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.