Yesterdays ago you were tired of wondering. Now you’re downright exhausted, but it’s all you think about anymore. Maybe today is The Day. No, maybe today is The Day. That’s how it is–The Day always hovering like the hope of a rest stop bathroom around the next turn when you’re too prude to pull over and piss on the side of the road.
Painful as it is to admit, the greeting-carders may be right, i.e., The Day will feel like lollipop color and blinding epiphany. Shining glittery swirls, dew drops, a tasty salad, lustrous hair, and digestive harmony. But today you could barely stomach your coffee or the day-old Danish you found in the teacher’s lounge. Anyway, today feels like yellow eye crust. You pop a couple of antacids and wonder if you put chalk in your mouth if you’d even know the difference.
Greeting-carders. Kenny Griffith’s mom is a greeting-carder, which means Kenny Griffith is a greeting-carder in training, which must be what feeds his alphabet-soup disposition. Last year the class slowly migrated away from his corner desk. Whatever it was—the Kenny Griffith aroma, the clicking jaw, the allergy snots—you don’t know. But through it all Kenny Griffith continued to tour the school like a cruise ship social director oblivious to the fact that no one cares about the Electric Slide or animals made from dingy cruise ship towels.
Your parents took you on a cruise last Christmas. It didn’t go well.
Five minutes to bell hell. You make a fleeting deal with yourself, something about enthusiasm. Moments later, as if he could smell your lukewarm attempt, Kenny Griffith waddles in. The first kid of the year, even earlier than usual.
“Morning, Mr. C,” he says.
“Hi,” you respond.
Kenny Griffith vibrates the floor, rippling the puddle of coffee in your Styrofoam cup. You wonder how many sandwich cookies you’ll watch Kenny Griffith sneak out of his desk and into his face today. The record is twenty-three.
He says, “You look different than you did last year, kind of—what’s the word—peppy.” Then he says it again as if a higher intonation will get you to buy it, “Peppy. Florescent pink. Did you lose weight?” That’s another mark of a greeting-carder: he sees what he wants to see.
“No,” you say.
“You’re just excited about the new year.” Kenny smiles and sits at his desk.
“That has to be it.”
“My mom got a Botox injection this summer. She says it tightens her turkey neck.”
Odd for a greeting-carder to get Botox. But you never know what they’re capable of. Case in point: you had Kenny Griffith last year and gave him a charity grade so he could move on to high school, but the greeting-carder asked for a special meeting where she said she thought that Kenny Griffith needed to do the eighth grade one more time and that it would be a “neat challenge” for him to be with a new class, make new friends, and on and on. She had the principal puckering his lips like he was releasing a particularly joyous fart.
You stand and rest your head against the blackboard, knowing all the while that you could walk out at this moment right here. Or this one. You could saunter to an amusement park for the day, have a corndog, charm a female carney into giving you extra time on the Tilt-a-Whirl, fall in love, have baby carneys, open your own amusement park, watch the sunset with a mouthful of cotton candy. But that’s awfully unnatural. Hell, that kind of self-determination only led you here.
If you don’t write something on the board, then the kids will think you’re an idiot. Only one thing comes to mind. As you write, the chalk squeaks like a door slowly closing.
You leave the chalk dust on your forehead.
“Nice, Mr. C,” says Kenny Griffith. “Back to school. Great way to start things off.”
“Kenny Griffith, why don’t you read something?”
To honor the boredom this year will hold, you sit and create a kind of haphazard chalk sculpture: the pink lying on the desk, the white propped against it, and the green watching nearby. When you pull your hand away, the white wobbles back and forth, and you find yourself hoping it will slip off its prop, it will succumb and run away because a single force has dictated that it shall be so, that it’s right. And if it does fall, you quickly bargain as you have many times before, you’ll take this small reaction as fate itself, as if a voice were whispering into your ear, This is it. Go.
But the rocking slows, the white sits on the edge. Stuck and untouchable.
“Would you say I’m the classroom captain this year?” Kenny Griffith waits for an answer. “It feels like I am since it’s my second year. So, can I do anything to help you?” he offers with greeting-carder concern.
You scoff. But it should be so easy. And though everything else has abandoned you, right now you have Kenny Griffith.
“Do you need to go to the bathroom?” you blurt. “I know you have a bladder the size of a breath mint, Kenny Griffith.”
He smiles. “Good one, Mr. C.” You stare at him. He wavers then says, “Well, I did have an extra glass of milk this morning.”
Kenny Griffith rises. You actually root for him as he tromps down the aisle toward the door, the vibrations immediately strong like menthol drops. Your nose burns with quick breaths, and you focus on the white chalk wobbling back and forth, creeping ever close to the edge of the pink. Clop, clop, clop. It trembles in your socks. And the sight of the white about to topple—it almost reminds you of confidence.
So you close your eyes, ready to hear the click of falling. Maybe you go somewhere else for a moment. Maybe you go to that amusement park, dizzy and giggling. Whatever the place, it’s nice, suffused in sunset orange. And eerily, uniquely quiet.
That’s what jolts you back, the stillness. Your eyes open but slowly. When the blurs clear, there are no colorful jumbles moving past you. Not at all. Only Kenny Griffith standing right there as still as can be, his gummy half-moon smile, his stubby fingers steadying the chalk on your desk, leaving it still there. The white leaning against the pink.
He cants his head and says, “Is this some kind of game?”
It must be.