Mr. Fisler’s Class
Elizabeth woke up much like the day before, except on this morning she no longer had a father.
“Credit card bills, finish that book, text Mindy,” she thought. Things felt normal.
“Water the succulents, return that dress (did you need it?), dad is dead, Dad is dead, dad is dead, Dad is dead, and hm, would I spell ‘dad’ with a lowercase-D or a capital-D?”
“Lowercase if it’s a general label,” Mr. Fisler once told Elizabeth in English class. “If it’s a title that is personal, or if it’s the day after your dad dies and you can’t quite remember, you should capitalize it. Elizabeth? You’re going to need to write this down.”
She didn’t, but she remembered. “Just think: alliteration,” he continued, as her face began to strawberry. “Capital-D. Dad is dead. There’s something rhythmic about that,” he said directly to the strawberry. Suddenly her skin got hot like macaroni. Her face got itchy like daisies. Fraught with embarrassment, Elizabeth and her plump, wobbly knees turned into a black bear in that very moment.
The classroom cried. “A brown bear! She’s a brown bear!” gasped Little Timmy.
“No, she’s a black bear!” challenged Samantha. “Just because her fur is brown doesn’t mean she’s a brown bear.” She was frightened, too, but it was more important to her to be factually accurate than scared.
The children were screaming, and the black bear felt very guilty. She sat back on her brown furry bottom. Mr. Fisler tried to calm the class. “Quiet, kids. Samantha is right,” he said, “and did you know that the only way you can tell a black bear from a brown bear is by looking very closely at their noses?”
The children ooh-ed and ahh-ed in unison, trying to decipher her nose. Elizabeth shrank a tiny bit, but it was hard to tell if it was the unusually cold summer air, or the fact that today her sad little head weighed just a bit more than the Earth’s gravitational pull was used to.
Now, normally little children could never examine the noses of brown bears or black bears because they would get eaten up. But this was their chance to learn about something different from themselves, and they were ready!
The black bear let drop a single tear, which, as it happened, came out in the exact shape of a little stuffed flamingo that her grandfather gave her as a child. She stood up and roared. “Stop that! My dad will not die! You are truly mistaken. If that were to ever be plausible, pigs would have to fly!”
Charlie, the average boy, fluttered his pig wings in protest.
“Sorry, Charlie, but you know what I mean.”
“I CAN fly,” Charlie said, “and you know it.”
“Yes, I do. And what beautiful flights you fly. But what I mean is: it is simply something that could never happen. The very essence of it is so fantastical that I can’t help but think of Shakespearean epics or tales of Greek heroes or the musical ‘Wicked.’ Why, in real life, these things do not happen!”
There was silence, and then crickets, who broke the tension with a loud tap dance. After they finished, everyone cordially applauded, but was eager to return to the topic.
“Maybe she’s right,” Little Timmy said, taking comfort in his long scaly tail. He did that whenever he wanted to show that he came out on top of an argument.
“Yeah, I’ve certainly never heard of it happening,” Samantha agreed. She loved the way Little Timmy’s tail curled under his arm whenever he lost an argument.
“But still, she’s a bear now, and to me, that is scary. Hmph!” Charlie snorted.
Mr. Fisler thought for a full minute, scratching his chin and mumbling numbers that were not real. “I do think, Elizabeth, that you are scaring the other children. Not just because you are a bear — ”
“I can’t help that I’m a bear!”
“ — but because you’ve brought up these ancient notions of fiction that do not exist in this world.”
“I can’t help that I’m a bear!” she repeated. The black bear was crying at this point, but what could she do? She scurried out of the classroom, and from far across the playground she heard Mr. Fisler carry on the lesson, replete with his projector slides and ten monologue jokes.
Elizabeth skipped English class for the rest of the year, and she would come to school every day in person to say that, she was very sorry, but she would not be able to attend English class because she was a little bit lost in the Sierras right now. There was team looking for her, so not to worry, but it might take some time for her to find her way home. The attendance women would nod politely and pretend to pay attention, but they were just staring at her nose, trying to figure out if she was a brown bear or a black bear.
“It’s so hard to tell, Sheila!” one of them would whisper after the black bear had left.
“I know, Shiela! We really should look up which nose means which!”
“I know!” The Shielas howled like alarm clocks with laughter, but they never did look up which nose meant which.
And that was why Elizabeth was not the best in grammar, and why she would sometimes mess up the apostrophe-s rule for words that ended with the letter “s,” or forget if the “d” in dad should be capitalized.
“Credit card bill, finish my book, text Mindy,” she thought. Things felt normal.