She’s alone as usual at the far table in the teachers’ lunch room--
I stall, holding my tray, wondering if today will be the day
I join Ms. D, but Cheryl Sitkow groans at the rain-snow mix
through the staff room window, hoping to lure me into her tale.
“Reminds me of this time last year, Spring break, when we took
our kids to Poland. Mist and fog and chilly rain every day.
We could barely tell the cathedrals of Krakow from the barracks
at Auschwitz, honestly. All a gray blur. The kids were so bored.
My sisters kept asking if we could abandon the tour
and catch a southbound train to the Riviera beaches.”
“What you get, Sitkow, trying to have an educational vacation,”
says Gary Schmidt, brown-bagging it with the other guys from PE.
“Geez, you’re such a history nerd.” Gary turns to suffer
over his brackets, ratcheting down his hopes for the Final Four.
“If Kentucky doesn’t do any better next time, I’m personally flying
over there to kick their bluegrass asses. That goes double
for my brother, who’s got double the money on the semi-finals.”
Fawn Lopez, the new Spanish teacher, joins Cheryl, despondent
at the window. “My grandma says all this moisture means one thing.
Lawns to mow. Weeds to pluck. Mud. Can we put a stop to spring?”
Que lastima, I mutter, moving past. I bring my lunch tray to Ms. D’s
vicinity. She smiles her slow, sad smile, nodding toward a chair.
“I know why you avoid us, Ms. D,” I say, “all we do is kvetch.”
“It’s not so bad,” she says. “We’re all just stressed, blowing steam.
What about you? Do you have grand plans for Spring Break?”
“Family stuff,” I sigh. “My cousins and I are driving my godmother
to Palm Springs to escape the rain. Not real exciting, I’m afraid.”
“Sounds nice,” says Ms. D. “Maybe you and your cousins can party
while she’s asleep. And the desert sun is going to be heavenly.”
I warm up, dreaming about the margaritas we plan to blend
the minute we get there. Then I ask her what she’d be up to.
“I’ll just stay close by my folks, as usual.” I ask why, stunned
when she opens up to me at last. She didn’t really have any one
besides her parents. No siblings, no cousins, no aunts, no uncles.
No grandparents. “Just we three.” Her folks, she says, were still babies
when they were hatched in separate camps, the only survivors
hung on each family tree. “A relief program brought them
to the States. All they had were each other, and then me.”
I remember all the times I’d seen Ms. D staring out, days
like this, to these chilly drizzles that follow blitzkrieg blizzards,
when March cedes to April’s peace, days the earth seems to yearn
for a treaty. She barely touches the Tuna Surprise on her cafeteria tray.
Granting her abashed smiles and polite hellos to us, drifted
to the farthest corner, Ms. D always abides the nearby noise,
this endless griping about all of our gifts.
Lee Patton, a Denverite, writes fiction, poetry, drama and commentary. Quarterlies that have published his work include Best New Writing 2012, The Threepenny Review, The Massachusetts Review, The California Quarterly, Poetry Quarterly, Ellipsis, Hawaii-Pacific Review, Adirondack Review and Memoir Journal. His third novel, My Aim Is True, was launched in 2015 from Dreamspinner Press.