The ‘ol Battle Ax
I was watching my neighbor prune the hedges
on his front yard, when for no reason in particular
my thoughts wandered back to my third grade
teacher, Mrs. Cooke, the ol’ battle ax. Now I know
what you must be thinking: ‘oh, he means that
Mrs. Cooke was elderly and rigid, a tough and
foreboding presence that presided over her students.’
Well, you’re wrong; I wasn’t speaking in metaphor;
Mrs. Cooke really was an actual battle ax! Why the
administrators agreed to hire a medieval weapon from
the 14th century, I’ll never know. But there she was,
in room 8A, glistening in the bright halogen lights,
inspiring dread and fear in our collective hearts. “Take
out your books!” she’d bark, and we would do so
without a moment’s hesitation. After all, who was going
to talk back to a battle ax? Even to this day, the
multiplication tables are seared, no, carved into my
memory. Six times seven is forty-two. Eight times three
is twenty-four. Oh, she was a tough cookie, ol’ Mrs. Cooke.
Even when she tried to be consoling – like when Jimmy
Dufraine’s dog died and he was in tears the whole day – even
then, she whispered “there, there” and tried to give him
a hug, and ended up giving him nine stitches to his scalp.
And then there was that time at P.G. O’Shanley’s, where my
father and mother would take us kids from time to time, on
account of they give you crayons to draw on your paper
tablecloth. There I was, busy doodling a picture of an airplane
or something else altogether while I waited for my
cheeseburger, when my mom says, “hey, Billy, isn’t that
your teacher?” We all looked up and over at the bar, where
Mrs. Cooke sat alone, drinking a Tom Collins slowly, stirring
the straw around and around. All around her men in white
shirts and black ties were busy buying cocktails for women in
low cut red dresses; the women were laughing and the men
were leering, while Mrs. Cooke sat unnoticed and unattended.
It was always strange to see your teachers outside of the
classroom; to learn that they, too, had personal lives.
I wanted to approach her, wanted to point out that axes
never died, and so wasn’t she the luckiest of us all, really,
but by this point the food had arrived and so I stayed seated,
picking at the fries, devising a plan to find a wife someday
that I might never be so alone.
Josh Lefkowitz is a writer and performer. His first full-length monologue, titled Help Wanted: A Personal Search for Meaningful Employment at the Start of the 21st Century, has played in cities big and small across the U.S. He won the Hopwood Award for Poetry at the University of Michigan, and has new poems forthcoming in Conduit, The Hat, and Slurve. He is currently at work on a new solo performance piece, titled Now What?