by Helen Kreeger
Between his locked fingers he watched her from the back row. She was telling them about the school, the teachers, what was expected of them. He only half-listened, but couldn’t stop looking. Her eyes moved, but her head didn’t. He forced himself to gulp in air, lifting his shoulders to help, because when her eyes landed on him, which he knew they would, he wouldn’t be able to move enough even to breathe. If they stayed on him for too long he would run out of air and die. He hoped that no one would notice until he was fully dead.
He was giddy from too much breathing when she finally looked at him. But then her eyes slid to the boy next to him and he didn’t have to die. Not for now. The fire in his face and the banging in his ears would quieten down soon, he knew.
He’d been relieved to see no circles when he’d walked into his new classroom. Even front row was better than a circle. True, in the front the teacher could see him, and talk to him, but the other kids could only see a bit of him, and he could pretend not to see any of them. There was no hiding place in the circle – everyone could see everyone. The back row couldn’t save him from everything, teachers walked around too much. His granddad told him that teachers used to sit at their desks until they needed to write on the blackboard. But a back row gave him hope. There was a chance he might become invisible for whole minutes at a time. Maybe even for a whole lesson.
Without any warning that he’d noticed the air became charged with shouts and scraping chairs. T-shirts, trousers, skirts, and hair all moved towards him. Then past him. He’d missed something. He turned to the back of the classroom to try to work out what it might be. He’d never ask.
Backs were bending over a long table, and heads were angled towards each other in talk. Shoulders moved jerkily to help the busy arms that only came into view as they elbowed more room for themselves. The voices dared to sound loud and rude.
He stood up so any watcher would think he was joining in, but he held on to the back of his chair, waiting, waiting, a few seconds more, until the flow of bodies was in reverse.
Two girls were the first to head back to their desks. Their hands overfull with colourful tubes of oil paints and so many sheets of paper he wondered if they’d been asked to pass it around. A boy pushed past him with a bunch of fat gaudy-coloured magic markers held together with a thick rubber band, and again more paper than one person should need. Even the smallest boy in the class, who he wondered might be an ally in the future, had managed to grab a box of brand-new crayons – still wrapped in its cellophane.
All that was left by the time he let the last person push past him to their desk were several empty jam jars with old but washed paintbrushes in them. Propped up against each of the jars was a block of water colours. All of them showed signs of having been used before, but had been cleaned up nicely. Beside them was a large plastic bottle filled with water and two sheets of paper that had been rejected by several grubby hands.
The jam jar of clean water waited in the middle of his desk for several minutes while he watched the frenzied daubing, scratching, scribbling and rubbing that was going on around the room. He tickled the surface of the water with a brush, then pulled it out to allow one drop of water to fall. It made a small ripple that died almost at once. Not like when he threw a stone into the lake at the caravan park. That was always great.
The teacher walked around the room, looking, smiling, speaking a word or two. He held his breath as she got to him. She looked, smiled and moved on.
Encouraged by her lack of interference he touched the brown circle of solid paint with the wet paintbrush and moved it a little to collect some colour. Gently he applied it to one of the pieces of paper. He had his stone.
He washed his brush in the jam jar making the water dirty. Some of this dirty water he dripped over a blue block and twirled the brush to make a little puddle. The circles that he painted around the stone weren’t all exactly the same colour because he had to keep repeating the process. He was worried by this, but continued on. By the time he’d covered the whole sheet of paper the water in the jam jar was the same colour as the outer circles in his picture – this pleased him. He saw the lake at the caravan park.
Two hands reached over his head and took two corners of his painting. He watched as his teacher carried it to a big empty board at the back of the room. She fixed his paper on the board with drawing pins. He saw her bend over the art table and write something on a strip of paper. This she pinned above his painting. It was his name. He forgot to hold his breath.
Helen Kreeger was born and raised in London, but has lived elsewhere for many years. She has been published in Blunt Moms (USA), ARC 25, 26 and 27 (Israel), Writing District, (UK), Café Aphra (USA), Scrittura Lit Mag (UK), Free Flash Fiction, as well as being a contest runner-up in Striking 13, Creative Writing Ink, and Soundwork U.K.
Pieces Inspired by this Image
'Hope With In The Mind'
'Under the microscope'
'Locked in the cloud'