Ask Me When You’re Older: Short Story

“Ask me when you’re older,” was the now surly behavioural containment unit specialist’s answer. The young man looked out of place in his oh-so-civilised duds; button down shirt, khakis and shoes without worn out leather. The conservatism of it all seemed wasteful. Chasing appearances.

“Why do you always say that?” the man’s charge asked, pulling at the edges of his (what the man assumed was) limited edition Pokemon Generation Whatever t-shirt. He’d been told before, in excoriating, dare he say merciless detail, precisely why the shirt was a great thing.

“You can ask me that when you’re older too,” the man said. He looked at the window, whose rolled shades were pulled down to within an inch of the questionably painted sill above the rickety radiator. It was raining outside. You wouldn’t know it, the shades were kept closed to prevent, and he quotes, “emotional disturbances.”

What a crock of shit.

The man in the civilised raiments sighed and refolded his hands over his lap. “So, are we gonna take a bite out of that homework, or what?”

The boy with the super special generic superhero hoody picked up his clipboard and chewed on the corner. “YUM.” he exclaimed.

The man grown wearisome of Civilisation took the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger and began to massage away a growing headache. He could see from the corner of his eye that the clock had struck 10:30. First lunch was approaching. The sudden smell of paint heated by the radiator struck his nostrils, and the sense of confinement found itself occupying such a massive tract of land on his grey matter that the sweat began to bead on his hairline.

He glanced around, his supervisor was gone. He smiled. “Hey kid,” the technician said, “wanna blow this joint?”

“What’s that even mean?” the child with the obnoxiously colourful sneakers asked.

“Don’t ask questions,” the technician grinned.

“What about when I’m older?”

“That’s a question, ain’t it son?”

An unwelcome voice rang out from one of the work tables, “he’s not your son!!” came the retort from one Destiny Parker, one of the shareholders of the future Trailerpark Moms of America trust fund. The man in the increasingly tight collar ground his teeth, “it’s a figger of speech.”

“Let’s take a walk,” the man repeated.

“I wanna go!” Destiny yelled.

Again with the headache. The room seemed very small, and he could hear the clock ticking. Each tick seemed louder, and so did his aortic rhythm.

“Wonderful,” he said, “but you can’t.” He looked to the other technician and smiled, “we’re going for a walk.”

The technician raised her eyebrows, “but Mister Johnson, lunch is in-“

Mr. Johnson narrowed his gaze, and the technician looked back at her chart. “Okay,” she said, checking off a box on her behaviour chart tracking Destiny’s ‘outburst.’

In the hallway the boy in the camouflage pants with the ridiculous volume of advertisements on his shirt grinned. “You’re breaking the rules.”

“I know,” the man with the pitiful victory under his belt intoned.

“Why?” The kid asked, “none of the other teachers are breaking rules.”

“That’s because they love their jobs,” the man said.

“No they don’t!” the boy with the uninspiring future laughed, “Miss Cragmeier tells me that every day.”

“Well that’s because Miss Cragmeier is a b-” the man with the depreciating patience for society caught himself.

“You were gonna say a bad word,” the kid who had been preselected for food service at Voc laughed.

“You can’t prove that,” the taciturn technician said. “It’ll be your word against mine, and you ain’t got the social capital to step on my turf.” The technician cackled. And the kid, confused, laughed along.

“So you don’t love your job?”

“I love the idea of my job,” the technician said.

“What’s that mean?” the kid asked.

“That’s a million dollar question,” the technician answered, “but I’ve only got a twenty.” The technician cleared his throat, “lemme level with you Super Chief.” The technician looked over his shoulder and down the hall. Then he remembered to check to see how close he was to the overhead camera, far enough. “Look,” he said, “you wanna know why I’m doing this?”

“Because money,” the kid said, repeating something he’d heard the tired technician utter many a time.

“Actually no,” the technician smiled. “Because all these rules are bullshit,” he said, interrupted by the guffaw of a child thinking he’d won something by seeing a teacher swear. “They don’t make you a better man, just more polite. And they don’t even do that.”

The kid was listening now. The cord was struck, many months of patience to build enough capital for one stupid talk that his parents should have been having with him- there he was instead.

“You learn the rules for one reason:” the technician said, “pay attention! One reason. What is it?”

“So you can break them!” the kid boomed.

“Yes, but your problem is you’re a bull in a China shop,” the technician said, “if you’re going to break rules do it for a reason. The way the teach only helps a select group of children. And who doesn’t it help?”

“The kids in sp.ed?”

“That’s right,” the technician said, “I’m breaking rules they taught me in college, because I think I know better than common core. My dog does too.”

The kid let with a whooping laugh.

“Shut it kid, we’re running out of time,” the technician said. “The reason they don’t fire me is because I don’t rub it in their eye, I’m nice to my peers and don’t try to tick them off, and, most importantly, I get results. I get results because I don’t do the same thing the same way every time and expect different results.”

The kid nodded. “I like breaking rules,” he said.

“But you don’t know when to break them,” the technician said smiling, “know your audience. If the whole class groans whenever you open your mouth, you’re doing it wrong. You need to have a reason for breaking rules. A damned good one. What’s your reason?”

“I like breaking the rules,” the kid answered candidly.

“That, my friend… Was awful. Just awful.”

the kid laughed.

“New rule,” the technician said, “don’t break rules until you can tell me why they’re breaking them.”

“Okay… Hey, wait!”

“Ah! Don’t do it!”

They both laughed.

Mr. Johnson looked up in time to see his supervisor trotting down the hall with her airs of superiority in tact. He mumbled.

“You said a bad word,” the kid laughed.

“Your voice carries, you know.”

“Mr. Johnson,” the supervisor began haughtily. She oozed an unearned aristocratic mete to the words she used. “What are we doing away from the behavioural containment unit?”

Jesus, he thought to himself, just call it a fucking prison, lady.

“I broke the rules,” the kid said.

“I see…” The supervisor said, “the hallway is not the approved place for behavioural correction, Mr. Johnson.”

With that she walked away, unflatteringly contained in her embroidered school sportsball uniform as she was. He rolled his eyes, “you understand?”

“You break rules because you hate Miss Buck?”

“No… She’s just a thing,” the technician said, “it’s her boss’s bosses I hate,” he said. “And I like to think someday we can prove them all wrong.”

“What do you mean? Wrong about what?”

“Hmm? Nothing. Ask me when you’re older.” The technician frowned, “lunchtime, skedaddle, get outta here.”

“Mr. Johnson,” the boy asked.

“Yeah?”

“If I’m gone when I’m older, and you’re still here, how can I ask you?”

“What makes you think I’ll still be here?”

“Well, HOW CAN I ASK YOU?”

“You can’t. Best get used to answering your own questions, kid.”

4 thoughts on “Ask Me When You’re Older: Short Story

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