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.