After school whoever was supposed to pick up Harrison was late as usual so he played in the spaceship sandbox, bashing mini dump trucks together, shouting, “Boom, boom, boom…”
Kelton brought out a bridge table and a pair of folding chairs. The folding chairs had to go next to each other so both he and Caroline would have clear views of the parking lot, backyard, playground, and Harrison. From Wolterhan Early Childhood Education Center’s back porch, he heard thwacks scaring birds into flight like gunfire and knew what they were. In the morning he’d found a golf ball, this tiny meteor, which had crashed a tiny crater into the earth between the seesaw and the bronze statue of child angels playing flutes. To land there it must’ve flown over the treetops, must’ve been struck hard but sliced or intentionally aimed at them from the elitist country club on the other side of the woods.
“Don’t blame yourself,” Caroline said. “Certain trouble happens at light speed.”
She served loose-leaf tea with a cinnamon stick. As she poured the wash beat the stick against the teacup much like the long piece of model train track Harrison had used that day to bludgeon another student’s arm.
“Two hands, choked up on the bat,” Kelton said. “I should’ve caught him sooner.”
She picked mint leaves from the raised-bed garden outside the window and dropped one each into their teacups. “Shut up and drink, kid. A little caffeine, warmth, that’s what you need.” Seemed like nothing could surprise her. It was his second year working with her. Since he was an assistant teacher he didn’t have to stay late after school keeping her company. The other teachers had left, the administrative workers had left, even their director, Mary Ellen, had left. Caroline was his mentor, friend, superior, and yogi all wrapped into one. In the game for over twenty-five years, a master of childcare, Peter Singer vegetarianism, holistic remedies, patience. Patchouli followed her like a guardian angel.
Harrison tossed a dump truck and as it flipped through the air he wailed an as-seen-on-TV death cry. After it landed on a mound of sand—“Boom”—he bashed it with the other dump truck. “Mwahaha! I have defeated you,” he growled to play the role of the victor, “and now I eat you! Eat you! Eat you!…”
Caroline stirred her tea with the cinnamon stick.
At last Harrison’s mom’s car, its automatic sliding door opening, drove into the gravel parking lot. Turning around quickly to face-out an inch from the entrance, to position herself for the customary getaway, kicked up gravel and dust clouds. Harrison on cue ran behind the royal castle, and Kelton on cue went to corral him. Their routine appeared to be years in the making. Behind the royal castle, Harrison balled up, stretched his shirt over his legs, squeezed the collar shut over his head, hid in plain sight and began their game of “Where’s Harrison?”
“I just don’t know where he could be,” Kelton said, melodically, “but what is this here that I see? Could it be? Could it be?… A teddy bear is what I see.”
Today Harrison’s shirt featured a teddy bear with a bowtie.
“Hello, Mr. Teddy Bear.” Kelton tickled him. “Do you know where I might find Harrison?”
“No, no.” Harrison, laughing, let go of the shirt collar. “I haven’t seen him, I haven’t.” His head came out of his shirt, smiling with those teeth Kelton worried he didn’t brush, both front ones lost, his canines like little Dracula fangs.
Kelton carried him over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. “Delivery! I’ve got a delivery here!” This carry, and its catchphrase, was a standard he’d used when carrying his younger brother back in the day.
Caroline leaned over the window ledge to talk to Meredith, the mom. As far as Kelton could tell, she constantly had an extra-large thermos in hand and sunglasses on and never stepped foot outside the minivan. Harrison was the youngest of five siblings. His parents had recently divorced. His parents sent Caroline inappropriate, private information about their exes, about universes Harrison existed in only as an object of judicial dispute.
Last night’s email from Paul, the dad, Caroline had forwarded to Kelton: “…Queen Meredith ought to stop inviting every dog in heat stranded at the bar to spend the night …”
Along with Meredith’s email: “…How lovely to have that brainlessdibshit introduce his latest and greatest skankface to my daughter…”
“You must understand,” Meredith said, while Harrison climbed to his safety seat, crawled over food wrappers, knocked empty soda bottles. “My oldest daughter just moved into the basement with her boyfriend.” The automatic door started closing. “They steal food, leave her bras and pipes on the couch—”
“Of course we understand,” Caroline interrupted her. “And you must understand Harrison is at a crucial age and we need—need—to evaluate him this week—this week—either Wednesday or Thursday.”
Kelton had suggested a projective evaluation because he’d found Harrison’s perceptions faulty, his experience of social cues often mistaken. Most of his tantrums committed to a single phrase, unprovoked. Once while they’d played Candy Land, after Kelton had drawn a card and moved to the Peppermint Forest, Harrison had asked him, “Are you mad at me?” latched onto his arm, repeating the question again and again. Another time he started screaming, “Thief! Thief!” as they gave out fresh baked cookies.
“Just email me later.” Meredith’s traditional salutation, she called it out the window while it rolled up. The words caused a familial instinct to seize Kelton. He’d sprint in front of the car, stop them, hop in back and go to their house, cook the family a nice dinner, read Harrison a story or two before bedtime—make sure Harrison brushed his teeth—if it weren’t for Caroline, the gentle hold of his wrist subduing him.
“Maybe they should hire an extra hand,” Kelton said, considering they must be well-off since they sent Harrison to Wolterhan. “I’m sure they’re going through a lot.”
“Have you ever heard of someone going through a little?” She waved pleasantly at the minivan hurrying uphill and turning onto Lakeview Road, which led downtown to the lake harbor with its various tourist attractions, a route Kelton would soon take on his walk to the bus station. “Everyone on the planet is ‘going through a lot.’”
She had told Harrison’s mom what had happened, and she told Kelton what would happen next. Harrison was a detriment to the classroom experience. The girl who Harrison had hit, Liliana, would feel unsafe, as would their other students and the parents of every student, if this assault wasn’t taken seriously.
“It’s early enough. Kid, I’m sorry to say, but we see it already. The best laid plans, the most tactical strategies; every trick in the book will lose to the cards we’re dealt. Better to take care of it before we bury ourselves in sympathy.”
She’d be emailing both those parents the final warning, a promise next time Harrison was violent or overly disruptive he’d be removed from Wolterhan Early Childhood Education Center.