FICTION July 29, 2011

The Un-Game

by Kathleen Founds

Excerpt from a novel manuscript

Dear Ms. Freedman,

We kept asking Mrs. Calderon why you abandoned us after break.   She said you had “health issues.”  Adam Sandoval says he knocked you up, but don’t worry, barely anyone believes him, especially the part about it being the medical miracle of Siamese twins.  I kept bugging Calderon until she ripped a kid’s drawing off the bulletin board and scribbled your address.   Ms. Laura Jane Freedman, Bridges, 400 Pecan Blvd, Austin, TX. At first I was like, ah, shit, Ms. Freedman’s a druggie!  Because a cousin of mine went to a rehab called Bridges.  On the home page, though, it says, “Guests unwind in the whirlpool, contemplating the exquisite beauty of arid plains.” Which sounds like a super-deluxe get-away spa.  Then I used my critical reading skills, like we practiced with the toothpaste ads.  I realized: you are in the looney bin.

I feel bad, Ms. Freedman.  Plenty of teachers have thrown a terrarium out a window and shouted, “You’re driving me crazy!”  But you’re the first who actually followed through.  You were so nice to us, too.  You gave us extra credit for wearing costumes on Halloween, and you brought in all that cardboard on Bastille Day so we could make funny hats.  I don’t know if you remember, but I made mine look like a pope’s hat.  I wore it after school to confirmation class, and even Sister Gloria tried it on.

The substitute we got for the last few months of school is not so nice.  El Corporal.  He is really into discipline.  The first time Adam Sandoval sassed him, El Corporal screamed, “Drop and give me fifty!”  We watched while Adam tried.   He barely made twenty.  We felt bad for him, Ms. Freedman.  We pretty much shut up and did our work after that.

While school is not so great, I got promoted at The Rising Dove.  Kind of.  I am “temporary activities coordinator,” while the real activities coordinator gets a gastric bypass.  Instead of wiping butts, I wheel the fogies into a room with moldy encyclopedias and tall windows to read “Dear Abby” and the horoscopes.  Last week I taught poetry. “The Haiku is an ancient artform,” I read from an internet printout.  “It contains three lines, in a syllable pattern of 5-7-5:

An old silent pond
A frog jumps into the pond
Splash! Silence again.”

The old people sat there.   Carl started eating a crayon.  Finally Joan—who is the rest home at fifty for getting fat and depressed and not taking her meds—scrawled out some lines.

“Joan,” I said.  “Want to share?”

She scraped back her chair, and read:

“A swarthy old pirate, McPhee,
chased after them lasses with glee.
‘till his wife seized an axe,
Made one hearty whack,
and tossed his old jewels out to sea.”

I did the only thing I could do, Ms. Freedman.

I led them in a round of applause.

After ten minutes of poetry failure, the walking fogies up and left, and the cripples asked to be wheeled back to their rooms.  I looked at the blank papers and broken crayons.  So much for my plan of including old people poetry in El Giraffe, the Joseph P. Anderson High School Lit Mag.  I thought it could add variety.  Being the student advisor, Ms. Freedman, you know we get mostly suicide poems.  I thought old people might write on different themes, such as tarnished lockets with pictures of dead babies, or gout.  I am hoping to God El Corporal does not replace you as Giraffe advisor.   I have such weak-ass arms, Ms. Freedman, I can only do like two push-ups, so he’ll probably fire me as editor and choose someone in JROTC, like Julie Chang.

Anyways, I have still been writing poetry a lot, even though you’re not here.   I included a poem I just finished.  It is called Eclipse.    I thought maybe if you felt like it you could read it.

Your friend,