Wednesday, May 12, 2010


In which we see Ms. Bradstreet become the beneficiary of a conspiracy

The Maria Chronicles, #55

Maria, who made the mistake of attending the spring concert assembly, is now desperate to get home. She'd gone to the concert at the insistent request of her students Maggie and A.J., who were singing in the chorus and playing in the jazz band respectively, but the auditorium was so stifling and dank that she could barely stand it. The plan was always to depart after a few minutes -- see, be seen, and get the hell out -- but once there, she didn't feel right leaving until it was over. She made her exit and to breathe the cooler spring air on the school's quad, only to be detained by her colleague in the English department, Carl Kurtz, who asked her for suggestions for good books on the 1970s. She gave Carl a few, only to get a request for a few more on the 1980s. It was for a novel he was planning to write. (Stick to your day job, Carl, she thinks.) Her patience wearing thin, Maria made a couple more suggestions and explained, vaguely, that she had to get going. Karl thanked her and Maria now resolved to make a beeline for her desk, her briefcase, and her car.

"Ms. Bradstreet!"

Maria turns her head to see Wilhelmina Marzetti, determinedly converging from Maria's right, which is odd, because it's the opposite direction from where the assembly was held. Shit, Maria thinks. She loves Willie. But not now. Maria looks at her watch: 3:10

"Hi Willie. What's up?"

"Well, I was hoping I could get a little help on my environmentalism essay."

"Well, OK. So tell me about it."

Willie looks a little sheepish. "Well, actually, I was hoping you would actually look at a draft."

Maria points to a bench a few feet ahead of them as a possible place to work. "Do you have it with you?"

"Uh, no. I accidentally left it back in our classroom. Do you think you could walk back over there with me?"

For the first time in the almost nine months she's known her, Maria is irritated with Willie. "Can we do this tomorrow? The essay isn't due until next week, after all."

Willie winces. "I kinda want to work on it tonight. I have a big French test next week, and Saturday is my dad's birthday and --"

"All right all right," Maria says, a bit too tartly. "We'll do it now."

"Thanks a lot, Ms. Bradstreet. I really appreciate it."

The two walk in silence toward Room 211. Then, as they approach the door to the building, Willie says, "Ms. Bradstreet, can I ask, do you know any more about whether you'll be returning next year?"

Yet one more unwelcome question. Still, Maria thinks, if anyone deserves to be the first to know, it would be Willie. She seriously considers telling her that she got a job offer just that morning to become chair of the History Department at the newly formed Leonard Covello Charter School to be located only a few miles away. More money, but more administrative work, too. Still, the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of something big.

"No Willie, I still don't know. But I'll keep you posted." Maria pushes the door to the classroom open.


Maria is stunned by the large cake -- carrot, apparently, with burning candles -- that sits on a student desk. She's even more stunned by the boisterous crowd, comprising about half of her tenth grade class: Maggie and A.J., who managed to get here unseen, along with Mia, Kenny, Jake, Vanessa, Matt, and Derek. They immediately launch into "Happy Birthday." At their urging, she blows out the candles, and there's further cheering.

"Happy Birthday, Ms. Bradstreet," Willie says quietly.

"How did you know it was my birthday?"

"Google," Kenny answers. "Took a while, but I figured it out."

Maria can't decide whether to be pleased or alarmed. She looks at Willie. "This was all your idea?"

"I had lots of help," she says with a smile. "Couldn't have done it without Maggie and A.J."

"Gotta tell you, we worried about whether you would show up for a while there," A.J. says, clearly amused. "And we worried you'd leave too early."

"That's where I came in," Carl Kurtz says, as Maria suddenly realizes he's in the room too. As is her department chair, Jen Abruzzi. And Principal Dani Bernstein.

"So apparently it's the big 5-0," Carl notes. "Couldn't let that pass unnoticed around here. It was fun to conspire with Willie."

Maria sees that Willie is getting a little embarrrassed. "Here," she says suddenly, producing a large wrapped box. "Your present. Open it!"

Maria eyes the package warily, but realizes she's expected to open it. She rips the wrapping and opens the box. It's a Hudson High School hoodie sweatshirt.

"I love it," she says sincerely. "And I love this party. It's really one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me." Maria chokes up as she realizes this is true. She feels ambushed by her own emotions.

"Let's have some of this cake," Jen says to break the tension. "Who wants a slice?"

The next few minutes are occupied with distributing cake and pouring Diet Coke into paper cups. Maria hears snatches of talk about the New York Mets, the Hudson softball team, and senior prom gossip (Vanessa, apparently, will be a sophomore date for a senior, and will be shopping for a dress that evening). Gradually, the kids begin to drift off for rehearsals, practice, and the bus. Willie is actually among the first to go, and Maria embraces her warmly before she rushes off, which is for the best. A mere twenty minutes after it began, the party is essentially over. Short and sweet.

Surprisingly, Dani Bernstein is the last to go. "Maria," she says, pausing by the door, "I have news that I hope you'll regard as a birthday present. I've just gotten authorization to offer you the job along the lines we've been discussing. Next year, you would be half-History, half-English, with a $7500 grant to begin developing an interdisciplinary curriculum for the following year, probably something you'd want to start this summer. I have no iron-clad guarantee the job would continue in this configuration after the coming school year. But I've got it in writing that next year will be Larry Roganoff's last. So even in the unlikely event that Mandy Merkel actually came back from graduate school to take the English half of your job back, the worst case scenario would be that you'd be full-time History, with another $7500 to finish the curriculum. Sound good to you?"

Seventy-five hundred, Maria thinks. After taxes, that would probably translate to about $400 more a month.

"It does sound good," she says. "But can I think about it?"

"Of course. But I would like to know as soon as possible."

"How about Monday?"

Dani nods, clearly not thrilled with the prospect of four days, but not wanting to contest it, either. "Monday it is. So what are you doing with the rest of your birthday?"

Maria does not want to tell Dani that she's having dinner tonight with Jack Casey, whom Dani holds in low regard (as indeed Maria herself did until recently). "My kids are coming tomorrow," she says truthfully. "We'll do dinner and a movie. I don't like to make a big deal of my birthday."

"Understood. Well, you have yourself a good one," Dani says. "You deserve it."