No, this is not an essay on Planned Parenthood. It’s a short story. The Circular File has gotten a bit dusty lately, as I’ve been spending my free time on some music recording projects and haven’t been writing. But I thought I would treat you to a blast from my past. I originally wrote this story in early 1982 (I was seventeen at the time, in case you’re counting backwards), and made some minor revisions to it in 1985 for a college creative writing class. It’s been some years since I read it, and I think the story actually tells a lot about me. For example, if you’ve ever wondered why I don’t have any children, the answer is in here, someplace.
The day came when I finally decided to propose to Maureen. I had just stopped at the jeweler’s to pick up a ring, and I was heading for the preschool where she worked. I thought it would be a nice surprise to propose to her where she felt most at home.
I crossed the busy street just behind a woman with two children. The kids were fighting loudly and trying to push each other out of the white lines. The mother walked on, oblivious to the whole thing. Then a car turned the corner and stopped just short of grinding the kids into the pavement. I almost wished he had kept going.
That’s probably why I respected Maureen so much. She could spend hours talking about the preschool and all the “wonderful children.” I really admired her tolerance. That was another reason why I had decided to propose at the school. I had never seen her with the kids before.
The building itself was small and fairly new, but had definitely been something else before, like a laundromat or something. As I entered, a corridor of five classrooms lay straight ahead, with a small desk just to my left. A woman sat at the desk, reading a romance novel, apparently unaware of my presence.
I stepped closed and straightened my voice. She looked up, fairly startled. I asked for Miss Dybas’ room.
It took a few seconds to sink in. “Dybas…Dybas,” she murmured. Then her eyes flashed open. “Oh, her. Room four, on the left.”
As I approached the huge red “4” on the wall, I noticed the noise level slowly increasing. Finally, upon reaching the open doorway, I ducked in the nick of time as a wooden block whizzed over my head.
Maureen was sitting on an old wooden chair in the corner, reading a story to three bored-looking children. The rest of the class was scattered about the room, loudly entertaining themselves in other ways.
I stepped in and knocked on the wall. Maureen’s eyes lit up in surprise when she saw me. “All right, children,” she said, rising. “Miss Dybas has a visitor, so you can go off and play quietly.”
She came toward me as the three kids ran shrieking to the other side of the room. “Come in, David,” she smiled. “I’m sorry I can’t kiss you, but the children are here. Big eyes, you know.”
“Of course,” I replied.
We tiptoed through the heaps of children strewn about the room. Maureen seated herself at her desk as I pulled up a tiny chair and calmly sat on a half-eaten peanut butter sandwich.
“Well, David, what brings you here?”
A smile crossed my face. I loved the way she looked when she asked a question, with her small lips pressed together, and her eyes twinkling behind her wire-rimmed glasses. I patted my jacket pocket to make sure the ring was still there.
“I just wanted to see you with the kids. After all, you’re always talking about them.”
“Oh, yes. Just to be with the children is a thrill. It’s so interesting to watch how little children express themselves.”
I looked down at one little girl who was expressing herself by jabbing a plastic fork into my thigh. I chuckled politely as I pushed her away. “Cute.”
“Be gentle with them, David,” she warned.
“Yes. I know, I know,” I said apologetically. The noise in the room was beginning to hurt my ears, but I was afraid to say something that might offend her. “Do the children always enjoy school so much?” I asked, trying to sound interested.
“Oh, yes,” she went on in the same tone of voice. “It’s really interesting to watch them with…”
As she talked, I noticed a small beauty mark on the side of her nose. I don’t know if it was the way her head was turned or what, but it struck me as surprisingly ugly. She noticed my stare and raised her eyebrows questioningly.
I winced. “Sorry. Just daydreaming.”
“Oh. Okay. I was just saying how the toys help to show how ingenious some of the children are.”
She was right. One little boy had built a large mallet out of tinkertoys and was demonstrating his ingenuity by beating another boy over the head with it. The recipient of his action was somewhat less than pleased and began throwing blocks in random directions.
I looked back at Maureen and saw that she was still talking. I felt a bit warm and removed my tie.
There were a few girls over by the play kitchen. One of them had just formed a pie out of clay and given it to one of her friends who promptly began eating it. Across the room, another stupid brat was putting on a show by shoving crayons up his nose to loud applause.
Maureen was still droning on in that aggravating monotone. I was getting more and more uncomfortable in the kiddie chair. For a moment I thought she sounded just like my old kindergarten teacher.
I looked down at my feet and saw a little fire engine. As I picked it up, I remembered with a chuckle that I had always wanted to be a fireman when I grew up. I began to roll the toy along the edge of Maureen’s desk. She wasn’t paying attention to it, though, so I started to roll it across her books and papers.
“David, act your age,” she snapped.
“What do you mean?” I asked, grinning. I knocked a cup of pencils over with the fire engine.
“Come on, David. Cut it out.”
“Cut what out?” I was starting to enjoy teasing her. Just for a lark, I started making little motor noises.
“David, you’re not even listening to me,” she complained, slapping my hand. The fire engine slipped away from me and fell off the desk.
“What did you do that for?” I asked angrily.
“Oh, David. Grow up!”
I stood up. “You know, Maureen, I’m not one of your goddamn preschoolers!”
She stared in shock. “David!” she whispered. “You’ve never used that tone of voice before.”
“Well, I just felt like it.”
“I don’t think it’s proper for the children to see a grown man throwing a temper tantrum,” she said.
“Oh, yes. Heaven forbid we do anything to upset these wonderful children.”
Two of the little bastards were playing demolition derby with dump trucks. Unfortunately, another brat with a coloring book was sitting directly in the impact zone. I turned away, but I still heard the crash, the scream, and the subsequent crashes. Maureen didn’t even notice.
“I didn’t realize you felt threatened by the children,” she said quietly.
“Why should I feel threatened?” I asked. “You treat us all the same way, don’t you?”
“If that’s the case,” she whined, “then I guess we shouldn’t see each other anymore.”
I looked at her face. Her beady little eyes began to water behind her granny glasses, and her lips puckered like she was going to barf all over me.
“Fine with me,” I said, heading for the doorway. “Goodbye, Miss Dybas.”
I headed down the corridor and out of the school. The last I heard of Maureen was her voice vainly calling the kids to come and hear the rest of the story.
I walked up the busy street on my way home. As I passed the grocery store, I saw a little boy run out, crying and screaming hysterically. His mother followed, grabbed his arm, and whacked him across the face with her purse before dragging him back into the store.
It’s funny how a small incident like that can brighten up an otherwise rotten day…