Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler


premature fiction

Inside Gabriel’s Desk

It wasn’t until lunchtime that Andrea Lawson, Gabriel’s teacher, heard the rumors. Seventeen of the 632 children in Brenlee Elementary were absent from school that day and only two were unaccounted for by Vice Principal Schmidt who had called all of the families herself: Gabriel and a little girl in the second grade whose family was rumored to be living in the reservoir campground. Ms. Schmidt told the teachers to bring the students to the school gym for the final period of the day when she would explain things to the children and their parents in an assembly. The Sheriff and town police would be there along with the mayor.

After the impromptu lunch faculty meetting, Ms. Schmidt took Andrea aside. “We’re almost certain it’s your boy.”

“Okay.” She could see Gabriel’s small round face watching her from his seat, struggling to understand the things she said.

“Andrea, I need you to handle this with your class very carefully.”

“Of course.” She felt a little dizzy.

“If you think it will help, we’ll bring in a counselor from the county.”

“For the class?” She couldn’t focus.

“And for you. Andrea, look at me.”

She looked into Ms. Schmidt’s face. The woman who had been her own fifth grade teacher twenty years before. Something sadly calm in those eyes held her.

“Yes, Ms. Schmidt.”

“Good. Now the police will want to talk to you about Gabriel and to look through his things. I can ask to sit with you during that, if you like.”

Why did that feel wrong? Why wouldn’t she want Ms. Schmidt there? But she didn’t. She needed to speak for Gabriel on her own. She knew him best and things should be clear. “No. No, thank you. I’ll speak to them on my own.”

“Good. I think that’s best. Call if you need anything.”

“Yes, of course.” And instead of returning to the faculty room to finish her lunch, Andrea went to her classroom. She had no appetite. In her room, she locked the door behind her and left the lights off. The sun was high overhead and no direct light came through the great wall of windows opposite the door which shone so brightly in the morning.

Gabriel’s desk was near the back of the classroom, close to those windows. She touched its cool metal edge and scratched formica top. She lifted the top of the desk and looked inside. Two pencils, an eraser, a paper clip and a metal washer were in the pencil tray. He didn’t chew his pencils, but carved his name into them with that paper clip. His books and papers were piled inside almost neatly, certainly he knew where to find his things. Wedged between the piles of books she saw what looked like a metal sprinkler head. Because it made no sense there she smiled. Was he fixing it, stealing it, or just playing with it? She closed Gabriel’s desk and went back to her own where she looked out the window at the other classroom buildings, the sounds of lunch recess from outside her door, until the bell would ring and she could find herself teaching again.