January 28, 2009

THIRD PLACE: The Red Second Hand Matches the Tractor

By Cate Pearson

There’s no one there with her but the clock. It notes each second, but seems to slow until it’s marking every third or fourth one. She is surrounded by the odd assortment in her high school classroom — a crooked Christmas tree, the school mascot — a rocket, tilting towards the American flag. Her world map is way too small to read, not that any of her students recognize anything beyond the U.S. and maybe Africa. The U.S. map curls — no tape seems strong enough to keep it two dimensional. A mound of handouts that needs hole punching sits to the right of her keyboard.

She can’t bear to read another e-mail. She can’t bear to grade anymore papers. She can’t bear to read anymore bad news in the newspaper. All she can think about is the news. It came out so effortlessly, like some simple baby tooth. Then it hung in the air, slowing the clock to the pace it now keeps. It plastered the headlines, clogged the e-mail, saturated the conversations in the hallway.

When she studies the room, she wants to straighten the rows of dilapidated desks, make sure the sagging student project in the back is hung more evenly. But the bulletin board of “awesome student poetry” catches her eye. She sees the tractor she pulled from some discarded magazine, stapled to the wall along with the baseball player, the three-dimensional snake, the balloon to make it more colorful. “Life on the Farm.”

Should she send flowers? Maybe the students could go in with her on something more creative. He had been mowing their farm when the winds started to pick up. Hurricane winds, they called them, though that didn’t make sense in Kentucky. The last thing he probably saw was the tree before it hit him.