When she wanted to start her class, Ms. Faraway would tell us several times to take our seats in her low droning voice that reminded us of the way a bullfrog croaks. She was our science teacher. She lived alone with her cat. Other teachers had pictures of their kids or spouses on their desks, but she just had pictures of that cat. We called the cat Mr. Faraway—the cat that married a bullfrog.
Ms. Faraway didn’t like us and we didn’t like her.
But one morning, Ms. Faraway asked several of us boys to accompany her in her van to go get the frogs for biology class. We were going to dissect the frogs that afternoon. The idea of a field trip to wherever the school bought its frogs from sounded much more interesting than anything Coach Johnson had for us in gym class, so we met her in the teachers’ parking lot. Her dented old van sat on four bald tires. She let us inside and then we watched through the windows as she walked around to the driver’s side door and climbed in behind the steering wheel. There was a photograph on her keychain that we noticed dangling from the ignition. It was a picture of Mr. Faraway.
The real tragedy of our educational experience with Ms. Faraway was that most of us really enjoyed science. We wanted to know more, but we didn’t want to have to learn it from her. In her flipper-like hands, we forgot about our hunger for knowledge and lost our appetite as she extinguished the sparks of intellectual curiosity like someone blowing too hard at the birthday candles, splattering saliva on the icing of the cake. She ruined it for everyone and she didn’t know how to reach us. We would just sit in her class gawking at her as she listed off facts and summarized theories. Things we already knew or easily comprehended. She never challenged or inspired us, because to us, she really did seem like a bullfrog, and we couldn’t find any inspiration from those wide-eyed, mud-dwelling amphibians that snatched flies with their tongues. She was a curiosity, not a teacher, talking of all those things that should have been interesting. She could make the spectacular routine and thwart any surprise. So we took the occasional note, memorized for the tests, endured the hour.
No one mentioned the educational shortcomings of our teacher while Ms. Faraway drove us across town to the strange complex of industrial-looking buildings. She parked the van in a loading zone. We got out and followed her up to one of the doors. We waited as she produced a key from her knapsack-sized purse. We heard the little click of the lock and followed her inside. She flipped on the fluorescent lights and we went down a narrow hallway into a large room with a cement floor. We walked past stacks of cardboard boxes and rows of metal shelves and mysterious crates covered in sheets of plastic until we came to a five-foot stack of metal trays. Ms. Faraway pulled down the top tray and lifted up the metal cover. There on a white dish was a dried-out frog splayed out on its warty back. We all marveled at its white belly and rubbery flippers. She said she’d called ahead and a worker was delivering more trays. He wasn’t here yet. She told us to get to work on this stack.
We started carrying the trays one by one out to her van. Ms. Faraway didn’t help at all. In fact, she went over to the soda machine and even though some of us hoped she would at least buy us all cold drinks, she only bought one for herself. Then she sat down on a folding chair and daydreamed for a while before she reached inside her purse and pulled out a cell phone. She talked to the worker. A moment later he arrived with the other stack. We continued moving the first stack out to the van while she balanced her checkbook.
Carrying the trays was a lot of work. But about the time we got down to the bottom of the stack, we noticed one tray that didn’t look like the others. It was dark and covered in something resembling black mold. One of us lifted the cover to sneak a look and we saw that the frog inside was badly decomposed and lying on its back in a dish full of frothy yellow slime. At that point, we looked over and saw Ms. Faraway get up from her chair.
“I’m going to visit the restroom,” she said.
We waited until she left. Then we saw that although she had taken her purse, she had left her soda can on the cement floor near the folding chair. That was when Eddie, one of the troublemakers in our class, decided to take the slimy tray with the decomposed frog over to her soda can. Eddie picked it up, and then, with his other hand, tilted the frog-tray at an angle to allow the frog slime to drip into Ms. Faraway’s soda. We gave a collective evil snicker when Eddie put the can back down as if nothing had happened. Then we carried the remaining trays out to her van and returned to wait for her.
“Are we about ready?” Ms. Faraway asked upon her return. She slung her purse strap over her meaty shoulder. We told her the trays were all packed. She nodded and told us to follow her out to her van.
She made for the exit, but Eddie piped up and asked, “Don’t you want your soda?”
Ms. Faraway turned and then it looked as though our devious plan would work because she walked over and picked up the can and took a good long sip to finish its contents. She crushed it and tossed it into a trash can. For a moment we all thought, “This is it!” But then, nothing. No signs of distress, no uncontrollable vomiting. She walked past us and in that moment she seemed invincible. Ms. Faraway, the unstoppable mirthless matriarch presiding over us, her children taken by force, bound not by blood, but by the strict laws governing public education. She would bury every one of us. As she drove us back to the school, Mr. Faraway smiled at us again from the swinging keychain. In our defeat, we said nothing.
But after we returned to our school, we heard that Ms. Faraway had gotten a telephone call from her vet during the lunch hour. Her cat had died during some routine operation. Someone heard about it in the administrator’s office and it got back to us in the lunchroom. The rumor had it that Ms. Faraway was devastated.
Later that afternoon, we arrived early and stood outside the room. We could see her at her desk. She cried and held in her hands a red plastic bowl with some milk in it, and the words PURR-FECT KITTY written on the side. In that compromised emotional state, Ms. Faraway didn’t look like herself. She seemed so human and out of place, almost one of us. No one said anything. We just stood there until she noticed us in the doorway. She stood and carried the bowl to the back of the room, to the counter space with the aquariums and microscopes, and she put the bowl down and hunched over in grief, hanging her head in such a way that we saw her tears fall into the milk. A moment later, she tried to regain her composure. She gave one weak clap of her hands to start the class, but about halfway through the hour, before we had even brought the frogs out of the back room, she just got up from her desk and walked out the door. Through the classroom windows we saw her walk out to the teachers’ parking lot, get into her van, and drive away.
That was the last time we ever saw her. But a couple of days later, we stood in front of the young male substitute science teacher and tried to explain to him that something had happened in the back of the classroom, between the old aquariums and the microscopes. Ms. Faraway’s tears had turned into eight slimy tadpoles the size of plump figs in the bowl of milk that had, by then, gone sour.
Short fiction by Bryan Jones has appeared recently in MiCrow and Eclectic Flash. He lives and works in Texas.
Lead image: “Love nest #3” (via Flickr user Brent M.)