A note from Deidre:
As we enter April 2020, we find ourselves in unprecedented times. A pandemic is sweeping across the globe, sickening thousands and shutting down entire cities. People are nervous, stressed, and restless. Many of us have been sequestered or even quarantined. It’s spooky.
However, in times such as these, I love to reflect on the words of the late Fred Rogers: “Always look for the helpers.” And “the helpers” can mean many things. There are the medical professionals on the front lines, the truckers delivering goods, tradesmen working overtime, and so many more. Bless you for all you do! But there’s another breed of helper quietly working on the fringes: those who bring hope.
To distract from the news, lift people’s spirits, and busy the restless masses, many creative types are sharing their work. Artists are posting new art; musicians are sharing their music; writers are scribbling feverishly; even entertainment giants like Disney and Amazon have announced early releases…all to bring light and hope to the people.
Well, I want to be a helper, too.
The end of last year, my business partner at Mannison Press sent me a submission call for an online short story contest. He thought it sounded like something I would enjoy. The premise for the contest was “More Than One,” and they were looking for situations where there was more than one of something when there absolutely should not be more than one. My story didn’t place, but I had a lot of fun writing it…and now I’d like to share it with you.
Please enjoy my short humor piece entitled “Senioritis.”
By Deidre J Owen
It looked like a teapot. Well, a crooked teapot. If you squinted.
Amanda twisted her head to gain a better angle of the splotch on the ceiling. Finding new shapes in the large water stain over her bed was her latest time-waster when she didn’t feel like getting up in the morning. Just this month she’d found a turtle, a hotdog, two faces, a key, a dragonfly carrying a lunch box, and this morning, the teapot. Although now that she studied it, the teapot looked more like a fancy capital D.
Which is what she was going to get in physics if she blew off any more classes.
With a heavy sigh, she kicked off the covers and shuffled across her bedroom to rummage through a pile of laundry. She wasn’t asking much of her wardrobe these days. She’d grown immune to wrinkles, and the closest any fourth-quarter senior came to coordinating anymore was “a top and a bottom.”
Once dressed (so to speak), she found her parents bustling around the kitchen making their final preparations before leaving for work.
“Oversleep again?” asked her father as he passed her a box of cereal. She grunted as she accepted the box, shoving her hand deep inside and retrieving a handful of sugar-glazed oat puffs. “Just don’t miss the bus, okay? We’re heading out the door,” he said.
Amanda’s mother smoothed the wild kinky curls away from her daughter’s face and kissed her bulging cheek. “If you want to wear house clothes to school that’s your choice, but do pull your hair back, dear. You look like a lost child.”
After her parents breezed out the door on a cloud of caffeine and fresh cologne, Amanda shuffled to the bathroom and looked herself over. Her mother had a point. Still shoveling cereal into her face, she retreated to her bedroom to swap out the sweatpants for a pair of fitted jeans. She still liked the oversized button-down she was wearing, though. She grabbed a belt, just in case.
Missing the bus wasn’t an option, but she still considered making it to class on time her choice. She’d taken to feigning sleep on the bus lately, saving her from idle chit-chat as well as the crunch in the aisle upon arrival. Sometimes her seat mate roused her; sometimes the bus driver hollered back. Today, it was the driver.
“Up and at ’em, Miss Sterling!” he yelled loudly over the idling engine. “You don’t want to get stuck on here with the middle schoolers.”
Collecting herself, she exited the school bus and sauntered across the wet grass, lazily scrolling through social media on her phone as she ambled. She entered the four-hundreds hall at a turtle’s pace then spent several minutes at her locker organizing her books, sorting her folders, and taking stock of her makeup. Maybe some makeup would lift her spirits? She tossed her makeup kit into her backpack on top of her physics and history books.
The first bell rang, and she slammed her locker shut. Dreading the thought of having to sit next to the notoriously unwashed Donna Gherkin, she decided to ditch first period, slipping into the girls’ bathroom across the hall instead.
Once the coast was clear, Amanda ventured back out into the hall with plans to go hang with the smokers behind the cafeteria. However, a growing clamor from a nearby classroom captured her curiosity.
Cautiously, she edged closer to an open door. This was Mr. Weaver’s room. She’d had him for world history sophomore year. Keeping out of sight of the students, she briefly scanned the whiteboard:
Substitute Wednesday: Ms. Sterling
Review Unit 12, Cold War
“Get out!” she whispered to herself. It was a sign. She was sure of it. She chanced a quick peek into the room and, considering the anarchy within, decided the substitute must have been a no-show.
Amanda darted back to the bathroom and flung her backpack onto the countertop. She withdrew the belt she’d stuffed inside earlier and wrapped it around her waist, instantly making her outfit look more intentional. Next, she gathered her wild curls into a heap on her head, twisting and smoothing it into a less chaotic heap and jamming a couple of pencils through to secure the bun. Grateful to have grabbed her makeup kit, she quickly powdered her shiny nose, applied some mascara, and swiped on her most boring lipstick. Finally, digging through the bowels of her backpack, she produced a pair of broken earrings. The right one was missing a bauble and hung shorter than the left—thus the relegation to backpack purgatory—but who was going to notice that?
She collected several folders and a few pens from her bag along with her small day purse, then jammed everything else back inside and tossed it under the sink. Heart fluttering with excitement, she pranced back to the open classroom door and took a quick moment to smooth her shirt front and slow her breathing.
Was she really about to do this?
She lifted her chin and set her jaw. Hell yes, she was doing this.
With the air of absolute authority, she kicked away the doorstop, strode into the classroom, and placed her folders on the desk. Without looking up, she picked up the notes left by Mr. Weaver and began perusing them with her pen. There was a brief lull in the din as the class observed her, but then the chatter resumed. At that, she raised her head and cleared her throat. To achieve the ultimate adultness, she tried to replicate the stern concentration of her mother as she parallel parked the van.
“Good morning, class. I’m Ms. Sterling.” Well, wasn’t that easy? “Apologies for my tardiness. The office sent me to the wrong classroom.” It’s always best to pass the buck.
“And which classroom was that?” came a question from the back.
Crap. It was Casey Clemmons. And that was Sam Breyer sitting next to him. She hadn’t expected to know any of the sophomores, but she had chorus with these two clowns. Casey and Sam were loose cannons, though, so this could go either way. They were fairly popular in the chorus and, while they tended to horse around a lot, the chorus director actually liked them.
“They sent me to Mr. Warner’s room upstairs,” she replied without hesitation. She wasn’t a liar by nature, but now the lies were just tumbling out of her. She shrugged. “Warner, Weaver. I get it. So, bear with me everyone while I take attendance real quick.” She grabbed the attendance book and tried very hard not to look back up at her choirmates. She took their silence as a tacit acquiescence to her ruse and proceeded to check off students according to the seating chart. She noticed Sam and Casey had switched seats and tried not to smirk.
“All right, class, thank you for your patience. Now, it looks like Mr. Weaver left a review for your quiz on the Cold War on Thursda—”
The classroom door suddenly swung open, interrupting her.
“I am so sorry I’m late, class, I—” A very flustered and rather befuddled middle-aged woman stopped short, clutching an attaché bursting with papers. She attempted to blow a wisp of greying hair out of her eyes only further securing the errant lock behind the lens of her glasses. “Ex-excuse me, but who are you?” she asked of Amanda.
“I’m Ms. Sterling. Who are you?”
“Well, I’m-I’m, uh…I’m Ms. Sterling,” she responded weakly.
“Oh, there must be some mistake,” replied the imposter. “I’m Ms. Sterling, and I’m here subbing for Mr. Weaver. See?” She gestured to the name on the white board.
“Oh, this is nonsense!” asserted the elder, depositing her belongings on the desk. “I need to see your identification, miss.” She held out an open hand, expecting to solve this confusion at once.
Amanda shrugged and coolly retrieved her wallet, producing her driver’s license. She allowed the newcomer to examine it long enough to acknowledge the name, but then snatched it back before she was betrayed by her birth date. The older woman stammered as Amanda replaced her ID.
“B-but I’m the subst—no, I’m Ms. Sterling. This, this—”
“Here, can you hand these out, please?” Amanda scooped up the pile of review handouts and thrust them into the woman’s arms, reserving one for herself.
“I most certainly will not!” the woman blustered.
Amanda ignored her. “We’ll just break the class into two teams. I’ll take Team Sterling A over here”—she gestured to the right half of the class—”and you can take Team Sterling B over there.”
“Well, why…” the ageing woman blinked. “Why…am I Sterling B?”
“Because you arrived second,” Amanda replied matter-of-factly. She grabbed the eraser and cleared some space on the white board. “Okay, I’m going to need two team captains.”
“Cap-captains?” stammered Ms. Sterling B.
Immediately, Sam and Casey’s hands shot up. Amanda made a show of grabbing the attendance book and locating their names, being sure to address them incorrectly. “Great. Ms. Sterling B, you get Casey as your team captain, and I get Sam. Now…”
“Wait, what are we doing?” asked Ms. Sterling B.
“The quiz review, of course. Cold War? Go, go!” Amanda shooed the woman over in not-Casey’s direction. She then wove her way through the desks over to not-Sam, who was having a terrible time concealing his mirth. And judging by the smirks worn by several of his nearby classmates, he’d quietly let others in on the scheme as well.
“We need to decide which team goes first,” Amanda announced. “Ms. Sterling B, do you have a coin we can flip?”
“A coin? May-maybe.” The poor, dazed woman began patting herself down, despite a complete lack of pockets.
“I have one!” exclaimed not-Casey, handing Ms. Sterling B a nickel.
She robotically accepted the coin and immediately flipped it into the air. She caught it and quietly placed it on a nearby desk, stepping backward like it might explode.
It was tails.
As if it had been rehearsed, Team Sterling B groaned and Team Sterling A cheered.
“Excellent!” said Amanda. “Okay, Ca-Sam. Sam.” Several students snickered. “Pick a question and fire it at Team Sterling B.”
Ca’Sam-Not-Sam flipped through the review, stopping on page three. “Okay, Team Sterling B: What sparked the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962?”
Before Team B could answer, however, the door to the classroom swung open once again and one of the administrators breezed into the room, rapping his knuckles on the door frame as if his entrance might have gone unnoticed.
“Pardon the intrusion, Ms. Sterling. I just wanted to be sure you found—”
The administrator looked back and forth between Ms. Sterling A and Ms. Sterling B, unsure of what to make of it. For a moment the entire class sat completely motionless, tiny motes of dust swirling around them through shafts of morning sunlight. A door could be heard closing somewhere down the hall. Shoes, clip-clopping away down the corridor.
Then, the class burst into laughter and cheers.
And amid the raucous expression of approval, Amanda thrust her hands into the air, shouted “Class of 2020, yo!” and dashed out of the room.
Thanks for reading. Be well.
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