Flowers – a short story 1965

Flowers, flowers red, blue, white, yellow random wild flowers and fancy ones filed in rows peopled the lawn which fell from the windows and milled as the wind rolled through them.

A slight breeze rustled the open blinds, the classroom was filled with the quiet of thirty people breathing in and out, the girls with their hair piled above their heads, or braided in buns, or smoothed out straight and long across their backs and shoulders; the boys with scalps, sat quietly in their chairs, or squirmed and scuffed their shoes restlessly, and thirty pens and pencils scratched and hummed across the sonorous desk tops, and papers smacked and crumpled under thirty hands gliding over them, bracelets tinkling and rings tapping and sweaty palms squeaking over plastic-finished tops, sped by the teachers gaze rolling through them and the electric drone of the big hand erasing minutes from the face of the clock. She made thirty-one, but she was not writing. Three giggles and the brassy tones of a chair leg broke the surface tension of the sound, and her eyes shot quickly to the source. Is that paper in your hand so funny? she said, smiling, Bring it to me and I will show it to the class so that we may all enjoy the joke.

Her young face drained and her skin turned pale and tightened against her cheeks. She held the paper between her fingers as though it were a dirty napkin that she wished would disappear. Hesitating, and then drawing in her breath, she stood up cautiously, her legs sliding her chair into the knees of the boy behind her, and walked solemnly to the waste paper basket by her desk, crumpling the paper in her hand as she walked.

No, no, she said, still smiling, stretching out her hand, How can we read it if you crumple it like that? Still smiling, she took the paper ball in her hands and unfolded it slowly in the puddle of sunlight which shimmered on her desk. As her eyes rolled up and down its crease-lined surface, she caught her breath in surprise. Blood rushed to her face and her smile fell limp and drooped about her cheeks.

She caught a glimpse of the sketch on the paper in her hands before she folded it in half. She let out a sigh of relief.

Did you draw this?

No no, I found it in my desk. A sarcastic cough from somewhere singed the air.

She cast a sharp eye in the direction of the cougher and then returned her attention to the folded paper in her hand, its inky lines had seeped through the porous paper and had made a faint image on the underside. She sniffed the cleaning fluid fragrance of the magic marker ink. This is fresh, and look, there is some on your hands.

She looked down at the red smudge that her lipstick had left while she was biting her finger (she had a nervous habit of biting her finger), and then looked up again.

Step into the hall with me for a minute. She stood up rapidly and her leather cushioned seat rolled up against the wall behind her.

They marched in a line, one leading, the other following, the sharp clicking heels punctuating the silent padding loafers. The door closed smartly behind them and the rush of wind rustled the open blinds; patches of whispers sprouted in the sunlight.

She leaned in a relaxed fashion against a locker door, her clean, white fingers unfolding the paper, and, with a sarcastic smile, turned it, flat open, so that the back side faced herself and the front side faced the young girl standing before her, shifting first to one foot, then the other, chewing the lipstick smudge on her finger.

Do you know what this is?

She stared back blankly.

Ha, dont tell me! I just bet you dont!

She shifted to another foot and deposited another layer of lipstick on her finger.

Dont be afraid. Im not mad at you. Im quite fond of you. Im here to help you to grow up nice and clean. A nice young girl like you should be thinking of other things nice things flowers; not this! Nice girls dont think about these things! This is dirty!

When youre a woman like me, youll understand. She slipped for a moment into her natural voice and the young girl raised her head in surprise.

The young girl started on another finger, the other being quite happy and content.

And take your fingers from your mouth; thats a dirty habit, she said, fingering the paper which she had nervously rolled into a tube (she had a nervous habit of rolling paper into tubes while she talked,) and was gesturing with it, for emphasis you understand, to one side of the young girls cheek. Nice girls dont do that. A woman certainly wouldnt. ad she took hold of her hand and gently pulled it away from her mouth.

Well, the young girl didnt understand, and she never would. Neither of them would ever really understand, although there was really no difference, and there certainly was nothing difficult about it. The simply marched back into the room in a line, one leading, the other following, the soft padding loafers filling in around the sharp clicking heals. The paper mysteriously disappeared and was never seen again.

The young girl sat down at her desk and turned around to smile. She loved the smell of hair tonic and she was very happy; the breeze was blowing it her way. The pretty young teacher sat down at her desk to think of all the pretty young faces that she had seen come and would se go. She looked at the long, slender vase sitting on her desk, brimming with water and filled with fresh-cut flowers, and with the wind. It was coming her way. And, it was very, very nice.

(written 1965)

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