Lucy tugged at her skirt, which had ridden up over her bent knees in a funny way, and now its satiny lining had shifted, allowing the wool fibers to rub her skin uncomfortably. Her head swam with obtuse and acute angles, theorems and axioms. She glanced down at her open notebook and saw where her attempt at methodical notetaking had morphed into drawings of mythical creatures of her own invention, pencil lines crossing from one dimension to the next so seamlessly.
The morning sun by now had risen high in the sky behind the school building, one of many on this sprawling wooded campus, and continuing on its trajectory suddenly struck a metal mullion on a window just across the courtyard, bouncing off of it and demanding Lucy’s attention as it reached her eye. She turned and looked down into the courtyard below and allowed her mind to wander. Scarcely a month ago she might have been navigating the shadowy hallways of a fraught public school at this moment, avoiding eye contact with the seventh and eighth graders who spilled out of cinderblock classrooms when the dismissal bell sounded, leaving an unpleasant effluvium in their wake. These unscrubbed children inhabited a world unknown, arrived late and unprepared, popped gum in their mouths indiscriminately, and shouted vulgar epithets freely and without remorse, and loudly, so as to dispatch them effectively from one end of a long corridor to another.
Lucy’s sole objective had been to get through her days without being swept up in hallway conflicts that often grew to fisticuffs; she recalled the unmistakable sound one body made when another slammed it forcibly into a metal locker.
Coming back to the present moment, she glanced to the front of this clean-scrubbed classroom where rows of girls sat behind wide desks that bore no legacy of generations that had gone before them, no messages clumsily etched into heavy wood—just smooth, beigey, pristine laminate. This institution’s legacy instead had been more properly acknowledged in bronze plates posted outside the classroom in the hallway, and at the entrance to the building, permanent reminders of the benefactors whose children and grandchildren were seated here now.
At the front of the room the teacher’s arm flapped and flailed furiously across the chalkboard, ostensibly to illustrate the point she was making; Lucy watched the flesh on the back of her arm jiggle as she scribbled. Her hair rose stiffly off the top of her head, not unlike Bran’s might, she imagined—it had been set, as Bran would say. Lucy wondered whether this woman, with her platinum blonde hair teased into a coif, went to the hairdresser once a week like Bran did, and then spent the balance of the week sleeping with her hair carefully tucked into a net so as to preserve the work of the beautician who had sculpted it into place.
There was another thing that reminded Lucy of Bran, what was it. Maybe the odor of tobacco that clung to her skin and clothing; when she came sweeping down the aisle between the desks, it was unmistakable, a last cigarette taken in the faculty lounge before the start of class.
The woman kept her cardigan fastened at the throat, but wore it more like a cape, without slipping her arms through its sleeves. But all the rigorous work at the chalkboard had made it slip from her shoulders so that now it hung somewhat comically from her neck. Finished, she placed the chalk in the tray and swished her hands together to remove the dust from them. Turning to address the class, she adjusted her sweater once more over her shoulders, and stood over her desk leaning on her knuckles.
“Any questions?” she put to this smallish cohort of thirteen-year-olds, in her husky Southern drawl. She was not an old woman, but jowls were already coming at the corners of her downturned lips, and her face was utterly humorless. She suffers no fools gladly, Lucy’s father might observe.
She don’t take no shit off nobody. That’s how her erstwhile classmates would have put it.
Now she fought back hot tears of frustration, and pushed down into her gut all the questions clamoring to come exploding out of her. At that moment she caught a brief, silent dispatch between the girl seated in front of her and the one across the aisle, whose jaw worked on a piece of forbidden chewing gum discreetly. The girl with the gum turned slightly and glanced back at Lucy, and then again at her friend. Lucy could see their shoulders shake in silent giggles.
Soon there would be lunch, an entire hour where Lucy was free to remove herself from these girls; she would find a quiet corner in the library. And then would come art class, a joyous occasion where she would pull her chair up to a table pushed end to end with others, all of them configured into the shape of a horseshoe. The teacher would be there already, wearing something long and sweeping, and smelling of patchouli; her grey hair would fall over her shoulders in thin strands while she walked around the classroom distributing supplies, pushing a piece of thick art paper with softened edges across the table, one to each student. Lucy’s eyes would meet the teacher’s, and she would smile back at Lucy, a smile that spread all the way to the corners of her kind hazel eyes. All of Lucy’s angst would disappear into inky lines she drew on the paper, and the colors melting into them.