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The Mean Teacher is coming,
the babysitter warned us.
Her fingers curl like talons outside our window.

The mean teacher is coming.
My father’s belt swings in one of her hands,
a mini chalkboard, in the other.

The mean teacher is coming.
The baby sitter warned us.
She will make me learn my abcs,
Letters bright as fruit plastered our walls.
My sister can read whole sentences.
Her gold star shines on her forehead,
but I’m too slow.

The mean teacher is coming
The babysitter warned me.
My father slips his belt off his pants,
hits me hard if I cry, and hits me harder
when I can’t stop crying.

The mean teacher is coming
I don’t want to learn my letters. I’m five.
I want to watch Sesame Street.
I want a life free as Oscar,
living in a trash can.
My banana peels will smell clean and sweet
and keep intruders away from my door.

The mean teacher is here:
the babysitter floods the room with light.
Hands arc outside our windows like claws,
naked hands without sleeves or rings,
a woman’s hands.

The mean teacher is here.
She can hear the shouting and doors slamming.
My mother is crying.  My father’s fist
smashes into her face.
My sister runs from the room,
but I can’t stop watching.

The mean teacher is here
One day my father will leave.

But he comes home every night for dinner.
This night I will crawl into his lap and
and tell him about the mean teacher
and he will believe me.

The mean teacher was here.
No, that’s only the neighbor.  My father points
to a man red-headed as Archie in the comics.
It doesn’t matter that his fingers are short and stubby,
too unlovely to distend into claws.
The hands in the window are gone.
The neighbor was never told
how my father protected me that one night
before he turned the key in the door
and never returned.

By Robin Dawn Hudechek

First appeared in Chiron Review, Winter, 2015