By Jessica Hutter

Ms. Kramer was explaining the difference between infinitives and imperatives to Lily Spencer for — not kidding — the fifth time when Jarod Troutman slapped a pair of cuffs on her. Half a pair, technically. The other ring was attached to his own wrist and it was thus, seven minutes into second period on Tuesday, June third, that he became literally attached to his French teacher.

Illustration by Tyler Gore

Illustration by Tyler C. Gore

Ms. Kramer noticed Lily Spencer’s suddenly changed expression before she noticed her own predicament. She paused, mistakenly believing that Lily’s look meant the difference had finally been understood. To speak is not the same as Speak! To wait not the same as Wait! To learn not Learn! To scream not Scream! Then Lily said, “Jarod handcuffed you,” the same way she always talked about Jarod, with wary distaste. Jarod looked at me, was the usual complaint, right after Jarod talked to me and Jarod took my pencil. Now she said handcuffed as if this were just typical of him.

It was not. Ms. Kramer was in shock. Dumbly, she jerked her arm back and forth, the shock deepening each time Jarod’s arm jerked with it. The handcuffs were padded with a plush, leopard skin design. Unbidden, the notion came to her mind that he’d taken them from a night table drawer in the Troutmans’ bedroom.

Oh, god.

They never prepared you for this. They told you how to identify abuse, dyslexia, ADD, depression, drug use, and cutting. No one ever mentioned bondage.

It took a few more moments before someone else noticed. The class was still milling about, picking up the worksheet, unpacking backpacks, sneaking a text on a phone. Nick Sherman was the closest to them where they stood in the corner by the light-up Eiffel Tower from Home Depot. His response was almost as shocking as what Jarod had done. “Yo, dude,” he said. “What a good idea!”

Ms. Kramer did not like Nick. She didn’t like any of her Nicks, all four of them, but second period Nick was the worst.

“It is not a good idea,” said Lily. “That’s assaulting a teacher.”

“Please. Those cuffs are, like, fluffy.”

Ms. Kramer hissed at Jarod to take them off, but he just looked at her dolefully. The usual great forelock of red hair cascading down his face covered the left eye, leaving only the right eye, full of regret, visible. He shook his head. He pointed to their arms helplessly like a weatherman indicating a tornado or a farmer the blight upon his fields. It’s one of those things, the gesture seemed to say. God works in mysterious ways!

“Where’s the key?” she whispered, as the group around them started to grow.

Jarod didn’t say anything. She asked him again, but it was Lily who answered. “I bet he swallowed it.”

Nick guffawed. “Please.”

But Ms. Kramer had a feeling Lily was right. Jarod often chewed on things he shouldn’t. Paperclips, rubberbands, worksheets. Sometimes he even ate them. Once, during a test, she’d watched him devour an entire pencil.

She asked him if he’d swallowed the key, and when he nodded her heart sank.

There’d been meetings about Jarod Troutman. The mother and father sat at the end of the conference table every other week, it seemed, wringing their hands. They were both kind of fleshy in the face, and whenever they were told their son’s latest infraction, their mouths would drop and their eyes would bug out and Ms. Kramer would think, “Just like trout.”

Jarod never got yelled at or suspended. His were the kind of meetings where the school psychologist came and filled out checklists. Does your child avoid other children? Does he talk to inanimate things more than he talks to you? Does he sometimes wimper, bark or growl? Are you afraid of your child? Yes, yes, yes, yes.

“Bark or growl?” Ms. Kramer had asked the first time, and the psychologist replied, “You’d be surprised.”

It was necessary to get a sub for second period. The students cheered. “No offense, Miss K,” said Nick, leaning back in his chair, his legs dropping open. “But I had a late night and I’m just not up for it today.” It took fifteen minutes for the security guards to track her down, but they got the substitute at last, the nervous one with the wispy hair and bobble head, like she’d been shaken too much as a child. They’d found her sitting outside the gym, staring at the wall.

The students cheered again when the sub appeared, trembling, in the doorway. Ms. Kramer told her thank you and tugged Jarod down to the main office.

“Why would you want to do this to your teacher?” said the psychologist. “Are you having trust issues again?”

“Sit,” said the secretary, the phone pressed to her ear, her eyes on a file on her desk.

They sat, Ms. Kramer refusing to look at or talk to Jarod. She crossed her legs and, since she could not cross her arms, hooked her free left hand over her right elbow. Jarod sat as he usually did, as if his limbs had been squeezed out of his torso like paste. Once, she felt his eyes on her right temple. She ignored him.

When the phone call was done, the secretary looked up. “And what is this in reference to?”

Ms. Kramer lifted up her right arm and the secretary’s eyes widened. She picked up the phone again. The assistant principal arrived. He stood there looking at the two of them, hands on hips, the flaps of his suit jacket pushed back. The walkie-talkie attached to his belt crackled and bleeped, occasionally making sense. “…girl’s bathroom,” it said. “…vomit.”

Ms. Kramer closed her eyes. Originally, she’d been pre-law. She’d been planning to make six figures, to work in air conditioning.

The AP pressed a button and summoned the Dean. When he arrived they stood there, shoulder to shoulder, their belts bleeping at each other. The Dean asked about the key. Everybody shook their heads. He said, “Hmph.” So, the AP got back on the walkie-talkie and said, “Custodial. Get me the clippers.” At last.

The Dean asked Jarod what he’d been thinking. “You’ve got a clean record. Just a few more weeks to go and you graduate. Why this? Why now?”

Jarod took his forelock and stuck it in his mouth.

They summoned the psychologist. “Perhaps,” he said, “I could have a word with Jarod alone.” So, everyone left. Except, of course, for Ms. Kramer.

The psychologist asked Jarod if he remembered their little talk the other week? About feelings and expressing them appropriately? Did he remember what he told him about the difference between touching himself and touching others?

Oh, god.

Damn her father for making her feel guilty. Don’t do things just for the money, he’d said. Be a humanitarian. Do something meaningful. Imperatives. Always imperatives with that man.

“Why would you want to do this to your teacher?” said the psychologist. “Are you punishing her for some reason? Are you having trust issues again?”

Jarod looked at the psychologist, then at her. He said nothing.

“Why would you want to hurt Ms. Kramer?” the man went on.

To that she got a flash of insight. If Jarod had wanted to hurt her, she somehow knew beyond a doubt, he would not have chosen the padded cuffs.

They called the Troutmans. Ms. Kramer watched with a distant kind of enjoyment as the secretary tried to explain the situation over the phone. It was Jarod’s mother who came in, fleshy face full of varying expressions. Her eye fell first on the line of bleeping administrators (apprehension), then on her son (angst), then on Ms. Kramer (blame? really?). Then her eye fell on the cuffs. From the woman’s suddenly frozen face, Ms. Kramer knew instantly she’d been right about the night table drawer.

Poor trout.

“My baby boy,” Mrs. Troutman cried. “Why? Why?”

Jarod continued to chew stoically on his lock. But Kramer had noticed the tiny shudder that traveled from his arm to hers.

“I understand you have trouble expressing your anger, baby. But to do this? To handcuff?”

Behind her the men were like back-up singers, swaying identically with hands on hips. “To handcuff,” they repeated and shook their heads. “Mm-hmm.”

Jarod stared at his feet. He mumbled something through his hair. They did not hear it, but Kramer did. “Infinitive,” he’d said. She repressed a smile.

His mother wailed on. “Are you listening to me, young man? Look at me!”

Now Kramer could not help herself. She glanced at Jarod and he caught her eye. “Imperative,” he mouthed and she broke out into a grin that was miserably difficult to control.

Mrs. Troutman and the Bleepers glared. “You think this is funny?” the ridiculous woman continued. “Really! My son is one thing, but for a teacher to act like this?”

“…infinitive,” barely whispered.

“Go ahead, then!”


“Go and laugh!”

AAACKKK. It was too hard.

They heaved as one, the repressed sobs of mirth wracking their chests with pain. One head turned and saw the other’s tears.

Then the Trout screeched and, in her blind indignation, added two more words that would make everything irreversible. “To think!”

Well, that was it. No clippers could help now.

The three-armed four-legged animal reared its two heads and burst out in a long, shocking howl of laughter.

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About Jessica Hutter

Jessica Hutter is a French teacher by day and a writer by night. Sometimes the two worlds collide with curious results.

She is the winner of Rosebud Magazine’s Mary Shelley Award for Imaginative Fiction.


  1. Mary k brennan
    Posted December 2015 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Well done Jessica! Keep it up! (Imperative)

  2. Kathy Dawe
    Posted January 2016 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    Wonderful Jessica! Congratulations on winning the award.

  3. Pat
    Posted January 2016 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

    Loved it. Thanks so much Mrs. Kramer!

  4. Denice Crettol
    Posted March 2016 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

    Everything is read between the lines, and the inference blooms before my very eyes. Painful, incomprehensible, uncomfortable as interactions often are with difficult students – the story handles the emotions and the breakthrough with agility and compassion. I’m left with a smile in my heart.

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