The Secret Life of Kindergarten Teachers

A clean slate

She opens the back door, holding the mail in one hand and a big red bag in the other, and the note is there, taped to the door frame. With duct tape. Which she knows will pull off some of the already peeling paint. She pushes her cat, Nibs, aside with her foot then puts her things away: the mail cubby, the bag hook, the shoe rack.

She unsticks the note from the frame along with several chips of paint. She goes again to the mudroom and pulls a bottle of wine from the big red bag. She wants so badly to go back to this morning, before eating breakfast and teaching the letter D and fighting really unfair with Howard. Instead, she opens the bottle and pours a glass. She takes a sip, sets the glass on its coaster (the walnut table belonged to her great-great-grandmother, who was also a teacher) and reads the note.

Poor spelling. Bad grammar. Hard to read handwriting. She wonders what kind of teachers Howard had as a child. She wonders how she will manage without him. She takes another long sip from her glass, then folds the note carefully. Finally she stands and walks into the darkness of her living room, where a manila folder sits in a file drawer in her desk. She switches on the desk lamp and opens the drawer, thumbing through the folders. She drops the note into one — HOWARD — the label written in Sharpie black block letters.

She goes back to the kitchen and thinks about dinner. She decides cheese and crackers and mini carrots will do. She pours another glass of wine and sits down at the table again.

And this is when the silence starts to crowd her. The pool of light on the kitchen table glows brighter as the sun shifts lower in the sky. It happens every year after the solstice, but it’s still shocking. She showers and dresses each morning in the dark; she comes home from work to darkness. The daylight in between passes in minutes to the soundtrack of children speaking on top of each other, laughing, shouting. Crying.

Instead of getting up to eat, she opens the slim drawer next to the table and slips out white paper and a few colored pencils and some construction paper and scissors. These are not safety scissors — she needs something more sharp. More precise. She pulls out white glue.

Under the pool of light inside the darkness she draws. She outlines careful shapes, shades them in technicolor. She cuts blue paper and red. A strand of hair escapes her ponytail and drops across her eyes. She draws a long green stem made of trapezoids. She spends an eternity shaping the side of a bird’s tiny wing. She drops glue on the page and pastes her paper shapes. She finishes her wine.

It’s not enough to file him away, she thinks. She has to start again. Wipe the slate clean. She puts the finishing touches on her collage drawing, carefully lettering her name and the date along the bottom. Then she corrals her hair back into a tighter ponytail; it grips her face and pulls the skin at her temples. She attaches her picture to the refrigerator with magnets. Then she pulls on her coat and goes out into the cold night, lugging the boxes of clothes and books and his hockey trophies — labeled in fierce Sharpie block letters ‘HOWARD’ — to the curb.

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