Wednesday, January 14, 2009

School of the Dead: The First Period Bell Pt. 1

The bell rang and students scattered and flowed into various open doors along the basement’s T-shaped hallway. Above the door at the center at the top of the T was a large sign that read: Abandon hope all ye who enter here. This was Jane Mori’s not so subtle joke that in-house was a version of Dante’s entrance to the Inferno. Hell or not, Jane Mori stood at the door to the in-house room with a clip-board in her hands. As each sullen student passed by she nodded to them and checked off a name on the list. She felt it was important to greet them at the door each morning, to provide a routine, to assert, as she was sure Mr. Hahn would suggest, that they existed together in some sort of relationship, as cursory or fictitious as it may be. Maybe they registered her respect somewhere deep down. Who knows? It was hard to tell when they gave you vacant stares each morning. It usually took a few periods of the day to really see a difference in their attitudes. In any case, the routine just felt right for her.

From her vantage point Jane could see all angles of attack. Repeat-offenders, or what Mori called “residents,” would enter from the left staircase from the entrance of the school. Students in Mr. Dimtry’s math class would head down from the right and new-admits to her special circle of hell would come from straight ahead. Mori watched as Eric Bloom (a part-time resident) walked from the lower end of the hall straight toward her. She wrote his name down, put a check next to his name and nodded to him by the time he walked through the door to find his seat.

The halls had cleared and she could hear Mr. Dimitry starting up his class: “Is this all of you? Why is only half the class here?” he said, only sounding partially annoyed. She was about to turn in to begin shuffling paperwork when something to the left caught her eye. Near the end of the hall she could see a student standing looking at a locker a couple inches in front of him. His head was hunched forward as if he was about to nod off while standing. She could empathize. She watched for a few seconds expecting him to remember his combination and open his locker or move back to class. He did none of the above. She opened her mouth to speak, but for some reason couldn’t find the words. She felt strange. It wasn’t out of the ordinary to see a student try to eek out a few extra minutes away from class, especially in the beginning of the day, but his hunched figure didn’t seem to fit that scenario. She now noticed that his arms hung slack and loose at his sides like the hair that covered his profile. She thought she could see him moving his mouth as if he were whispering something menacingly to the wall. She opened her mouth a second time. This time the words were there: “Find your way to class.”

He didn’t move. From this distance she couldn’t tell who he was or what he was looking at and she certainly couldn’t hear what he was saying. Why was he just standing there? Why did she care so much? She jumped back as a hand suddenly slapped the doorframe in front of her.

“Miss M., are you coming in? I’ve been tryin’ to talk to you for the last minute” She hadn’t noticed that she had instinctively moved halfway into the classroom. Eric was standing at her side. His left eye-brow lifted a question to her. She looked back down the hall and noticed that the student had left. She turned back to Eric, lifted both eye-brows in response to his quizzical look and motioned to the empty seat two rows back. He sighed realizing she was going to continue ignoring his question and went to his seat for the rest of the day.

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