Welcome to the Spot Writers. This week’s post comes to us from Val Muller, author of The Scarred Letter, a young adult reboot of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic. The prompt is to write a story using the words “marble,” “TV,” “evil,” “couch,” and “butcher.”
The Butcher by Val Muller
Mel Buccarelli sipped her tea and eyed the stack of papers. The little bastards. Waiting til the last minute to turn in their term papers just because Professor McDougall insisted on a liberal late policy in his course syllabus.
Of course he did. Papers must be turned in at least twenty-four hours prior to the course’s final exam. Even though those papers were assigned well before Thanksgiving. It sounded great for him, for his students, for the various helicopter parents that seemed to follow their kids to college. Wouldn’t want the little cupcakes to feel too stressed out about coursework or deadlines or anything like that.
No one gave a thought to the poor teaching assistant who actually had to deal with the papers. The poor teaching assistant who now had twenty-two term papers to grade in twenty-four hours. Not to mention that she had her own final exam starting in just eight. Who scheduled 10 p.m. exams, anyway? She needed several hours to study.
It wasn’t humanly possible, was it?
If each paper took an average of forty minutes to grade—say she cut them down to thirty. Maybe if she just—no, no. She needed to study for her exam. Would Professor McDougall give her an extension? Likely not, as she had to grade the exams as well. He was always a stickler for deadlines with her—ironically.
But she couldn’t afford to piss him off. There was such a waiting list for professors in search of TAs. If she got canned, he’d have a dozen students knocking on his door seeking interviews. He’s replace her without blinking, and there would go her fellowship, her tuition payments, her stipend.
No, she had to grade these papers. Ugh. They were terrible, too. So dry. So devoid of passion. The handful of students who turned them in last month were the ones going places in life. These twenty-two slackers? Good luck to them. Why couldn’t she be like the other graduate students? Lounging on the couch, enjoying a show or two on TV, and sipping wine while reviewing notes for exams?
She tapped her red pen against her marble composition book, the one that held the exam notes she was supposed to studying. The sound of pen against cardboard invited a memory.
Her mother had been sitting at the kitchen table, grading a stack of papers with a bright red pen. The way the ink flowed as her mother wrote fascinated Mel’s fourth-grade self. The thick cursive loops looked like something a wizard might write in a spell book. It was like they held their own power. Maybe it was right, what they said about her mom. But if she did have some kind of weird talent, did she use it for good or for evil?
“Mom, someone in my class has a brother in ninth grade. I heard they call you Mrs. Butcher up at the high school.”
Her mom’s face melted into a smile, but she didn’t look up from her grading.
“Do they call you that?”
“Yes. Not to my face, but yes.”
Her mom scribbled on another paper before answering. “They call me that because I’m very strict with my grading.”
“It’s for their own good. When you get to high school, you’ll understand. There are just some teachers you’ll have who just want you to achieve your best. So they’ll be really tough on you to make sure you do the best you can do. They won’t settle for half-effort. Understand?”
Young Mel nodded. “Like how Dad makes me go back and vacuum the car if I miss too many spots?”
Mom nodded. “Exactly like that. So that you do it better the next time. I do that with students’ papers. They call me Mrs. Butcher because they say I “butcher” their papers, leaving a bloody mess.”
Mel looked at the red ink staining the papers. It did look a little like blood, like her mom had hacked the paper to bits with her words. Mel’s little lips cracked into a smile. She hoped one day she would grow up to become a teacher.
Mel’s cheeks tingled with the smile brought on by memory. But the smile, revealing the grim reality of the ungraded stack of essays. These kids really did deserve to have their term papers ripped to shreds. They were terrible. Barely cited, horribly researched, and written without the semblance of passion. How would they learn if she just sent them through the ranks? She uncapped her red pen. It was the expensive kind, the kind filled with real liquid ink that you could see sloshing around through the little window.
The kind that looked like a vial of blood.
Mel smiled as she flipped open the next term paper. “Okay, cupcake. I hope you’re ready for a little intellectual surgery. Maybe I’ll earn my own nickname before the semester’s up.” She smiled as the ink bled across the page in wide, sweeping loops.
Just like the ones Mrs. Butcher used to make.
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The Spot Writers:
Val Muller: www.valmuller.com/blog
Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/