The wide-eyed woman looked startled, as if woken from a day dream. “Yes, John?”
“Do you understand?”
She wasn’t sure if she understood any of it, but nodded nonetheless. “Safety switch first, right?”
The bulky, balding man heading the group meeting regarded her for a long time, then nodded. “Good, so now that we all have an understanding of how to operate a gun, let’s move on to the situations in which one may be…”
Julie let the words wash over her, allowing herself to drown once more in the depths of her thoughts. Thoughts of disloyal husbands and deceased friends, of feeling like a failure. Thoughts that sometimes filled her with sadness, other times with rage. Life hadn’t been kind, but as she measured the cold, alien weight in her hand she saw possibilities. She saw a way out.
“Ready to go?”
Julie looked up and smiled at her colleague. “Ready.”
As they walked down the hallway together, Julie patiently listened to the stream of concerns, nodding in the right places and uttering little sounds of agreement. The gun was safely hidden underneath her jacket, softly pressing against her waist. She did not share any of her colleague’s concerns. Instead, she felt empowered.
“My stop,” Julie said, and waved goodbye as the other woman moved further down the hall. She opened the door to an avalanche of sound, clapping her hands loudly as she walked in. It didn’t help.
“Oh no!” shouted the loudest of the teenagers, grinning from ear to ear. “Julie’s got a gun!”
“Be quiet!” Julie shouted back as laughter erupted. “Will, you just got yourself a trip to the principals office. Everyone else, if you don’t settle down, you can join him.”
The effect was the same as usual and, as always, made Julie wonder if it was her voice, her appearance or perhaps her posture that lacked in authority. In any case, the laughter grew louder, showing clear signs that none of the kids had any intention of paying a visit to disciplinary action.
Will jumped on his table, waving his hands wildly, beckoning for silence. It worked. He tried on his most arrogant smile and addressed the teacher, or better put, his victim. “Show us.”
The silence held. All students leaned forward in their seats, aware that the new law had been passed a few weeks before.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Julie tried.
“Ah, come on, we all know what the meeting was about,” Will said. “The school gave you a gun, and everyone here would like to see it. Right, everyone?”
Agreeable mutters rose up, but quickly died down again. Julie felt that it was now a one-on-one between her and this one student. She could take him. Especially now. Finally.
“The weapon is for your safety only,” she said in a low voice. “It’s not to be taken out unless absolutely needed.”
“I need to see it,” Will said.
“I’m afraid that’s not good enough.”
“I wouldn’t feel safe not knowing what it looks like.”
Julie shook her head. Will jumped down and headed towards the front of the class.
“Return to your seat, Will.”
“Show me the gun.”
“Return to your seat.”
“Where is it? Under your jacket?”
Will dashed forward, hands grabbing for the gun’s hiding place. In a flash, it was in Julie’s hands, cold barrel coming to a stop against the student’s forehead. A wave of fear rippled through the classroom. Kids screamed, others ducked underneath their tables. Julie didn’t realize any of it.
“Last chance, Will!” she screamed, completely out of control, at the petrified boy before her. “Return to your seat! You have three seconds! One…”
Will didn’t, couldn’t move.
He lifted his foot, cautiously taking one small step back.
The classroom door crashed open and in came the balding figure of John.
It silenced all. It froze all. In her shock, Julie had pulled the trigger. She had not intended to, but at the sound of the crashing door she had seen her last drunk husband standing before her, fists raised, ready for another evening of ‘fun’.
The bash emptied her lungs of all air, and she hit the ground hard. John was on top of her, pulling the gun from her hands. From the corner of her eye, she could see other teachers run in, comforting and leading the students out of the classroom. Will, who was in complete shock, had to be dragged away. He had stared death in the eye.
Somehow, Julie felt calm. She had taken action, and it made her feel good. Also, things could have been much worse. She would lose her job. She probably faced a few years in prison. But by some miracle, she had left the safety on.
And that made it quite alright.
Illustration by: Lars de Ruyter