Her shoes were made in the year 1977. They belonged to her grandmother when she was
a young woman. They were wingtip derby dress shoes in a size 8-and-a-half with a very slight
heel. She’d been granted permission to wear them to work after filing a special request with her
employer. She’d made a very thorough case for the shoes. They were in beautiful shape,
closed-toed, and sturdy. They’d made her bring them in to prove that she could sprint down the
hallway in them. The shoes were made from alligator skin, her favorite animal, said to still roam
free in the half-drowned Atlantis that remained of the Southeastern American wilds, where her
extended family had once lived, just outside of Miami – what the shoes lacked in utility, they
made up for in history.
Tip-tack-tip-tack, the shoes used to go, smacking tiles as she walked back and forth
across her grandad’s deck like America’s Next Top Model. Now they made almost no sound at all,
just a faint thup-thup-thup. Principal Ndongo’s allowance of the shoes hinged on the condition
that they be appropriately dampened – several spaces in the facility still had hard, lacquered
floor, namely the cafeteria and gym areas. She paced around the empty facility, poking her head
into all the rooms that would be, any time now, full of human beings. During her extensive
training, she’d participated in several full-occupancy armed safety drills, but those always struck
her as falsely urgent, bordering on ridiculous. They were meant to further complicate an already
fabricated scenario, like trying to catch someone off-guard while playing Simon Says. Simon
Says get the fuck down, now, now, now.
Mr. Ross, head of the infirmary, was in his office. He was wearing the boots that came
with his uniform. He waved tepidly as she passed by. She waved back. He pushed the office door
closed with his steel toe, and it self-sealed with an ominous kth-unk. Where were her other
colleagues? She had arrived very early due to nerves. But it was nearly eight. Eight was the
She made her way to the main interior entrance, separated from the outside by the main
entrance hallway and the main exterior entrance, all preceded by the main gate. She could see
that additional security checkpoints were set up in the hallway, full-body scanners and conveyor
belts – and security staff, most men, mostly large, looking austere and ready to tackle or taser at a
moment’s notice. A handful of others waited in the foyer, arms crossed or sipping on styrofoam
cups of bitter coffee. The other newbies, early for their first day.
Mr. Ndongo caught her eye and approached her. He was her supervisor, and hopefully her
ally – he had, after all, ended up approving her unorthodox shoe request.
“Good morning, sir,” she said.
“Mrs. Alvarez,” he said with a nod. “It’s almost time. How do you feel?”
She tugged on the loose flap of her tactical glove. The factory smell of new velcro
lingered. She’d given herself a small cut on her knuckle last night, as she practiced putting them
on and taking them off again.
“I’m excited,” she said.
“They’re excited too,” Mr. Ndongo said, ushering her over.
Through the triple-pane, she could see what would become her students. Lined up
between the metal detector and the body scanner, their shoes in one hand and their baggage in
the other. A little girl was sobbing as her lunchbox (blue, with palm trees on the front) was torn
away and placed in a pile of suspicious items, which would later be seam-ripped into a pile of
thread and zippers, perhaps eventually incinerated. The girl was wailing, and the others were
beginning to turn and look at her.
Mrs. Alvarez closed her eyes and went over the day’s itinerary. Morning orientation.
Lunch, simulated outdoor recreation assimilation. Oh yes, and she had almost forgotten about the
afternoon drill. Maybe she’d hoped, naively, that if she didn’t think about it, it wouldn’t happen.
But the drills were essential. There was a reason she had applied to teach at this institution in
particular – it had a reputation for taking the utmost safety precautions from attack preparedness,
to protective architecture, and of course the overall security. What more could one ask for, as a
The little girl was ripped from the crowd and shuffled through a maze of metal detectors
and body scanners by the security guards. The youngest students arrived before all the others so
that they would have time to acclimate to the complex ritual of entering the school building, so
they could learn what was and wasn’t allowed to be said, done, or carried, or pretend-carried. As
she wept, with her hands above her head, she looked back again and again to see what had
become of her lunchbox – but it was just sitting there, the first item in the confiscation pile.
The children who had passed through security were being ushered by Mr. Ndongo into
the cafeteria. Mrs. Alvarez kept her eye on the lunchbox. No one else was even looking at it – if
it was actually an item worth confiscating, someone should surely be examining it, trying to
deduce whether or not it was actually dangerous. She was not privy to the minutiae of this
procedure, but she couldn’t help wondering if they sometimes confiscated things just to prove
that they could, to emphasize the thoroughness of the system.
Mrs. Alvarez considered her daily itinerary once more, wondering at what time she might
attempt a daring rescue and to what extent, if she were caught, she might regret it – the palm
trees were covered up by a little boy’s jacket, a too-sharp umbrella, and a hat. The little girl was
finally ferried through the barrier by a security officer just as Mr. Ndongo and the rest of the first
group had filed off to the cafeteria. Mrs. Alvarez approached her, the dampened heels of the
alligator shoes thup-thup-thuping – the little girl was very small, and noticed the shoes
“What’s your name, dear?” asked Mrs. Alvarez.
The little girl looked from the shoes, to the confiscation pile, to the hallway, to the shoes
again. “Florida,” she said meekly.
“Well, Florida –” Mrs. Alvarez began. Her heart crept up in her throat as she heard that
word, Florida – she felt a breeze. She imagined cypresses, ibises, strangler figs, junebugs. Her
shoes hummed with former life. The dampeners did not dampen that.
“– My name is Mrs. Alvarez. My favorite animal is the alligator. I’m twenty-seven years
old. I’m going to be your teacher, and –”
Florida perked up at the mention of a favorite animal. She pointed excitedly at the shoes.
Mrs. Alvarez smiled.
“– And I’m going to help you get your lunchbox back.”
Monty Rozema (they/them) is a queer multidisciplinary artist born and raised on Duwamish Territory (Seattle, Washington). They enjoy reading novels and comics, working with youth, and spending time in the public library. Their writing has been published by bestcolleges.com, great weather for MEDIA, F3LL Magazine, Hash Journal, Mag 20/20, and many more. In 2021, their short story “Apple” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.