Mr. Malone

Rotiss, rotiss, what’ll it be / Rotiss, rotiss, why not me?

We never forgot Mr. Malone’s song. He’d sing it in the hallways before rehearsal, while we painted sets and sewed costumes. He’d sing it walking out to his car on one of those perfect fall nights after a performance.

His song was fun and infectious, but we only sang it back to him once. “Not you!” he yelled at us, as we sat on the stage floor preparing to review the set designs he’d drawn for the original musical he’d written to be our spring show. “Me! Why not me! Mr. Malone! Not you!” He stomped into the hallway, composed himself, and returned with his usual smile. We never asked him about it, and we learned not to sing his song.

He watched us build the set for his original play, whispering, “Rotiss, rotiss,” and we’d nod along, but never say the words.

We assembled the metal pieces for the climax of his show while Mr. Malone muttered, “Rotiss, rotiss, what’ll it be?”

We attached the gas line to achieve the stunning flame effect. “Rotiss, rotiss, why not me?”

We installed the glass door, and finally, on the morning of the premiere, we begged Mr. Malone to let us read the script for the show we’d be putting on that evening. He’d been keeping it a secret, saying he wasn’t finished editing, assuring us that our performances would be realer and rawer unrehearsed, ignited live on the big night as we read our lines off cue cards.

But we never got the chance. Six police officers entered the auditorium and demanded to see Mr. Malone. We tried to defend him, but the officers pushed us aside, leaned Mr. Malone over the stage, and handcuffed him, saying they knew what he was up to. We screamed and begged, insisting he was a good man and a profound theatre teacher. The police refused to tell us why he was being arrested. As he walked out of the theatre for the last time, we heard him sing. Softer now, and sad. “Rotiss, rotiss, why not me?”

Two years later, Mr. Malone died. We passed around the article, with its large photograph of Mr. Malone, dressed as a chicken, feet bound by twine, skewered through the mouth and anus on metal spikes, incinerated in a 700-degree rotisserie oven on stage during the sold-out premiere of his play Rotiss: Finally Me at Springdale Christian Academy.

At his funeral, we joined drama club alumni from the twenty-eight schools Mr. Malone had been fired from or arrested in. We did not need to rehearse. We all knew the song. Standing behind Mr. Malone’s blackened bones, piled in a plastic tray, all four-hundred of us sang, loud enough for him to hear in heaven, “Rotiss, rotiss, what’ll it be?”