By Meg Sipos
On Tuesday, the classroom is silent. Our teacher grips the edge of her desk and lets bony fingers turn white. A stack of vocabulary sheets sits, forgotten, the pink hues stark against the earthy colors of the chalkboard and desk.
I think: she’d bury herself in her papers, hide under her desk, and curl into that dark little cove for shelter if she could. Legs up, forehead resting on her knees, hands atop her white blonde head. Mrs. Eye hides behind glazed eyes: a screen of steely green.
A silent barrier forms between us as we wait for a fifth grade spelling and vocabulary lesson that will never come. Vacuum. Abolish. Suffocate.
A few of the sheets are different from the others. Meant for me and three others reading and writing at a seventh grade level. Annihilate. Capricious. Melancholy. We won’t get those sheets either. We’ll just sit in the silence.
And as the day drags, the quiet eats away at us. One by one, our numbers dwindle. In the morning, we are thirty. At lunch, we are twelve. Soon I am one. Left alone, my friends disappear.
Ryan leaves first, a lanky beanstalk weaving around students, chairs, and desks. I melt into his blue-eyed stare and he brushes the tips of his fingers across my desk before he disappears. We won’t be eating lunch together or holding hands at recess or walking home humming show tunes now.
Then Liz. She shrugs as she passes me, running her hands nervously through silky hair before wrapping it into a ponytail at the nape of her neck. I wonder how I’ll sit through math without her and her delicately folded notes detailing everything she knows about everyone else.
Adam doesn’t have a mom. Cheryl doesn’t have a dad. The math teacher doesn’t have a wife, but did. Once.
Jake puts gum in Sally’s hair because he likes her. Last week, her name was scrawled on the board. She called him a bastard.
Derrick’s bruises probably aren’t from basketball like he says.
Then Jen leaves, her freckled face red with embarrassment. We had plans to play with her husky after school, to let him run us ragged in Jen’s backyard and to join him in a chorus of wolf-dog howls.
Every so often, someone from the principal’s office comes to the doorway, waits a moment for Mrs. Eye to walk over, whispers a name.
That’s how we know who’s next.
Where is everyone going? Only the silence answers.
For the first half of the day, I keep the illusion that my mom will come for me. But, I know in my gut that soon I will be one of the only ones left.
When the bell finally rings, I trudge to the barren bus, an empty salient save for the bus driver and myself, and fall into a seat in the back. My shoulders sag as I stare at the vacant school through a fog of dirty glass smudged with fading smiley faces and stick figures.
The campus is a post-skirmish battlefield with forgotten belongings strewn across autumn grass. On the sidewalk, I can see where leaves have fallen and shriveled into dust. Stemmed skeletons that stain the concrete.
How long will their imprints last before fading into the earth—discarded, lost, ignored? The nameless faces of those we lose—of those we will lose—of those others lose, become faceless names, melded into the earth.
When I arrive home from school, I see the images hiding behind my teacher’s eyes hiding behind the static of the television screen. Smoke curls above two collapsing towers.
I go unnoticed in the kitchen, heels on white tile, toes at the frayed fabric that marks the border to the living room where my mom sits and sobs into a crumpled tissue.
She will not say a word.
Meg Sipos earned her MFA from George Mason University, where she served as nonfiction editor for the feminist literary journal So to Speak. She currently co-hosts Bestiary, a podcast about humans and other animals, with her husband.