Reneé Beauregard

The New Deb

When Deb came back from her vacation, she looked like a potato. She was fatter and browner than ever, and I thought my God, they’re going to eat her. They are absolutely going to eat her.

The students, I meant. She was teaching seventh grade English, and the seventh grade boys were the best at making you wish you were dead. I knew this because I used to teach seventh. When I got my period in the middle of teaching a class about The Merchant of Venice and had to run to the ladies’ room, completely forgetting a quarter for a tampon, I rolled up some paper towels and crammed them into my underwear. I got back to the class, and one boy, a smart-ass, whispers, “Miss G.’s got a boner.” I didn’t know which boy said it first, but I knew they were all saying it pretty soon. “Miss G.’s got a boner.” Fuck them. So when Deb got back from her vacation looking like a potato, I thought she was finished, for sure.

She came into the teachers’ lounge her first day back.

“Two months in Tuscany, Kath,” she said. “It was the most incredible trip I’ve ever taken.”

“Yeah, I can believe it. Have you ever even been outside of Michigan City before?” I asked. She didn’t answer my question, and she didn’t ask me how my summer was.

“I mean, two months on my own, away from everything.” She sighed.

“What about your husband? He didn’t go with you?” I asked.

“Oh, no. We needed some time.” Deb sipped at her mug of coffee, and an armful of obnoxious copper bangles crashed into each other in the crook of her raised elbow. Deb had never worn that kind of jewelry before. It drew attention to her fat new arms, and her students were going to eat her alive.

God, Deb, that’s too bad. I didn’t realize,” I said, even though I did realize. Word in the teachers’ lounge was that Deb and her husband had been on the rocks for months. And now the weight gain. It was going to be a rough semester for Deb.

I didn’t see her again until October, except from a distance in the hallways. She seemed to constantly exist at the center of a ridiculous herd of seventh graders. By then she was wearing these long skirts and hoop earrings, nothing like the quiet gray pants and cream blouses she wore before, and was leaving cranberry orange muffins on the table in the teachers’ lounge once a week. I figured she was baking them in her new apartment’s kitchenette, because I’d heard that Brad had kicked her out.

“I’m so sorry to hear about everything,” I said. “I know your husband wasn’t thrilled about you taking a full-time position here last year. That must have been so difficult.” She was setting her ridiculous Wizard of Oz looking muffin basket on top of the table in the lounge.

“Oh, God, Kath. Please don’t be sorry. Sometimes things just happen. I’m really okay.” She didn’t look okay. She looked fat and on the verge of a divorce.

“Okay,” I said. “Well, if you need anything.” I shrugged, trying to seem sympathetic and helpful.

“Thanks,” she said. “And how about you, Kath? How are things in the office?” I didn’t think we needed to talk about me when Deb was going through so much with her weight and her divorce and her tiny apartment.

“It’s been great.” I smiled at Deb. She and the rest of the middle school teachers looked at the secretaries like we filed our nails all day and did nothing else. I knew that because I used to be one of the teachers, up until a year ago. It wasn’t that I couldn’t hack it in the classroom, but it did get stressful, and to be really honest, those kids were not worth it. They were not worth the tears and the ruined evenings of correcting papers. “Miss G.’s got a boner.” They weren’t worth the energy. I preferred the office job.

The seventh grade hallways were silent on the day before Christmas break. Principal Tyler, a moron and sucker for failing arts programs, let Deb head a seventh grade trip to see Dickens’ A Christmas Carol at The Canterbury Theater. Deb left a plate of wreath-shaped sugar cookies in the teachers’ lounge that morning, and I slid them into the trash bin as soon as the buses left for the theater. The paper plate they had been sitting on was oily and translucent in spots, and I thought no wonder she looks like a cow these days.

The staff and faculty Christmas party was that night, and I wondered if Deb and Principal Tyler would be there. They were. Principal Tyler was looking at her like she was a greasy plate of sugar cookies and she was clutching her plastic cup of eggnog against her enormous breasts. Evidently, Principal Tyler didn’t mind her vacation pounds or the fact that she had all the baggage of a recently ended marriage. And she must not have minded that he was a complete idiot. “Kath,” he’d said to me once, “you think you’d be more comfortable behind a desk in the office? Doing paperwork and answering phones and that kind of thing?” I told him no. I didn’t think I would be, back then. “Kath,” he said again, slower, “If you want to stay on the team here, I think you’d be more comfortable behind a desk.” The idiot bastard had me replaced with Deb within a week, and after a short “voluntary sabbatical,” I began work in the office. Now he was whispering something to Deb, moving her hair away from her ear with his skinny pale fingers and smiling his idiot smile at her.

A few days after Christmas, I saw them sitting at the café in Barnes and Noble. She was slurping from a cup that had leaked melted whipped cream down one side, and he had his hand wrapped around her meaty knee. Her sweater showed off an abundance of cleavage, and her hair was wild around her shoulders. I was thankful, at that moment, for my quiet gray pants and cream blouse, and because my jewelry didn’t clatter up and down my arms. They smiled at each other, and I smiled to myself. Let her put up with the idiot principal every day and night. Let her bake muffins and expand into another dress size, and let her teach the asshole seventh graders. “Miss G.’s got a boner.” The New Deb was just fine for her. I would stick with the old Kath.

Reneé Beauregard is an MFA student at Hamline University. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in Arsenic Lobster, The Rectangle, The Northern New England Review, and rock, paper, scissors. She lives in Falcon Heights, Minnesota with her cat, hedgehog, and boyfriend, and she has never carried a purse that couldn't fit a book or two.