I was in fifth grade in a small elementary school with kids I'd grown up with. I had confidence and felt as secure as a kid can be who knows nothing about the world at large but believes they do. While we were learning times tables or history or something one hot day, Anna who was two aisles over, picked her nose, I watched dust motes turning like thin little fish in midair, and Mr. Sinclair sat at his desk while we sat at ours. The dust motes were high overhead, and my head lolled to the left to see them. I thought of outer space where the motes surely came from. The light fixtures looked like space ships, and a limp flag hung at the front of the class that we saluted every morning. There were holes made in the ceiling tiles that were meant to absorb sounds, and I had an idea that if the sounds could be retrieved and played on a phonograph, they would reveal all sorts of jumbled and mixed messages, that no words were ever lost at school.
The fifth graders at work in the class bent to their work, the little drudges. I, on the other hand, could not get my head in the game and looked about for something to entertain myself. I looked left and right, eyed the teacher who sat grading papers at his desk in the front right corner of the class. High up on the wall over his head, arrayed in a long row of panes, was an open window. A kid got picked every day to be the window monitor and pull them open with a long pole equipped with a hook at its tip. It was hot and the windows were tilted open into the class. The dust motes danced in slow motion. I glanced at Anna, a skinny blonde girl with plastic headband raked through her hair. I was feeling a little sour and irritable. I sighed heavily. Mr. Sinclair looked up and then down again at the papers. Erasers scrubbed at papers and feet scuffled the floor. The clock on the wall ticked its hands mechanically into the next minute position. 2:21 it said tediously.
I noticed Anna again and felt disgusted with the finger mining the interior reaches of her nasal passages. I wondered if there were boogers on my own desk from whoever had sat there the period before. I wanted to get out of there, leave a trailing swirl of dust motes behind me like a cluster of reporters asking after the escapee. Don, a plump and usually good-natured boy with a bristling buzz of hair on his round head was at the desk in front of me. He wore a thin cotton plaid shirt that stretched across his wide back. Idly, I picked up my pencil and twirled it. The tip was nicely pointed and I felt its taper in my fingertip. I reached forward and poked Don in the back almost as if my hand had decided all on its own to take the stab, without malice, without forethought. I could have been poking a board for all the interest I had in the action.
Don screamed instantly and whirled wildly around to face me. He swept my books off the top of my desk to the floor where they landed with a crash. The teacher jumped up and moved swiftly to Don, grabbing him as if he had suddenly become insane without provocation and needed restraint.
"Stop that! Go outside and don't make a sound!"
"She stabbed me!" Don looked crazed, and I was thrilled, amazed at what had just happened. I started giggling at the absurd sound of a boy screaming exactly like a girl and the sight of my books strewn on the floor.
"You go outside, too! I don't want any noise out there from either of you or you're going to the office."
We went out to stand in the heat and doldrums of midday. Don, whom I'd actually considered to be a friend of a sort up to now, said his back was fine and why did I stab him with my pencil. I shrugged. We stood looking at one another and started kicking pebbles, both of us now in jail, hoping for a shiv or a way to be freed for good. Don said he was glad he didn't have to be in the classroom anymore and that his back was okay. Me too, I said, and we were friends again.
I looked down at the cement walkway. We were in an outdoor space covered by a wide overhang of the roof. Pill bugs that we called rolley pollies - surely invented by God to amuse kids - were moving around down by my feet, so I picked some up and made them roll up. I saw the open window up at the top of the wall and motioned to Don to aim for it. We started lobbing pill bugs in through the window, with the only concern being that we make the shot each time. It was the best fun of the day so far and beat times tables by a long shot. Then the pill bugs were all gone, thrown to their fate through the open window. Next, we found pebbles and tossed them up and in, never hitting the window pane once. We became very accurate with every pebble arcing up and through the window space, disappearing into the dark interior of the classroom.
Suddenly the door was pushed open and Mr. Sinclair was standing there with a reddened face. "Do you know what's been landing on my desk?"
"No." I tried my winning smile, all my charm, certain he would smile back at me.
"Don, come in here," Mr. Sinclair growled. Don walked to the door and glanced back at me, grinning, then waved adios.
I was left on my own out in the hall, oblivious to the little havoc I was wreaking, submerged in my boredom and aimlessness.
The door opened again, and I was motioned in by the red-faced Mr. Sinclair.
"Sit down." I sat and looked around. Anna wasn't picking her nose anymore. Kids were staring at me. I looked at the floor and saw pill bug carcasses littering it, a few pebbles. Don had his back to me.
"Apologize to the class for your disruption."
"Sorry," I said. I was not sorry. I wanted to stick Don in the back again and hear him scream. It was quite a sound he'd made and he'd gone wild in a very exciting way.
"I didn't hear you." Mr. Sinclair was looking at me, and I looked back at him. I was pretty sure he was trying not to smile, clenching his teeth, making the ridges of muscle stand out on his jawline. He was a teacher I generally ignored as best I could, a man with not much imagination but who seemed fair enough.
"I'm sorry," I said, only sorry the bell had not yet rung and set us free.
"Will you ever stab Dod again?" he asked.
"Don, say you're sorry to her," Mr. Sinclair said.
"She stabbed me with her pencil!" Don shrilled.
"She started it!"
"You threw her books on the floor. I want an apology or we are all going to be here until I get one."
Don heaved back into his chair, disgusted, "I'm sorry I threw your books onto the floor after you stabbed me with your pencil," he stated, not looking at me. Mr. Sinclair glared. The class was silent. A kid next to me eyed my pencil tip. I suppose he was looking for blood although I hadn't poked Don hard enough to draw anything more than the reaction.
Inside I was happy with this development, surprised Don had had to apologize, satisfied with the entertainment I'd stirred up, and glad not to see Anna picking her nose anymore. We scattered at the bell and the day's heat gathered us into it's suffocating arms. Don gave me a wide berth after that and I found no more opportunities to lob bugs or raise cain.
Causes Christine Bottaro Supports
The Nature Conservancy, California State Parks, The United Way