Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Snowstorm (iii)

The sense that the storm outside is ominous is something Katharine Baarman can't escape as she tries to keep her schoolchildren preoccupied with their lessons.

Whatever smile had appeared earlier in the morning on Katharine’s face was nearly erased by the realization of her fears, fears she tried hard to mask. Three of the children were working at the board, the others—all sixteen—seemed absorbed in their work.

"That’s very good, Nick,” she told him. “You may sit down.” She spun around in front of the class with maybe a little more dramatic flair than usual. “So, does anyone else notice any errors?"

Hands went up, and some students added a muffled grunt she normally didn’t tolerate. She called on MaryJane, a quiet little girl, to correct the work, and, a bit sheepishly, she made her way to the front of the room.

That’s when the outside door opened, and Johnny Mulder walked back in, in strange and uncharacteristic silence. Just about everyone turned to observe his entrance, and for a moment, the room somewhat fearfully silent. He pushed his fingers through his windblown hair, removed his heavy coat, and then sat down without making any wild appeals for attention.

As always, she pretended she wasn’t watching. But it never worked because everyone else in the room was aware of the drama that in the offing, drama that this morning didn’t get staged.

She hated to admit it to anyone, even herself, but there were times when his absences dragged on for almost an hour. This time, the whole school was mystified—as she was—to see him return so quickly. What’s more he didn’t pinch anybody, didn’t say a word, just came in and sat down. Things got back on track without a problem.

The wind kept growing in strength, shaking the windows as if they were afraid. It seemed to find every hole and crack in the building. The roof had seemed a host of tea kettles, a whole chorus. Most children seemed unaffected. They kept up their work as if unaware of the pounding the storm was inflicting.

"Johnny, you take number 51, please. Henry, 52. Dirk, 53. Margaret, 54." The arithmetic lesson for the older children's began, the younger kids working on other assignments or watching the old ones.

Johnny Mulder strutted toward the front, down the center aisle. He faked tripping on one of the little pile of bricks around the old box-stove and fell on the floor, arms and legs splaying. It had happened before. Often, in fact. In a way, it was free entertainment she’d learned to tolerate, as long as things didn’t get out of hand. She simply looked away and let him put on the show.

“I don’t see why you like him,” Mary Boersma insisted to Clara Eggink. “I don’t think he’s funny at all.”

“Oh, shush,” Clara said. “You don’t know him and I don’t like him.”

“Do too.”

“Do not.”

“Do too.”

“Girls,” Katharine said, rolling her eyes. She looked over to where the two of them were quarreling.

Meanwhile, Johnny rose very slowly and stood, just for a moment, beside the stove. What she didn’t see was that the moment she turned her attention away from him, he dropped a marble as big as a crow's egg into a crevice of the stove, a move his buddies did see.

Then he composed himself again and came up the middle aisle to the chalkboard and proceeded to divide 4,360 by 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9. His answers were wrong only when he wanted them to be, and this time he seemed to work harder at them. In less time than it took for the others to finish, he had his work down and right. The children watched him closely, but some of his buddies were taken only by another calculation Johnny Mulder had made. A dark blue marble sat in the stove, absorbing the intense heat.

Meanwhile, Katharine looked once more through the shivering windows. Those thick, low cloud before school were gone now, the sky gray and dark and uneven, almost purple, moving fast from the northwest. Flecks of snow were bounced like dust off the windows, like spies, she thought, to plan the attack of the storm looming powerfully. She stared out at the prairie, looked for a wagon maybe, someone coming, but saw nothing in a landscape that seemed clearly to be closing in on her and the children.

“Miss Baarman,” Mary said. “Mother says that she saw talking with Marvin Fedders after church.”

“Oh, Mary,” Clara said. “Can’t you possibly keep your mouth shut?”

“--She says people say you’re seeing him—that he’s your beau.”

“It’s so embarrassing, Miss Baarman,” Clara told her. “Mary has such a big mouth.”

“True?” Mary said.

“We talked before—didn’t we? —about believing everything you hear,” Miss Baarman said, smiling just a shade devilishly. “Besides, don’t you think I’d tell you girls if I had a boyfriend?” She surprised herself at what she’d said because she’d never said anything close to that before, and she knew Mary would certainly let her mother know the moment she got home. But somehow, she knew that she had to things today that she wouldn’t have otherwise. There was this storm outside, and it was building, building.

"I think he's very handsome, " Mary said. 

Katharine looked at Clara, expecting some kind of comeback that didn't happen. It wasn't like her to play this the way she did, and she knew it herself. "Well, Clara?" she said, almost demandingly, but smiling.

"I think he's handsome too," Clara said. 

"Well, maybe we'll just have to see," she told them.

Three kids worked at the board. She looked around. The others seemed absorbed in their work. Only Johnny Mulder seemed preoccupied, looking out the window to the west, intent on different thoughts. She wondered if he was a little scared himself.


No comments: