The one who’s absent might whine that she missed this. The rest form a circle around the hot-faced quarterback and tackle, best friends screaming about some Jennifer and Saturday night. Then fists flail like snapped wires ignited by an energy foreign to this class of Tennyson and Whitman. The back of the room never seemed so far as I stumble through desks spilled like stools in a barroom brawl. Through cheering students, I watch blood from Mike’s face dot the floor as Ken keeps him in a headlock and pummels his knee up into Mike’s stomach. They use language with all their might and Mike shoves free and sends Ken skullfirst into the cinder-block wall and I can’t reason any longer with students blocking me like linemen. So I put my hands on Cindy, who held the door for me this morning, and shove her too hard and she looks at me with so much hurt I almost stop before bearhugging Ken and shouting, Stop it! Stop it! But he knifes his elbow backward into my belly that hasn’t felt a punch in thirty years and that second I want to hit him in front of his yelping classmates, whose eyes blaze with a dark glee that’s turned them into strangers. And I hate all of them, acting like the dead when I plead for help as Ken and Mike keep fighting with me holding on. When other teachers rush in and haul them off like wrecked race cars, my hands curl into fists and the principal grabs my arm and asks, Where were you when all this started? The parents will want to know.