“Hello, stranger.” Mrs. Jane says, smiling as I slide into the familiar plastic bucket seat in front of her desk, “It’s been awhile.”
“Sorry. Things came up.” I say. Guilt, having buzzed around my ear like a mosquito these last few weeks, sinks it’s teeth in, drawing blood. “I really am sorry.”
Mrs. Jane nods as if accepting, perhaps by professional necessity, that I’d been at the dentist every Friday afternoon for the past five months. She leans back and runs her hands through her hair. Its been cut short, almost butch length with the tips frosted a vanilla blonde against the underlining brown. Large loop earrings (pink ones that scream femininity) hang over her shoulders. She runs her right forefinger along one of them. I’m sure that it breaks the teacher’s dress code in about a hundred different ways.
“Are you pregnant? Suicidal?” She asks, as serious as cancer. “Experienced a death in the family?”
“Um….no on all counts.” I know what’s coming. It’s because of a junior named Michael Newbern hanging himself with his belt last year, leaving a note saying that he never felt loved, and because of a cheerleader named Charity (someone who probably always felt loved) dying in a car accident along I-20 during Christmas break. They say she was decapitated Jayne Mansfield style, that’s why her parents cremated her, sprinkling her ashes into the Howell River. It made the news.
“Any plans to shoot up the school?”
I shake my head with an exaggerated motion.
“Good, just had to get the school’s check list out of the way?” Her lips forming a thin grin. “I can’t joke like this with all my students. So why the visit?”
“Just wanted to stop by and say hello.” I toss the grin back at her, like a ball thrown between old friends. “So, hello.”
“Hello.” She smiles, displaying a slight overbite. Her eyes though, are focused, peeling away my words like the skin of a tangerine.
“So, how’s Mom?” She asks, leaning back in her leather chair, fingers linked in a Godfatheresq gesture. “Good?”
“Yes.” I say. On her desk, her mahogany incense tray has been replaced by a large pumpkin pie scented candle, it’s inch long orange flame being whipped slightly in the buildings struggling central air. “What happened to the incense?”
“Some parents complained about the serine Buddha stick burner.” Jane shrugs. Near her shirt cuff the familiar tattooed tiger peeks out. On the opposite wrist is a new tat, an I Ching trigram (I don’t know which one), it’s black ink fresh as minute old Sharpie. “People like me must be careful. This is the Bible belt.”
I nod, wondering how my fellow Christians at 12th St. Baptist would react if I became a New Age hippy. Depending on their age and number of times they attended church every week, I’d say anywhere between indifferent to horrified.
“So,” Jane leans forward, her necklace, with it’s large round medallion hung pendulum-wise near the center of her flat chest, chimes against her desktop. “Your Mom?”
She makes a slight gesture towards the photos along her walls. Nearly two dozen teenagers look down on me, only a few are smiling. “Everyone has a mom problem, however slight.”
“We’ve been talking a lot more. She’s not too bad. She accepted June. Finally.”
Jane nods approvingly. “How do you like your classes this term? Is June in all of them?”
“They’re fine. I only have June in Trig. and Health & Family though.” I leave it at that, not mentioning the desert wasteland high school seems to be without June sitting beside me.
“Depressed. They won’t let Sunny and him enter their science project into the fair because they killed goldfish during their experiment.”
“Really?” A look comes over her face, like they’d been drowning kittens in a bath tub or something, “They didn’t know you couldn’t hurt animals?”
“Ms. Manny told them it’d be ‘ok.’ Guess she didn’t know.”
“Ms. Manny? Well…” Jane’s nose wrinkles a little, as if having caught whiff of a fart. Oliver’s science teacher is about as unpopular with faculty as she is popular with the male student body. A girl should never go commando.
“Mom’s pretty mad. She’s going to have a conference with her sometime.”
“I would hope so.”
We talk about grades and the difficulties of welding, the Caravan’s gas mileage and my potential job at Piggy Wiggly which I’m sure will come to nothing. Everything and nothing. I don’t mention Timothy or a New Years resolution to lose weight, hoping to meet my ideal body weight per CDC guidelines, 130 pounds, by Easter. It hasn’t been going very well. I’ve gained three pounds already.
“What about you.” I steer the conversation her way but end up driving in circles. Her divorce is still off limits. I suppose you need a priest for something’s, or at least another adult. Instead, she talks about some classes she’s taking, a new yoga routine and worries about several unnamed students. She opens up just enough to keep our mutual trust alive.
“Will you be back next week?” Mrs. Jane asks as I move towards the door with one of her good job Oreos in hand.
“Maybe.” I toss the cookie back like an aspirin and finish it with one bite.