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Tales Out Of School, A Novel by Shirley Ann Howard

Heat rose from concrete and asphalt pavements, and humidity much too steamy for September, hung thick and heavy in the air. Sandra Scott stood in a cavernous classroom behind a colossal oak desk—the teacher’s desk—amid stark fluorescent lights, a wall of open windows, and the smell of dusty grammar books on the shelf below. Stacks of a rebound literature anthology, green to match the boards, towered on the sills. It was the first day of school at Somerville High, five miles north of Boston.


Sandy checked her note cards, again. She fluffed her freshly frosted hair, newly cut in layers to just below her chin. She fanned herself with limp class lists. Surveying the scene in front of her, which included seating for thirty students, Sandy’s eye caught a glimpse of her chest heaving up and down, keeping time with a steady whoosh of long, deep breaths. Launching a new career, her second in as many years, made her heart pound.


Relentlessly, it beat in her ears, like A Tell-Tale Heart.


Brrrinnnngggggg…… She flinched. The harsh, high-pitched clang—the signal to stand outside the classroom door—lasted a long time. Waves of teenagers rounded the corner, wearing trendy new clothes—baggy shorts and flashy sneakers for the boys, clingy tank tops and flip flops for the girls. They carried new notebooks and spotless backpacks in lime green, hot pink, electric blue and camo. Some walked with a boisterous bounce, their skin glowing with remnants of summer sun. Others hung close to the wall, their faces a mixed contortion of anguish and laughter. Sandy saw they were more nervous than she.


One entered Room 232, then another, and another. They took seats tentatively, as if fearing something on the chair might sting them. She waited for them to settle, then walked up close.


“Good Morning,” she began, while some were still talking. “I’m Ms. Scott. This is homeroom and also Freshman English. Is everyone in the right place?” Nobody said anything.


Perspiration moistened her neck. “We have a few registration tasks to accomplish,” she said.


ATTENDANCE was listed at the top of her note card. Adam Adams—here, Kenneth Glenn—present, all the way through to Andrea Ventura.


“AhnDrayAh,” the student corrected. Ms. Scott repeated it, calling it a very beautiful name.


“We have these forms to fill out today,” she said placing them on the front desks. “Emergency and health insurance information, personal data sheet.” A flurry of papers flapped over shoulders and down the rows. 


Then, someone called out from the right. “I don’t know my father’s work phone number.” 


“Can we bring these home?” A boy’s voice bellowed from the back.  


“What if you don’t have insurance?” questioned a girl with red hair.


“I live with my grandmother. Should I put that where it says Mother’s name?”


Sandy’s head spun at the sudden commotion. Although she’d skimmed the forms, she had not realized the kids would need help. Or that every new task she introduced would entail numerous questions, complete quiet, near chaos, hundreds of complaints, or some other completely unanticipated reaction. She steered them through the paperwork, then tried to get acquainted.


“You’re in high school now. How does it feel?” No response.


“How many of you think English is your best subject?” More silence. GET ACQUAINTED was not going well.


Twenty minutes left? Her stomach did a slow motion cartwheel.


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