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The doors of Christopher Columbus Middle School opened to students at 7 am. Marianne Cates had to be at work in Oklahoma City at 8:30 am, and to facilitate that, dropped her son J. D. off at school at precisely 7:10 am. J. D. arrived at the Special Education classroom at 7:12, which meant that Special Education Teacher Martha Brazie had to be in that classroom absolutely no later than 7:08 am.
Marianne referred to J. D. as "hyperactive." Besides having an I. Q. of 76, J. D. was massively emotionally insecure, had multiple phobias, and was deeply entrenched in obsessive-compulsive disorder at the age of twelve. He greeted Mrs. Brazie with formal tenderness, and she responded with reserve. He then sat down rigidly in his desk, where he would remain, immobile, for the next 23 minutes.
At around 7:30, the other three Daytimers would enter the classroom. In Mrs. Brazie's terminology, the "Daytimers" were the students who remained in the Special Education classroom all day, due to some crippling mental or emotional handicap. The "Morning Students" were those students who stayed with her for one hour in the morning, due to some minor mental or emotional handicap, but returned to regular classrooms for the remainder of the day. All three of Mrs. Brazie's "Morning Students" had I. Q.'s at genius level or higher. In Mrs. Brazie's mind, the difference between the Daytimers and the Morning Students was insurmountable; she referred to them this way to avoid classifying them as "the stupid kids" and "the smart kids."
The three other Daytimers rode Christopher Columbus's one Special Education bus. The bus traveled some twenty miles to pick up Leon, 11, then returned to the neighborhoods close to the school to fetch Amy, 12, and Martin, 13, who lived on the same street. Leon, a female, had a heavy case of Down's Syndrome, complete with Mongoloid features, an I. Q. of 81 (I. Q.'s were very important in Mrs. Brazie's world) and the thick, distorted voice that made children laugh and adults shy away from her. As far as Mrs. Brazie was concerned, she was also autistic. True, Leon was the most proficient of the Daytimers in any assignment given to her, and always seemed to understand them after the first explanation. She never spoke, however, unless spoken to, and not always then. She was not surly, she just did not respond to social stimuli at all. She did not seek affection from teachers like the other children, and, when Mrs. Brazie observed her relate to her father, she did not seem to seek affection from him, either, although he seemed to be a warm man. Mrs. Brazie believed that the school district's therapist did the girl a disservice by refusing to diagnose her as autistic.
Today, as every day, Leon came in before the other two students, at 7:19. She looked particularly unkempt this morning; Mrs. Brazie could not help but think that she looked like she had spent the night in a nest full of rats. Amy and Martin would still be hiding from each other in the bathrooms. Both of them wanted to be the last to enter the classroom. Since Martin's family had moved into the neighborhood where Amy was born, the children living nearby had constantly ragged on the two of them, accusing them of being boyfriend and girlfriend. Amy and Martin tried to dispel this notion by avoiding one another, not realizing the hopelessness of their situation.
Martin came in first. He, too, had Down's Syndrome, but although his I. Q. was 79, his physical deformities were much less severe than Leon's. The two most obvious things that set him apart from the other children were his mouth and his yarmulke. Like virtually all children with Down's, he breathed through his mouth, but he would frequently realize how childish this looked, and snap his mouth shut, only to open it again a minute or two later. Thus, if you observed him for ten minutes or so, you would see his mouth open and shut, open and shut, like a dying fish.
Like Leon (and so unlike J. D.), Martin was a large child. Like Amy, he had started to go through puberty, and his flab concealed very real groups of muscle. He was also very angry.
Amy was the only normal-looking Daytimer, indeed, the only one of Mrs. Brazie's students that might be described as pretty, or very soon, as attractive. Her I. Q. was 85 and she was missing her right eye; an expensive glass model sat in that socket. Mrs. Brazie knew that something had gone wrong at her birth, but had been unable to find out what, despite her best efforts. Amy tried very hard to please both the Mrs. Brazie and the other students. She was kind, cautious, and totally subordinate to the will of anyone with whom she dealt. Amy was the only one of the Daytimers that Mrs. Brazie thought of as tragic.
At 7:35 Homeroom Period began. Even though she had only four homeroom students, Mrs. Brazie called roll, mostly because it relaxed J. D. The Daytimers then had 10 minutes of free time, which, as far as Mrs. Brazie could tell, they never used. At 7:45 the bell rang; the Morning Students had to be in the classroom by 7:50. They always entered as a group, usually just before the 7:50 bell. The three of them had been part-time special education students together since the youngest entered kindergarten; they were inseparable, a serious and strange clique. Until 8:45, Mrs. Brazie was to assist them in areas where they did not understand their lessons, to ensure that they could keep more or less on-track with the rest of their grade. During this period, the Daytimers were supposed to keep relatively quiet, so that the Morning Students could receive the full benefit of Mrs. Brazie's assistance. Each afternoon, right before final bell, she would give handouts to the Daytimers, for completion the next morning, while the Morning Students were present. These were the easiest assignments the Daytimers received during a day.
Katherine, 13, was the oldest of the Morning Students. She was short and rather dumpy. Already, her body had almost developed into the less-than-pleasing figure she would wear throughout her life. She had shoulder-length, blondish-red hair that reminded Mrs. Brazie of the child genius on The Partridge Family. Her I. Q. was 157, and she was diagnosed with clinical depression at the age of six, immediately following her first suicide attempt. Katherine really only needed Mrs. Brazie to keep an eye on her, alerting her inattentive parents should she show the early warning signs of a depressive period.
George was also 13, tall, muscular, and overweight. He was the only one of Mrs. Brazie's students who had developed a personal style of dress. Unfortunately, the style was to wear black T-shirts and black dress slacks every day of the year. He was massively dyslexic, antisocial, and overly aggressive. His I. Q. was an intimidating 181. He was the pack leader of the three, paternal and overbearing, and had been for years. He was unwilling to admit how deeply he had fallen in love with Katherine.
Whatever else one could say about Jeremy, he was certainly the most exciting child in any given classroom. At 11 years old, he was kind of like a psychotic, rabid mascot for Katherine and George. Weighing in with a 147 I. Q., he was intensely hyperactive, and suffered from a host of maladies arising from his Attention Deficit Disorder. He always teetered on the verge of becoming a Daytimer with his maniacal antics. Most recently, he had leapt onto his desk during a science lab, and jumped around from table to table, screaming, "I'm a bird! I'm a bird! I'm a big fucking bird!"
If anyone really believed that Jeremy could not control these outbursts, he would have spent the next seven years sitting in a desk next to Leon. But this latest caper was in direct response to being harshly disciplined for failing to wear safety goggles during science lab, and each of his most outrageous behaviors were clearly meant to take revenge on a teacher. Principal Ponder had made it clear that he considered Jeremy a discipline problem, not a basket case. He let everyone know that he'd be "damned, or, to borrow a word from Jeremy, 'effed'," if he was going to let the kid fake his way into full-time Special Education. The district therapist would have been able to overrule him on this issue. Jeremy really didn't want to spend seven years sitting next to Leon, however, and always tried to act his sanest when the therapist was around. Jeremy was in love with Katherine, too, but he was much less discriminating about such things than George.
Since Jeremy discovered that the Daytimers sought approval from the Morning Students, he always greeted each one in turn, with his usual great vigor. Both Katherine and George mumbled generic hellos to the room, then the three of them took their seats. The Morning Students never made fun of the Daytimers to their faces, although they frequently swapped jokes behind the handicapped children's backs. To them, picking on the Daytimers would be something like teasing slugs or insects: totally pointless. They were superior; it was one of the basic facts of their life, never questioned. As much as Mrs. Brazie adored them, she was always aware of her own insignificant I. Q. of 122 when they were around.
Recently, Jeremy had decided to explore the concept of human sexuality. This alleviated Mrs. Brazie's feelings of inferiority somewhat. By 7:51, Jeremy's hand was in the air.
"Yes, Jeremy," Mrs. Brazie asked, in a carefully cultivated kind-but-authoritative tone.
Jeremy put his hand down, adopted what he thought of as a feminine, British, pose, and asked, "Mrs. Brazie, is Amy a babe?"
Mrs. Brazie was ready for him. "Do you find Amy attractive?" Jeremy's mouth flopped open. The room grew very quiet. Mistakenly believing that no one would pay attention to him, Martin leaned over to Leon's desk. "You look like a dog," he whispered loudly.
"I'm an animal," Leon whispered back, proudly.
"Yeah, an animal," he replied. Then, realizing his tease hadn't gone where it was intended, Martin leaned back to his own desk and let his attention wander.
"Well, no," Jeremy was saying. "I mean, that's not what being a babe is about, is it? I mean, babe is like a social concept. It says that you conform to a certain standard." George was trying to suppress laughter. Katherine was pretending not to notice the exchange. The only other student paying attention, Amy, showed no comprehension.
"Perhaps that's true," said Mrs. Brazie, "But I'm sure that you can determine to whom you are and are not attracted without the help of social norms, can't you?"
"Yeah," Jeremy mumbled. "I'm having trouble with my spelling."
He genuinely was, to Mrs. Brazie's surprise. She helped him for as long as she realistically could, then loaned him a more advanced Latin primer. Jeremy couldn't learn by memorization, but only by analyzing a concept and making logical leaps from it. For example, for a very long time he could not remember how to spell the word, "their." He would take the only relevant rule he knew, "I before E except after C," and apply it every time. It was not until Mrs. Brazie looked up the etymological history of their and explained it to Jeremy that he could remember how to spell it. (Naturally, she was enormously proud of her accomplishment.) When Mrs. Brazie began to show him Latin roots, he took interest, and fell in love with the ancient language. He knew more of the language than anyone at Christopher Columbus, student or teacher, and the fact made him pompous. George had a way of deflating him, however. Every once in a while, Jeremy would express himself to George with a Latin phrase, and George would ask, "What does that mean?"
When Jeremy told him, George would reply, "Oh. How do you spell it?"
Told once, George would remember the spelling and pronunciation. Perfectly. Forever. And was able to use the phrase in conversation naturally. It burned Jeremy up.
While Mrs. Brazie helped Jeremy, which she always did first for reasons no one chose to explore, and the Daytimers did their busy work, Katherine amused herself with Marion Zimmer Bradley. George amused himself with Sun Tzu. Today, after she finished with word histories, Mrs. Brazie focused her attention on George, who was having trouble with the Periodic Table. While she was helping him, her sister dropped in to give her some tax forms that she needed. When Mrs. Brazie's sister had left, Jeremy once again threw his hand into the air.
"Yes, Jeremy?" Mrs. Brazie asked.
Once again, the feminine pose. "Mrs. Brazie, who was that?"
"That was my sister, Jeremy." Amy and J. D. seemed awestruck by this concept.
"Can I fuck her?" Jeremy asked, and little gasps of shock emanated from several of the students.
"Speaking purely from a physiological point of view, I seriously doubt it," Mrs. Brazie responded calmly. Jeremy fell silent. After a moment, George frowned and looked sidelong at him, realizing that there was another question that Jeremy wanted to ask, but would not. It took Mrs. Brazie a few moments to recapture George's attention.
George understood the properties of the elements well enough, but their placement on the periodic table was killing him. She would have to logically connect each element with its atomic mass to bypass his dyslexia. It was a time-consuming task. She soon realized that First Period was almost over and she had not worked with Katherine at all.
"It's OK," said Katherine.
"Did you need any help?"
"Nope." Katherine never needed help with her studies, and never would. Each day, Mrs. Brazie would ask her a series of questions designed solely to determine the girl's relative mental health. When Katherine failed to process the questions in a normal manner, it was considered a sign of the onset of depression, and Katherine's parents would be notified. The test was very reliable. Katherine did not want her parents notified, so she would try very hard to answer the questions in a reasonable and cheerful manner. When she was too tired to force this cheer, she was surely becoming depressed.
"I'm sure it will wait until tomorrow," Katherine said as the bell rang.
Sometimes, over drinks with an acquaintance or in the confines of the teacher's lounge with close, personal friends, Martha Brazie would admit that the morning students had become her sole reason for living. She had no ambition; she had trained in Special Education, believing it to be a high and rare calling that few could fulfill. Her husband was a good man, but as far as reasons for existing, he ranked real low. She could not have children, and had come to understand she wouldn't know what to do with them anyway. But the Morning Students were something (she once referred to them as something special, until she caught the irony in the language). Few humans were as sharp as George, but in the seven years Martha had been teaching, almost all of the Morning Students she had taught were of superior intelligence. And each of them were flawed; without her, they would all run the risk of becoming failures. Their other teachers could not teach them. She filled an educational void in their lives, thus they filled the emotional void in her.
And Jeremy? How could she describe her adoration of the child? The other teachers universally despised him, as did his real and foster families. He fared no better with his peers. Everyone at Christopher Columbus was accustomed to the sight of Jeremy hauling ass down a hallway, pursued by three or four angry children. He enjoyed playing the antagonist, and enjoyed being punished for it. True, he had two friends, but Katherine was emotionally withdrawn, a friend by default, and George was a despot in the making. As friends go, they were pretty shoddy.
Jeremy's recent obsession with sex was irritating everyone -- except her. She was the only one who could see the boy underneath the bullshit, and maintained perfect poise. With such exclusive rights to the boy's psyche, how could she not love him? Thoughts of him got her up in the morning. She felt sure that she did the same for him.
She did not allow her thoughts to probe the situation any more deeply than that.
The Morning Students left Special Education and split up to return to their normal classrooms. George would attend each of his classes with disinterested punctuality, then take the bus home, as he would throughout the rest of this year and the following three years of high school, during which he would not own a car. Empowered with a vehicle during his senior year, he would skip a few times, but not so often to run into difficulties. He would study economics in college, and get his bachelor's degree in three years. He would lose his virginity in an old Dodge Ram van. He would train for management with a major corporation, and spend the rest of his career in middle management, eventually pulling in enough to comfortably retire. By that time, he would be married, have two children, and be on his sixth dog.
George would keep working through the decentralization of the American government, then through the Hofflinger years. During that man's brief rule, he would find to his surprise that his large, clumsy body had come into fashion, and that he was now considered attractive. He would capitalize on the times by having an affair for 17 months and one week. He would never be discovered. He would die on the occasion of his first heart attack, sprawled out over his bedroom floor. During his life he would experience passion and pleasure, hope and fear, pain, loss, and denial, in measures equal to those who live glamorous, revolutionary lives.
He would be remembered by his children as strict, but kind and fair, never losing his temper. His photo would stay hanging on the wall in the home of his descendants for three generations, until a great-great-granddaughter decided that her ancestor looked far too much like pictures she had seen of General Hofflinger, and threw the photo away.
Katherine would go to each of her classes, then home, where she lived as an only child with her middle-class parents under a dark cloud. This does not suggest a metaphor: her house was permanently under a physical, literal, dark cloud. Spring, summer, fall, winter -- the cloud was always there.
Everyone could see the cloud, but most adults did not notice it. (The few adults capable of noticing this cloud never went anywhere near Katherine's house.) If you pointed it out to the average adult, he or she would say, "Yes, I wonder if it's going to rain." If you pointed out to said adult that there were no other clouds anywhere in the sky, and that that same cloud hung over that same house all the time, regardless of the weather or situation, and that it in fact that particular cloud never caused rain, but just hung there, above any rain clouds that might blow through, the adult would ask you what you were trying to say, then dismiss the whole thing as coincidence.
Jeremy and George could both see the cloud. They pointed it out to Katherine, who had been trying to ignore it, but was forced to accept it under their prodding. If Amy, Martin, or J. D. had ever been by Katherine's house, they would have seen and noticed the cloud. Leon would have, too, although she perceived clouds a little differently than most people.
Katherine would never skip school. She would lose her virginity at the age of 17, decide that she never wanted to do that again, and apply herself to her studies and SF novels. She would get her bachelor's degree in biology, then her master's in molecular biology, and return home from school to that same house five days a week, every week, until her 23rd birthday, upon which everything would completely change.
After school, Jeremy, too, would go home. He would go home to what he thought of as the classic American family: a constantly bitching but fundamentally weak foster mother, a physically abusive, highly temperamental foster father, and a detached older foster sister. He would remain in this volatile environment, growing angrier and more unstable by the month, for three more years. After a bitter fight with George, he would then steal his foster father's gun and $500. At that time, all seven of the Special Education students would be going to Covey High School. Leon, Martin, and Amy would ride the Special Ed. bus, along with two older students. Amy's house was still the last stop on the short bus's route.
Jeremy would go to Amy's house early in the morning, and wait with her for the bus to arrive. When it did, and Amy boarded, he would step on to the bus, point his foster father's gun in the bus driver's face, and say, "Take us to Oklahoma City. Take us to the mall."
Although the drive to the state capital was a long one, they would make it without a hitch. A search for the missing bus was already on, but no one thought to look on the highway towards the city. When they reached a mall, Jeremy considered killing the bus driver, but the pleas of Amy and another student's reminder that someone would hear the gunshot stayed his hand. He gave $25 each to the handicapped children, and all of them charged into the mall except Amy, who never left the bus. The bus driver promptly called 911, then her employer.
Mall security was alerted, but mall security didn't even have nightsticks, and was totally unprepared to deal with a teenager with a gun. It took the police five hours to apprehend him without violence.
They found Martin hanging around the back of the mall. He wanted to buy some drugs, and he felt sure that he was in the place to do it. They found the older two students watching a movie, and Leon in the food court with a G. I. Joe figure and one hell of an ice cream sundae.
After Jeremy was released from juvenile hall, he stayed out of trouble until he was 19 or so, at which point he was arrested for holding up a liquor store. He spent a while in prison and had his only sexual experiences there. Upon release he decided to hold up a crowded bar with a fully automatic rifle. His last words, money in hand, were, "I'm the king of the world!" before he was cut in half by a shotgun blast.
At 9 am. in Mrs. Brazie's Special Education class, J. D. had to go to the bathroom. J. D. always went to the bathroom at 9 and 1:30. He showed perfect, punctual control of his excretory functions. If he were not in a bathroom stall within ten minutes, he would show perfect, punctual control all over the classroom floor.
"Is there anyone here that will escort J. D. to the restroom?" Mrs. Brazie asked. J. D. did not go to the restroom without an escort. He was still afraid of being flushed down the toilet.
Amy raised her hand. From Kindergarten through the fifth grade, Amy had escorted J. D. to the bathroom twice daily. When the two reached middle school age, however, their parents and Mrs. Brazie decided that this was no longer an acceptable routine. "Thank you, Amy," said Mrs. Brazie, "But we've already discussed that, I'm afraid. Is there a boy here who will escort J. D. to the restroom?"
Martin, the classroom's only male, sat sullen and silent. After a moment, a slightly bristling Mrs. Brazie asked, "Martin?"
"Yes, Mrs. Brazie."
"Could you escort J. D. to the restroom, please?"
Martin slid out of his seat contemptuously and headed for the classroom door. J. D. followed him, bowing stiffly to his Teacher, his Secondary Deity.
Sometimes, over many, many, drinks, with a very close personal friend, or perhaps only with herself, she would admit that if the Morning Students were the passion of her existence, the Daytimers must be her bane. In Windy County, Oklahoma, special education worked on a simple theory: Teach the children the exact same basic principles, with very little change from Kindergarten through the eighth grade, over and over, year after year, and by the time they entered their freshman year of high school they might be ready for some remedial classes with the other students. This was mind-bogglingly dull work that any undergrad student could have done as well as Mrs. Brazie. There was no question of filling a great void in their lives. There was just the same routine, from 8:45 to 2:45, five days a week. Both Mrs. Brazie and her students had been at it a long time. The children had one tax-paid baby-sitter for six years of elementary school, then Mrs. Brazie for three years, and would probably have another for four years of high school.
But beyond the boredom of teaching them their lessons, she had grown to hate them as people. Not Amy, of course, one could not really hate Amy, but one could (and many did) look upon her with contempt. Amy, who, in her weakness, play-acted at total na´vetÚ, trying to convince her classmates that she did not know she was becoming a babe. Amy, who with such meager intelligence pretended to be even stupider, so that others would be attracted to her helplessness. Amy, who carried the knowledge that she was almost born normal, and coped with this tragedy with crocodile tears spilled for everyone but herself. Mrs. Brazie knew very little about Amy's parents, other than the fact that they were well-to-do. She hoped that Amy had family that could spend the rest of their lives leading the girl. If they didn't, someone else would.
She hated J. D., but she hated his mother more. J. D., too, was a victim of a fucked-up birth, and had suffered severe brain damage, a fact his mother simply refused to admit. As far as she was concerned, J. D. was just a little too sensitive and insecure for normal classes, and although she would admit that the child was slow (I. Q. tests, as Mrs. Brazie would unhesitatingly inform us, never lie) she would never admit that the child was disturbed. As far as Mrs. Brazie was concerned, J. D. would have been happiest spending the rest of his life in a home for the mentally ill. Mrs. Brazie was locked in a hopeless fight to make him normal, and she greatly resented him for it.
Then, what do you do about a child like Leon? She had a happy enough life at her father's estate, Mrs. Brazie had heard, and the teacher believed she would be better off staying there. Mrs. Brazie sought appreciation from her students. She didn't think she was alone in this. She didn't think she was out of line resenting a heavily retarded, socially and physically malformed girl that didn't see the need for Mrs. Brazie to exist at all.
Sometimes, in slightly less honest moments, she blamed all of her recent dissatisfaction on Martin. Christopher Columbus Middle School had two lunch periods, one at 11:30, the next at noon. At 11:20, Amy, Martin, and J. D. (Leon brought her lunch from home) all walked to the cafeteria, picked up lunches, then returned to the Special Ed. room. And every other day or so, a student would be waiting in the lunchroom at 11:20, just to say:
"Hey, Martin, is that your girlfriend?"
or "Hey, look at the 'tards!"
or "Hey, Martin, are you wearing a mask?"
and J. D. and Amy would have to duck for cover, as Martin picked up the closest weapon (usually a cafeteria chair) and charged. Sometimes he would get off a shot; usually a faculty member would be on hand to stop him. And the trouble was not limited to the lunchroom. Children had to be policed increasingly heavily getting on the busses on the afternoon, just because of Martin's insatiable lust for war.
He caught it from every angle. Mrs. Brazie realized that. He was smart enough and handsome enough to really regret that which he lacked. He not only had to take the usual barrage of abuse given to those with Down's, but he was also constantly accused of being a thief and a shyster because of his heritage. He blamed everyone -- but in a pinch, anyone would do.
For one hour out of every weekday, Mrs. Brazie got to take children and convert them from future winos to future leaders. For the remaining five and a half hours, she taught the same lessons, over and over, to hopeless feebs. None of them were future leaders, and in all likelihood, none of them would ever even reach the rank of competent subordinate. Mrs. Brazie had seen many retarded children grow up into retarded, useless, unhappy adults, and she didn't expect her students to be any different. She had already given up on them, much as you and I have already given up on Jeremy.
The boys returned from the restroom and the children turned in their busy work. She then assigned them to read a story while she graded their papers. They would discuss the story in a highly uninspired fashion, then they would study earth science. Specifically, they would study a simplified version of meteorology. After science, there was lunch, and a typical lunchroom scrape with Martin.
After lunch was mathematics. This month, the multiplication tables, six through twelve. Again. Six times six is thirty six. Six times seven is forty-two. Six times eight is forty-eight....
And when they got to the sevens, they wouldn't start with the square, but with seven times six is forty-two. Seven times seven is forty-nine. Seven times eight is fifty-six...
Eight times six is forty-eight. Eight times seven is fifty-six...
"Fuck multiplication!" announced Martin, and no one saw it as a pun.
"Martin, we don't use language like that," Mrs. Brazie responded instantly and firmly. She rather wanted to fuck it, too, but those are not sentiments that teachers tell mentally retarded students.
"Why not?" asked Martin. "Jeremy says it all the time." That was the sort of thing that could get a Special Education teacher into a lot of trouble. "Excuse me, my son has begun to use the F-word. He says he learned it in your class from a psychopathic boy genius..."
"That's not the point," said Mrs. Brazie. "Jeremy does a lot of things that people shouldn't do. We mustn't let it get to us. He's had a very hard life." She saw no irony in her words.
Martin didn't quite doubt Mrs. Brazie, but he wasn't sure what a "very hard life" could possibly entail. He had a brief image of Jeremy working as a slave in Egypt, having to mix bricks for Pharaoh with the other Israelis, then dismissed the idea.
"Do you think your mother and father would like you saying words like that?" Mrs. Brazie was asking.
Every nerve in Martin's body wanted to scream, "FUCK MY MOTHER AND FATHER," every synapse in his brain prevented it. He would have muttered it in Hebrew, if he knew any Hebrew obscenities, but he didn't.
"I'm a man, you know," he said, instead. "I've had my Bar Mitzvah. I'm a man."
"I'm sure you are, Martin," Mrs. Brazie responded icily. "Do you really want to be the kind of man that screams dirty words for no reason?"
"I have a reason! I don't want to learn my fucking multiplication tables!" J. D. looked as though he was about to have a stroke.
"You don't have a choice, Martin," Mrs. Brazie spat. "Everyone has to do lots of things that they don't want to do. Men and women bear these things, and deal with it. Little boys throw temper-tantrums."
He leapt from his seat. "I'm not a little boy!" His speech defect grew with his frustration. In the next room, students were giggling at it. Amy was watching him with rapt attention. Leon didn't seem to notice at all.
"Stop acting like one, then, Martin," she hissed. He sat down, slowly. She suppressed her trembling, put her exhaustion aside, and continued with the lesson.
After mathematics, there was Oklahoma history, punctuated by a very long smoke break. After history, art. Art was good. Art was simple. The students liked art, because art was damned near impossible to fail.
Mrs. Brazie gave them colored chalk and paper, telling them to draw the people close to them. J. D. drew his mother, Mrs. Brazie, and Miss Dickson, the Special Education teacher at the nearby elementary school. He drew them with excruciating and clumsy detail. Amy drew her parents, her younger brother, Mrs. Brazie, J. D., Leon, George, Jeremy, Katherine, and only hesitated for a moment before drawing Martin. It was a long time before Martin drew anyone at all, but he finally began to draw Amy and J. D. Leon drew her father, Mrs. Brazie, J. D., Amy, and Martin, then raised her hand.
"Should I draw the Morning Students?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"Should I draw the Morning Students, or just the Daytimers?"
Mrs. Brazie stared at Leon, flabbergasted, for several moments. Granted, the names "Morning Students" and "Daytimers" were not secrets. Mrs. Brazie used them freely in the teachers' lounge. But she would have never been so gauche as to use them in front of the children.
"What do you mean by Morning Students and Daytimers, Leon?"
"Isn't that what you call them? We're the Daytimers, and Jeremy and Katherine and George are the Morning Students."
Hesitating, Mrs. Brazie replied in the affirmative. "But where did you hear those words used that way?"
Leon shrugged. "I don't remember."
Mrs. Brazie walked over to Leon's desk to take a look at her picture. Mrs. Brazie would later discover that Leon was the only child not to draw any kind of background around the people, not even a flat line to represent the ground. The figures on her paper were simple, amorphous shapes, scattered randomly throughout the space provided her.
"Who's that?" Mrs. Brazie asked, pointing to the largest figure.
"That's my father."
"Why is he blue?"
"He's very blue. Purple sometimes." Mrs. Brazie looked at her, confused.
"Who are these others?"
"Well, the red one is Martin, and the yellow one is J. D., and the silver one is Amy." Leon didn't have a silver chalkstick, so the figure she was calling Amy looked gray.
"And why did you draw them using those colors?"
Most people can't tell when a child with Down's Syndrome is being condescending, but Mrs. Brazie could. "Because that's what color they are," Leon said.
"And the black figure?"
"That's you, Mrs. Brazie."
Of all the Daytimers, Mrs. Brazie reminded herself, Leon was the only one likely to have any experience with black people. They were all white, and the other three lived in white neighborhoods, but Leon lived in her father's bed and breakfast, and doubtless saw all kinds of people. Perhaps even people that might be called "red" and "yellow." Silver was something else, but Leon could have just been showing her adoration for Amy.
To Leon, Mrs. Brazie told herself, Asians could seem uptight, rather like J. D. She shook her head. There was no reason for Leon to associate J. D. with Asians, even less reason for her to associate Martin with Native Americans. She certainly had no reason to associate her teacher with African-Americans.
The other possibility was that she had learned color symbolism somewhere. Every American child, no matter what race or how young, had learned that white was good and black was evil. As for red, Leon could have learned that red implied anger, and that blue (to Mrs. Brazie, anyway) implied depression. But Mrs. Brazie didn't even know what yellow and silver were supposed to symbolize, and seriously doubted Leon did.
"I seem black to you, Leon?"
"Not all the time. When the Morning Students are here, you're red with a lot of orange around your head. But after they leave, you turn more and more black."
The child was clearly speaking nonsense. Red and orange, to black. Leon was clearly just picking colors that appealed to her at the time.
"Leon, people aren't different colors like that."
"Yes they are, Mrs. Brazie."
"No they aren't, Leon, and this drawing is wrong."
"Do you want me to do it over?" Mrs. Brazie looked at her watch. In fifteen minutes, she would be handing the Daytimers their busy work for tomorrow morning.
"Fifteen minutes is enough time," said Leon, even though she had no timepiece and couldn't see Mrs. Brazie's watch.
"That's not necessary," said Mrs. Brazie, giving Leon back her drawing.
"Should I draw the Morning Students?" Leon asked again.
"Decide how you feel about them," said Mrs. Brazie, tired of the child's social deficiencies. "Decide how you feel about them, and decide if you want to draw them." She dropped into her desk, utterly drained.
Today, she thought to herself, gathering the worksheets that the Daytimers would complete the next morning, has been far too much. Tomorrow I'll have to take a sick day. She thought very little else before the final bell rang.
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