Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Lasting day

In which we see Ms. Bradstreet finish her year by settling in

The Maria Chronicles, #57

Maria enters the faculty lounge on the last day of school juggling three dozen-sized boxes of Dunkin' Donuts and her briefcase. Her class has been nagging her for weeks to have a party for their final session of the year, and she finally broke down and conceded -- if they made it to the election of 2000 before the final exam. They did. Other kids will be bringing juice, cups, and the rest. Maria expects to spend her time signing yearbooks and asking about summer plans, which is fine. She's as itchy as the kids are for the summer to start, especially since the school has been an oven the last few days.

Still, she wants her morning coffee, hence her detour into the faculty lounge. Surprisingly, there's no one there but French teacher Edie Wilson, who is using a paper towel to dry off a recently rinsed mug that simply says "NO!" Edie, as always, has a look of perpetual irritation on her face. "I wish to hell they would just put syringes in here," she says. "It would be so much more efficient if I could simply inject the caffeine into my veins."

Maria smiles, genuinely amused, but lacking a witty riposte. Truth is, even after some relatively pleasant interactions, she remains a little afraid of Edie. Maria can't quite tell if her misanthropy is a protective shell or exactly what it seems to be.

"So," Edie says, pouring non-dairy creamer into her now-full mug, "I understand you're going to be with us a little longer. But it will be as a hybrid History-English teacher and as one of Dani Bernstein's minions."

"News travels fast," Maria replies evenly, pouring coffee into her cup. "I didn't realize my minion status" -- Maria's first instinct was to avoid this, but decides it's best to both acknowledge and deflect it with an ironic overlay -- "was public knowledge."

"Just heard about it from Carl Kurtz," Edie explains. "Dani told him this morning, and he told me. Frankly, Maria, if anyone is going to be a tool of the administration, it might as well be you. They could use a good kick in the ass over there."

"Well, I'm glad you approve, Edie."

"You should be. But I wouldn't hitch my wagon too tightly to Bernstein's, if I were you. I figure she'll be here two more years, tops."

"Yeah, well, we'll have to see if I stick around in any case. How long have you been here, Edie?"

"Me? Twenty -seven years."

"Twenty-seven years? Wow."

"But that's not the relevant number."

"Oh no? What is?"

"Two-hundred and fifty K. That's what I'll have in TIAA-CREF a year from now. And then I'm outta here."

"Fair enough."

"You better believe it." Edie has finished stirring  in what looked to Maria like a half-pound of sugar and is now walking away. "If I don't see you, have a good summer."

"Thanks, Edie. Likewise."

"Naturally," she says without looking back. "I won't be here."

Maria is trying to figure out how she'll be able to carry the doughnuts, the coffee, and the briefcase, when an unfamiliar man wearing jeans and a plaid cotton shirt and sandals stands at the edge of the lounge without crossing the threshold. Probably a parent. "Can you tell me how to find room 527?" he asks.

"Sure. Go down the hall, make a right, up the stairs and keep going until you hit the 500s building. The room will be on the second floor."

"Great. Thanks."

He's going to get lost, Maria thinks. But at least she sent him in the right general direction. She then realizes that this is the first time she's ever been asked for directions since she started working in the school. It seems significant somehow. She's part of the place. After all.

Maria realizes, as she watches the man make the right turn, that the figure she sees to her left is her favorite student. "Willie!" she shouts. "Can you give me a hand?"

"Sure, Ms. Bradstreet! What do you need?"

"Can you help me carry these doughnuts?"

"Absolutely." But like the man before him, Willie pauses before the threshold. "It's all right, Willie. You can enter the inner sanctum."

She enters gingerly. "I've never been in here before."

"Yeah, well, the air is a little thinner, but you'll survive."

Willie grins and picks up the doughnuts. Maria picks up her briefcase.

"So, Willie, tell me what you're looking forward to this summer."

And the two of them walk, burdened and at ease with each other's company. For years to come, they will remember this moment with fondness.