Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler

 

premature fiction

Not Much Of A Toy

Was he at school yes­ter­day?”

Yes.”

The whole day?”

Um, yes.”

When he left did he tell you or did you over­hear him telling some­one else where he was going?”

No.”

Did he have friends in the class?”

Yes. A few. He was old­er. We held him back a year, so some of his friends were in the sev­enth grade. Even though it’s not usu­al­ly allowed, we let him spend his recess­es with the old­er boys.”

I see. Do you know their names?”

Yes. I think I may even have their home num­bers from the emer­gency con­tact lists.”

Could you get those for me? I mean, the whole list. We may need to con­tact all of the chil­dren in this year’s and last year’s class­es.”

Oh, sure. They’re right… you want them, now?”

Yes.”

Let me see.” Andrea opened one of the low­er draw­ers of her desk and began flip­ping through the fold­ers in it. “I can copy these for you in the office.” She set the two sta­pled sheets of stu­dent infor­ma­tion on her desk.

Hernandez remained focused on the note­book in his hand, writ­ing some­thing down. He mum­bled an absent-mind­ed thank you with­out look­ing up.

Andrea wait­ed and then final­ly asked, “Would you like to see Gabriel’s desk?”

Hernandez looked up from his note­book. “Mmm, yes.”

She showed him the desk. “I haven’t touched any­thing. I don’t think any­one has. It’s just the way he left it yes­ter­day when he…”

Good.”

Hernandez opened the desk, quick­ly begin­ning a writ­ten inven­to­ry of its con­tents in his note­book. Andrea felt as though she had sud­den­ly dis­ap­peared. She watched him begin remov­ing the books and papers, sort­ing Gabriel’s school work from his com­ic book style draw­ings of strong men and ter­ri­fy­ing beasts, not­ing where he found cer­tain draw­ings, if they were in school books, etc. She caught Hernandez crack­ing a small quick smile at a draw­ing of a giant man in a wrestling mask crush­ing some sort of cock­roach like mon­ster under his foot. At the same time, dot­ted lines from the giant wrestler’s eyes shot down an air­borne bee­tle across the page. That flash of a smile made Andrea feel sud­den­ly close to Hernandez and if not exact­ly under­stand him, at least like him a lit­tle.

Um…I’m going to go copy these sheets for you then. While you…”

He did­n’t look up from Gabriel’s things. “Thank you.” Then he called out to her when she reached the door. “Ms. Lawson.”

Yes?”

What was this for?” He held up the tar­nished brass sprin­kler head.

It’s a sprin­kler head.”

Yes, but why did he have it?”

I don’t know. Maybe he was play­ing with it.”

Not much of a toy.”

Gabriel was very seri­ous and very imag­i­na­tive. I don’t know that I ever saw him with any toys.”

Right.” He looked down at the sprin­kler and then back at Andrea and she saw some­thing in Hernandez at that moment.

Did you ever know a boy like that?”

He looked her in the eye from across the room and that sud­dden inti­ma­cy tick­led the inside of her stom­ach. “Yes, but not a boy. A man. My father gave me lots of toys, too many, but he could make a toy out of any­thing.”

Then you know a lit­tle about Gabriel already.”

She took her time going the school office, mak­ing the copies and walk­ing back to her class­room. She found Hernandez ready to take away the con­tents of Gabriel’s desk in sev­er­al clear plas­tic bags. She hand­ed him the copies of her par­ent-stu­dent con­tact sheets and returned the orig­i­nals to her desk.

He said, “Thank you,” and made his way to the door, opened it and stopped.

After a moment she asked his back, “Do you need any­thing?”

He turned and looked up at the win­dows along the wall behind her desk and then back to Andrea, “Just thanks for uh… for car­ing.”

For a sec­ond there, I thought you were going to say ‘For giv­ing a shit.’ ”

He smiled. “I was.”

Hey,” she shrugged, “that’s my job.”

And Hernandez left her in that emp­ty class­room with Gabriel’s desk still open, but now emp­ty. After every­thing, though she knew she ought to, she could not cry for the boy.