by Marie Stevens
As the sun faded behind the trees outside, the energy conserving bulbs of the classroom flicked to life. It was the sudden brightness that drew Ms. Walker’s attention away from the digital pile of essays waiting to be graded. She looked to the clock on the opposite wall and realized it was nearly six o’clock. She’d planned to leave at four, but no one wants to grade essays over April break and she hadn’t had silence like this all week.
“I’d better pack up,” she said to the empty room. One of the side effects of teaching is that you become more and more comfortable thinking out loud. Between the long hours and the constant feeling that she was going slightly insane, Ms. Walker wasn’t sure she’d make it to June, let alone twenty more years in this profession.
The hallways and stairwells were unnaturally silent. Not even the janitors were here this late on the Friday before vacation. The emptiness was calming, not intimidating like it might have been three years ago when she was brand new and constantly lost in the maze of the school building. In the vastness of the parking lot there was only one car other than her own. It was parked down at the opposite end near the exit and she could see someone sitting on the hood.
There’s something wrong with this picture.
Ms. Walker drove her car closer to investigate. As she approached she recognized Tommy Nash - one of the terrors from her first year of teaching - and ignored the temptation to keep driving.
“Everything alright, Tommy?”
“Hey, Ms. Walker. I have a flat tire. My phone’s dead.” He held up a black-screened iPhone as confirmation.
“Here, you can borrow mine.” She pulled into the space next to his and dug her phone out of her bag. “Do your parents have AAA?”
“I don’t know. My mom’s on a plane and my dad’s probably at work. He’s not gonna answer.”
“You can’t walk home from here, can you?”
“Not to my dad’s house. I don’t know the alarm code for my mom’s.” The turmoil of his home life began to come back to her in drips and drops.
“I have AAA,” she said. “I’ll call.”
There’s a slight discomfort that Ms. Walker always felt when forced into small talk with anyone. But what else was there to do with the AAA truck set to arrive in 45 minutes or less?
“How’s junior year been, Tommy?” Soon he would be a senior.
“Okay. You know I read The Scarlet Letter, It wasn’t terrible. Maybe six out of ten.”
“Only six? I love that book. I’d give it an eight or a nine.”
“It was pretty hard. I thought it was dumb how the guy just tortured himself and then died. I kept thinking about Oedipus. Remember we read that freshmen year?”
“I remember. But Oedipus doesn’t die right away after he blinds himself.”
“Dimmesdale doesn’t die right away either.”
“Not right after the torture, but after the truth is revealed.”
“Yeah. But like, Oedipus realized he’d done this terrible thing and punished himself by blinding. It’s kind of like what Dimmesdale does, just more public.”
Ms. Walker nodded; she was surprised to hear he was still thinking this much about Oedipus. “It’s an interesting connection.”
“You know what my favorite book is?”
“Really? What did you like about it?” This wasn’t a book in the curriculum. She wondered what had inspired him to read it since he’d made it clear freshman year that he didn’t enjoy reading much.
“There’s a lot that happens in it. And the dragon’s pretty cool.”
“Did you like the movies?”
“There’s a movie?” His eyes lit up as if she’d offered him a treasure.
“There are three.”
“Oh my god! I’m watching them over break. That’s awesome!”
The truck arrived then and Ms. Walker spoke to the repairman before turning back to Tommy. “I’m surprised you didn’t know about the films. I assumed that’s why you read the book.”
Tommy shook his head. “No. Remember on the last day of school you gave us a big list of books we could read over the summer? The Hobbit was the only one we had at my house so I just read it.”
Ms. Walker did indeed remember the “Suggested Summer Reading List” she’d made in an overzealous moment during her first year. Many parents complained that summer should be leisure time for their children, and a few English teachers complained because she’d accidentally put books from the Sophomore curriculum on her list. As far as she could tell until now, no one had actually read any of the books she’d suggested.
“Wow, that’s great, Tommy. I’m so glad you liked it.”
“You’re all set,” the repairman said. The three of them finally drove out of the school
parking lot a little after seven o’clock. Ms. Walker was disgusted by how late it was, but as she drove home, she couldn’t help but grin.
Marie Stevens is a writer and teacher from Massachusetts. In her fiction, Marie strives to magnify the small moments in life in order to draw meaning from them.