Mr. Siler’s Indiscretions
Mr. Siler spent all year trying to get us excited about research, with projects about our future careers and papers about issues that “mattered to us,” like school dress codes. What finally worked was when someone found a porn clip on the internet that he starred in. After that, we became masters of the database search term.
“Male AND porn star AND glasses. Do you think he wore glasses back then? He probably took them off when they started filming. Male AND porn star AND bald. He wouldn’t have been bald at the time. So maybe try ‘balding,’ then? There’s no way he used his real name, right? Porn star AND Siler NOT bald. Hold on. Do you think he qualified as a porn star? Maybe we can do an image search, or find a facial recognition program. Yeah! Just use his picture from the school website. Except he’s wearing glasses there.”
Damn it. We slumped back against the wall in the math hallway and set the laptop on the floor. We were never going to find it. We should have known about his seedy past way back in October, because of his van. On a Monday he assigned the book Animal Farm, and he made us all promise to read it by Friday, because he had a surprise for us. Some of the class finished the book. We finished the book. Most everyone else looked up the notes on the internet. Either way, we showed up to English on Friday, and Mr. Siler was wearing a full-body pig costume. His face was the pig’s face, and he wore a little pig nose over his nose.
“Good morning everyone!” he said as we trickled in. “Before you sit down, come to the front and pick which character you want to be for our activity today.”
This was brilliant, because the kids who read knew the good characters to pick. Mr. Siler had made felt hats with animal ears, each labeled with a name from the story. I picked Squealer, and Matt picked one of the dogs.
The basketball players didn’t know what was going on. “I don’t want to be a stupid pig,” said Bobby, and he grabbed the gray hat with the horse ears labeled “Boxer.” The rest of the players picked the sheep and the chickens and the other dumb animals that the pigs overworked and tortured the whole book, which was perfect for them. I made eye contact with Kate, who put on another pig hat, and we smiled at each other, because sometimes the universe rewards us good guys. Well, Mr. Siler rewards us good guys.
“Alright, I’m Napoleon,” said Mr. Siler, “and we’re going to recreate Animal Farm.” He pointed out the sections of the room he had labeled with parts of the farm and gave us our tasks. Bobby and the basketball players had to work the whole class period, cleaning the whiteboards and dusting the bookshelves in the back of the room. Every once in a while, Mr. Siler sent me over to tell them they were doing a good job and to promise that they would be done soon and we would all get ice cream sandwiches if they kept it up. Then I went back over to the pigs’ corner, where we sat around Mr. Siler’s desk and ate Skittles.
“This is fucking dumb,” said Bobby as he threw his dirty rag at one of his buddies and sat down in a desk. “I’m not doing this.”
The comment hurt Mr. Siler. We could tell. He didn’t show any pain on his face, but his smile faded and his eyes lost their energy.
Kate tried to help. “I think this lesson is brilliant. It really helps bring the story to life. I didn’t really like the book until now.”
“Thanks,” said Mr. Siler, with a forced and fake nod. “It’s a classic.”
“And just for the record,” said Kate, “you’re way more like Snowball than Napoleon. You’re a good leader, not an evil tyrant.”
Matt joined in. “Plus Bobby is such a jerk. No one likes him.”
Mr. Siler shook his head. “Don’t say that. Bobby’s a good guy. His talents just lie in areas other than English.” Then he brightened up a little. He leaned into our circle and gestured for us to do the same. “Actually, this is working out great. He picked Boxer, so he gets a special surprise. He’ll be the center of attention, just like he wants. He’ll come around.”
“What are you going to do?” Matt asked.
Ten minutes before the end of the period, Mr. Siler stood up. “Alright, you’ve all done such a good job that you get ice cream sandwiches. But it’s Boxer’s job to go get them. Boxer, follow me, and the rest of you can come along behind him.”
We walked single file down the hall like we used to in elementary school. The other teachers scowled and closed their doors as we passed. Mr. Siler led us out to the parking lot, which felt foreign when we were supposed to be sitting in desks inside the building. We huddled together like a bunch of farm animals when a storm blows in, afraid the rest of the school would see us in our ridiculous hats.
“Okay, Boxer,” said Mr. Siler, as we spilled out of the big glass doors onto the sidewalk. “The ice cream sandwiches are in the back of my truck.” He gestured to an old white delivery van with no windows and rust around the wheel wells parked next to the curb. A sign made out of butcher paper that said “Ice Cream Delivery” hung from the side.
Matt leaned over to whisper in my ear. “I didn’t know Siler had a molester van. Creepy.” We pictured Mr. Siler in his short-sleeve shirts and faded ties pulling up to groups of kids and offering them candy. Or, according to the sign, ice cream. A few others in the class giggled. They must have picked up on the symbolism too.
Bobby seemed nervous now. His horse ears looked like they perked up as he kept turning to look at us while he walked slowly to the back of the van. He opened the rear door and squinted into the dark interior.
“The cooler’s up toward the front,” said Mr. Siler. “You may need to hop in.”
Bobby knew something was going on, but he didn’t have the brains to figure out what. And he hadn’t read the book. He jumped into the back of the van, and Mr. Siler ran up and slammed the door, then dashed to the side and tore off the sign to reveal another that said “Siler’s Knacker Service – The Best Horse Glue Around,” and then he ran around the front and jumped in the driver’s seat, started the vehicle, and peeled out. By the time the van made it around the parking lot, Bobby had come up to sit in the front seat. He pointed at us and shouted something we couldn’t hear over the engine. Mr. Siler took another lap, then pulled up to the curb again, and Bobby jumped out of the passenger door and hoisted a small cooler above his head. “I’ve got the treats, you animals. Everyone likes Boxer now, huh?”
Whatever Mr. Siler said in the van had worked. Bobby regained his top status, and everyone sped to eat their already soft ice cream, and we all talked about Animal Farm outside of class, at least through the following week. We all clapped for Mr. Siler, who bowed low, as low as his big puffy pig costume would allow. We were never going to find the porn with an internet search, not to mention Matt and I were getting pretty uncomfortable with all the porn clips that kept coming up, since Kate was sitting right there. So we had to try something else.
“If someone knows it’s out there, they must have seen it, so we need to find who saw it first. We’ll interview people. We’ll follow the chain. But you know what happens if we find it, right? Then we have to watch Mr. Siler having sex. We’ll see his … junk. No way, that’s disgusting. It’ll be gross, but it’ll be worth it. Why? Because, oh my god, if there’s a video of your teacher having sex out there, you have to watch it. You just have to. How did you hear about it? Bobby told me. You? I heard it from Bobby too. So, Bobby told everyone. We have to talk to Bobby.”
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” asked Kate.
“Of course it is,” we said.
We caught Bobby during passing time before third hour and pulled him into one of the narrow hallways by the science rooms. His expression let us know how inappropriate it was for kids like us to talk to a basketball player like him, but as soon as we asked about the story he broke, he allowed it.
“Where’d you hear about Mr. Siler’s porn from?” “I don’t remember.” “How could you not remember? You’ve blabbed about it to everyone.” “It doesn’t matter how I found out.” “Did you find it yourself? Do you watch porn?” “Of course not. I’ve never seen it.” “You’re lying.” “You better not tell anyone that I watch porn.” “Unless you tell us how you found it, we might have to.” “Seriously, if you tell anyone, you’re dead.” “Okay, we won’t tell anyone, but if you don’t tell us who found it, everyone’s going to assume you’re the porn fiend.” “I don’t … it’s not … fine. Jamey told me.” “You talked to Jamey? Really?”
Jamey was exactly the type of kid who watched porn all the time. We were getting closer. Once we started looking, there were clues everywhere, so many that we felt stupid for not suspecting Mr. Siler’s porn past sooner. Right before spring break, he made us do all sorts of worksheets, ones about commas, ones about subject-verb agreement, all the boring stuff, to get us ready for the state test after vacation.
“This is not my first choice for how to spend an English class, believe me,” said Mr. Siler from behind his podium painted with cartoony versions of Shakespeare characters. “But they will definitely help on the test, and they can pay off in your writing.”
The month leading up to spring break was the worst time of the school year. The weather was still cold, and everyone felt like they were gripping the runner of a helicopter and hoping they could hang on until the thing got close enough to the ground to let go. A bunch of the rich kids had already given up and left early for the Bahamas or Europe or wherever that type of family got to vacation. The rest of us pulled out our pencils.
Mr. Siler put on one of his records, and did a few stupid dance moves, and said, like he always did, “You kids don’t appreciate good music. Consider this your education.” Then he sang, high and screechy, about Roxanne not having to put on her dress tonight. He walked around the room to do his teacherly duties, looking over our shoulders at our worksheets and touching our arms and commenting on our right and wrong answers.
That touching thing, that was the clue. They must tell teachers to do that in teacher school, but Mr. Siler took it to a whole different level. If we were sitting in our desks, and he was standing, he would always rest his hand on our shoulders or pat our upper arms. In writing conferences, when we sat across from him, he touched our knees like they were new puppies. Maybe it was a little weird, but no one minded it. At the time.
On comma worksheet day, he was in some sort of touching frenzy. He hit everyone in a snaky line as he worked around the room. “Check number two again. Where should the comma go on that one? Looks good, Jake. Keep it up. Jenna, put the phone away and get to work.” Most of us could handle the conversational contact, but it was about to get bad, because he was getting closer and closer to Lana. She sat in the middle of the third row, and Mr. Siler worked his way up the second. We could all see it coming.
Lana had just switched into our class from a different section, and Lana hated being touched. She was totally normal, but if anyone touched her, she freaked out. For most of eighth grade last year, we thought she was being funny, so the whole class, all year, tried to touch Lana whenever we could, and she would whimper or whine or spin away, and we would all laugh. Then she had some sort of breakdown and her mom came in with a note from the doctor and our science teacher that year had to tell all her classes of eighth graders that we couldn’t touch Lana anymore.
Three more students. “Take another look at number seven, Josh. Good work, Ethan. Those all look good. Cadence, you are a master of the comma. Bravo.” And then he stepped up to Lana, leaned over a little and said, “What do we have here?” In slow motion, his downturned hand hovered closer to her shoulder. She could see it and attempted to lean away, but her desk boxed her in. Cadence in the next row tried to intervene, to bat Mr. Siler’s hand away, but the aisle was too wide. Mr. Siler’s hand landed on Lana’s shoulder, gently, fatherly.
Lana yelped. Mr. Siler jumped. “What?” he asked.
“Don’t touch me,” she said.
“I didn’t. Did I?”
“On my shoulder.”
Mr. Siler’s eyes widened, and his brow raised like we had all just walked in on him in the bathroom stall. He switched from happy, fun teacher caricature to real-life embarrassed person. “I’m so sorry.” And then he did it again. He touched Lana on the shoulder again.
“What are you doing? Oh my god!” Lana fell to the side out of her desk.
Mr. Siler startled up. “Holy shit! I mean, holy crap. It’s a habit, I don’t even know I’m doing it.” Mr. Siler put his hands up in the air and stepped back to the wall, and all of Lana’s friends swooped in to her rescue.
“Why do you keep touching her? Are you some sort of pervert?” said Cadence.
“Get your hands off of her,” said Lily.
“All you do is touch the girls, and that’s not okay,” said Crystal.
Mr. Siler’s face burst into deep red. He stammered, “I … I’m sorry. I really didn’t mean anything.” He was the dog who ate the Christmas ham off the counter, the kid who accidentally broke his mom’s antique lamp, mortified and penitent and desperate to escape. He tried to find something else to say, then turned and left the room.
No one moved until Matt stood up. “Take it easy on Mr. Siler. He didn’t mean anything. Some people are just touchy. He’s not weird, so relax.”
Except Matt was wrong. Mr. Siler was a pervert weirdo. We just hadn’t figured it out yet. We found Jamey playing his Japanese fantasy card game with his greasy friends in the lunchroom. He didn’t look up as we approached, and he didn’t look up as we talked to him. His friends watched us and breathed through their open mouths, but Jamey just kept laying down cards.
“Jamey, how did you find out about Mr. Siler’s porn?” “I don’t know anything about Mr. Siler’s porn.” “Bobby told us you’re the one who told him.” “I don’t remember that.” “Jamey, come on, this is the reason why no one likes you.” “Lots of people like me.” “No one important.” “Good idea guys, this is definitely how you’re going to get me to tell you where I found it.” “So you did find it?” “Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t.” “What would it take for you to tell us where you found it?” “How about … I get to sit next to you at lunch, next to Kate.” “For how long?” “The rest of the year.” “No way, two weeks.” “There’s only three weeks left in the school year.” “Fine, the rest of the year, but you can’t be weird.” “I’m not weird. Now I’m offended.” “Whatever! How do we find it?”
Jamey squinted and stared off while he decided if the deal was worth it. Matt and Kate and I looked at each other. We were acing this project. The “A” was in sight. We were close. After a few moments, Jamey pulled a notebook out his backpack and tore a corner off one of the few empty pages in back. He pulled a pencil nub out of his pocket and wrote on the scrap, then folded it and handed it to us.
Matt opened the paper. It said, “Search: College Bro Sex Party UW Madison.”
“That’s it?” we asked.
“That’s it.” There were other clues, too. The biggest one was something we never talked about, something that was never explained, but in light of the video, something that suddenly made sense.
Kate had a terrible mom. We all knew that. But right before Christmas break, Kate’s mom locked her out of their apartment and then got so drunk that her biker boyfriend called the ambulance. Kate sat in the hallway and did her homework as the EMTs wheeled her mom away, and then Kate stood up to come back inside, and her mom’s boyfriend said, “Your mom said she doesn’t want you in here, so I have to respect that. Sorry.” Kate slept in the hallway.
Mr. Siler could tell. He always knew when something was wrong, and sometimes we didn’t want to talk to a teacher about our problems, but sometimes we did, and Mr. Siler would invite us over to his desk for some Skittles. He had good advice if that’s what we needed, or he just listened and nodded and agreed if we didn’t.
I sat behind Kate the morning after her awful night and saw Mr. Siler notice that she was upset. He came over, touched her shoulder, and leaned in. “Would you like some Skittles?” he asked.
“Sure,” she said.
“Would you like some now, or would you like to stop in after school?”
“I’ll see you then.” He patted her back and started talking about the use of similes on his way to the front of the room.
Matt and I waited for her outside Mr. Siler’s room, and we waited a long time. The janitor worked his way down the hallway, diving into each classroom with his giant broom then emerging again and moving on to the next one. The other teachers stumbled out of the same classrooms a little later, struggling with their purses and bags and stacks of paper and keys as they locked the doors. After the lights went out and the building fell silent, Kate emerged from Mr. Siler’s room, and she was crying.
“What’s wrong?” Matt asked.
“I thought Mr. Siler was supposed to make you feel better,” I said.
“He did. In a way.”
“What happened in there?” Matt asked. “What did he do?”
“It’s fine,” she said, and wiped her eyes with the cuffs of her sweatshirt. “He said some stuff I needed to hear.” She shook her head. “Really, it’s fine.”
“But did he help?” I asked.
“I guess. I don’t know.” Tears filled the corners of her eyes again. “Can you just walk me home?”
We accompanied Kate to her apartment in silence. The snow and the gray sky and the weight of Kate’s problems absorbed all the noises, even the hum of passing cars. At the time, we all trusted that Mr. Siler had made things better for Kate even if we didn’t understand how, but that’s what pervert freaks do. They make you think they’re helping when really they’re messing with you, psychologically. We should have known. Mr. Siler’s porn was grainy and dark. It started with a bunch of college guys doing beer bongs and jumping around. The cameraman’s voice was loud, and he told the group he had some girls who were looking for some company, and the partiers thought that sounded cool, and then all these girls showed up, slinky and naked with eyes like lions stalking their prey. For the rest of the video, the cameraman walked from bedroom to bedroom and filmed the guys having sex with the girls. A couple of the guys got into it and acted for the camera, but most of them looked like they didn’t know they were being recorded. Mr. Siler was one of those guys. He was super white and skinnier, with long hair and no glasses. His section was the most boring part of the whole video. He didn’t appear to know what he was doing, and he kept asking the girl if she was having a good time. When he saw the camera, he freaked out and came after the cameraman, naked and floppy, and there was no way, absolutely no way Mr. Siler could be our teacher anymore.
He wrote a long apology that got emailed around a few weeks after school ended, and I tried to read it, but it was summer. His words didn’t seem to make sense, and I never finished it. Maybe he wasn’t as good of an English teacher as we thought he was. The next time Mr. Siler’s name came up was in August, when our class schedules arrived in the mail. He was supposed to be our tenth grade English teacher too, but the piece of paper listed a different teacher’s name, one we had never heard of before. I think we all felt bad, and Kate suggested we search Siler’s name to see if he found another job. She said we could check out this new guy, too, and see what he was like, but we never got around to it. It was summer; we had too much else to do.
Eric Rasmussen teaches high school English in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. He is pursuing an MFA from Augsburg College, and his work is featured in Pithead Chapel, Forge, Black Fox Literary Magazine, Chariton Review, Mulberry Fork Review, and Volume One Magazine, among others. He serves as Assistant Fiction Editor at The Indianola Review and founded the regional journal Barstow & Grand. He can be found online at theotherericrasmussen.com.