Scalpels count

“What a world.”

Rose lifted her head from the desk. Mrs. Callaghan was standing at the opposite end of the classroom, perched on her toes just a little bit, peering out the window.

“What’s going on out there?”

Mrs. Callaghan waved her hand dismissively. “Nothing in particular, dear. I was just watching the children line up for the buses.”

“Are they misbehaving?” asked Rose. “Knife fights?”

“Ha ha, no,” Mrs. Callaghan smiled. “I didn’t see any knife fights, anyway. I guess that doesn’t mean they’re not happening.”

Rose sat up. “Have you ever heard about any?”

“Well,” replied Mrs. Callaghan, rolling her eyes thoughtfully. “Certainly there have been a fair share of pocketknives confiscated from kids, but thankfully I’ve never heard of any out-and-out duels.”

“I think they’re technically called ‘rumbles’,” Rose noted.

“Now, wait a minute, I guess I remember one story. This was something that happened before I started working here, so, back in the Stone Age then.”

“Were people hurling stones and sharpened sticks?”

Mrs. Callaghan ignored Rose and continued. “So the story goes, there was a kid, name of Cain.”

“Cain as in Cain and Abel?”

“Yes. That was his last name. I don’t remember his first name. Rob Cain, Jeff Cain, David Cain, one of those maybe.”

“So what did this kid do?”

Mrs. Callaghan looked out the window again. “I guess he was a thuggish type, a bully, liked to hit kids and take their money. Came from a low-income family, his older brother had trouble with the law, you know the type.”

“Seems almost quaint,” Rose smiled.

“Oh yes,” Mrs. Callaghan nodded, “back in those days you could pretty much tell who the problem kids would be just by looking at them. Nowadays, it’s like everyone’s got the potential to, to–”

“To be a bastard.”

“Well, yes. Anyway, Cain apparently had a long-standing antagonistic relationship with another student whose name I can’t remember.”


“That would be convenient, wouldn’t it? Unfortunately, it’s not at all appropriate as an analogy.” Mrs. Callaghan cleared her throat. “Cain had been picking on this other boy for I guess a number of years, and the boy couldn’t take it anymore.”

Rose listened inquisitively. “So he brought in a knife and stabbed him?”

Mrs. Callaghan sighed. “It was a little more… complicated than that. The two boys had a class together with Mr. Bergen. Have you met him? He still teaches here.”

“Older guy? Math teacher?”

“Biology. Vietnam veteran, and very strict as teachers go.”

“I met him briefly in the lounge. He did seem like kind of a hardass.”

“He’s softened up over the years. Cain and the other boy were in his class together, and there was a sudden altercation one afternoon. Right there in the classroom.”

“Why? What set it off?”

“There were notes being passed around. They revealed what happened… Cain had a little romance going, a crush… but the other boy had apparently, very quietly, stolen her away. Not only that, but he convinced her to help him carry out an elaborate prank which resulted in… well…”

“What is it?”

Mrs. Callaghan blushed and lowered her voice considerably. “It ended with Cain inadvertently performing a sex act on a homeless man in front of a room full of people.”

“Uh. Holy shit.”

“Anyway. Cain didn’t come back to school for two weeks after that, and the day he came back was when the altercation happened. Bergen told them to put their books away and get out their pencils for a quiz. Cain instead pulled out a knife, stood up, walked to the other boy, and slashed him across the face.”

“Oh my god!”

“And here’s where your knife fight comes in. Bergen kind of snapped, I guess, and grabbed a scalpel from his counter top, to face Cain in battle. But Cain was too fast for him and sliced his belly open.”

Rose squirmed. “What happened to him?”

“Story’s not over yet. Bergen had a student teacher who was a little late that day. The student teacher walked into the classroom and saw Bergen clutching his belly, this other kid on the floor, Cain holding the knife, and blood everywhere. He assumed the worst and tackled Cain. He was a big guy, hefty, and during the tackle Cain’s head got bashed in on the countertop. He was killed instantly.”

“The other kid – did he die?”

“I guess he was blinded. The student teacher was so distraught over what happened that he checked himself into a mental institution.”

“And Bergen lived through it.”

“Bergen claimed that he suffered through worse in the war, and I’m not going to doubt him, but he required some major surgery and was very close to death.”

Rose looked out the window and watched the last bus pulling away.

“Mrs. Callaghan? I don’t think I want to be a teacher anymore.”

“I’ve uttered those words every fucking day since I became one.” Mrs. Callaghan turned to Rose with a stern look on her face. “And yet, here I am. What a world.”

“Mrs. Callaghan?”

“What is it, dear?”

“Why didn’t you remember this right away, when I asked you about knife fights earlier?”

“Oh, I remembered it. I just wasn’t sure if scalpels counted.”

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