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Authors: Torey Hayden

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BOOK: Just Another Kid
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“This is perhaps a little more acceptance than is good for either one of them. I’m scared to death every time your wife comes to pick Leslie up. I’m terrified that sooner or later someone is going to get killed. I know I’m going to upset your wife something terrible if I interfere, but one of these days I’m going to have to. I’d feel entirely responsible if anything happened to Leslie as a result of my letting her go with her mother.”

“Don’t worry about Ladbrooke’s driving, if that’s what you mean. It’s only two-and-a-half miles, and I’ve gotten her a good, safe car. She’s never had an accident. I doubt she ever will. She’s a very reliable driver.”

I didn’t know what further to say.

Tom Considyne reached across the table for his coat. “I don’t know,” he said softly. “In a way it’d probably be better if she did have an accident. It’s going to take something like that to wake her up.”

“Or kill her.”

He shrugged. “She’s doing that to herself anyway.”

Chapter 5

O
n Monday morning Mrs. Lonrho came in, carrying Shemona. Geraldine was home with the stomach flu. Shemona had been sick over the weekend and was now recovered, but she wasn’t feeling very enthusiastic about the idea of coming to school by herself. I shut the door before Mrs. Lonrho set Shemona down. From the expression on her face, Shemona was considerably less than enthusiastic.

I, on the other hand, was tickled pink. Here was just the opportunity I needed. After Mrs. Lonrho left, I took Shemona over to the table and opened her folder. She sat silently beside me while I reviewed her morning’s work.

“Where’s that other girl gone?” Dirkie inquired when he arrived. I had never heard him ever refer to anyone by name. We were all simply girls, boys, ladies and men to Dirkie.

“She’s home sick today and won’t be here.”

“It’s just this girl then,” he said and grinned. “This girl with the long yellow hair.” He leaned way over the table toward Shemona and her folder. Shemona shot a hand out and swiped at him in an irritated way. Dirkie hooted.

“You got a girl’s pisser,” he said.

Shemona pursed her lips to spit.

“Hey, both of you,” I said. “None of that.”

Mariana leaned forward. “Shemona doesn’t like that boy, Miss,” she said, in a perfect imitation of Geraldine.

Once I had Dirkie and Mariana settled with their work and Leslie listening to a cassette, I took Shemona around the corner of the shelves into the area by the chalkboard. It was gloomy there. The steel shelving blocked off the light from the windows and the overhead fluorescents. Taking out a stick of colored chalk from its box, I handed it to Shemona.

“Make me a seven,” I said.

She did.

“Good job. Now, draw a set of seven squares.”

She drew carefully, making each square precisely and coloring it in. As I had hoped, the colored chalk appealed to her immensely.

We went on like this for several minutes, making numbers and corresponding sets of objects. I drew some too, and had her make lines to connect the sets with their numbers. Shemona was good at numbers. I wanted to relax her, to involve her in the pleasure of this new medium, to please her with her own expertise. It was a trick I’d often used with other elective mutes that had always been very effective, because once involved and relaxed, the child took readily to my increasing the speed of the activity, of making a racing game of it. I then took over more and more of the game, so that I did most of the writing and most of the answers. I verbalized what I wrote. I speeded the pace up even more. And if I did things right, the excitement became enough that when I eventually asked a question and didn’t answer, the child would. It was a simple trick that had worked so often for me with elective mutes that I’d videotaped it and used it in presentations of my research. One colleague, intrigued by the results shown on the tape, maintained it was a kind of hypnosis. I’d never thought of it that way. To me it was simply mental sleight of hand.

It took effort to get Shemona going. She was more interested in drawing with the chalk and wanted to make her drawings carefully. She would erase with her finger and try again in an effort to make her triangles exactly straight or her circles exactly round. So, in the end, I had to take the chalk from her and tell her she could use it afterward.

“Show me an eight. Show me a four. Show me an eleven. Twelve. Six. One. Fourteen. Zero.” I went faster and faster. Shemona was getting caught up in the process by this time. Some of the numbers were written a bit too high for her to reach, and she had to jump to point to them. This pleased her and she giggled. “Six. Nine. Three. Thirteen. What’s this? Five. What’s this? Seven. What’s this? Two. What’s this? Fifteen.”

On and on and on. Faster and faster and faster. The whole board was covered with my quickly scribbled numbers, and Shemona was panting to keep up with me. She was smiling and giggling loudly enough that I could hear sound.

“What’s this? Four. What’s this? Ten. What’s this? Eight. What’s this?”

Silence.

The next answer was six, and Shemona knew it. She’d already leaped up to point in that direction, waiting for me to say six. When I didn’t, she fell back abruptly, her arm still raised. She was panting. An expectant smile was still on her lips, and I was reminded of my Labrador dog and the same enthusiastic, expectant expression he had, when I paused, midgame, with the ball in my hand.

“What number is this?” I asked, pointing to the six.

She looked at it. The smile faded and she regarded the number a long moment, as if it were written in a foreign script.

“What number is it?” I tapped the board.

She continued to gaze at it.

“What number is this?” I knew the impetus was gone. I knew I had failed. If I hadn’t caught her in the excitement of the moment, I knew I wasn’t going to now. I smiled in an effort to keep the good feelings between us. “It’s a six, isn’t it?” She gave a halfhearted little jump to point to the six, wanting to keep the happiness in the situation as obviously as I did.

I handed her the box of colored chalk. “You did that really well, didn’t you? You know all your numbers. Here. You may use these until recess time.”

Carolyn and I had worked up a system whereby we alternated playground duty at recess. Because of her aide, Carolyn wouldn’t have needed to stay down on the playground during the fifteen-minute recess period. I did, as there was no one else to look after my children. However, Carolyn, understanding the pressures of this sort of job when there was no break, had offered to alternate with me, watching my kids as well as hers. So every day I had a fifteen-minute break, either in the morning or the afternoon.

Usually, I used the period to catch up on miscellaneous tasks, such as running off the children’s worksheets on the mimeograph or setting up art projects. Some days I did no more than collapse in the teachers’ lounge. On this particular morning, I’d gone to get the keys from Bill, the janitor, to open his cleaning closet on my floor so that I could wash out the mucky gray from our easel. I had the tap running, and dirty water was gurgling noisily down the drain, so when Leslie appeared in the doorway of the closet, I jumped with surprise.

My first reaction was to glance at my watch, because I was suddenly alarmed to think I’d lost track of the time and my children were back in the room. But there were still five minutes remaining of the break.

“What are you doing here, sweetheart?”

Leslie was red cheeked from exertion and looking a whole lot more alert than usual.

“What do you need?”

She turned her head and looked down the hallway.

“What is it?” I stuck my head out of the closet and glanced in the direction she was looking.

Back and forth between me and the stairwell Leslie glanced. Her body was taut with excitement.

“You shouldn’t be up here, you know,” I said. “You’re supposed to be down on the playground with Miss Berry and Joyce. Do they know you’ve come up here?”

She raised one hand and pointed down the hall, then she grunted. It was the first intentional sound I’d ever heard Leslie make.

Again, I looked around the corner of the closet door. “What is it?”

“Crying,” she said hoarsely.

“Crying? Who’s crying? Can you show me?”

Leslie took off. I followed her down the hallway, down the stairs, through the fire doors. As we came out of the stairwell, I was accosted by noise. A general hubbub filtered up from the area around the main office.

Carolyn was just inside the office door when I reached it. She had hold of Dirkie by the collar of his shirt and Shemona by her coat. Dirkie was crying angrily. Shemona was hysterical. She twisted and turned, all the while screeching at the top of her lungs.

“Oh, thank God,” Carolyn said when she saw me. “I thought you’d gotten lost.”

“What’s happened?”

“She tried to kill me!” Dirkie shouted. “That girl, that girl with the long yellow hair, she tried to
kill
me!”

“Dirkie was just being Dirkie,” Carolyn said. Letting go of him, she reached over the top of the barrier to grab a handful of tissues. She held them out to Dirkie. “You were being a bit annoying, weren’t you, Dirkie? You kept wanting to touch Shemona’s hair. I asked you several times to leave her alone.”

“She tried to
kill
me!” He displayed a scratched cheek.

“I was about to kill you myself,” Carolyn replied. “How many times did I ask you to leave her alone? Five? Ten? It’s not surprising she got fed up.”

Shemona persisted with ear-splitting screams, making it nearly impossible to continue the conversation. Moreover, the other children were milling around inquisitively.

I looked over at Carolyn. “Do you suppose you could spare Joyce to watch my gang for a moment? There’s an art project all laid out up there. Maybe to be on the safe side, you could take Dirkie down with you. But I’d like a private moment to deal with Short Stuff, here.”

Carolyn nodded. Getting a good grip on Shemona’s jacket, I dragged her, still kicking and screaming, off in the direction of the teachers’ lounge. Once there, I shut the door firmly behind us, then pulled her across the room to the sofa and sat down.

“Do you want to sit here beside me?” I asked.

She simply continued to scream.

“Would you like to sit in my lap?”

“No!”

“Oh, all right. Very well. The thing is, however, I can’t let go of you. I need to hold on so that you don’t hurt yourself in here. Or hurt anything else. When you look like you’re more in control, I’ll let go of your wrist.”

This brought a new spurt of anger, and she struggled savagely, clawing at my arm with the fierceness of a tiger cub. Grabbing her free hand with mine, I hung on and said no more.

Shemona screamed. And screamed. Tiredness eventually crept into her voice, but she still managed to carry on shrieking in monotonous, syncopated bursts. Then exhaustion finally overtook her, and her screams faded to squawks and then grunts. At last she was hoarse. Genuine tears filled her eyes at that point, and when she looked at me briefly, I saw the anguish. Sinking down first to her knees and then all the way down, she sat on the rug at my feet. I let go of her wrists.

I smiled. “That was hard work, wasn’t it?”

She gave no response.

“I’m tired now. Are you?”

She fingered the red marks left on her wrists by my grip, then she snuffled and wiped her nose on the sleeve of her blouse.

“This must have been a hard day for you. It must be scary, having to come to school without Geraldine. You must miss her.”

Very slightly, Shemona nodded.

“Geraldine takes good care of you, doesn’t she?”

Tears came back to her eyes. Her lips quivered, and she sucked them between her teeth to keep from crying.

Noisy silence enveloped us. The refrigeration unit on the pop machine came on. The Xerox machine whirred. The heating plate under the coffeepot clicked. The clock jumped the minutes with an audible
tink
.

“Would you like to sit up here beside me?”

She shook her head.

“It’s very soft, see? They’re nice cushions, these, just the kind for relaxing against. You’d probably find them nicer than the floor.”

Again she shook her head.

“I was a bit upsetting too, wasn’t I? Playing that game with you at the chalkboard. Did you think I was trying to trick you into talking? I didn’t mean it to be a trick, you know. Just a help. Just something to get you over the first time, because it’s the first time that’s so hard.”

She stared at her hands.

“And then there was Dirkie. What an annoying boy he can be. He wants to touch my hair all the time too, and I don’t like it either.”

The tears had begun to run down her cheeks. They dripped off her jawbone and onto the collar of her blouse. She did nothing to stop them.

I leaned forward, elbows on my knees. “Come here, Shemona.”

She shook her head.

I watched her. She watched her feet.

“I’m kind of thirsty,” I said. “Are you? I would think so, after all that screaming. Shall we split a can of pop?”

Lifting her head, she looked at me through her tears.

“What kind would you like?”

No response.

Standing, I pulled a handful of change from my pocket and went to the machine. “Coke? Shall we share a Coke?”

She nodded.

I put the money into the machine, and the can rattled noisily down into the tray. When I turned around to bring it back, Shemona was sitting on the sofa.

I sipped the froth off the top of the can and then handed it to her. Shemona reached up eagerly and put the Coke to her lips. Several seconds were lost in greedy gulping. Then finally she lowered it.

“What do you say?” I asked.

“Thank you.”

That was no breakthrough with Shemona. At best, it was détente. Once back in the room with the others, the veil came down again, and she retreated into silence. It had been a worthwhile time in the teachers’ lounge because it had forced her to acknowledge me as someone to be reckoned with, but I hadn’t made her talk. Exhaustion and loneliness made her talk. That and the Coke. I had the sense to know it wasn’t me.

BOOK: Just Another Kid
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