The classroom in which I taught was what used to be a living room in a house. We kept the couch and the chairs and replaced the small T.V. that had been there originally with a fancy plasma screen that stuck to the opposite wall. Cable and satellite had stopped broadcasting years ago, but there were plenty of DVDs to be found, some educational, others, not so much. On the same wall as the T.V. was a chalkboard I had put there. A bucket of half-used chalk lay on the floor in the corner. On the wall to the right of the chalkboard wall were two windows looking out upon the empty street.
The ‘schoolhouse’ as we called it, probably once belonged to a fairly rich person. With Three stories, including the well-used attic, and a basement, there was plenty of room to hoard and supply school related things. In the room adjacent to the teaching room was the library, stocked with all of the books we could find. I personally arranged all of the books found by category and organized each category into alphabetical order. Well, I had a little help from my friend Sue, but then almost no major project went on without help from her. I made use of a smaller side room as an office to prepare lessons. The back yard was not particularly large itself, but seeing how none of the other houses in this row were inhabited, we took down the fences barricading each yard from the other, creating a backyard that was as big as the block. A large underground pool had been installed outside the back porch, which had been well-used in these exceptionally hot days.
I stood and talked to the students, sitting on the couch across from me, all listening intently. I noted how different this was from my own experience in elementary school, a much noisier and counterproductive atmosphere. Setting a good example and sitting quietly listening to me as well was Sue Truart, sitting on a chair by the wall halfway between me and the younger children. I had appointed her the assistant teacher about a year after she ‘graduated’ my young class. Now she was fifteen. She was too old to fully appreciate my teaching style for the younger kids, but too young to be a teacher herself. She enjoyed helping the kids learn, in fact she enjoyed doing just about anything to help anyone. I thought of her as a second sister, one whom I had taken in on my journey that brought me to this place. My own sister, Kelly, was a year younger than Sue. She was probably in the kitchens helping to make the afternoon meal.
The four children were named Billy, Mercedes, Brian, and Frank. Of the four, Billy was the only one not born in Greenbook. Billy’s parents had both died shortly after arriving in greenbrook of a disease. This was before I got there but the story was that Eddie, the man who acted as the main doctor, only had enough of the cure for this particular desease that he could save both of Billy’s parents, but the remaining dosage might not have been enough to save the baby; who needed a considerable amount more of it to fight off the sickness. His parents decided to sacrifice themselves and let the baby get the whole amount of the cure. To this day poor Billy doesn’t know the full story of his parent’s deaths. He lives with Frank’s mother, Betty Kamilo. Betty was a woman of thirty-five, tough as a brick wall and stubborn as steel. Aside from being Frank and Billy’s mother, she took shifts as a hunter, acted as our main law-enforcement officer (she used to be sheriff of her hometown) and head of the inner-town defense.
“So, if I were to jump off of the roof, I would fall through the ground?” asked Billy, puzzled. Or perhaps more likely he just wanted to talk and be heard. Mercedes silently shook her head in an almost sad way.
“Until acted upon by another force!” exclaimed Brian before I could say anything, exasperatedly and with a little pride. Mercedes’ head continued to slowly shake.
“Right,” I said, suppressing a grin. “Don’t jump off of the roof Billy, the ground is an opposing force that is quite hard. Besides, you scare your mother enough with all the weapons training you do.”
“What if there was no ground, would I just keep falling?” The unphased Billy questioned.
“That is purely hypothetical, there is no where on earth with no ground.” Argued Brian.
Mercedes’ head was still shaking.
I looked to Sue who was just barley hiding a smile of her own.
Frank piped up “Well, how come when I run I can stop without running into a wall?”
I knew that Frank was not that stupid, in fact he was fairly clever for nine. As Sue and I exchanged looks, I saw Frank and Brian’s fists hit each others’ out of the corner of my eye. I knew what they were doing. It was ten minutes ‘till lunch time and they were stalling, succumbing to the end-of-lesson eagerness. This was more like my grade school experience.
Mercedes head stopped shaking as she stared at Brian briefly and told him to “be quiet”, to which Billy nodded silently.
“Truthfully, there is not much more I can teach you today.” I said. “all your efforts have been in vain. You may be dismissed.”
Brian and Frank, thinking they had outsmarted me, high-fived and leaped off the couch to run out the door. Billy got up and left, at a slower pace. Mercedes stayed behind.
I went to wipe the chalkboard. Yellow dust sprayed as I swiped the old eraser left and right along the green surface. When I turned around Mercedes was still there. She stared at me.
“Do you need something Mercedes?” I asked politely, as pre-flash teachers would have addressed students.
“I want to talk to Miss. Truart, alone.” She said, without moving anything besides her mouth. She just remained seated cross-legged on the couch. I, having nothing else to be done before lunch, nodded. “ don’t keep her too long, its burger day.” I said with a wry grin. Sue was a vegetarian, which was a lot harder to be these days. She looked up at me, mock hurt in her eyes. On that note, I left them too it.
Mercedes was a peculiar one. She stared at people a lot without a word. She was quiet most of the time, except with Sue and a select few others. When she did speak up, it was normally something you would not expect. Sometimes it was a bit of wisdom no one else had thought of, but once it was pointed out, you wondered why the eleven year old was the first one to think it. Other times it was when she was annoyed, as she often got by the antics of Brian and Frank.
One day about a year ago, a Saint Bernard walked into our town. It triggered an alarm set in the outskirts of town, putting the guard on alert. Vince Mender saw it coming out of the corner of his eye and turned and fired his pistol at it by reflex, as it was charging our way at a great pace. After the first shot, which missed, he realized what it was and held his fire, yelling for everyone else to do the same. The dog was determined to get here, he ignored the shot when most animals would have turned and fled with fear. Vince had by now holstered his weapon, which was lucky for the dog’s sake when it went leaping into the air to tackle him. No one dared fire for fear of hitting Vince. As it turned out, the dog was not attacking. Rather to the hardened Vince’s embarrassment, it covered the big man’s face with slobbery wet dog-kisses. Everyone shared a hearty laugh.
When we brought the dog back to share the story with the rest of the community, everyone had wanted to keep it but no one in particular wanted or had the time to care for it. The discussion went on for about five minutes when young Mercedes stepped up and said “I’ll do it”. From that day on, the St. Bernard Max belonged to her, and everyday right before lunch, it sat patiently right outside on the porch, panting after terrorizing the local rodent population, in wait for his best friend.
As I exited, sure enough Max was there. He looked up at me with questioning eyes, his long white fur hanging to the ground in a tangled mess. I gave him a pat on the head and ruffled the hair there then went on my way. He whimpered a little and I turned and assured him that she was coming soon and to be patient. It cocked its head at me questioningly, as if demanding proof and I just shook my head and went on my way.