, but bright, as if she could still think. The last of the children filed into the school buses and we resigned ourselves to walking home in the dark. Teachers who stood guard outside peered over their shoulders to the window of our classroom. One came into the building. We could hear her clip-clip-clip-clip through the hall.

“Miss Elderry?”

“They’re not excused.”

“Okay.”

Clip-clip-clip-clip.
“Miss Elderry?”

“Yes, Jennifer?”

“May I be excused?”

“You may.”

Jennifer stood and straightened her dress. She passed a consoling smile across the room and walked her own clip-clip-clip-clip to her jacket. She put it on and flipped her hair over the collar. She put her extra homework in her backpack and walked out the door.

“Can the rest of us go?” I asked.

“Yes, you may.”

We all jumped at once. Chairs toppled, coats flew, backpack straps were torn off in our desperate flight to get out of there. I marveled at the risk we took as we charged through the hall and banged open the doors. We slid-ran over the skiff of snow to the two waiting school buses, both drivers gesturing and laughing as the first of us leapt into the bus. She missed and stumbled to her face. All of us marveled at this release. It was better than paper sacks filled with candy.

“What did you do?” said my driver when I finally got on.

“Victor had a fit,” I said.

“What kind of fit?”

I didn’t know what he meant by that.

“A medical fit or a tantrum fit?”

“A fit.”

“Whatever. Hurry up. Sit down.”

There were only two spaces available directly behind the driver, and each seat had crying girls. One girl had a scratch on her face and looked angry, so I chose the one who didn’t have a mark on her, which was probably the wrong decision. But I knew that we Pack River girls were really mean when injured, like wildcats. The driver behind us honked his horn. Our driver looked at me as if he was still confused. He pulled the lever that shut the door.

“Hey, you, is his mom picking him up?”

“I don’t know.”

“Here he comes,” said someone.

Everyone but me stood to get a better look. The bus driver swung his lever again and honked his horn, and so did the other driver. The kids began to laugh in a very bad way. The girl with the scratched face said, “God, Sarah, let me sit next to you.”

Sarah sat down and shook her head, then she hugged my arm.

“He peed his pants!”

The bus listed as kids rushed to the windows facing the school. The driver stared at the steering wheel, then looked at Victor. I couldn’t tell what he was thinking. I wanted to know what I should be thinking.

“You have to stay here,” she said to me.

“Sarah! Please! He’s coming!”

“Fine,” said Sarah, and she pushed past me to sit with her friend.

“Thank you! Thank you so much!”

“We’re not friends.”

“Okay, but I owe you. I owe you big.”

Victor had his coat tied around his waist but I could see the stain. If I was a good person, I would let him sit next to the window. I would protect him from the laughter and make people sit and be silent with my direct stare, like Miss Elderry. But I pressed my face to my cupped hands so that I could see the snow better. The flakes were big. Victor sat next to me; his tears and pee made him smell salty, and slightly sweet. It wasn’t too bad.

“Quit looking at me, freak,” said Sarah.

The driver looked up in his mirror at everyone on the bus.

“You want to get home, you’ve got to shut up.”

Everyone quieted. If I closed my eyes, their whispers sounded like a radio station that didn’t come in all the way. The bus began to move and the snow kept falling. If I squinted my eyes, the flakes looked like star fighters.

“Now it’s really snowing, and I get to drive in it. Thanks kid.”

We turned at the cemetery, those rounded tombstones of people who had been children here, now laid and gone. The bus was completely quiet, as if we had exhausted ourselves, and I felt Victor lean in towards me.

“We can’t be friends,” I said, without taking my face from the window.

“Geeze,” said the driver. “That was harsh.”

Our stop was among the first, and his came before mine. The driver let him off and I thought the kids would laugh, but they didn’t. He crossed into the flasher lights, one then the other, hugging his body against the cold. The driver opened his window.

“Put your coat on, kid.”

But Victor kept walking until he was gone in the dark.



K. R. Rosman lives in Seattle. Her stories have been published in Adirondack Review, Summerset Review, Coe Review, Foxing Quarterly, and others.