Six weeks and her arm almost healed, Molly was back at work. No one asked, but she heard the whispering and saw the averted eyes of the other teachers when she took a break between her junior and senior classes. Hard to know how to react to a teacher covered with bruises and an eye turning ugly yellow from the former black and blue. Things got quiet, then talk resumed in the teachers’ lounge. The atmosphere became overly cheerful with a colleague, Tom Kelly’s round face and belly laugh leading the conversation about football, usually USC against UCLA. Nancy Burrow, fiftyish and counting the years to an early retirement, nodded hello and lip-synced “How are you?” The rest ignored her with a fleeting smile before sipping tea or coffee, grading test papers or whatever else they were momentarily removed from before Molly showed up. She made short work of her half sandwich.
Tom gently touched her arm in its sling and asked if she needed Tylenol. She thanked him and crumpled up the wax paper, dropped it and the brown bag it came in, and faded from the room. She smiled to think of the calamity of voices that started up as soon as they were sure she was out of hearing.
She walked slowly down the hall to the front office bearing the short note she found earlier in her mailbox. It was signed by Robert Polesky, Vice Principal. She entered Polesky’s office and sat down on the chair directly in front of his desk. Robert Polesky looked almost as nervous as Molly felt. He was wearing one of his signature K-Mart short sleeve plaid shirts and polyester tie. He was over six feet-seven inches tall, but too clumsy to have been any good on a basketball court. He picked up his coffee mug and thought better of the stale, semi-warm coffee that even a Starbucks brand latte could not make palatable.
“How’s it going, Robert?” Molly straightened the long skirt so that it spread over her legs. She caught him watching, peering over the desk to catch a glimpse.
“How’s the arm?” Without waiting for her to answer, he cleared his voice, and fidgeted with his tie, while glancing at some papers on his desk. “It’s like this, Molly. It just isn’t working out here. I know it comes at a bad time, but we’re having all these substitutes and it’s just not a good deal. Mrs. Parker and the board met…”
“Why not end it there?” Molly stopped him, leaning forward, bracing the arm still in its sling. Her voice was level, hiding the panic she began to feel. “It’s okay. I need the break.” She smiled at her own pun, and was thankful once again for the last of the Valium pills she found in the bottom of her purse, for taking some of the edge out of coming back here to be the object of everyone’s curiosity.
Robert was nodding sympathetically, a simpering look playing on his lips. “That’s right. A break. Good. It’s really a leave of absence until you get healed.” He sounded weak.
She wanted to slap the look off his face. Instead she stood up and left, her mind whirling around things like how much leave of absence meant in actual dollars, knowing it would not hold up her apartment, food, utilities.
Molly walked down the quiet hall, looking in each room as she passed, teachers engaged, chalk in hand, scribbling on blackboards, others pacing the room as students bent their heads to a surprise test while she felt like the outsider, the one out of sync with a world she had been part of until fifteen minutes ago. She alternated between a depression and an unexpected celebratory mood; elation for the freedom from this school, this vice principal, this ramrod curriculum she fought, trying to keep her class interested in a seriously irrelevant and whitewashed history she was forced to teach. Now that was going to be someone else’s job, or not, if the kids weren’t lucky. All the while she calculated the money she had against what she needed. Javier came to her thoughts. She threw that out. Her arm nagged with a small throb of pain. She hurried to catch the bus to her first therapy session.
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