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Rated: E · Fiction · Sci-fi · #2268394
Samuel has seven days to prove that the world shouldn't be destroyed, but will he care?
An alien species, Roxion, comes to a human to ask him philosophical questions about life as a human, so he can decide whether to exterminate the species or not – they are the gardeners of the galaxy and prune irrelevant species.


Cars. Smoke. Noise. Blaring sirens. Birds singing. The morning was filled with a cacophony of commotion which normally I enjoyed. It let me know that I was alive; a cog in a larger machine which was no less important just because of its size. After all, didn’t everything have a place and a purpose? Wasn’t there some great master plan behind the machinations of our daily lives? It couldn’t all be banal for banalities sake. Much to the chagrin of the pedestrians casually strolling and scrolling on their phones, a cyclist in front of me veered off of the road and on to the footpath and shouted swear words were exchanged. On the radio, the disc jockeys were talking about the difficulties of getting their children ready for school in the morning.

“… all over her face,” said the female, with a false jubilation. Everyone knew that raising children was hard, but through the shared trauma we had successfully convinced ourselves that the process of rearing was beautiful, and necessary.

“And then she went back to bed, and I had to drag her out of the house still in her pajamas. Now we’re driving to school, and I’m shouting at her to get changed in the backseat,” the female continued.
All her male counterpart could do was laugh and talk about how him and his girlfriend went to the opening of a new restaurant on the weekend.

When I was younger, I always wanted children. Afterall, wasn’t that the path of every species on the planet. You’re born and you’re nothing more than a symbiotic parasite. In life, you struggle through moments of intense darkness that are just barely offset by moments where the sun comes out for long enough to make you think it’s all worth something, only to procreate, struggle through the tribulations of parenthood, and then eventually leave the world the same way you entered it, as a symbiotic parasite.

With age though, doubt has started to creep into my frontal lobe. Did you know that we are the only species on the planet whose young can’t rear itself? Human babies are born prematurely to ensure the life of the mother. If babies were carried to term, the mother would die. Sure, we are biologically programmed to want to reproduce but I remember being told that to have a kid is to stop being the hero of your own story, and to start seeing someone else as the main character of your life. Most of us can’t even get our own lives right, let alone build a life for another living creature. That doesn’t stop us from trying though, and maybe that’s why parents are to be commended. Not for being able to have sex, but for their perseverance in building a better tomorrow for their child.

Then again, with global warming and the slow collapse of worldwide global financial systems, there probably won’t be any tomorrow for today’s children anyway.

I pulled into the parking lot of my school, and turned the car engine off. I was lucky enough to only live ten minutes away from work, and it was a small saving grace amongst an ocean of despair. Most other people need to endure an ocean of smog as they crawl along the increasingly congested roads, like blood vessels trying to reach the heart of an obese man with high cholesterol. Thankfully, we’ve managed to convince ourselves that these arduous treks are all a part of being a productive member of a society that doesn’t care whether you live, die or lock yourself in a room and disappear.

During these daily expeditions, those people who still can’t forget the voice of their high school English teacher use podcasts to alleviate the guilt of never having enough time to read. Others try to elicit a sense of calm by listening to meditation tracks. Some vent their rage by shouting streams of profanity at people who drive slowly. Most listen to music as a way to release oxytocin, whilst their body is twitching in frustration. They all do it though, day after day, for decades, because somewhere deep down, we know that if we were left alone to really think, if we removed the struggle, then we would see the great lie. We aren’t meant to be happy, we are meant to work, to struggle.

We like to believe we are more advanced than the animals we laugh at when we visit the zoo, or the animals we have domesticated to alleviate our sense of loneliness, or raise money for because our desire for chocolate has razed their homes, or the ones we put on our plate, but are we really? Afterall, isn’t the only difference between us that we created fire, and with that, engaged in activities that caused our frontal lobe to grow to a point where we create so many imaginary scenarios and stressors that we need to pay someone to tell us we are too stressed?

There are days when I sit here, in my car, in an empty parking lot, and I think about driving away. Not to anywhere specific, just driving until I can’t drive anymore. Then I take a deep breath, and I get out of my car.

Cold droplets of morning dew slither through my nostrils and down my throat and there’s a freshness to the crisp air. For a moment, the silent serenity almost lets me forget about everything. I start to put one foot in front of the other. Left, right, left, right, left right. A monotonous movement that seems like a metaphor for our lives. Wide ovals that are lush with green grass sit on both sides of the fallen down obelisk shaped building where I work. For all the noise of the outside world, my school is still quiet at this time. Maybe that’s why I get here so early. I can breathe a little deeper, think a little clearer and my steps feel a little lighter.

I stop walking and feel my pockets. Keys, work keys, cars in park, lights are off, windows are up. It’s the mental checklist that I run through every morning. Convinced, I take two more steps from my car before I turn around to double check my cars lights are off. It’s summer though, and the sun has already been up for an hour. I never even turned them on but that’s the thing about anxiety, it doesn’t listen to logic.

The maintenance men are already here, dutifully blowing leaves and tending to the grounds. More cogs in the machine, but important never the less. We greet each other like old acquaintances, a nod of the head and a lackadaisical smile, and go about our business. Do you ever wonder how many people there are in this world, and how few meaningful connections we make in our lifetime? In fact, most adults only have five people they really like. Five people out of 7.9 billion. It’s enough to make you feel very important, or very small.

My desk sits in an office of five. Tacked to the pinboard walls are pictures of me smiling, outdated curriculum documents, timetables and of my dog, Falcor. He’s named after the luck dragon from The Never-Ending Story. I sit down in my office chair, which is both too short and too rigid to be comfortable. No matter how I try to adjust it, I end up leaning backwards, one leg crossed over the other, in a posture that causes me lower back pain.
“Samuel, if you and I were stuck in a cage with lions, who would they eat first?” Sue asked me.
Standing at just over five feet tall, Sue had a PhD and taught history but she insisted the students call her ‘ibu’. There was an abrupt gruffness about Sue. She spoke with a bluntness that dripped with sincerity. I look at her. She’s leaning against her desk, coffee cup in hand, with an expectant look on her face.
Even though I’ve been up for the last two hours, I’m still not awake, and definitely not awake enough for this.
I rub my temples.
“If I push you down and run, then they’ll eat you and I’ll be safe.”
My answer didn’t impress Sue.
“No, I think they’d see me,” she points at her skinny arms, “and think there’s no point. They’d eat you first.”
The pitch in her voice rose with a gleeful smirk. A smug look crept onto Sue’s face.
I open my laptop and stare into an abyss of information. None of it is useful.
“Not if I cut you before I pushed you over. Then they’d smell your blood.”
Sue let out a humph sound.
“Well, I still think they’d go for you first. We should ask Michael.”
Michael only started at the school last year. He was in his mid-twenties, had an earring, and was always well dressed.
Happy with her answer, Sue walked out of the office. I was left alone, again.
I’ve often wondered if I needed so many folders. They were filled with everything from past student’s work, to administrative documents. Most were outdated, but having them on my desk made it look like I belonged.

The next thirty minutes were spent replying to emails and planning my classes. Students slowly started to filter into the school, like dirt particles being filtered out of spring water. Some wave as they walk past the office. Most are too busy staring at their phones. I’d be critical of them, if I didn’t spend too long staring at mine also. A few weeks ago, I set up my phone with a screen time lock. For the first few days, I felt guilty when I elapsed the time and deactivated the lock so that I could keep scrolling. That feeling faded quickly though, and now the lock is disabled.

I do feel sorry for the youth of this generation. They have unwillingly been born into a world where they have no agency, no influence, and no power. Billion-dollar corporations twist their minds as the Earth beneath their feet warms and crumbles. During my childhood, the stressors of school couldn’t reach me at home. There was only one phone line, and the internet ran at a speed of 56kb/s. As the internet sped up, so too did the world and now, kids are bombarded with images of how they should be, what they should want, and who they should be friends with on a minute-by-minute basis.
To escape the depressive tunnel of thought, I grabbed my phone and opened up my social media.

The bell chimed and students slowly started to move to their form rooms. I could see my class from my window. They milled around their lockers and talked. Most of them would not learn anything meaningful today. I watched one of the boys walk up to my window that overlooked the court yard. He was tall for a Year Eight boy, but he made up for his height with width. He started waving with a maniacal zeal. When he got to my window, he started knocking on the glass, as if you say, “you’re late.”
I ignored him for a second, and then I looked at the time. Slowly, I got up. My knees ached and I was already tired.

“Boys, line up,” I stalely shouted.
Reluctantly, the boys shuffled into what appeared to be a line. It was more of an amorphous zig zag. I open the door, and treat the boys like poorly trained dogs.
“Stay, stay… stay. Ok, come in and stand behind your seat.”
Mostly all of them sit down straight away. It’s a battle I don’t have the energy for. I sit down also. I read the bulletin and they pretend they aren’t on their computers. I talk to them about topical current affairs and they pretend they aren’t on their computers. I finish talking, and there’s still five minutes left. Ben puts his hand up.
“Sir, you know those hats made of nachos? When you get to the middle of the hat, how do you stop the cheese from falling all over you?”
Ben always asked stupid questions like this. I shook my head. The class rolled their eyes. The bell went and, with a deep sigh, I dismissed my class.

“Boys, line up,” I stalely shouted at my Year Sevens.
They were still obedient. It would take a few weeks before their personalities started to show. For now, I’ll enjoy the look of docility on their perplexed faces. Unlike the Year Eights, these garden gnomes saunter in quietly and stand behind their seats. One student forgets, and sits down. The others hiss at him, and he quickly bolts to his feet.
“Take a seat.”
They do so, without so much as a murmur. Except for one boy, Joshua. He’s already fidgeting in his seat and rocking. I used to tell students a story about a student who was rocking on his chair. He fell backwards, and the leg snapped off. It impaled him right between the cheeks. Students always groaned in sympathetic amusement. These days, I barely even bother to tell them to sit properly.
“Here,” I say, as I toss the whiteboard marker to Josh.
He catches it and his eyes go wide.
“Draw this up on the board,” I tell him, as I show him my computer screen.
On it, is a table, and Josh excitedly springs to the board and begins to replicate it in far too small handwriting. I wonder, was there a time when I was as easily electrified as Josh is now?
“Can I go next?” a student calls out.
“Then me?”
For most of them, this may be the best thing that will happen to them today. For a moment, their exuberance makes me smirk. As Josh finishes drawing the table on the board, I shout out to the students that they have ten minutes to find the answers, then we will go through them. Their heads drop into their books and their pens scritch against the paper.
“Thanks Josh,” I extend my hand.
He returns the marker to me and sits down.
“Sir, am I your favorite student?” Josh asks.
He wants to avoid doing work, so he’s trying to bait me. The rest of the class raise an eye.
The class let out a collective ‘ooh’.
A student somewhere raises his pen lid to his lips and blows through it. It creates a whistling sound, like wind rustling through branches as it tries to escape a storm.
“If that happens again, the whole class will stay in.”
My voice is deadpan and the gnomes know I’m being serious. Being a teacher is very much like being a parent. You need to know how to walk the tightrope between friend and parent.
It takes them longer than ten minutes to complete the work.

At lunch, I walk from my office to the staffroom. A small plastic down ball hits me in the back. I keep walking. Some of my colleagues are sitting on the sofas, talking. Others are also scurrying to get their lunch before they head back to their offices. I do my best to avoid conversation but it’s unavoidable. As I take my lunch from the fridge and place it in the microwave, someone asks me, “how you going?”
I punch the time into the microwave, 1:30minutes, turn to them, smile with only the edges of my mouth and say, “I’m here.”
My tone is more humorous than it should be. My colleague laughs and agrees, and then walks away. Alone again, I sit on the red sofa that looks out on to the courtyard as I wait for my food to finish heating up.

I sit at my desk and eat my lunch. My headphones are in but there’s nothing playing, I just don’t want anyone to try and make conversation with me.

The day ends. I drive home. Falcor is excited to see me. I put my bag down, get changed into shorts and a singlet, slip into thongs and clip Falcor into his harness. He’s an awful walker. Stubborn, belligerent, inconsistent. We walk where he wants, or he digs his paws in. We start, we stop, we start again. He pulls me backwards and forwards, and he has to pee on everything. This should be my time to disconnect with the rigmarole of the day, but my phone is in my hand. My mom calls.
“God damn it.”
Falcor stops to look at me. I let my voicemail answer.
My mother means well. Or at least, I think she does. Or did. Everything she’s ever done has come with strings. When I was younger, she taught that love was conditional. She still likes to remind me that her and my father sent me to a private school. I like to remind her that it was probably a waste of $150,000. Last year I bought my first home. I was excited to call and tell her. All she said was, “you live so far away. Who is going to look after me when I’m old?”
Like I said, she means well, but she struggles to see past herself.
“It’s okay boy,” I reassure Falcor as I tug him forwards.

Ten minutes later, Falcor has had enough. He turns around to start walking home. I dutifully follow. One of my neighbors, Vince, is standing out the front of his house. I try to tug Falcor in the opposite direction, but it’s too late.
“Nathan,” he shouts as he waves me over, “how were the kids today?”
Last year he called me Nathan by accident. Then he did it again. Now, it’s too awkward to correct him. Inside, I scream. Vince can talk, and I want to get home to the quiet.
“They were okay. They’re enjoying being back.”
Falcor jumps up on Vince’s thighs and asks for a pat. This won’t be a short conversation.
“This neighborhood used to be quiet,” Vince points at the townhouses, “now I can’t even park on the street anymore.”
He’s not wrong.
“And these people,” he points across the road at my next-door neighbor, “she could park her car in the driveway, but she doesn’t want to.”
There’s a bitterness in his tone. It’s been a long day, and I just want to get home. I shrug my shoulders and let out a sigh, “I know. I can barely see when I back out thanks to her car.”
I’m trying to placate him. The sooner this conversation ends, the better. For the next ten minutes, Vince tells me about his political theories, the way the street used to be, and what’s wrong with the world. Finally, Falcor decides he’s had enough and starts to walk home. I apologize and follow.

Dinner is leftovers. For a time, I used to cook nightly. Now, I’m too tired. I do enjoy cooking, there’s a beautiful rhythm to it, but I also enjoy sitting on the couch. There’s nothing on television, so I start streaming some pointless show. It’s about finding love whilst dressed as a beast. Apparently, it wants to prove that real love isn’t skin deep. Too bad you can still see the curves of their bodies. Falcor stars out of the window and watches the sun set. I know he loves me, but am I giving him the best life? I start another episode of the show. A man with the face of a walrus is eating pasta while across the table, a woman with the face of a frog picks at a salad.

As I lie in bed, I can hear the crickets chirping. Falcor jumps up on the bed, and I slowly fall asleep.


Falcor’s gruff half bark wakes me. It’s not quite a bark, but rather a rumble at the back of the throat. A warning. He’s ten kilos and one foot high. I appreciate the concern, but he’s not protecting me against anything. With a trepidatious creep, Falcor slides off the bed.
“Seriously?” I grumble.
I roll over. I roll over again. And again. Finally, I get up. Falcor is standing at the end of the corridor, staring into the kitchen. Logically, I know there is nothing there, just darkness, and I haven’t been scared of the dark since I was a child. Now, I know that it’s not the darkness that scares us, it’s the unknown that scares us. And we never stop being scared of that. My heart is still beating faster than it should.
“There’s nothing there,” I say as I gesture at the empty kitchen, “come on, back to bed.”
Falcor doesn’t seem placated but he still reluctantly follows me. I lie back down in bed and pull the covers back over me. Falcor jumps up, circles three times, then sprawls out. His eyes never leave the door. I close my eyes and fall back asleep.

This time, there’s no mistaking Falcor’s bark. It jolts me from my sleep. It’s high pitched and pierces the sanctity of silence that comes with it being both too late and too early to be awake. My first instinct is to shout at him to be quiet, but I freeze. Something is different this time. My heart starts to thump and I can feel blood pooling in my temples. Falcor’s bark gets louder, and louder, and then it stops. He whines for a second, then lies down at the end of the bed.
When I was younger, I was worried a serial killer would break into my house and kill me. Thankfully, my bedroom was at the back of the house, which meant that the killer would kill everyone else first. Their scream would wake me and give me time to escape. Just in case they broke in the back door though, I never let any appendage slip out from the safety of the blankets. Those blankets were my invisible cloak. Now, something compelled me to pull the blankets tight.
I close my eyes. I try to pretend that I don’t exist. If I can just fall asleep, the problems will go away. I can feel something though, staring at me. Watching me. Criticizing me. I clench my eyes closed tighter. The feeling doesn’t go away. Falcor’s whine is softer now, almost a snore.
My heartbeat is still the only thing I can hear. I don’t want to open my eyes, but something compels me to. My lungs stop working. I gasp for air. I reach for my words but I can’t find them, they’re lost in the darkness of the night, in the horrifying absurdity of the situation.
Standing, crouched down, bent at the knee, is what could only be described as a giant praying mantis. The body was thicker though, and the back legs were shorter. I could see the pupils of its eyes and it lacked any visible antennae atop its head. The front legs were also less of a pincer, and more of a stubby claw. Humans love to ponder about the existence of aliens. We’ve built an entire genre around it. Video games, movies, books, songs, television shows, action figures, in all of these mediums, we humans have deluded ourselves into thinking we matter. We are always the victors. The saviors of the galaxy. I always thought that if aliens did exist, that we were nothing more than ants to them. Why would they bother with us?
I started to hyperventilate. It let out a loud clicking noise. The edges of my vision blurred and my sense of reality started to slip. My brain tried to fruitlessly comprehend what it was looking at. Was that a… clipboard in its claw?
Without warning, it let out a second clicking noise. This time, it was shorter and more abrupt. Surely this is how I die.
“Apologies, instantaneous lightspeed travel makes the throat rather dry. Are you,” the giant praying mantis looked down at the clipboard, “Samuel Wallace?”
I tried to disappear into the safety of the blankets, but I couldn’t pull them tight enough to make this nightmare disappear.
The giant praying mantis rubbed its eyes in a show of exhausted frustration, “it’s been a very long night. Please, are you Samuel Wallace?”
Answering would mean believing that this was real. Instead, I close my eyes and try to wake up from the nightmare. When I open them again, it’s no longer there. For a moment, I let the adrenaline seep out of my body and into the tense air around me.
“Samuel Wallace. Born 20/10/1985. Wears glasses. This is you, right?” the alien asks.
It’s standing in the doorway again, holding my driver’s license, “I’ve never understood why you humans take such ghastly driver’s license photos.”
Was it… joking with me?
As a society, we’ve been bred to believe that aliens are evil. They’re purpose is to kill us, enslave us, destroy the Earth, steal our jobs, infect us with their culture and increase house prices. But this alien was amused at a driver’s license photo.
“Samuel, I understand that this is a lot, it always is. Unfortunately, your planet is scheduled for demolition to make way for a new intergalactic superhighway. In a week from now, the Earth will be destroyed, unless you can give me ample reason to go back to my superiors and tell them to reroute their highway.”
“Me?” were the only words I could produce from my lips, “why me?”
“Why not you?”
The alien placed my driver’s license down, “I’ll be back tomorrow night, and every night for the next six nights. At the end, I’ll file my report and we will go from there. Sleep well Samuel.”
It stretched out one of its stubby clawed hands. I tried to push my body away from it, tried to squeeze myself into the cracks between the stitches of the mattress. The stubby finger was surprisingly cold on my forehead, and my eyes instantly felt heavy.
Falcor was already asleep, curled up at my feet.

6:50am. The sky is dark. There aren’t even any stars. Last night couldn’t have happened, it must have been a dream. I sit in my car and try to not catastrophize. My mind races to all the obvious questions: should I call the government? Am I having a psychotic break? There are millions of other people better suited than me, so why me? Even as I turn my car on, and look at Falcor peeking at me through the front window, I know the answers. I tell myself that it was nothing more than a vivid dream. I don’t believe it at first, but we rarely believe the lies we tell ourselves. With time and repetition, those lies eventually become reality. The petrol gauge reads empty.

$1.70 for petrol. $70 for a tank of fuel. Twenty years ago, people complained when petrol crept over $1. Inflation keeps making life more expensive, especially when wages aren’t keeping up. The petrol pump makes a clicking sound, it reminds me of the giant thing that stood in my doorway yesterday. I shudder and try to ignore the memory. Even if I do tell someone, nobody would believe me. Or worse, I get locked up. It’s best to tell myself that it was just a dream. The petrol station is a small independent one, owned by a man who wakes up at 3am every morning to drive an hour because he thought this business was a good investment. He does this seven days a week. Every Wednesday, I stop here to get petrol. He smiles when he sees me walk in.
“How often you go to the gym?” he asks.
I forgot that I’m wearing a blue polo. The cuffs of the sleeves cut into my biceps. They aren’t big, but they’re noticeable.
I smile at him, “about six times a week.”
My credit card is in my hand, and I’m waiting for him to turn the EFTPOS machine on. He isn’t in a rush.
“I’m trying to lose weight,” he puts his hand on his stomach, “last year I dropped ten kilos, then I put it back on.”
The gas station owner pulls out his phone and shows me a side-by-side photo of him. He is noticeably slimmer in one of the photos.
“I did it by going keto. Have you heard of that?”
This is the bit that I always hate. People ask for advice. I really just want to get to work.
I smile again, “yeah, it looks like it worked well for you.”
He carries on for another few minutes, but my mind starts to wander. Was I right about aliens? He said the planet was going to be destroyed. Are we that insignificant as a species? I snap out of my reflective reverie in time to see him ask for my credit card.
He thanks me for the payment. I’ve given him just enough external validation to make him feel like he’s improving as a human being
“I might sell soon, not sure how long I can do this for,” he says.
I smile at him, tell him he’s doing well on his weight loss journey, tell him to look after himself and leave.
The truth is, he won’t change, and he won’t sell. Humans hate change. It’s difficult, it leads to struggle, it results in painful realizations. He’ll stay motivated for a time, and then he will lapse back into old habits. Humans hate change, we crave homeostasis.

The car park is busy this morning. Parents are rushing their children off to school sport training before they rush off to work. A number of parents are double parked, holding up traffic. They’re more important and in more of a rush than anyone else. I eventually reverse into the same parking spot that I park in every morning. Before I get out of the car, I watch the cars drive by: Mercedes, BMW, Land Rover, Tesla, all high-end luxury cars. The economy is quickly worsening. House prices are freezing out new home buyers. Petrol costs $2 a liter. None of these kids will be affected though. For them, financial security is hereditary. Phone, wallet, keys, work keys, cars in park, hand brakes on, lights are off. I get three steps from my car before I walk back to double check all the windows are up, even though its cold this morning, and I never rolled them down.

My office is the only building in the school that is filled with light. Sue sits at her desk, tapping away on her computer. She’s writing reports, they aren’t due for another 5 weeks.
“Samuel, when you are free can you read this for me?” she asks, thrusting a piece of paper into my face.
It’s a handwritten report for a student. I haven’t even put my bags down yet. Absentmindedly, I take the piece of paper, unpack my backpack and sit in my not quite comfortable chair.
Sue starts talking about a student of hers. The parents aren’t respecting her. She’s short, Japanese and speaks with an accent. Even the most staunchly non-racist parents become racist when it comes to blaming someone for their son’s poor school performance.
As she speaks, I look at today’s news. War in Europe, financial disasters in America, natural disasters in Australia, the Middle East problem has never been solved. Given the chance, should we really be saved as a species? We do nothing but pollute, contaminate and kill this Earth. It’s estimated that by 2050, most parts of the world will be uninhabitable. If we weren’t here, at least every other species on the planet would have a chance of survival. Right now, we aren’t even giving our children a future on this planet.
My phone lights up. A picture of Emperor Palpatine stares back at me. My mom is calling. I let the call go to voicemail. It rings three more times. She leaves three more voicemails. It’s 7:10am, her persistence makes me think someone has died. I dial 121 and listen to the voicemails.
The first voice mail.
“Hi Samuel. Call me back when you can. Everything is fine. Call me back. Love you.”
The second voice mail.
“Call me back Samuel. Have a good day at work. Call me back. Everything is fine.”
The third voice mail. Her voice has become snarky and passive-aggressive.
“I bet he’s not going to pick up. He’s too busy to talk to his own mother, typical.”
I roll my eyes and send her a text message, “Hi mom. Sorry, at work. Everything ok?”
Barely a second passes before she replies.
“Sorry Sam, everything fine, your brother leaves for Adelaide today for the night. Wanted to know if you wanted to say goodbye.”
I look down at the report Sue wrote and roll my eyes. I slide my phone into my desk draw and tell myself I’ll reply to the message later. Truthfully, I’ll probably forget. A few years ago, I heard someone say that when you stop teaching your children, you become their responsibility. As a kid, I was raised on a healthy diet of an absent father and too many hyper masculine comic book characters, a passive-aggressive bi-polar mother and unsupportive siblings. My older sister used to practise singing at 10pm on a school night, or turn the volume on the television up so loud that I needed earplugs to sleep. My younger brother used to throw tantrums if he lost a game, so I had to let him win, always. Last week, my father called to tell me my mother accused him of being gay. Her logic? He has male friends, and didn’t want to spend time with her. It didn’t occur to her that he didn’t want to spend time with her because she was manipulative and a gaslighter. My dad asked if he could stay with me, I made an excuse to say no. That night, I cried. My parents stopped teaching me new things years ago, and I don’t have the energy to be responsible for them.
I scribble out some words on the sheet of paper Sue gave me, cross out another word, add three more and hand it back to her.
She smiles and thanks me. I take my phone out of my desk drawer and let me mind wander. If I sit in boredom, I’ll start thinking too much.

Tom, Oscar and Edward won’t stop talking. Oscar has been moved to the front of the class. That doesn’t stop him from turning around and shouting.
“I want to get Holly’s swimsuit and wring it out into my mouth.”
Tom and Edward laugh. The rest of the class are silent. I finish writing my sentence on the board.
“Oscar, outside. Now.”
He drops his head and stands up. Oscar knows how to play the game. Whenever he’s told off, he plays the injured fawn.
I stare at him. He’s in Year 9 and a few inches taller than me. That doesn’t stop me from dressing him down.
“How do you think that’s an appropriate thing to say?” my tone if firm, my body language is stoic.
Oscar stares at his feet, shrugs, “I don’t know sir. I’m sorry.”
Like I said, he knows how to play the game. We had a similar conversation last week.
I tilt my head slightly to lock eyes with him.
“I understand that’s the type of language used in memes, but do you really think it’s appropriate to talk about that in real life? Especially when you’re shouting it across the room. Do you think I want to hear that? Or that your other classmates want to hear that?
Oscar is smart enough to know that these questions are rhetorical. He stays quiet.
“How about this. I’ll go get some of the Year 10 girls and you can repeat that to them. Let’s see how they react. I bet you’ll be slapped, and they’ll think you’re a creep. Then you can repeat that to Ibu, let’s see if she finds it funny, or endearing.”
A moment passes. The tension settles in the air. Oscar apologies, goes back inside and sits down. He won’t change.

The bell rings. It’s lunchtime, and it’s started raining. The boys don’t care. Instead of being smart and standing under shelter, they play down ball. By the time Period 5 starts, they’ll all smell like wet dogs and spray-on deodorant. Many of them are in nothing more than shorts and their short-sleeved shirt. That’s the kind of invincibility that comes from being young. Now, if I eat at the wrong time, I’ll have a sore stomach for at least a day.

Luckily, the staffroom is quiet. I collect my lunch, go back to my desk and put headphones in. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice that Sue starts talking to me. I avoid eye contact. I ignore her.
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