The sky outside our classroom window seemed to shrink, wrapping the campus with gray. Mrs. Crandall taught the fourth grade. Her body was a broad square, her head peppery and small. She wore tan SAS shoes that phisssed ever so faintly as she walked, and a brown-and-white beaded necklace that looked like tiny cuts of beef hung around her neck.
“Class, you may go to recess now,” she said with no pleasure. “Lizzie, I need to speak with you.”
I cringed as the others filed out and looked over their shoulders at me. Abbie practically sprinted out the door.
Mrs. Crandall sat at her desk in the beige polyester, one of three outfits she rotated through each week, watching the flow of children for several long seconds while my jaw locked and my abdomen tightened. She cleared her throat as the last child exited to the hallway. Then she swiveled her eyes to me.
“Lizzie,” she began, “I understand you’ve been making nasty noises.” Her voice thickened with breath. “On the playground.” She clucked her tongue like she’d just eaten peanut butter. “Is this true?”
Heat-rash at the backs of my knees. I memorized her beef necklace while blood beat against the inside of my face. I sputtered stupidly. There was no air. My brain reviewed the scenes of hysteria with Abbie, the loud, forced-air sounds, giggly confessions of Saturday-morning-fabric-store flatulence, following our moms at a safe distance, hiding behind bolts of crushed velvet and muslin, the crotch-grabbing and the laughter and Mr. McHail. Crandall cleared her throat and spared me.
“You shouldn’t be laughing about nasty things,” she said. “Do you understand?”
“Yes,” I replied, thinking of Bible story sinners who covered themselves in sackcloth and ashes. My limbs wilted and wobbled as I fell off the moral high road. All those seventeen classmates were no doubt disappointed in the new girl who drew horses and laughed at farts. I wanted so much to be like them: muscled, perky, and pain-free. They had such exquisite control of themselves.
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