By sean mcnulty
Mr. Kill seemed like a nice man when you first met him, but when you got to know him well, you'd be hard pushed to go down that road of 'nice' again upon mention of the rotten old crank. It was a reputation he'd been building for himself throughout his professional life. The scariest art teacher of them all. He was handsome in a sleazy French president way, and wielded a strange power over most of the school - his students, his fellow teachers, orderlies and grounds attendants. Word on the grapevine was that he even bullied the principal regularly.
'What is it?'
'It's a cow, sir.'
On Katy's sheet of paper, she had drawn what was evidently a cow.
Mr. Kill shrugged.
'Look at him,' he said, directing her attention to the cowering boy standing at the front of the class in a frozen pose. 'Is Tom a cow?'
Katy looked at Tom, the subject whose form she had been charged with rendering on paper.
'No,' she said.
'Fine,' said Mr. Kill, angrily. 'Then why have you drawn a COW?'
'I don't know,' said Katy. 'That's just what my pencil decided to do.'
'Are you getting smart with me, missus?'
'No, I'm sorry.'
Mr. Kill snatched Katy's sketch, and stomped around the class, grabbing all the students' sheets of paper from their desks. He marched to the top of the class and stood next to Tom, who remained in his pose, straining to show no trace of movement.
'Look at these,' the fearsome educator cried, showing each of the sketches one after the other.
'This one's a boy. And this one's a boy. Boy. Boy. Boy. Boy. Boy. COW. Boy. Boy. Boy.......what is wrong with these pictures? Somebody tell me.'
'One of them is a cow, and not a boy,' said Suzy, who always had it in for Katy.
The walls of the classroom displayed the work of students throughout the year. Bland recreations, the traditionally copied classics. And the original work that featured had an unattractive lack of depth to it even though the images obviously expressed the concerns of a generation. Ruby lipsticks, smiley faces, their favourite brand logos. The only student whose work was not present was Katy's. Mr. Kill deemed it not ready for public display. Too avant-garde for his gallery. Her classmates often teased her about this.
'I think I was looking for his essence, sir.'
'His essence? You stupid girl. What do you mean by his essence? The essence of Tom is 'cow'?'
'Maybe his essence in the moment? He seems somewhat afraid standing up there.'
'Afraid? Yes of course he is. In fact, Tom's always afraid, but that's beside the point. How do you get from 'afraid' to 'cow'?'
'I don't know, sir. It got me thinking of some words like 'cowed' and 'coward'.
'I'm not a coward, you big bitch,' cried Tom, breaking down and weeping uncontrollably.
'Now hold on, Tom,' said Mr. Kill. 'There's no need for that. Katy, I want you to apologise to the young man this instant for what you said.'
'I'm sorry, Tom. I don't mean you're a coward. It's just the pose you are in right now. It gives off a feeling of fear and helplessness. And I just associated some words with it. Please forgive me.'
'Very good, Katy,' said Mr. Kill. 'You know, this is not the first time you've pulled a trick like this in class with your absurd flights of fancy and self-indulgent shenanigans. This is art class, young lady, not art college. Ahem. Anyway, you need to change your way, missus, stop getting into mischief or you'll be joining that sad and lonely gulfstream of failed futures.'
'But.......I just wanted to find some kind of truth, sir.'
'TRUTH? ' yelled Mr. Kill. 'Truth? Are you joking, you stupid girl? This is a lie.'
He held up the picture of Tom the Cow.
'This is a great big lie. Can't you see? Clearly, Tom is NOT a cow.'
'I can see that, yes, sir.'
'So why are you presenting him as something which he is not. It's the greatest lie ever told. Right, I want you to get up and go to the principal's office. If the principal is busy, wait outside his office until he is ready to see you, and then you must tell him about the lie you have perpetrated in this class today.'
Katy walked shapelessly along the dull corridor. Each classroom door she passed looked the same, tall and brown. There was a nameplate attached to each one that remained blank and empty as though someone had planned to name the rooms but decided not to at the last minute. Eventually she arrived at a door which stood out from the rest. This one was also tall and brown, but there was a sign on it which read 'Headmaster'. She went in and greeted the principal, a small chubby man with a permanently browbeaten expression on his face. After telling him about the incident in class and the lie she told about Tom and the cow, the headmaster rose from behind his desk and began to speak.
'Well, your teacher has a point, Katy. Young Tom is not a cow. I've seen him. He has a face like a frog, maybe, but he is certainly not a cow.'
'Katy, you're a smart girl, so I'm not going to make a meal of this. There are enough happy meals being fed to the foolish masses out there. I myself am a victim of the banal influences in this world, Katy. I once had it in me to be great. I too used to draw cows, you know. I would like nothing more than to go out there and wipe out the mediocrity that consumes us all. Smash it to smithereens. But I have neither the stamina nor the strength anymore. I am beyond efficacy. I am the poor leader. The frightened captain. I have nothing left. No fuel. So it's up to you, my girl. You need to start the revolution. Even drawing a cow is a good start. Draw more cows. Draw as many as you want. Maybe even a few bulls to spice things up. I guess what I'm saying is that you should not fear and deny your nature. Share it with others, please, but do not hide it in order to fit into the stupid machine. Because that machine only works well when the individual parts do their individual jobs. They often say there is no 'I' in team, but there is, at the very least, one me. And a number of yous. And thems. Etcetera.'
The principal seemed to become flushed, an emotion swelling inside him he hadn't expected. He looked drained of all energy.
'Thank you, sir.'
'Yes, yes,' the principal said, tearfully turning his back on her. Move along and good luck to you, my girl.'
As she left the principal's office, the bell ringing to signal the end of class, Katy was suddenly confronted by Tom in the developing chaos of students in the corridor. He seemed to boil over with rage when he saw her, and yes, he had a face like a frog as he did so.
'You big cow,' he screamed at her, and quickly disappeared into a crowd of lanky third years.
Katy turned and made for the gulfstream.