If Then

Justice Alito babysits

If Justice Alito went to the bathroom, he googled his colleagues stealthily in a stall. It was just something he did. It relaxed him. It had been a crazy few days at the Supreme Court and his time in the bathroom was all his. His to catch up on what he missed. His to spend worrying about how he’d fit into the Court when it wasn’t a majority of right-minded men. Hmm. President Obama had appointed Retired Justice Souter to replace Merrick Garland whose nomination to replace Justice Scalia was currently stalled out in the Senate? How would that even work, Justice Alito wondered.

He was so deep in anxious thought that he hadn’t noticed water flowed into the stall. A lot of water. A flood. What happened? Justice Alito didn’t think he heard anyone come in. He could recognize most of his colleagues by the sounds their shoes made. Was a stranger in his midst? He felt his body initiate fight or flight response as he slowly opened the stall door.

A child, a toddler really, had plugged the sink with paper towels, and then turned on the faucet. Water was cascading out of the sink so mightily that the waste must be violating The Soil and Water Resources Conservation Act of 1977. Well, good, thought Justice Alito. The Department of Agriculture, which enforces the act, should be abolished anyhow. Some of the Justices remembered names and faces of support staff, and some remembered that the Washington Nationals used to be the Montreal Expos. Justice Alito had amazing recall of the federal laws he’d repeal and the federal agencies he’d abolish if there were a terrorist attack that killed all of the Justices but him.

The child beamed at Justice Alito. The water crept all the way to where the paper towel dispenser had been before the Chief’s Green Team Initiative had it removed.

Normally Justice Alito would have wanted to spank the child (he relished disciplining children that were not his own), but he was so confused about what the four year old was doing in the Supreme Court, he only balked. The pattern was typical of the Justice: wanting to throw the book at someone but dithering about which book to throw. Always throw Hamlet, Justice Scalia would direct him. He had loved Shakespeare, quoted him in his opinions habitually, but the young prince had infuriated him. Indecision breeds assholery, Justice Scalia would bellow.

Assholery isn’t really a word, Justice Alito thought. But if Shakespeare could make up words, Justice Scalia could as well. He was just as much a member of the canon as the bard, wasn’t that what he always used to say? Oh God. This place had become such a disaster without him. What would Justice Scalia have said about a child in the building?

“Are you lost?” Justice Alito said to the boy.

The boy splashed in the puddle he had created. He kneeled down and patted his hands in the water.

“I’m at cool,” the boy said.

“You can’t be at cool. Cool is an adjective. You can only be at a noun,” Justice Alito corrected the child. The child smiled brightly. He didn’t yet know what an adjective or a noun was, and was just happy to be fucking around with the sink.

“Max? How’s the waterfall?” a woman’s voice called out, from the hallway.

“Who’s there?” Justice Alito asked. He tiptoed around the puddle, kind of slipped, regained his balance, and edged to the door.

Retired Justice O’Connor was in the hallway. She warmly accepted the child, ant then peered sternly at Justice Alito.

“He was running the water in the sink,” Justice Alito tattled.

“I know what he was doing. We were reading a book about Niagara Falls and he wanted to know how water poured over the cliffs. So I sent him to the bathroom to experiment with the sink,” Retired Justice O’Connor said. “The faucet is the mighty Niagara River, right, Max?”

“You sent him to do that without supervision?”

“It’s the men’s room, Justice Alito. I’m not there yet,” Retired Justice O’Connor said like she was a little disappointed in herself.

“Queef, come to my quasswoom,” the boy Max said to Justice Alito.

Justice Alito gasped and clutched his heart.

“He’s saying chief, asshole. He thinks you’re Chief Justice Roberts,” Retired Justice O’Connor said.

“Why did he say that disgusting word?” Justice Alito continued clutching his heart. But only for dickish effect; after his last stress test, his physician told Justice Alito he had the heart of a college track athlete.

“He has a speech impediment. He’s four.” Retired Justice O’Connor patted Max’s head. “But we can finally hire a speech language pathologist. Justice Thomas fired all his clerks when he moved to the lobby. There are open positions in the budget finally.”

Justice Alito groaned at the idea of the government hiring more people.

“Max. That is Justice Alito and he is your substitute teacher today. You can call him Mister Sam.” Retired Justice O’Connor hadn’t planned to ask Justice Alito to watch her preschool kids. She wanted to ring that cad, Senator Lindsey Graham. But Alito was standing right there. It seemed so sensible and results-driven to have him do it.

“I am?” Justice Alito asked.

“I need to run to a State of Arizona Chamber of Commerce thing. The small businesses there need guidance about how to avoid contributing to their employees’ healthcare costs. Make them part-time and send them to the Obamacare exchanges. Simple.” Her practicality pleased herself.

“That’s really interesting. Can they do that?” Justice Alito asked.

“And Harriet Miers is on the Acela to New York. One of the Bush daughters last minute needed a babysitter.”

“She’s entrusting her life to our aging infrastructure? She’s dumber than I thought.”

“Oh, you just don’t like her because W. picked her first.” They all walked into Justice Scalia’s former chambers. Children and crayons were everywhere.

“It was all a charade,” Justice Alito said, about President Bush’s nomination of Harriet Miers.

“I know it’s well trodden territory that I cried when it looked like Al Gore was going to win Florida, but you know, I should’ve never retired,” Retired Justice O’Connor said to Max, but she wanted Justice Alito to hear. Why else do you talk to a four year old but to talk through him to another adult in the room?

Typically, retired Justices maintained cordial relationships with their successors. Retired Justice Souter and Justice Sotomayor adored each other. They began exchanging letters shortly after Justice Sotomayor’s appointment. We’re just like the Founding Slaveholders, Justice Sotomayor would joke. She quoted the musical Hamilton, but didn’t find out until days later when Retired Justice Souter wrote back that the reference hadn’t landed. Just days ago, Justice Sotomayor wrote retired Justice Souter asking him to travel to DC to hold a press conference with Justice Breyer so that everyone could see once and for all that they were different people.

Justice Kagan and Retired Justice Stevens also got along famously. They kept a standing darts date during winter. In the warmer months, they’d switch over to horseshoes. All the while, they’d trade G-rated barbs like they were in a 1950s YMCA locker room, two CPAs from rival accounting firms, changing into their swimsuits.

The relationship between Justice Alito and Retired Justice O’Connor was more strained.

“I don’t know how to be a substitute teacher,” Justice Alito confessed to Retired Justice O’Connor.

“It’s Montessori. They can do whatever they want.”

“That doesn’t sound right to me.”

“Well, I’m going.”

Retired Justice O’Connor exited the chambers. Her Chamber of Commerce thing was at a hotel out in Virginia and she still needed to get lunch. The children were throwing crayons at each other. The men’s bathroom was still flooded. Justice Alito wanted to cry. Everything was such a mess with only eight Justices.

“Let’s start with the alphabet,” Justice Alito began. “Everyone sit at your desks.”

He looked around, but he saw no children’s desks. Only what he believed to be Justice Scalia’s old furniture. How did he get away with using a grill in here, Justice Alito thought. And what did he need a movable kitchen island for? Justice Alito tried remembering the last time he had been inside these chambers. Nothing. Did his mentor really never invite him in?

“Let’s sit around the grill.” Justice Alito began reciting the alphabet.

“Noooo,” the children yelled. They played freeze tag around the giant grill, big enough for a concession stand.

“Yes,” Justice Alito insisted. “We’re singing the ABCs. A, B, C, D, E, F,” he sung.

“It doesn’t go like that!” Noah shouted.

“How does it go then?” Justice Alito asked. He thought back to his own childhood, when his teachers would threaten Soveit takeover whenever the class made a mistake.

“It goes Q, W, E, R, T, and Y,” Faye said as she showed Justice Alito her iPad.

“It’s the keypad song,” Noah explained. Justice Alito was horrified that children now memorized the keypad instead of the alphabet. This takeover wouldn’t be as neat as a Soviet one would’ve been.

“Fine then,” and they sang the song the keypad way. It got weird around JKL. Justice Alito kept reverting back to the old alphabet.

Justice Alito wanted to cry again when his phone buzzed. It was Chief Justice Roberts. He answered it and attached it to a wand Jake gave him when they first met. The Chief would need to hear about all this, starting with the mischievous water usage.

“Where are you? I need help,” the Chief barked.

“I’m watching these kids while Retired Justice O’Connor and Harriet Miers gallivant across the Northeast Corridor.” Justice Alito hoped his circumstances would speak for themselves, and that the Chief would intervene, dismantling the school and forbidding O’Connor and Miers from entering the building anymore.

“Am I on speaker phone?”

“Yes.”

“Why in the fuck?”

Justice Alito shushed the Chief for the first time ever. “The children,” he pleaded.

“Get me off speaker phone.”

“I don’t know how else to hear you if the phone is attached to these wands the social media manager left for us.”

The Chief realized Justice Alito was referring to his new selfie stick. “That’s not what those are for.”

“I thought they measured the proper distance away from your body to hold the phone? So it doesn’t give you a tumor.”

“Cell phones cause cancer the way everything causes cancer,” the Chief said.

“Everything causes cancer?” Justice Alito felt his heart beat quickening. He looked around. Children everywhere. Crayons. The grill. iPads, iPads with shattered screens. He was going to cry. He knew it. He recited a Hail Mary to himself. He hated praying to a woman but it was the quickest prayer he knew. A child drove a Matchbox car over Justice Alito’s other hand, the one that wasn’t holding up the phone attached to a selfie stick.

“Justice Alito? Where did you go?” the Chief yelled.

“Justice Scalia would be rolling over in his grave if he knew you converted his chambers into a preschool.”

“It’s a Montessori and that SOB was cremated.” A child was drawing with crayon on Justice Scalia’s stuffed deer head, the one he shot on that hunt with the lobbyist.

“These kids though. They’ve destroyed his sacristy.”

“The painter is coming in an hour. I need you to tape the walls before he gets here.” The Chief was thinking of flipping the Supreme Court into mixed use loft and retail space, but he hadn’t told anyone yet. Capitol Hill had gentrified quicker than he had ever imagined it would. If he sold the property to a thirsty investor, the windfall he’d earn could be substantial.

“Can’t the social media manager help you?”

“He is traveling to New Hampshire to find Retired Justice Souter. It’s fine. I’ll just call Merrick Garland. He has nothing to do lately.”

Justice Alito appreciated the Chief negatively bonding with him over a liberal judge. It had been some time since the last time that happened. He didn’t want to cry anymore. “Well, what about my predicament?”

“What about it?” The Chief asked. “Grow up. They’re just kids. They’re mini people.” The Chief hung up on Justice Alito.

“Can we paint?” Faye asked Justice Alito. She had been listening to the phone conversation and remembered how fun it was to paint on the walls and furniture.

“I’m not sure that would be a good idea.” Meanwhile, Orlah and Ayan pulled out the finger paints and began painting Justice Scalia’s old law books. He had a treatise for each common law. Orlah and Ayan ripped out pages from a treatise, dipped them in paint and dabbed the bust of Winston Churchill. Then Ayan tattled on Orlah.

“Mister Sam, Orlah painted Mister Nino’s books.”

“But so did you,” Justice Alito explained. He grabbed the paints from Faye, Orlah and Ayan.

It was pandemonium. While Justice Alito and Faye were arguing about finger painting, the other children built from leather couch cushions what appeared to be a fort. Justice Scalia had one of those wraparound couches with recliners attached at each end, so the fort was gigantic.

“Mister Sam, Orlah called Iron Man ‘Captain America,’” Max yelled as he jumped from atop the fort.

“Mister Sam, Ayan is making his cheese stick talk,” Ben said as he jumped from the tall side of the recliner, missing the grill by a few inches.

“Mister Sam, Orlah kicked my,” Ayan whined.

“Kicked your what?”

“My!!” Ayan screamed as he pointed to his chest.

“Your chest?”

“Nooo. All of my!!” Justice Alito realized Ayan was trying to say ‘me.’ Still, he found it unlikely Orlah had kicked all of Ayan.

Justice Alito wearily sat down on one of the couch cushions. All the painting and horseplay and tattling, especially, was exhausting Justice Alito. He had only been googling his colleagues in the bathroom, taking a personal five, and now all this. He said another Hail Mary and regained his composure.

“Listen, if you want to tell on a classmate, that’s fine. Some kids need to get told on.” He glared at Max, who behaved like a defendant who flushed his drugs down the toilet when the police were pursuing him. “But then, if it’s a silly tattle, you might alienate a friend. Like a voting rights group in a former state of the Confederacy tattling to the Department of Justice about a tiny change in polling place hours.”

The children stared blankly at Justice Alito. He had lost them at the word ‘alienate.’

“Sometimes our actions can cause another action. Does anyone know what the word ‘necessary’ means?”

The children yelled “no” and Orlah tattled that Ayan had kicked her now. Justice Alito felt defeated. He wanted to teach them if/then statements. He wanted to make today useful. He sullenly began disassembling the pillow fort.

Faye could sense the Associate Justice’s sadness. She walked over to him and handed him a book. “Can you read to us?” she asked. It was If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, the book he had used as a logic primer with his daughters years ago.

Justice Alito read the story to the class, who could recite most of the words by heart. Maybe they weren’t such stupid heathens, he thought. When he finished reading, they asked him to begin again. When he finished that round, they asked him to begin again. And again. And again. He read the book to them six more times. After the final time, Justice Alito parlayed the story into an engaging critical thinking activity. He’d come up with a hypothetical ‘if statement,’ and the class would fill in what ‘then’ would happen.

When he asked the children what would happen if Retired Justice O’Connor never came back, Ben yelled, “You be our teacher!”

The children felt valued and Justice Alito felt listened to. Nobody wanted to tattle on anyone else. Nobody wanted to google anyone either.

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