Jack Canon's American Destiny

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Primal by DA Serra (Excerpt)

Chapter Two

Harbor Hills Elementary School blends in with the serene suburban neighborhood: sweet two-story homes of white, yellow, and blue, stand in neat lines on both sides of the street. The roads have been recently paved so the asphalt is coal black and makes the green of the grass yards and the colorful fall flowerbeds bitingly vibrant. The streetlamps have an old-fashioned oblong glass that suggests folks have been raising their families here for a long time. The damp earthy smell of fallen leaves hangs in the air along with the dying honeysuckle. In this traditional Midwestern town with its huge oak and sugar maple trees life feels settled and yielding, as if it knows where it is going; the path is trodden and soft on the feet.

Inside Alison Kraft’s classroom with its dangling solar system made out of Styrofoam balls, and its encouraging aphorisms pasted to the walls, the majority of the third graders are listening to her. She considers the majority a victory. This generation is accustomed to sensory deluge; they splash through the rising tech tide with instincts the generation before them just don’t have. Her generation debated the efficacy of multitasking; these kids never do one thing at a time. They carry the world electronically in the palm of their hands: they text, and shop, and do homework, watch movies, and download music all at the same time. She feels successful if half of the class pays attention to her at one time since she is limited by not being a multimedia purveyor. Alison is a popular teacher. And when this year’s crop of scruffy boys and American Doll girls look at her, she sees their potential. These are the faces of tomorrow and she is aware of that truth every day she teaches them. She knows that one of them will do something special. There is no way to know which one, so she committed years ago to teach each child as though they were the one. Her students sense her belief in them, and they love her for it. She has “cheery eyes” they say. Their parents like her because she’s tender, and even with all the inherent lunacy of grammar school, impatience is not in her nature.

Alison and Hank moved here to Hank’s home after college. They married here and he started a business with his high school buddies. Alison likes this little midland town in Minnesota, but she does wander the streets sometimes wishing the donut shop were a p√Ętisserie, and that the movie selection at the fourplex would try something without gunfire, and she jokes that she would give her right arm for a piano bar. She misses the city world she grew up in, but she knows this is the ideal place for Hank and her to raise their son, Jimmy, and that’s the priority. Life comes in phases. This is Jimmy’s time to learn and run free. Watching him is fulfilling. It is the most fulfilling and joyful experience of her life. The piano bar will wait for her. She assumes there will be time.

Moving down the aisle between the school desks, Alison points to the large colorful poster of predators all along the wall: coyotes, bears, and cheetahs. “A mom animal will use her teeth, horns, hooves, stingers, whatever. Some mothers divert predators from their babies by using elaborate movements or by changing their appearance.” She turns down the aisle in a deceptive stroll toward one particular boy. “Others rely on speed or surprise!” She yanks the iPod earphones out of Tanner’s ears. He looks startled and a little scared for having been caught. They look at each other for a moment. She holds his eyes.

“Uh…oh…sorry, Ms. Kraft.”

“Okay, Tanner, but one more time and I’m keeping these for myself. They’re really cool.”

“Yes, ma’am.” She hands him back the earphones. “Now,” addressing the entire class, “for your homework for the next few days while the substitute is here.” Loud groans from the instantly gloomy children. Howie Hunter drops his forehead down on the desktop in despair. She tries not to smile at him, so cute, so bereft, his shaggy blond hair covering his face. “Oh, right” she teases then, “these substitutes really are creatures from the Black Lagoon.”

“Where is the Black Lagoon?” Sarah asks Joey.

“France.”

“Oh, Mrs. Kraft!” Sarah whines, “I don’t speak France.”

Keeping a straight face with difficulty, “I’m quite certain the substitute speaks English.”

Howie adds, “I knew a kid who spoke France. He was annoying.”

“Howie, just because someone is from France does not mean they’re annoying. France has a beautiful language, lovely museums, pretty countryside, and the biggest erector set right in the middle of the city.”

“Really?” Howie asks excited.

“Yes. We can see some photos of the Eiffel Tower and learn more about France when I return. Now, the homework. I want each of you to pick a book from the library, absolutely any book, even a comic book, if you want, and read - that’s all - just read and then tell the class about the story when I return. Okay?”

The bell rings and gleefully the kids fly out of the classroom. The room empties in seconds leaving a sudden complete silence after the last fleeing footstep. Alison remembers being their age and watching the clock as is ticked toward freedom. She was, and still is, a daydreamer. Her imagination has always had a wanderlust. She scans the room for a moment, and sees the usual: orphaned hair ties on the floor, several lunch boxes (mold experiments by tomorrow) and inexplicably one pink sock. She muses there is something exceedingly poignant about an empty classroom. One empty classroom feels so much more forlorn than an entirely vacant office building. As she straightens up the room, she thinks that must have something to do with the impermanence of childhood itself - the moving on: the seventh grader who becomes the teenager who becomes the college kid and leaves the toys behind. Closing up her desk, Alison wonders if at night, when the janitor sweeps his way through the silence of these rooms, if the echoes of thousands of children’s voices keep him company as he pushes the broom. They call the janitor Old Man Tinker, even though he’s only forty years old. She wonders how old she looks to them. It makes her grin as she collects up her purse and a few papers. She flips off the classroom lights, steps out into the school hallway.

Denise and Gary are also heading for the door. Denise interrupts Alison’s thoughts, “Hi, Alison. You look thoughtful.”

“Just considering my old age.”

Gary says, “I’m looking forward to old age, sitting in an armchair, watching the television, and reveling in being the full-time cynic I know I am.”

Alison smiles wryly, “Gary, cynicism is an intellectual overcoat; it’s just an empty gesture of sophistication. Smirking at the world is a cop-out.”

“I think empty is underrated.” Gary holds the door open for the two women. They smile at him and walk through. Denise and Alison are fairly good friends even though Alison holds the minutes of her life closely, spending most of her time with Hank, Jimmy, and a good book. Still, they enjoy each other when thrown together by their daily lives or by school events. Denise has a nontoxic envy for Alison and Hank’s relationship, the only two married people she knows who visibly, demonstratively love each other. She sees them exchange secretive smiles and she always has the feeling when around them that they are sharing a fun and private view of the outside world. While she can’t help but envy them, she’s happy to know a connection like that is achievable. She studies them. She judges all of her dates against them.

“Jimmy’s birthday tonight?” Denise asks.

“Yes. Legions of in-laws eating like locusts and using my bathroom guest towels.”

“Oh, you love it.” Denise teases her.

“True. Hank’s family is endlessly entertaining.”

“And then you’re out of town for the rest of the week?” Gary asks.

“Four days.” They hear a wisp of reluctance.

“What?” he nudges her good-naturedly, “You’d rather be here scraping gum off the bottom of your shoes?”

“It’s a close call.”

Denise asks, “Where are you going?’

“Nowhere you would go in a million years.” Alison gives them both a warm smile and turns left toward the parking lot. “See you next week.” But she won’t see them next week. And when she does see them again - they won’t know her.

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Genre – Thriller

Rating – R

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