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, January 02, 2017

Snowstorm (viii)

She hadn't guessed Johnny would have hurt her deliberately, but he had. She'd burned her fingers when she picked up a hot marble he'd sent rolling innocently to the front of the room. The pain reached all the way to her heart.

Katharine Baarman sat on her haunches, fighting back tears, trying to draw some sense from the storm within her. That kid had deliberately rolled up a burning-hot marble just to torture her—and he’d done it right in the middle of a reading she’d specially hoped would keep them all from realizing just how dangerous their situation could be, stranded here as the now were, without food, without water, and for how long no one knew. The awful blizzard might continue for another whole day, maybe more. What was she supposed to do? She couldn’t send them home. 

“I was just trying--"

She didn’t know what to say. There was nothing she could say or should. She could not give in to self-pity. She couldn’t.

"Johnny Mulder, you stand up!" she said as she herself got to her feet.

He stood slowly, but with a reluctance and a sadness that surprised her because he could have simply continued to berate her with some kind of insolence. But he didn’t.

She knew she had to be careful. She could feel her hands shake in anger, so she put them on her hips to try to control the rage. "Johnny," she said in a voice she had breathe deeply to control. "Johnny Mulder, I have no proof that you did this thing—this marble. Could have been anyone, I guess." She tried to speak very slowly. "I have no reason to pick you out from all the others, but I know it was you."

She moved back behind her desk, deliberately, to allow some time to pass, to try to keep her anger and hurt separate from whatever punishment he deserved. She put both hands on the desk in front of her and tried hard to stare at him.

"I hope that someday you will feel exactly what I feel right now,” she told him. He didn’t look belligerent. He seemed almost cowering. “Not the burns on these fingers, but the burn you just gave me here in my heart." She gathered her strength in steady breaths. "Someday when you want to explain something you love to your children, when you want them to share something you enjoy, when you do something special and they reject you or spite you or run you over, I want you to remember that marble," she pointed to the floor, "and me, right now, right at this moment, right in the middle of this storm."

The children were petrified. Things had never come to this before. No one moved. The wind moaned and howled.

"Once when I tried to be ... " she hesitated, "to be good, to be strong, to be ... to be of help, you deliberately hurt me—you went out of your way to hurt me."

His guilt—she could see it--became too hard to deny. She was looking into the eyes of a Johnny Mulder she’d never seen before, a Johnny Mulder was actually fighting tears. “Do you have anything to say?"

He raised a hand to his head, combed through his hair with his fingers, and looked down at the floor. "No, ma'am," he said, and sat down.

The roar of the storm broke the silence that was too menacing to ignore. She glanced out the windows to the west, scolded herself for not sending them home an hour ago, when the storm was just coming in, when they could have made it. It was her fault they were still here.

She glanced at Johnny Mulder, who was tracing the lines in his desk with his fingers. She had the strange sense that she’d won something with him just then. And the truth was, he’d been more helpful than she could have guessed already that day.

She had to go on.

Surprisingly, none of the children had asked about the end of the school day. They seemed to sense that going home was to be determined not by the clock, but by the storm. She did her best to keep their minds off the darkness, the heavy snow slapping up against the schoolhouse, worked hard to keep them working hard, laughed to get them laughing, smiling and helping in a way she never would or could have done otherwise, her strength not her own, she told herself and God in a thousand short prayers.

She collected some snowflakes on a frozen log, brought them inside, the door almost tearing from her grasp, and showed them to the little children with a pocket magnifying glass. The astonishing designs enchanted them, prompted all kinds of oohing and aahing. She had them spell "s-n-o-w-f-1-a-k-e" correctly before they were permitted to leave the cold corner of the schoolhouse and return to the circle of heat around the stove.

By late afternoon, most of the children were huddled close.

The porous schoolhouse walls admitted a chorus of icy drafts that defied the radiant heat of the stove and created a chill anywhere beyond fifteen feet. The lanterns seemed to grow stronger in the failing light of day. Even the youngest seem to know that they were stuck here now, in school, that they weren’t going to go home. 


1 comment:

Jerry27 said...

My Mom talked about her walks to a county school near Bigelow and making sure all her younger siblings did not get lost on the walk there. When her younger brother came back from Monte Casino with a purple heart, he joked that she would have made a good drill sargent.

When her Dad wanted keep her home to work while sending a 2 year younger sister to high school my Mon rebeled. She said if one went school they would both have to go to school. As I look back, it is probably the right thing that they stuck together.