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.