The following group brings up their blue paperback primers. Linda Polsinelli raises her hand and reads, “Oh, Tom. Oh, Susan. See Flip in the wagon.” There are no more volunteers to read the rest of this fascinating story.
For the green group, Miss La Fontaine selects Butch La Brie to begin, but her weak “good job” cannot convince Butch or anyone else that his halting performance is in any way adequate.
My group is last. My primer, the color of a stop sign. The smell of its scarlet cover brings up a sour burp as I lift the lid of my desk. My hands sweat. The roses leave my cheeks. Before it’s my turn to sound out, I raise my hand, “Can I go to the nurse?”
Mrs. Lundgren, a solid woman wearing a starched white cap, appears at my classroom door and leads me along the trail to her office. I lie down on a green vinyl cot behind a privacy curtain. Underneath its canvas, I can see her white-stockinged ankles beside her steel desk. My stomach threatens to heave as the clock tic tocs. When will reading group be over? I can’t tell time yet.
Mrs. Lundgren peeks inside the curtain. “Want a Saltine?” I climb onto her crisp, white lap and lay my damp forehead on her cool, pearlescent buttons. After a few nibbles, she says, “Feel better?”
I nod my head in resignation.
She extends her hand, “Ready to go back?”
Slowly I slid off her comfort zone, and she brushes crumbs from my green plaid dress. Together we walk down the dark hall, her white nurse shoes silent, my Buster Brown saddle shoes slapping each gray tile. This isn’t the first time we’ve done this, Mrs. Lundgren and I. But always, before she leaves me at my classroom door, she bends to my stature, places her wide palm on my little back, and whispers, “I’m here if you need me.”
Looking through the long pane besides the door knob, I hesitate. Betsy, Katy, and Linda hunch over penmanship worksheets that mean reading group is really over. Butch’s head swivels around the room. When he spies me at the door, he broadcasts my presence to Miss La Fontaine. I gaze down the hall, but my angel of mercy is gone. I’ve no choice but to open the door and get back in the saddle again.