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  • Honest Feedback Please! – Short Story

     Anagrammer updated 2 months ago 4 Members · 21 Posts
  • Anagrammer

    Member
    September 23, 2020 at 4:00 pm

    She sat in the corner of the classroom, all the way in the back. Every year she sat there, definitely in third and fourth, and I think also in fifth grade. I never really paid much attention to her; she was the girl in the corner, not even “Tova”, like the teachers called her. I’m not sure why, but I didn’t dwell on her too much. No one did.

    That’s why I was so surprised when in the middle of high school, halfway through eleventh grade, to be exact, my mechaneches pulled me out of math class one day. “Liba.” Mrs. Mannes laid her hand down on the low table between us. There was a long pause, and I found myself staring down at her dainty fingers, at the diamond ring that sparkled as if it was new and not the twenty years old it was. My teacher was quiet until I looked up, until I met her eyes, and when I did, I was surprised to discover she was waiting. “Liba,” she repeated, the blue eyes trained directly on mine this time. I shuffled a bit in my seat in an attempt to appear relaxed and not as stiff as I felt. “Tova Schwab will be joining your grade.”

    You couldn’t blame me for looking confused, for not remembering who she was right away. Mrs. Mannes’ gaze was firmly trained on me while I desperately racked my mental contact list… and came up blank.

    “Tova Schwab from Bnos Yisroel Elementary.” The girl in the corner. Recognition must have flooded my face because Mrs. Mannes breathed an audible sigh of relief. “I knew I could count on you, Liba. To be honest, the school wasn’t sure about taking in a new girl in the middle of eleventh grade… but I knew if she had Liba Glick on her side, all would work out.” Mrs. Mannes drew up to her full height, brushing her skirt smooth as she did, and I followed suit.

    “Thank you, Mrs. Mannes,” I met her eyes once again as she held the door open for me. I wasn’t sure what I was thanking her for, or what she was thanking me for when she rejoined with “Thank you, Liba.” What had she just asked of me, and what had I agreed to?

     

    We were sprawled out on the grass on Wednesday, munching on our respective salads and just enjoying each other’s company, when the loudspeaker crackled to life. “Liba Glick, please come to the office.” Rolling my eyes, I reluctantly set my salad down next to Shaindy.

    “It better not be Mrs. Young again; my attendance has been disastrous the past week because of the Melave Malka prep, and I forgot to hand in my excused late notes. I’ll be right back.”

    “Hurry, ‘cuz lunch is more than halfway over,” Pessi piped up, from her comfortable perch on a tree stump.

    “I will. And watch my salad, Shaindy.”

    I rushed to the office, making a beeline for Mrs. Young’s window. “Hi, Mrs. Young, did you call me? Is this about the attend-”

    “Oh, Liba!” Mrs. Young wrinkled up her nose and let her reading glasses slip off, squinting at me through the office window. “It was actually Mrs. Schiff who asked me to page you. She’s waiting for you in her office.” Gulp. I wasn’t the kind of student who had to spend her lunch learning Orchos Tzadikim in Mrs. Schiff’s office. I was the kind of student who’d never stepped foot in her office since my interview. I wasn’t even sure what the protocol was. Did I knock and wait? Knock and walk in? When I neared the office, it became clear that I wouldn’t have to do any of that. The door was wide open, and Mrs. Schiff stood outside, waiting.

    “Liba Glick.” Mrs. Schiff smiled reassuringly, ushering me inside. The door swung shut behind us with an audible click. I was almost about to feel comfortable when I suddenly noticed that we weren’t alone in the room. A girl sat in the chair. She was just as I remembered her: short and skinny, with thin rimless glasses, and a nervous twitch. The girl in the corner of the room. Only now she was in the center. And we stood across from her, Mrs. Schiff and I. “Liba, Tova, I’m sure you remember each other from elementary school.” Tova glanced at me and nodded. One quick nod. I cracked a smile.

    “Of course. Hello, Tova.” I stopped. It wasn’t enough; Mrs. Schiff was eyeing me expectantly. “Welcome to Bais Yaakov High.” I swallowed hard, and Mrs. Schiff nodded.

    “It’s a wonderful thing for a girl to come into a school already feeling she has a place, already knowing one of the top girls in the grade. Liba is one of our treasures, Tova. It’s a zechus for you to know her.” Tova blushed, a deep blush, and I almost felt a little bad for her. I did feel bad for her. But still not bad enough to negate how bad I felt for myself at the moment, especially at Mrs. Schiff’s next words. “I’ll leave you two to your own devices now.” Mrs. Schiff reached for a paper from her desk and handed it to Tova. “Here is your schedule. It’s an exact copy of Liba’s. I figured it would be easier for you if you had someone to follow around a bit until you get the hang of things.” Mrs. Schiff winked playfully. “Now go on. Enjoy the last bit of lunch before your first class.”

    Tova was even shorter than I remembered, after all. Shorter than any ninth grader in the school. We walked out of the office together, if you could call it together. Me, then her. She followed along obediently, like a sheep. If this was what it was, perhaps I could handle it. A silent shadow didn’t sound too bad. And it was a chessed, too.

    “I was just eating lunch with my friends. I’ll introduce them to you.” Tova nodded, the same quick nod.

    “Liba! What took so long?” my friends greeted me as I slid back down into the circle. Tova remained standing, a few feet away.

    “Shaindy, Pessi, Adina, meet Tova. She’ll be joining our grade, isn’t that nice? I know her from elementary school.” Tova shifted, smiled.

    “Hi, Tova!” Pessi flashed one of her winning grins. “This is so exciting! Pleased to meet you.”

    “Sit down!” Adina encouraged. Tova did, hesitantly. Just as she sat, though, the bell chimed, and we all scrambled to our feet. Looking a bit lost, Tova did the same. Upstairs we strolled, swinging our salads, two and two as always on the staircase, with a fifth girl following slightly awkwardly behind us. I pretended I didn’t notice, or that it was okay.

     

    The first thing I discovered about Tova in the classroom was that she was the same girl in the corner of the room she always was. She took that corner desk, as if she knew instinctively that it was the only empty one in the room. In the short amount of time before the teacher walked in, she quietly unpacked her pencil case and notebooks and then just sat there. Not even pretending to busy herself with her belonging or that she was bentching or reading or something. Just sitting. I snuck glances at her from where I was standing, leaning against the doorpost, schmoozing.

    “Good afternoon, ladies.” Mrs. Kaplan stepped into the room, and we all found our seats. I was never so grateful to be sitting in the front. Tova was quite a distance from me; there was no way we would be associated with each other. “Take out your periodic tables, and let’s look at Hydrogen.” Class began. As I busied myself with taking notes, Tova didn’t exist anymore in my mind. Until I turned around for a moment, just to take a peek, and I caught sight of her face. She seemed completely lost. Of course; she didn’t have a periodic table to follow along with. I almost raised my hand to ask Mrs. Kaplan for another one, but at the last second, I held myself back. Tova had a mouth just as I did, didn’t she? Why did I feel responsible to ask the teacher for a sheet for her? And for the rest of the period Tova reclaimed her rightful spot in my mind as the girl in the corner of the classroom.

     

    “Liba…” The by-now familiar voice was becoming a little too familiar. Sure enough, Tova stood waiting for me as I left the classroom for the Mincha break. “Are you studying with anyone for the Mishlei test?” I wasn’t.

    “I’m not.” I stated it in a decisive tone, one that indicated finality.

    “Oh.” I felt almost cruel, watching as she squared her wiry shoulders, turned, and shuffled down the hallway. To nowhere probably. Just away from me. But there was no reason for me to feel guilty; I hadn’t wanted to study with anyone for that Mishlei test anyway – it always went quicker when I did it alone. For some reason, though, I couldn’t shake off the image of Tova’s slight form slinking away in disappointment. And it continued to haunt me all throughout that night and the next day.

     

    Especially when I realized halfway through the day that Tova wasn’t in school.

    “Tova’s not in school.” Shaindy looked at me funny. We were on the way to the auditorium for Mincha.

    “Tova? Tova Schwab?”

    “Yes, she’s not here today.” I suddenly realized how I must have sounded. My friends and I had had nothing to do with Tova since she had sat with us on her first day of school. Now, a few weeks later, I had actually noticed that she wasn’t in school?

    “Maybe she’s sick or something,” Shaindy suggested, as we neared the auditorium. I nodded, but I had a horrible pit in my stomach.

     

    We were analyzing the periodic table of elements once again, when I was paged to the office. I had a strong feeling it was about Tova; sure enough, Mrs. Mannes was waiting for me when I got downstairs.

    “Come, Liba.” This time she wasn’t as welcoming as she led me into a mechaneches room.

    “How’s it going for Tova?” she got straight to the point.

    “I think… well.” I lied. Mrs. Mannes sighed heavily.

    “It doesn’t look like it.” Tap-tap went her piano fingers on the table; chink-chink went her ring. “She asked to switch classes.”

    “Oh?” Mrs. Mannes just looked at me, earnest. “I’m sorry,” I mustered.

    “It’s alright, Liba,” her tone lightened a bit, and I breathed. “These things happen. I just wanted to fill you in on where things stand. You might be able to pull some strings, you know, change things for her.”

    “Yes, of course, Mrs. Mannes.” The clock was ticking very loudly in the airtight room. “I will try my best to make Tova feel more comfortable.” The words felt wrong on my tongue; they even sounded wrong to my ears, but thankfully, Mrs. Mannes let me go.

    Climbing the stairs back to class, my legs felt unusually heavy.

     

    “Remember Tova Schwab sat with us by lunch that day?” I mused aloud as Shaindy, Pessi, Adina and I settled into our favorite lunch spot. Tova sat a distance away, chatting with Rina Cohen, one of the quieter girls in the grade beneath ours. It was a better friendship for her, for both of them.

    “She’s a sweetie,” Adina said, and no one denied it.

    The conversation moved on to other topics, but my eyes kept wandering to the unassuming twosome settled on the curb across the parking lot, each with a sandwich and a run-of-the-mill water bottle. I picked at my salad. I wasn’t sure why I even loved salad so much in the first place and what made me decide it was the only thing I could bring for lunch. I didn’t even hear what my friends were discussing; the only thing I could think of was Mrs. Mannes’ blue eyes and the stuffiness of a small mechaneches room on the first floor of the building. It was a few weeks since that last conversation. I hadn’t done any of the things I said I would. Tova had come back to school the next day, still in my class. By recess, I’d resolved to find her, but couldn’t (or didn’t try hard enough, perhaps). The next time I’d seen her, she was with Rina, and I’d figured it was okay for her.

    I got up suddenly.

    “Where you going?” Pessi asked. “Lunch just started!”

    “I’m coming back.” I left my salad and let my legs take me where they wanted to take me. Three minutes later, I found myself standing in front of the teachers’ room. I knocked.

    “Is Mrs. Mannes here?” She was.

    “Can I… talk to you?”

    “Sure.” She was out of the teachers’ room, door closed behind her in ten seconds flat. And a minute and a half later, we were back in the claustrophobic mechaneches room.

    “I – I didn’t do what Mrs. Mannes asked me to do. For Tova.” And suddenly I was crying, great big sobs, tears rolling down my cheeks faster than I could stop them. And I was gulping and hiccupping and sputtering, and my nose was running like a baby’s. Mrs. Mannes handed me a tissue. And then her hand was on my shoulder, her dainty piano fingers with the sparkling diamond ring, and my shoulder was heaving uncontrollably.

    “I know, Liba.” Of course, she knew. Tova didn’t have friends; anyone could see that. Only Rina Cohen, a tenth grader. Why had I thought I was dropping a bombshell? “Maybe it was too much to ask of you; maybe it was too much to expect.” I didn’t answer. I didn’t trust myself to speak anymore. “I’m almost sorry that I ever asked you, that I ever put this achrayus on you.” I swallowed hard, and I felt a lump go down my throat. “I’m sorry, Liba,” Mrs. Mannes said softly. I got up. I had said what I’d come for. “And Liba…?” I stopped, turned back, my eyes still puffy, my cheeks still damp. “Thank you for trying.” I left the room, and let the door swing shut behind me. At the sound of the click, I imagined I was leaving behind a whole saga, the saga of the girl in the corner of the classroom.

     

    I was anxious, almost giddy, on the first day of school. It was ten years since I was in a classroom, and I was back. Back in my elementary school, back in fifth grade, this time to teach! My principal greeted me warmly at the door of the teachers’ room. “Welcome, Mrs. Zimmerman; we are so excited to have you on our faculty!” It was actually pretty astounding how quickly I had gotten the job, what with the previous teacher’s sudden decision to quit right at the start of the school year. Only confirming my job last night, I hadn’t even attended the teachers’ meeting.

    “Thank you, Mrs. Travis. It’s so good to be back here in Bnos Yisroel, and at the other side of the desk this time.” I slung my leather teacher’s bag over my shoulder and rested my hand on the doorknob, preparing to enter the teachers’ room.

    “Mrs. Zimmerman, before you go into your class today, I just want to tell you one thing.” What was she getting at? Curious and apprehensive, I waited obligingly. “First year teaching is hard for everyone. There’s a lot that you have to learn on the job.” I was ready for that. “And I want you to know that we have an incredible teacher, Mrs. Weisberg, for the parallel fifth grade class. She has many years of experience and would be willing to mentor you and share some of her tips with you.” The principal handed me a small green sticky note with a phone number scrawled on it.

    “Wow, thanks, Mrs. Travis!” I meant it. I would definitely be needing all the support I could get, diving into this almost blindly. I wondered who Mrs. Weisberg was; I didn’t remember her teaching in the school when I was there…

    I didn’t have to wonder long. I knew exactly who she was as soon as I entered the room, although she was not in the corner this time, but in the center. She was short like I remembered, thin, with the same style wire glasses. Now, however, she had a broad, confident smile, and a surer stance.

    “Hello, Liba.” Her voice was soft, yet more powerful than I remembered it somehow. Funny how it had grated on my nerves.

    “Tova.” I said it like a statement. She only smiled, and it made me shrink back for some reason. Uncomfortable under her gaze, I turned to someone else, anyone else. To no one really; just away from her.

     

    “Good afternoon, fifth grade.” I might as well have been mute. The volume reached a crescendo, and my voice was muffled, lost beneath the chattering and giggling of a bunch of ten-year-old girls. “My name is Mrs. Zimmerman,” I tried louder. They turned to me, expectant, and I breathed again. “There was once a man with a field.” They were still listening. I forged on.

    “And so, we see how important respect is. In fifth grade we will respect one another, we will respect our teacher, and we will respect ourselves.” I finished my introductory speech, and all seemed to be going relatively smoothly. Until I asked them to take out a composition notebook, and I turned around to write a math example on the board. Thirty seconds later, I was facing them again, only this time, six girls were out of their desks, the garbage can’s contents were knocked over at my feet, and my voice could not be heard once again.

     

    The phone felt as though it would burn a hole in my palm. And maybe it really would if I held it any longer. I relaxed my clenched fist, releasing the crumpled green sticky note. And then I punched the numbers in and held the phone against my ear as it rang, a low, persistent ring. I would start off by apologizing, by putting myself in that vulnerable position Tova was in back in eleventh grade. Then I would ask Tova if she wouldn’t mind… helping me. I hoped she would. But whether or not she would agree to mentor me, I knew that right then and there, my job was to ask.

     

     

    What’s bothering me about this story is three main things:

    1) I’m not sure if Liba is such a likable character or if her nastiness is a drop exaggerated. 2) The lack of varied sentence structure – does it sound choppy? 3) Too much telling instead of showing.

    If you could give me feedback on these things and anything else… Thanks!

     

  • Drop-a-line

    Member
    September 23, 2020 at 9:19 pm

    Anagrammer- I really like this story! I read it through from beginning to end even though I tend to skim when I’m in a rush:)
    It’s captivating and very real life, you should totally publish it in a teen mag!
    My only comment: maybe you could add * * * to separate the different sections of the story?

    Good luck getting it published! (If that’s what you’re planning to do.)

  • Anagrammer

    Member
    September 23, 2020 at 11:22 pm

    Thanks, Drop-a-line! I’m a skimmer, too. I think it comes from my critical side, not believing anything is good enough to read too carefully. I’m trying to work on it though ;).

  • PassionforWriting

    Member
    September 23, 2020 at 11:32 pm

    I’m also a big skimmer, so thanks for the “permission” to skim it. I didn’t fully read it (which I apologize for), but it captivated me too!

    I’m amazed at those who have the courage to write short stories. I tend to stick to poems and articles.

  • Anagrammer

    Member
    September 23, 2020 at 11:38 pm

    Thanks for reading, Passion, even if it was just a skim 😉 Skimming = reading in my books.

    And I never thought it took ‘courage’ to write a short story! I wrote my first short story back in first grade when I learned to write (it was about a jump-rope fight;)) and haven’t stopped since! That doesn’t mean I’ve ever published, though, ‘cuz I haven’t :). But it’s not something I ever needed courage to do; it’s just something I do.

  • PassionforWriting

    Member
    September 23, 2020 at 11:47 pm

    Yeah, I guess I mean ‘courage’ for myself. I’ve been writing articles (not published) for a long time, so writing short stories is an entirely new ball game for me. It includes the usage of quotes, commas, creating a vivid picture, like “showing” versus “telling.”

    Wow! what was that short story about – if you feel comfortable sharing.

    • Anagrammer

      Member
      September 24, 2020 at 1:18 am

      Go for it, Passion!

      Are you asking about the story I wrote in first grade?

  • Anagrammer

    Member
    September 24, 2020 at 1:06 am

    Edited version with a completely different ending (based on feedback I got). Please let me know what you think!

     

    She sat in the corner of the classroom, all the way in the back. Every year she sat there, definitely in third and fourth, and I think also in fifth grade. I never really paid much attention to her; she was the girl in the corner, not even “Tova”, like the teachers called her. I’m not sure why, but I didn’t dwell on her too much. No one did.

    That’s why I was so surprised when in the middle of high school, halfway through eleventh grade, to be exact, my mechaneches pulled me out of math class one day. “Liba.” Mrs. Mannes laid her hand down on the low table between us. There was a long pause, and I found myself staring down at her dainty fingers, at the diamond ring that sparkled as if it was new and not the twenty years old it was. My teacher was quiet until I looked up, until I met her eyes, and when I did, I was surprised to discover she was waiting. “Liba,” she repeated, the blue eyes trained directly on mine this time. I shuffled a bit in my seat in an attempt to appear relaxed and not as stiff as I felt. “Tova Schwab will be joining your grade.”

    You couldn’t blame me for looking confused, for not remembering who she was right away. Mrs. Mannes’ gaze was firmly trained on me while I desperately racked my mental contact list… and came up blank.

    “Tova Schwab from Bnos Yisroel Elementary.” The girl in the corner. Recognition must have flooded my face because Mrs. Mannes breathed an audible sigh of relief. “I knew I could count on you, Liba. To be honest, the school wasn’t sure about taking in a new girl in the middle of eleventh grade… but I knew if she had Liba Glick on her side, all would work out.” Mrs. Mannes drew up to her full height, brushing her skirt smooth as she did, and I followed suit.

    “Thank you, Mrs. Mannes,” I met her eyes once again as she held the door open for me. I wasn’t sure what I was thanking her for, or what she was thanking me for when she rejoined with “Thank you, Liba.” What had she just asked of me, and what had I agreed to?
    <p style=”text-align: center;”>*                      *                       *</p>
    We were sprawled out on the grass on Wednesday, munching on our respective salads and just enjoying each other’s company, when the loudspeaker crackled to life. “Liba Glick, please come to the office.” Rolling my eyes, I reluctantly set my salad down next to Shaindy.

    “It better not be Mrs. Young again; my attendance has been disastrous the past week because of the Melave Malka prep, and I forgot to hand in my excused late notes. I’ll be right back.”

    “Hurry, ‘cuz lunch is more than halfway over,” Pessi piped up, from her comfortable perch on a tree stump.

    “I will. And watch my salad, Shaindy.”

    I rushed to the office, making a beeline for Mrs. Young’s window. “Hi, Mrs. Young, did you call me? Is this about the attend-”

    “Oh, Liba!” Mrs. Young wrinkled up her nose and let her reading glasses slip off, squinting at me through the office window. “It was actually Mrs. Schiff who asked me to page you. She’s waiting for you in her office.” Gulp. I wasn’t the kind of student who had to spend her lunch learning Orchos Tzadikim in Mrs. Schiff’s office. I was the kind of student who’d never stepped foot in her office since my interview. I wasn’t even sure what the protocol was. Did I knock and wait? Knock and walk in? When I neared the office, it became clear that I wouldn’t have to do any of that. The door was wide open, and Mrs. Schiff stood outside, waiting.

    “Liba Glick.” Mrs. Schiff smiled reassuringly, ushering me inside. The door swung shut behind us with an audible click. I was almost about to feel comfortable when I suddenly noticed that we weren’t alone in the room. A girl sat in the chair. She was just as I remembered her: short and skinny, with thin rimless glasses, and a nervous twitch. The girl in the corner of the room. Only now she was in the center. And we stood across from her, Mrs. Schiff and I. “Liba, Tova, I’m sure you remember each other from elementary school.” Tova glanced at me and nodded. One quick nod. I cracked a smile.

    “Of course. Hello, Tova.” I stopped. It wasn’t enough; Mrs. Schiff was eyeing me expectantly. “Welcome to Bais Yaakov High.” I swallowed hard, and Mrs. Schiff nodded.

    “It’s a wonderful thing for a girl to come into a school already feeling she has a place, already knowing one of the top girls in the grade. Liba is one of our treasures, Tova. It’s a zechus for you to know her.” Tova blushed, a deep blush, and I almost felt a little bad for her. I did feel bad for her. But still not bad enough to negate how bad I felt for myself at the moment, especially at Mrs. Schiff’s next words. “I’ll leave you two to your own devices now.” Mrs. Schiff reached for a paper from her desk and handed it to Tova. “Here is your schedule. It’s an exact copy of Liba’s. I figured it would be easier for you if you had someone to follow around a bit until you get the hang of things.” Mrs. Schiff winked playfully. “Now go on. Enjoy the last bit of lunch before your first class.”

    Tova was even shorter than I remembered, after all. Shorter than any ninth grader in the school. We walked out of the office together, if you could call it together. Me, then her. She followed along obediently, like a sheep. If this was what it was, perhaps I could handle it. A silent shadow didn’t sound too bad. And it was a chessed, too.

    “I was just eating lunch with my friends. I’ll introduce them to you.” Tova nodded, the same quick nod.

    “Liba! What took so long?” my friends greeted me as I slid back down into the circle. Tova remained standing, a few feet away.

    “Shaindy, Pessi, Adina, meet Tova. She’ll be joining our grade, isn’t that nice? I know her from elementary school.” Tova shifted, smiled.

    “Hi, Tova!” Pessi flashed one of her winning grins. “This is so exciting! Pleased to meet you.”

    “Sit down!” Adina encouraged. Tova did, hesitantly. Just as she sat, though, the bell chimed, and we all scrambled to our feet. Looking a bit lost, Tova did the same. Upstairs we strolled, swinging our salads, two and two as always on the staircase, with a fifth girl following slightly awkwardly behind us. I pretended I didn’t notice, or that it was okay.
    <p style=”text-align: center;”>*                      *                       *</p>
    The first thing I discovered about Tova in the classroom was that she was the same girl in the corner of the room she always was. She took that corner desk, as if she knew instinctively that it was the only empty one in the room. In the short amount of time before the teacher walked in, she quietly unpacked her pencil case and notebooks and then just sat there. Not even pretending to busy herself with her belonging or that she was bentching or reading or something. Just sitting. I snuck glances at her from where I was standing, leaning against the doorpost, schmoozing.

    “Good afternoon, ladies.” Mrs. Kaplan stepped into the room, and we all found our seats. I was never so grateful to be sitting in the front. Tova was quite a distance from me; there was no way we would be associated with each other. “Take out your periodic tables, and let’s look at Hydrogen.” Class began. As I busied myself with taking notes, Tova didn’t exist anymore in my mind. Until I turned around for a moment, just to take a peek, and I caught sight of her face. She seemed completely lost. Of course; she didn’t have a periodic table to follow along with. I almost raised my hand to ask Mrs. Kaplan for another one, but at the last second, I held myself back. Tova had a mouth just as I did, didn’t she? Why did I feel responsible to ask the teacher for a sheet for her? And for the rest of the period Tova reclaimed her rightful spot in my mind as the girl in the corner of the classroom.
    <p style=”text-align: center;”>*                      *                       *</p>
    “Liba…” The by-now familiar voice was becoming a little too familiar. Sure enough, Tova stood waiting for me as I left the classroom for the Mincha break. “Are you studying with anyone for the Mishlei test?” I wasn’t.

    “I’m not.” I stated it in a decisive tone, one that indicated finality.

    “Oh.” I felt almost cruel, watching as she squared her wiry shoulders, turned, and shuffled down the hallway. To nowhere probably. Just away from me. But there was no reason for me to feel guilty; I hadn’t wanted to study with anyone for that Mishlei test anyway – it always went quicker when I did it alone. For some reason, though, I couldn’t shake off the image of Tova’s slight form slinking away in disappointment. And it continued to haunt me all throughout that night and the next day.
    <p style=”text-align: center;”>*                      *                       *</p>
    Especially when I realized halfway through the day that Tova wasn’t in school.

    “Tova’s not in school.” Shaindy looked at me funny. We were on the way to the auditorium for Mincha.

    “Tova? Tova Schwab?”

    “Yes, she’s not here today.” I suddenly realized how I must have sounded. My friends and I had had nothing to do with Tova since she had sat with us on her first day of school. Now, a few weeks later, I had actually noticed that she wasn’t in school?

    “Maybe she’s sick or something,” Shaindy suggested, as we neared the auditorium. I nodded, but I had a horrible pit in my stomach.
    <p style=”text-align: center;”>*                      *                       *</p>
    We were analyzing the periodic table of elements once again, when I was paged to the office. I had a strong feeling it was about Tova; sure enough, Mrs. Mannes was waiting for me when I got downstairs.

    “Come, Liba.” This time she wasn’t as welcoming as she led me into a mechaneches room.

    “How’s it going for Tova?” she got straight to the point.

    “I think… well.” I lied. Mrs. Mannes sighed heavily.

    “It doesn’t look like it.” Tap-tap went her piano fingers on the table; chink-chink went her ring. “She asked to switch classes.”

    “Oh?” Mrs. Mannes just looked at me, earnest. “I’m sorry,” I mustered.

    “It’s alright, Liba,” her tone lightened a bit, and I breathed. “These things happen. I just wanted to fill you in on where things stand. You might be able to pull some strings, you know, change things for her.”

    “Yes, of course, Mrs. Mannes.” The clock was ticking very loudly in the airtight room. “I will try my best to make Tova feel more comfortable.” The words felt wrong on my tongue; they even sounded wrong to my ears, but thankfully, Mrs. Mannes let me go.

    Climbing the stairs back to class, my legs felt unusually heavy.
    <p style=”text-align: center;”>*                      *                       *</p>
    “Remember Tova Schwab sat with us by lunch that day?” I mused aloud as Shaindy, Pessi, Adina and I settled into our favorite lunch spot. Tova sat a distance away, chatting with Rina Cohen, one of the quieter girls in the grade beneath ours. It was a better friendship for her, for both of them.

    “She’s a sweetie,” Adina said, and no one denied it.

    The conversation moved on to other topics, but my eyes kept wandering to the unassuming twosome settled on the curb across the parking lot, each with a sandwich and a run-of-the-mill water bottle. I picked at my salad. I wasn’t sure why I even loved salad so much in the first place and what made me decide it was the only thing I could bring for lunch. I didn’t even hear what my friends were discussing; the only thing I could think of was Mrs. Mannes’ blue eyes and the stuffiness of a small mechaneches room on the first floor of the building. It was a few weeks since that last conversation. I hadn’t done any of the things I said I would. Tova had come back to school the next day, still in my class. By recess, I’d resolved to find her, but couldn’t (or didn’t try hard enough, perhaps). The next time I’d seen her, she was with Rina, and I’d figured it was okay for her.

    I got up suddenly.

    “Where you going?” Pessi asked. “Lunch just started!”

    “I’m coming back.” I left my salad and let my legs take me where they wanted to take me. Three minutes later, I found myself standing in front of the teachers’ room. I knocked.

    “Is Mrs. Mannes here?” She was.

    “Can I… talk to you?”

    “Sure.” She was out of the teachers’ room, door closed behind her in ten seconds flat. And a minute and a half later, we were back in the claustrophobic mechaneches room.

    “I – I didn’t do what Mrs. Mannes asked me to do. For Tova.” And suddenly I was crying, great big sobs, tears rolling down my cheeks faster than I could stop them. And I was gulping and hiccupping and sputtering, and my nose was running like a baby’s. Mrs. Mannes handed me a tissue. And then her hand was on my shoulder, her dainty piano fingers with the sparkling diamond ring, and my shoulder was heaving uncontrollably.

    “I know, Liba.” Of course, she knew. Tova didn’t have friends; anyone could see that. Only Rina Cohen, a tenth grader. Why had I thought I was dropping a bombshell? “Maybe it was too much to ask of you; maybe it was too much to expect.” I didn’t answer. I didn’t trust myself to speak anymore. “I’m almost sorry that I ever asked you, that I ever put this achrayus on you.” I swallowed hard, and I felt a lump go down my throat. “I’m sorry, Liba,” Mrs. Mannes said softly. I got up. I had said what I’d come for. “And Liba…?” I stopped, turned back, my eyes still puffy, my cheeks still damp. “Thank you for trying.” I left the room, and let the door swing shut behind me. At the sound of the click, I imagined I was leaving behind a whole saga, the saga of the girl in the corner of the classroom.
    <p style=”text-align: center;”>*                      *                       *</p>
    “Mommy, I’m so bored!” Leaning over the washing machine, I reached in for a pile of damp laundry. Menucha was pulling on my skirt, a pout on her face.

    “Menucha,” I turned around to face my eldest daughter, still holding the armful of laundry. “I told you what you can do. Take out your class list, and invite someone over. You can play with the new dollhouse you just got for your birthday.”

    “No one wants to play with me,” Menucha said simply, fingering a stray sock that had fallen from my arms. I dropped the clothes into the dryer, ignoring the wet stain that they had left across the front of my top.

    “Why not?” So much laundry, especially on Sundays. I would have to start doing laundry on Thursdays or Fridays also.

    “No ‘pecific reason. They just ignore me.” Something clenched inside of me. Shutting the lid of the dryer, I paused, examining my daughter from head to toe. Menucha was petite and fair-skinned with a mess of dark bangs covering her beady brown eyes. My delicious nine-year-old princess. I had never viewed her from any other eyes besides those of her adoring mother. As Menucha shuffled behind me out of the laundry room, I suddenly had a flashback to another slight girl slouching after me in a different hallway.
    <p style=”text-align: center;”>*                      *                       *</p>
    Monday mornings were the worst. A whole slew of emails greeted me when I powered on my computer. Tuition break request, confirmation of the recent textbook order, notice of a raise for the eighth grade rebbi…

    “Liba!” Mrs. Travis looked like a hurricane had hit. “There you are!”

    “Here I am,” I smiled. “Good morning to you, too.”

    “Good morning. Listen, Liba. I know you’re just a secretary, and this is really not your job, but one of the first grade Rebbeim just had an emergency, and they couldn’t find a substitute so last minute. You’re the only person I could think of… Would you go in and entertain the boys, just until…” I didn’t mind. Downing the last remnants of my coffee, I scraped back my chair and abandoned my emails.

    Four minutes later I was facing a class of thirty boys. Stories flew out of my mouth: the Vilna Gaon, the Chazon Ish, the Steipler… stories from Tanach… I silently thanked Hashem for my phenomenal memory for detail as I described the battle of Yehoshua and Bnei Yisroel against Yericho. The time was swallowed up almost instantly, and the bell rang for recess. Wind howled noisily outside, so I announced that we would be staying in the classroom for the break. I sat in the desk and observed the fascinating social scene of first grade boys. And then I saw him. The boy in the corner of the classroom. Thumb in his mouth, a snack bag resting open in front of him, he sat in his desk and stared at his classmates. He didn’t stand up, didn’t speak up. And nobody noticed him. I wasn’t sure I’d have noticed him myself if I wasn’t looking for him.

    I called him over, asking his name. “Chaim.”

    “Do you want to play with the other boys?”

    “Yeah,” he shrugged. I took his hand and led him over to the circle. He shook my hand off and stuffed his hands in his pants pockets, head down.

    I continued to watch him the rest of the day.
    <p style=”text-align: center;”>*                      *                       *</p>
    “Menucha.” She looked up from her homework. “I think I want to talk to your teacher.”

    “My teacher knows you, Ma, she said she does.” The pencil continued to scritch-scratch. 2×4=8.

    “Oh?”

    “Yeah, she asked me once why you didn’t come to Open School night. ‘Cuz she said she knows you, and it would’ve been nice to see you.” I didn’t ask why Menucha had only told me this now, two months after Open School night. Or why she had never given me the note about Open School night to begin with. I was starting to realize that I had never fully understood a whole area of my daughter’s life: school.

    “So, Menucha, if you could please give this note to your teacher and ask her to call me.”
    <p style=”text-align: center;”>*                      *                       *</p>
    The phone rang at 8 p.m. the following night.

    “Hello, Mrs. Weisberg,” I answered pleasantly, leaning back in an armchair. “Thank you so much for calling me.”

    “I was wondering when you’d reach out.” The voice was familiar. Soft, like I remembered it, but more powerful, surer perhaps. “Liba.” When she said my name, a row of chills chased each other up my spine.

    “Tova Schwab? The-” I stopped. The girl in the corner of the classroom?

    “Tova Weisberg now, but yes, it’s me.” I gripped the leather armrests. My mind was racing; faces were flashing. First Tova, then Chaim, then… Menucha.

    “I’m asking about Menucha.” I swallowed, my heart pounding. I had to ask; I couldn’t not ask. This was my daughter. “How is she doing socially?”

    How’s it going for Tova?

    I think… well.

    It doesn’t look like it. She asked to switch classes.

    Tova laughed hoarsely. “Ironic, isn’t it?” I let her laugh. She could laugh. I deserved it. “I’m not laughing at you, Liba. I’m just laughing at the situation. I’m pretty amazed that I’m standing where I am today.”

    “I – I’m so sorry, Tova.”

    “Of course you are. We both grew up since.” She paused. “And you were never mean.”

    “I just wasn’t nice.” There I’d said it. I’d…apologized. My palms were sweaty; the house was hot all of the sudden. Dare I ask? I did. “How did you… move past it? Pick yourself up?”

    “I had good seminary friends,” Tova responded simply. “And I discovered that I love to teach, that I love Chumash and Rashi and Yedios Klalios. In the classroom I could be my true self, the person I couldn’t be when I was in third grade.” She stopped suddenly. “Why am I telling you all this?” I stayed silent. “I guess to tell you that Menucha has hope.” There was a lull, and the Tova suddenly said “I switched her seat to the front of the classroom. I try to get her involved.”

    “Thank you!” I let out a whoosh. What could I do? What could I say? A tear pricked the corner of my eye, and I blinked. “Thank you.” My voice came out as a whisper, though I hadn’t intended it to.

    “You know,” Tova mused. “Kids like Menucha are really the reason I decided to teach.” I waited for her to say more. She didn’t. “Well, I guess that’s all for now. I’m trying, she’s trying, you’re trying. We’ll make it work for her. We will.”

    I hung up. Sat forward in the armchair and rested my head in my arms. And stayed like that for a very long time.
    <p style=”text-align: center;”>*                      *                       *</p>
    “You know, Menucha.” The light was closed, and there was only a soft glow from the nightlight near her bed. I leaned forward, tucking the covers tight under her chin. “Some girls have a harder time making friends in school. Other girls might not appreciate them so much. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t special. And you know what?” Menucha’s eyes were wide, earnest. “Sometimes those girls, the girls that nobody really pays attention to? Sometimes those girls are the most special ones in the end.” Pushing my daughter’s bangs out of her eyes, I bent over and gave her a light kiss on her forehead. “It just takes a little longer for everyone to find out.”

     

  • PassionforWriting

    Member
    September 24, 2020 at 1:25 am

    Thank you! Yes, what you wrote in first grade.

  • Anagrammer

    Member
    September 24, 2020 at 1:28 am

    Miri and Chani had a fight about if Miri got out or not while they were playing jump-rope (details about the fight). And then Chani said “I’m sorry”, and they held hands and they were friends forever and ever.

  • PassionforWriting

    Member
    September 24, 2020 at 1:31 am

    I’m confused. Is that sentence a description of what you wrote about or is it related to your above posts?

    • Anagrammer

      Member
      September 24, 2020 at 1:34 am

      Lol, Passion. You asked me what I wrote about in first grade, so I was just answering you – the plot was about Miri and Chani and the jump-rope fight.

  • Anagrammer

    Member
    September 24, 2020 at 1:32 am

    Sorry for all the re-posting. Formatting issues… This should be good.

     

    She sat in the corner of the classroom, all the way in the back. Every year she sat there, definitely in third and fourth, and I think also in fifth grade. I never really paid much attention to her; she was the girl in the corner, not even “Tova”, like the teachers called her. I’m not sure why, but I didn’t dwell on her too much. No one did.

    That’s why I was so surprised when in the middle of high school, halfway through eleventh grade, to be exact, my mechaneches pulled me out of math class one day. “Liba.” Mrs. Mannes laid her hand down on the low table between us. There was a long pause, and I found myself staring down at her dainty fingers, at the diamond ring that sparkled as if it was new and not the twenty years old it was. My teacher was quiet until I looked up, until I met her eyes, and when I did, I was surprised to discover she was waiting. “Liba,” she repeated, the blue eyes trained directly on mine this time. I shuffled a bit in my seat in an attempt to appear relaxed and not as stiff as I felt. “Tova Schwab will be joining your grade.”

    You couldn’t blame me for looking confused, for not remembering who she was right away. Mrs. Mannes’ gaze was firmly trained on me while I desperately racked my mental contact list… and came up blank.

    “Tova Schwab from Bnos Yisroel Elementary.” The girl in the corner. Recognition must have flooded my face because Mrs. Mannes breathed an audible sigh of relief. “I knew I could count on you, Liba. To be honest, the school wasn’t sure about taking in a new girl in the middle of eleventh grade… but I knew if she had Liba Glick on her side, all would work out.” Mrs. Mannes drew up to her full height, brushing her skirt smooth as she did, and I followed suit.

    “Thank you, Mrs. Mannes,” I met her eyes once again as she held the door open for me. I wasn’t sure what I was thanking her for, or what she was thanking me for when she rejoined with “Thank you, Liba.” What had she just asked of me, and what had I agreed to?

    *                      *                       *

    We were sprawled out on the grass on Wednesday, munching on our respective salads and just enjoying each other’s company, when the loudspeaker crackled to life. “Liba Glick, please come to the office.” Rolling my eyes, I reluctantly set my salad down next to Shaindy.

    “It better not be Mrs. Young again; my attendance has been disastrous the past week because of the Melave Malka prep, and I forgot to hand in my excused late notes. I’ll be right back.”

    “Hurry, ‘cuz lunch is more than halfway over,” Pessi piped up, from her comfortable perch on a tree stump.

    “I will. And watch my salad, Shaindy.”

    I rushed to the office, making a beeline for Mrs. Young’s window. “Hi, Mrs. Young, did you call me? Is this about the attend-”

    “Oh, Liba!” Mrs. Young wrinkled up her nose and let her reading glasses slip off, squinting at me through the office window. “It was actually Mrs. Schiff who asked me to page you. She’s waiting for you in her office.” Gulp. I wasn’t the kind of student who had to spend her lunch learning Orchos Tzadikim in Mrs. Schiff’s office. I was the kind of student who’d never stepped foot in her office since my interview. I wasn’t even sure what the protocol was. Did I knock and wait? Knock and walk in? When I neared the office, it became clear that I wouldn’t have to do any of that. The door was wide open, and Mrs. Schiff stood outside, waiting.

    “Liba Glick.” Mrs. Schiff smiled reassuringly, ushering me inside. The door swung shut behind us with an audible click. I was almost about to feel comfortable when I suddenly noticed that we weren’t alone in the room. A girl sat in the chair. She was just as I remembered her: short and skinny, with thin rimless glasses, and a nervous twitch. The girl in the corner of the room. Only now she was in the center. And we stood across from her, Mrs. Schiff and I. “Liba, Tova, I’m sure you remember each other from elementary school.” Tova glanced at me and nodded. One quick nod. I cracked a smile.

    “Of course. Hello, Tova.” I stopped. It wasn’t enough; Mrs. Schiff was eyeing me expectantly. “Welcome to Bais Yaakov High.” I swallowed hard, and Mrs. Schiff nodded.

    “It’s a wonderful thing for a girl to come into a school already feeling she has a place, already knowing one of the top girls in the grade. Liba is one of our treasures, Tova. It’s a zechus for you to know her.” Tova blushed, a deep blush, and I almost felt a little bad for her. I did feel bad for her. But still not bad enough to negate how bad I felt for myself at the moment, especially at Mrs. Schiff’s next words. “I’ll leave you two to your own devices now.” Mrs. Schiff reached for a paper from her desk and handed it to Tova. “Here is your schedule. It’s an exact copy of Liba’s. I figured it would be easier for you if you had someone to follow around a bit until you get the hang of things.” Mrs. Schiff winked playfully. “Now go on. Enjoy the last bit of lunch before your first class.”

    Tova was even shorter than I remembered, after all. Shorter than any ninth grader in the school. We walked out of the office together, if you could call it together. Me, then her. She followed along obediently, like a sheep. If this was what it was, perhaps I could handle it. A silent shadow didn’t sound too bad. And it was a chessed, too.

    “I was just eating lunch with my friends. I’ll introduce them to you.” Tova nodded, the same quick nod.

    “Liba! What took so long?” my friends greeted me as I slid back down into the circle. Tova remained standing, a few feet away.

    “Shaindy, Pessi, Adina, meet Tova. She’ll be joining our grade, isn’t that nice? I know her from elementary school.” Tova shifted, smiled.

    “Hi, Tova!” Pessi flashed one of her winning grins. “This is so exciting! Pleased to meet you.”

    “Sit down!” Adina encouraged. Tova did, hesitantly. Just as she sat, though, the bell chimed, and we all scrambled to our feet. Looking a bit lost, Tova did the same. Upstairs we strolled, swinging our salads, two and two as always on the staircase, with a fifth girl following slightly awkwardly behind us. I pretended I didn’t notice, or that it was okay.

    *                      *                       *

    The first thing I discovered about Tova in the classroom was that she was the same girl in the corner of the room she always was. She took that corner desk, as if she knew instinctively that it was the only empty one in the room. In the short amount of time before the teacher walked in, she quietly unpacked her pencil case and notebooks and then just sat there. Not even pretending to busy herself with her belonging or that she was bentching or reading or something. Just sitting. I snuck glances at her from where I was standing, leaning against the doorpost, schmoozing.

    “Good afternoon, ladies.” Mrs. Kaplan stepped into the room, and we all found our seats. I was never so grateful to be sitting in the front. Tova was quite a distance from me; there was no way we would be associated with each other. “Take out your periodic tables, and let’s look at Hydrogen.” Class began. As I busied myself with taking notes, Tova didn’t exist anymore in my mind. Until I turned around for a moment, just to take a peek, and I caught sight of her face. She seemed completely lost. Of course; she didn’t have a periodic table to follow along with. I almost raised my hand to ask Mrs. Kaplan for another one, but at the last second, I held myself back. Tova had a mouth just as I did, didn’t she? Why did I feel responsible to ask the teacher for a sheet for her? And for the rest of the period Tova reclaimed her rightful spot in my mind as the girl in the corner of the classroom.

    *                      *                       *

    “Liba…” The by-now familiar voice was becoming a little too familiar. Sure enough, Tova stood waiting for me as I left the classroom for the Mincha break. “Are you studying with anyone for the Mishlei test?” I wasn’t.

    “I’m not.” I stated it in a decisive tone, one that indicated finality.

    “Oh.” I felt almost cruel, watching as she squared her wiry shoulders, turned, and shuffled down the hallway. To nowhere probably. Just away from me. But there was no reason for me to feel guilty; I hadn’t wanted to study with anyone for that Mishlei test anyway – it always went quicker when I did it alone. For some reason, though, I couldn’t shake off the image of Tova’s slight form slinking away in disappointment. And it continued to haunt me all throughout that night and the next day.

    *                      *                       *

    Especially when I realized halfway through the day that Tova wasn’t in school.

    “Tova’s not in school.” Shaindy looked at me funny. We were on the way to the auditorium for Mincha.

    “Tova? Tova Schwab?”

    “Yes, she’s not here today.” I suddenly realized how I must have sounded. My friends and I had had nothing to do with Tova since she had sat with us on her first day of school. Now, a few weeks later, I had actually noticed that she wasn’t in school?

    “Maybe she’s sick or something,” Shaindy suggested, as we neared the auditorium. I nodded, but I had a horrible pit in my stomach.

    *                      *                       *

    We were analyzing the periodic table of elements once again, when I was paged to the office. I had a strong feeling it was about Tova; sure enough, Mrs. Mannes was waiting for me when I got downstairs.

    “Come, Liba.” This time she wasn’t as welcoming as she led me into a mechaneches room.

    “How’s it going for Tova?” she got straight to the point.

    “I think… well.” I lied. Mrs. Mannes sighed heavily.

    “It doesn’t look like it.” Tap-tap went her piano fingers on the table; chink-chink went her ring. “She asked to switch classes.”

    “Oh?” Mrs. Mannes just looked at me, earnest. “I’m sorry,” I mustered.

    “It’s alright, Liba,” her tone lightened a bit, and I breathed. “These things happen. I just wanted to fill you in on where things stand. You might be able to pull some strings, you know, change things for her.”

    “Yes, of course, Mrs. Mannes.” The clock was ticking very loudly in the airtight room. “I will try my best to make Tova feel more comfortable.” The words felt wrong on my tongue; they even sounded wrong to my ears, but thankfully, Mrs. Mannes let me go.

    Climbing the stairs back to class, my legs felt unusually heavy.

    *                      *                       *

    “Remember Tova Schwab sat with us by lunch that day?” I mused aloud as Shaindy, Pessi, Adina and I settled into our favorite lunch spot. Tova sat a distance away, chatting with Rina Cohen, one of the quieter girls in the grade beneath ours. It was a better friendship for her, for both of them.

    “She’s a sweetie,” Adina said, and no one denied it.

    The conversation moved on to other topics, but my eyes kept wandering to the unassuming twosome settled on the curb across the parking lot, each with a sandwich and a run-of-the-mill water bottle. I picked at my salad. I wasn’t sure why I even loved salad so much in the first place and what made me decide it was the only thing I could bring for lunch. I didn’t even hear what my friends were discussing; the only thing I could think of was Mrs. Mannes’ blue eyes and the stuffiness of a small mechaneches room on the first floor of the building. It was a few weeks since that last conversation. I hadn’t done any of the things I said I would. Tova had come back to school the next day, still in my class. By recess, I’d resolved to find her, but couldn’t (or didn’t try hard enough, perhaps). The next time I’d seen her, she was with Rina, and I’d figured it was okay for her.

    I got up suddenly.

    “Where you going?” Pessi asked. “Lunch just started!”

    “I’m coming back.” I left my salad and let my legs take me where they wanted to take me. Three minutes later, I found myself standing in front of the teachers’ room. I knocked.

    “Is Mrs. Mannes here?” She was.

    “Can I… talk to you?”

    “Sure.” She was out of the teachers’ room, door closed behind her in ten seconds flat. And a minute and a half later, we were back in the claustrophobic mechaneches room.

    “I – I didn’t do what Mrs. Mannes asked me to do. For Tova.” And suddenly I was crying, great big sobs, tears rolling down my cheeks faster than I could stop them. And I was gulping and hiccupping and sputtering, and my nose was running like a baby’s. Mrs. Mannes handed me a tissue. And then her hand was on my shoulder, her dainty piano fingers with the sparkling diamond ring, and my shoulder was heaving uncontrollably.

    “I know, Liba.” Of course, she knew. Tova didn’t have friends; anyone could see that. Only Rina Cohen, a tenth grader. Why had I thought I was dropping a bombshell? “Maybe it was too much to ask of you; maybe it was too much to expect.” I didn’t answer. I didn’t trust myself to speak anymore. “I’m almost sorry that I ever asked you, that I ever put this achrayus on you.” I swallowed hard, and I felt a lump go down my throat. “I’m sorry, Liba,” Mrs. Mannes said softly. I got up. I had said what I’d come for. “And Liba…?” I stopped, turned back, my eyes still puffy, my cheeks still damp. “Thank you for trying.” I left the room, and let the door swing shut behind me. At the sound of the click, I imagined I was leaving behind a whole saga, the saga of the girl in the corner of the classroom.

    *                      *                       *

    “Mommy, I’m so bored!” Leaning over the washing machine, I reached in for a pile of damp laundry. Menucha was pulling on my skirt, a pout on her face.

    “Menucha,” I turned around to face my eldest daughter, still holding the armful of laundry. “I told you what you can do. Take out your class list, and invite someone over. You can play with the new dollhouse you just got for your birthday.”

    “No one wants to play with me,” Menucha said simply, fingering a stray sock that had fallen from my arms. I dropped the clothes into the dryer, ignoring the wet stain that they had left across the front of my top.

    “Why not?” So much laundry, especially on Sundays. I would have to start doing laundry on Thursdays or Fridays also.

    “No ‘pecific reason. They just ignore me.” Something clenched inside of me. Shutting the lid of the dryer, I paused, examining my daughter from head to toe. Menucha was petite and fair-skinned with a mess of dark bangs covering her beady brown eyes. My delicious nine-year-old princess. I had never viewed her from any other eyes besides those of her adoring mother. As Menucha shuffled behind me out of the laundry room, I suddenly had a flashback to another slight girl slouching after me in a different hallway.

    *                      *                       *

    Monday mornings were the worst. A whole slew of emails greeted me when I powered on my computer. Tuition break request, confirmation of the recent textbook order, notice of a raise for the eighth grade rebbi…

    “Liba!” Mrs. Travis looked like a hurricane had hit. “There you are!”

    “Here I am,” I smiled. “Good morning to you, too.”

    “Good morning. Listen, Liba. I know you’re just a secretary, and this is really not your job, but one of the first grade Rebbeim just had an emergency, and they couldn’t find a substitute so last minute. You’re the only person I could think of… Would you go in and entertain the boys, just until…” I didn’t mind. Downing the last remnants of my coffee, I scraped back my chair and abandoned my emails.

    Four minutes later I was facing a class of thirty boys. Stories flew out of my mouth: the Vilna Gaon, the Chazon Ish, the Steipler… stories from Tanach… I silently thanked Hashem for my phenomenal memory for detail as I described the battle of Yehoshua and Bnei Yisroel against Yericho. The time was swallowed up almost instantly, and the bell rang for recess. Wind howled noisily outside, so I announced that we would be staying in the classroom for the break. I sat in the desk and observed the fascinating social scene of first grade boys. And then I saw him. The boy in the corner of the classroom. Thumb in his mouth, a snack bag resting open in front of him, he sat in his desk and stared at his classmates. He didn’t stand up, didn’t speak up. And nobody noticed him. I wasn’t sure I’d have noticed him myself if I wasn’t looking for him.

    I called him over, asking his name. “Chaim.”

    “Do you want to play with the other boys?”

    “Yeah,” he shrugged. I took his hand and led him over to the circle. He shook my hand off and stuffed his hands in his pants pockets, head down.

    I continued to watch him the rest of the day.

    *                      *                       *

    “Menucha.” She looked up from her homework. “I think I want to talk to your teacher.”

    “My teacher knows you, Ma, she said she does.” The pencil continued to scritch-scratch. 2×4=8.

    “Oh?”

    “Yeah, she asked me once why you didn’t come to Open School night. ‘Cuz she said she knows you, and it would’ve been nice to see you.” I didn’t ask why Menucha had only told me this now, two months after Open School night. Or why she had never given me the note about Open School night to begin with. I was starting to realize that I had never fully understood a whole area of my daughter’s life: school.

    “So, Menucha, if you could please give this note to your teacher and ask her to call me.”

    *                      *                       *

    The phone rang at 8 p.m. the following night.

    “Hello, Mrs. Weisberg,” I answered pleasantly, leaning back in an armchair. “Thank you so much for calling me.”

    “I was wondering when you’d reach out.” The voice was familiar. Soft, like I remembered it, but more powerful, surer perhaps. “Liba.” When she said my name, a row of chills chased each other up my spine.

    “Tova Schwab? The-” I stopped. The girl in the corner of the classroom?

    “Tova Weisberg now, but yes, it’s me.” I gripped the leather armrests. My mind was racing; faces were flashing. First Tova, then Chaim, then… Menucha.

    “I’m asking about Menucha.” I swallowed, my heart pounding. I had to ask; I couldn’t not ask. This was my daughter. “How is she doing socially?”

    How’s it going for Tova?

    I think… well.

    It doesn’t look like it. She asked to switch classes.

    Tova laughed hoarsely. “Ironic, isn’t it?” I let her laugh. She could laugh. I deserved it. “I’m not laughing at you, Liba. I’m just laughing at the situation. I’m pretty amazed that I’m standing where I am today.”

    “I – I’m so sorry, Tova.”

    “Of course you are. We both grew up since.” She paused. “And you were never mean.”

    “I just wasn’t nice.” There I’d said it. I’d…apologized. My palms were sweaty; the house was hot all of the sudden. Dare I ask? I did. “How did you… move past it? Pick yourself up?”

    “I had good seminary friends,” Tova responded simply. “And I discovered that I love to teach, that I love Chumash and Rashi and Yedios Klalios. In the classroom I could be my true self, the person I couldn’t be when I was in third grade.” She stopped suddenly. “Why am I telling you all this?” I stayed silent. “I guess to tell you that Menucha has hope.” There was a lull, and the Tova suddenly said “I switched her seat to the front of the classroom. I try to get her involved.”

    “Thank you!” I let out a whoosh. What could I do? What could I say? A tear pricked the corner of my eye, and I blinked. “Thank you.” My voice came out as a whisper, though I hadn’t intended it to.

    “You know,” Tova mused. “Kids like Menucha are really the reason I decided to teach.” I waited for her to say more. She didn’t. “Well, I guess that’s all for now. I’m trying, she’s trying, you’re trying. We’ll make it work for her. We will.”

    I hung up. Sat forward in the armchair and rested my head in my arms. And stayed like that for a very long time.

    *                      *                       *

    “You know, Menucha.” The light was closed, and there was only a soft glow from the nightlight near her bed. I leaned forward, tucking the covers tight under her chin. “Some girls have a harder time making friends in school. Other girls might not appreciate them so much. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t special. And you know what?” Menucha’s eyes were wide, earnest. “Sometimes those girls, the girls that nobody really pays attention to? Sometimes those girls are the most special ones in the end.” Pushing my daughter’s bangs out of her eyes, I bent over and gave her a light kiss on her forehead. “It just takes a little longer for everyone to find out.”

     

  • PassionforWriting

    Member
    September 24, 2020 at 1:36 am

    Oh, you were answering me with that story? (I’m sorry! I’m just getting confused between your other posts.) That story you just reposted is the story you wrote in first grade?

    • Anagrammer

      Member
      September 24, 2020 at 1:39 am

      No, I reposted the story because I switched the ending, so it’s a new version of my original story.

      And that sentence about Miri and Chani was an answer to your question about my story from first grade.

  • PassionforWriting

    Member
    September 24, 2020 at 1:40 am

    Got it!! Thanks!! lol… 🙂 sounds like an interesting story!!

  • Drop-a-line

    Member
    September 24, 2020 at 8:13 am

    Annagrammer, I love the new ending! Had, to quote: ‘ a row of chills chasing each other up my spine ‘ 😉

    I see you’ve never published before but I think it’s time to start now!

    • Anagrammer

      Member
      September 24, 2020 at 9:45 pm

      And I love Masterpiece! A very astute member actually gave me some great, targeted feedback, which led to that improvised ending…

      Thanks for the quote 🙂 and the support, Drop-a-line.

  • Mindy Friedman

    Member
    September 24, 2020 at 4:54 pm

    I enjoyed reading your story, Anagrammer! It’s nice to see how you improved your story with the new ending. I think you did a good job portraying how a typical high school girl would feel about getting the responsibility to make a super-shy, new girl happy. I am only wondering, why does Liba cry so hard when she talks to the machaneches in the end? I don’t think the story builds up to such a strong emotion. If she feels so bad, why doesn’t she just improve and help Tova feel better going forward? Just my thoughts…

     

    • Anagrammer

      Member
      September 24, 2020 at 9:49 pm

      She cries ‘cuz she felt so utterly nasty for so long and wanted to just be rid of that guilt without giving up of herself in the process… I guess just overwhelmed. But maybe you’re right:) . It’s just so much fun, don’t you think? But yes – I do have to tone it down a bit;) .

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Mindy! True point!

    • Anagrammer

      Member
      September 24, 2020 at 10:01 pm

      Better? Or still too much…?

       

      “Sure.” She was out of the teachers’ room, door closed behind her in ten seconds flat. And a minute and a half later, we were back in the claustrophobic mechaneches room.

      “I – I didn’t do what Mrs. Mannes asked me to do. For Tova.” And suddenly hot tears were forming in my eyes, and I was blinking. I wasn’t even sure why. Mrs. Mannes’ hand touched my shoulder.

      “I know, Liba.” Of course, she knew. Tova didn’t have friends; anyone could see that. Only Rina Cohen, a tenth grader. Why had I thought I was dropping a bombshell? “Maybe it was too much to ask of you; maybe it was too much to expect.” I didn’t answer. I didn’t trust myself to speak anymore. “I’m almost sorry that I ever asked you, that I ever put this achrayus on you.” I swallowed hard, felt a lump go down my throat. “I’m sorry, Liba,” Mrs. Mannes said softly. I got up. I had said what I’d come for. “And Liba…?” I stopped, turned back, my hand resting on the doorknob. “Thank you for trying.” I left the room, letting the door swing shut behind me. At the sound of the click, I imagined I was leaving behind a whole saga, the saga of the girl in the corner of the classroom.

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