Mrs. Bergen was sixty-three and her hair was salt and peppered as if to declare her age for all to see. She kept her hair severely pulled straight back into a bun. At five foot six inches she wasn’t particularly tall, but she’d managed to pack 220 pounds onto her frame and thus she was, to be blunt, fat. She had bushy eyebrows and when she smiled, if it could be called that, most interpreted it as a grimace, she showed unusually large teeth. Her teeth caused her to be dubbed “The Horse’s Mouth” by the children who were forced to endure her every school day. Mrs. Bergen was a junior high school teacher who’s subjects were English literature and English composition. Mrs. Bergen spoke with absolute clarity of diction and expected all of her students to do the same. While she succeeded in her own efforts at clarity, her students were less than enthusiastic about either speech nor grammar and this constituted one of the (many) reasons she had such great contempt for her students. As to the students, they needed no more reason to hold Mrs. Bergen in contempt than that she was a teacher who was not “cool.”
“And so my dad says to this guy…” Bob was saying as stood before his fellow classmates and related a story of a summer vacation he’d taken with his family when Mrs. Bergen interrupted him.
“And so my father spoke to a gentleman, Master Kirkpatrick. We do not say ‘and so my dad says to this guy.’ Good heavens, is your family as illiterate as you? I would suspect that your parents no doubt depend on society to provide their sustenance while they lay about reading magazines about film stars and dream of a world in which they matter.” Of course, none of what Mrs. Bergen said was true. In fact, the circumstances were just the opposite in about any way approached. While it was true that there was great tension between Bob and his father, it was a sure bet that Bob wasn’t about to take such a slam about his family lightly.
Bob stood shocked and mute and felt the flush of blood as his face grew red with anger. The other kids in the class looked at him, open mouthed, and then back to Mrs. Bergen. She was known for her rapier criticisms, but this was beyond the pale, and she’d done it to the student that was known for his distaste for people in authority. So much so that it was a given that he would always be in the library for an hour after each school day, serving detention. They expected a scathing reply, but instead the now purple faced student simply shook his head and walked out of the classroom. Mrs. Bergen demanded that he return to his place and finish his dissertation, but Bob simply raised the middle finger of his right hand to her and walked out the door. After the door closed, Mrs. Bergen spent the next ten minutes explaining the many flaws she saw in Bob’s character. Every word of which would be repeated to him later in a clot of phone calls through the evening.
Bob was not at school the following day, instead he had set a course to make himself feel better. What he did, was break into Mrs. Bergen’s Cape Cod style cottage where, as a widow, she lived alone with her cat Marcel, a Siamese which she had fed to the point that the cat did not move so much by walking as it did army crawling what with its massive girth greater than the extent of the animal’s legs. The cat took great interest in Bob. It was not because he was a stranger who’d invaded the cat’s domain, but because he carried with him a particularly odious dead flounder that he cobbed from the bait bins at the fishing piers. Fishing was one of the small industries of the coastal Long Island Sound communities, fetching fish, lobster, crab, mussels and clams to the market. Well known as a denizen of the harbor, no one paid the least attention to Bob as he purloined the rotting fish.
Bob was, as was every student at school, aware that Mrs. Bergen had no sense of smell. Some genetic joke along the way had robber her of olfactory senses from birth. Since Mrs. Bergen had so humiliated him in class, Bob felt he had some payback coming in the humility department and so he put the fish into the dresser drawer where Mrs. Bergen kept her unmentionables. Holding a pair up for perusal, Bob mumbled that he’d seen smaller sails on some of the wind powered craft that sailed the waters his house overlooked. Bob tucked the fish away and closed up the drawer after making sure that all appeared just as it was when he opened it. Marcel, the cat, was still frantically trying to make his way towards the bedroom when Bob emerged and closed the door, leaving it too just the way he found it. This elicited a frustrated wail from the cat, who then tried to follow Bob as he departed through the back door which, as with many residents of the area, Mrs. Bergen had failed to lock.
Bob was in math class the following day when the school secretary, Mrs. Appleton, came to fetch him. She withdrew him from the class saying that Mr. Johnson, the Assistant Principal wished to see him in his office immediately. It was the Assistant Principal who meted out discipline at the school, and he and Bob were well acquainted for numerous sundry reasons stemming from Bob’s independent nature. Mrs. Appleton held open the door and showed Bob in, then followed behind and closing the door. Bob was directed to a straight backed chair which faced the Assistant Principal’s desk, and she took a seat in a chair off to the side.
“Mrs. Bergen is not at school today.” said Mr. Johnson. He looked at Bob as though he expected some response. Bob had none, so he sat and deadpanned wordlessly. After a pregnant pause, Mr. Johnson spoke. “It appears that she was attacked by her cat. She sat down to have her morning coffee and pulled the cat into her lap.” Again he looked as though he expected a reply, but Bob merely looked at him, then Mrs. Appleton, and back again at the Assistant Principal. “It seems the cat began to claw at her, shredding her dress and scratching her skin. She called her next door neighbor, a longtime friend, for help and her friend noticed the strong odor of fish. After some investigation, the source of the smell was located. I don’t suppose you have any idea what that source was, do you?”
“Her dress smelled like fish? Well, there are a lot of ways…”
“No, Mr. Kirkpatrick. It was not the dress that smelled like fish. It was her, um, well, it was her underwear.” said Mr. Johnson.
Bob tried to contain it, but what began as a tremor in his stomach evolved into a full guffaw. “Her panties smelled like fish?” he said, laughing even harder. Mrs. Appleton hid her face in her palms and her shoulders shook. At first she seemed to be sobbing, but it soon became clear she was laughing too. While he tried not to, Mr. Johnson couldn’t suppress a grin for himself. “Okay, okay.” he said. “This isn’t funny.” Bob laughed even harder and so did Mrs. Appleton. Mr. Johnson couldn’t fight it and he began to laugh openly as well. “Look here,” he said between chortles, “this is serious. Mrs. Bergen has to take a day off because of the scratches.” The thought of injury sobered the office.
“Why am I here? I mean, why have you called me in over this?” asked Bob.
“Oh, come on. Who besides you would do something like this. We heard about the tongue lashing she gave you the other day. The whole school was gossiping about it. It’s time to fess up, son.”
“I didn’t put a fish in her pants.” said Bob, indignantly.
“It wasn’t her ‘pants,’ a fish was placed in her underwear drawer. Mrs. Bergen said she had to wash almost everything in the chest of drawers. Now look, if you just come clean about this, you’ll need to apologize to her in class and you will need to do some detention. But if you choose to maintain your innocence, then the police are going to become involved and that could have serious ramifications for you.”
“Why should it have any serious ramifications for me when I haven’t done anything.” said Bob, properly indignant.
“So you’re saying that you had nothing to do with this? Is that really what you expect me to believe?” asked Mr. Johnson.
“Hey look, that old bag is a battle ax. She’s fat and ugly and is always looking down her nose at everyone. If you’re looking for people who had reasons not to like her, then that includes just about everybody.” Mrs. Appleton made a noise that sounded like ‘oof!’ “Sure, I’ve gotten in trouble but I’m not the only one. I’m not the only one that that old bat has yelled at either. Accusing me of this isn’t fair. It’s just not fair.”
Mr. Johnson took a deep breath and let it out. He sounded like a punctured tire. “You had nothing to do with this. That’s your story?” Bob gave him and angry look and nodded. “Alright then, return to class. But don’t think you’ve heard the last of this.”
Mrs. Bergen returned to school the following day but Bob was not in her class. He had been switched to Mr. Favel’s class. Two weeks later after skipping school with a couple of friends to go fishing, the school decided that Bob would be better off seeking his education elsewhere. It was just three weeks until the end of school anyway. After some discussion with Bob’s parents –who were not very pleased by Mrs. Bergen’s characterization of them, agreed to withdraw him rather than see him expelled. This meant that Bob was still eligible for classes in other schools in the district.
Not that it mattered much as Bob’s parents sent him off to boarding school the following year. The police were never involved.