by Lisa Piazza

  1. By fourth period

………we can barely breathe. Each stir of the stifled air whispers glitter into sound. The struggle at the board is all mine: a virtue of verbs, the urgency of action. Who can tell the compound from the complex? Every phrase dependent on the next. Sophia whines from the second seat: keep it simple. One subject, one verb. It’s a plea. I pull a name from the book on their desks: Scout discovers. Jem grows. Keep going: Boo scares, Dill hides, until Robert’s screech from the seat in the back corner un-silences the cycle. Today he’s a cheetah, all energy and thrust. Some days he is nothing but quiet. Across the room, Zaid knows better than to laugh but he does it anyway, then Regina, who hates her teeth, dares to smile and Leann pulls out her phone and Parker puts on his sunglasses and Devin the Quarterback sticks his fist out for a bump: Knuck it up, Ms. P.

  1. I look at these kids

………thinking only of my own: ten and six, due at the courthouse in three hours. Everyone means so well. Everyone’s mean, oh well. The first time in the dim office of Family Court Services, that thin county social worker with the long straight hair and click-click boots leaned forward to ask me why I hadn’t made the call before? You’re a mandatory reporter. Were you afraid child protective services was going to come after you? Huh! Huh? What will my kids say today? Our father this, our father that. Our mother pulled us into the bathroom to hide. Heart beat heavy. She? Cried on the edge of the tub. He? Set up camp outside, blocked the door with a chair. Kicked his feet up—scoffed, coughed. Waited. Waited.

  1. What about

………Atticus? Alanna asks—snapping me straight back—all of us leaning in, listening for the launch of the lunch bell—or an answer. Andrea’s quick: Everyone knows he’s too good to be true. Wouldn’t you like a father like that? I wishful think them into clean houses, square windows of light so easy to look into. Put my hand on my hip—take the teacher’s stride—glide from the board to the window as their eyes roll toward

  1. the dirty pigeon

………strutting into the dark hallway outside my basement classroom from the cafeteria doorway upstairs. Too late to ignore: Pigeon! Wait. This bird can be pretty in the sunlight, Matthew says. People laugh but he is used to that. His, what is it? His. Iridescence? Just hidden by shadows. He believes anything can shine. I agree, if only to salvage this lesson, which drags and pulls, pushes us back to the sinkhole at the center of the room, the drain of our minds going around and around until the bell rings.

  1. If we wanted

………to come of age, we would. Instead we wave the day away with the pigeon, watching it coo its way to the next thing (and the next), unbothered by our burdens or breath.

Lisa-PiazzaLisa Piazza teaches writing to young people in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her work appears in Brain, Child, Cicada, YARN, Switchback, Prime Number and Literary Mama among others. Her flash piece “Look Here” appears in Issue No. 4 of Cleaver. She is currently at work on a young adult graphic novel-in-verse. Read more at her website.


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