The teacher’s day started like thousands of winter weekdays before it. She made up the twin bed, drank half a cup of instant coffee, fed the cats, put on her wool coat, and walked across the street to the school. She seated herself primly at her desk. The empty rows of desks reminded her of a barren, November garden. She awaited the imminent clamor of arriving children, children whom she would ignore today while she contemplated the dull grayness of the tenements outside her window and considered what must be done.
Today is the day, she thought. Let the nightmare end.
The teacher had left no note of her plan, but she had filled many notebooks describing her despair and her musings on the different methods one might employ to end one’s life. She would exit the world unheralded and unloved, just as she had entered it thirty-four years earlier. Why had kindness and warmth never bent in her direction? Her body had known no pleasure save for what little she, on those rare mornings, was able to provide herself.
A wasted life, best ended.
And then the new girl was presented to her, all large, sad slate eyes and dirty, coppery hair, and of course she had to be introduced to the class and found text books, and writing implements, and wasn’t this just the worst day to have this type of distraction?
But the teacher was one to fulfill her duty, no matter the inconvenience. She escorted the new girl to a desk where she immediately drew the stares and taunts of the class. The teacher, distracted, vaguely admonished the children to leave poor Agnes alone and get along with their lessons, please.
The tik-tik-tik of the freezing rain against the window mesmerized the teacher. The bells rang for recess but she merely sat, thinking of oblivion, until the children bolted of their own accord, casting worried glances in her direction. All except the new girl, who stood motionless in front of the teacher’s desk staring, holding a pink rose between her right thumb and forefinger.
And the teacher accepted the flower. She pushed its soft pink petals against her nostrils and inhaled deeply, so deeply her ribs ached. But the teacher did not release that breath. She closed her eyes, sat back in her chair, and held her breath, refusing to release the scent from her head. As if in a dream, she noticed that the sun had broken through a crack in the clouds and bore down on the large east windows. Shimmering light bathed her face, and from a place deep within welled up images of love directed at her, the teacher, the woman who never knew love, and then the teacher was startled awake when the new girl said, “Pink can heal.”
The teacher opened her eyes and wept and did not stop until well after the other children wandered back in from recess with fearful looks on their faces.
And so the teacher did not end her life that day. The teacher’s feelings blossomed as each day the new girl brought her another flower. And the new girl always seemed to know which flower was the right flower to present, as if the new girl could read her mind or her heart and apply the just right remedy. And the teacher learned.
She learned blue hydrangeas soothed. And orange nasturtiums thrilled. And white poppies intoxicated. And there was no end to her pleasure while she smelled the flowers, but in the evenings, she still could be counted upon to burn or cut her forearms until the kitchen table was slick with blood and tears.
One day the teacher asked the new girl why the feelings the flowers brought her were only temporary, and the new girl said, “Because you want to die, they will not take root. You are barren. I’m doing my best.”
And the teacher became angry at being called barren for the third time in her life, and she shouted, “I don’t understand! Where do you get these flowers? I want to see where they come from, do you hear?” And she shook the girl back and forth and tried to reach into her pocket and pull out a flower to sniff, but the little girl threw the teacher off with unexpected strength.
Then it suddenly seemed to the teacher that it was sunset, although the children were at recess weren’t they?. The sky was dark, and a fiery red sun looked in on her and the new girl from just above the horizon, like some malevolent one-eyed god.
And the new girl was changing too. She grew taller, her head elongated and horns thrust themselves out of her forehead while her eyes migrated off to the sides. She produced an enormous red rose from the pocket of her jacket and with a low, growl said, “Red means wrath.” And then the teacher was no more.
The teacher was never found, but everyone assumed the worst for in her desk were discovered several personal notebooks, written in her own hand, describing her black depression as well as her thoughts on ending her life. She also described a person she referred to as ‘the new girl’.
The bottom drawer of her desk was filled with dead flowers: azaleas, poppies, lilies, roses.
No one could make sense of the flowers.
And there had been no new girl in the teacher’s class this year.
This is one of those stories that was completely unplanned. I had not the faintest idea of what the ending of this story was going to be when I sat down to write it. Many times, one knows the ending and the writing is just a blazing of a trail to get there.
I hope people will continue to find the blog and read the stories. I’d like to think the stories provide some invitation to ponder or just a little entertainment on the train, the bus – some stories that don’t require a huge time commitment from the reader. If you’re so inclined, please leave a comment thanks for stopping by. Hope you come back.
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