Fiction Friday – If Walls Could Talk – Schoolhouse

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Schoolhouse to Dentist Chair..

I was a two room schoolhouse.
My desks were rarely full. Maybe for one or two years. Then the flu came through and closed me up tight. After what seemed a season, I reopened both teachers looked drawn, exhausted. The students, fewer, looked fairly beat down as well. Some of the girls had their hair shorn back to their scalps.

It was a slow start after the illness. Before that I know some of the children would get sick and never come back, but that was two here, one there and never caused my doors to be shut tight.

With two classrooms there is still a lot of repetition. Year after year the teachers taught the same lessons, gave the same hand writing, arithmetic drills, reading circles. One group would work quietly while another group gave recitals on facts and more facts.

Being a school house was dull, almost mechanical, I saw children dread to enter with two or three behind them, cheerful and hardly able to wait to get through the doors. Some of those who couldn’t wait to get in were the first who wanted out in the afternoon.

When a family fell on hard times, kids would go missing. Sickness of a major family member kept that family’s children home. Someone had to do the chores. During planting and harvest time, the bigger boys were excused early or allowed to come in late, or not at all. Having an education is a privilege, not a right. Sitting behind a desk memorizing arithmetic did not get the crops planted or taken off to market. Some facts of life were always facts, bigger than any multiplication problem.

I was a clean place. The teachers would stay after the children were gone. They’d make notes, go to the other teacher’s room and they would chat, sometimes serious chat, problem solving and other times they’d laugh and tell stories that should have been told out of school. You know, you’ve heard it before, telling stories out of school.

The narthex is a small room, called the cloak room. Children shed coats and hats and mittens. They stomped the snow off, set their lunches on the shelf. This was a transitioning place where many children shrugged off the troubles that followed them from home. I suppose that is why some of the kids were always so anxious to get here. If the day turns nice I keep the coats until the next day. A child forgetting his coat was free to come in and retrieve it. It was the innermost doors that were off limits without a teacher.

The narthex sheltered many people over time. Sometimes, and most often they were adult men. They’d come in, usually drunk and huddle up for the night. Always careful to let themselves out before the full on break of dawn and the arrival of the teachers.

The teachers being the first ones there knew. They could smell the drink the grown men sweat. They’d remove any bottle that might have been left behind and go on as though it was an ordinary thing.

The men who slept there knew the rules unwritten and unspoken. Only the worst off left anything but a scent behind. There were regulars but never two at a time and I wondered if there was some invisible code a signal that I was occupied. If there was, I never figured it out.

The last classes happened here and ended as they should. The teachers and children were going to come back to another place next year. No one was sad.

The children cleaned me that year beside the teachers. They washed the walls, the chalkboard, even shined the pegs that kept the coats. There wasn’t even a hint of a lost fried egg sandwich.

This time they locked me up as tight as when the influenza hit the town. My electricity was turned off. My water, too. I sat like that. I didn’t take long to begin to show my abandonment. I think places need people in order to be alive, in order to be.

I just sat here. Some junk gathered up out front and a new house went up next door. Always, a few kids would come around to use my playground, but it had turned rusted and dry rotted and one day it was cleared away.

I was painted up one spring time, my roof was fixed, windows calked and I became a small office. One of my rooms was redone into something similar to stalls. Machines and padded chairs were brought in with new plumbing and bright lights.

It took a long time to get this remodeling done and I knew for certain I was not going to be a school.

Strange people came in and tested big bulky equipment. They left. Stranger people came in and tinkered with things and then the familiar testers came back again. After this went on a repeated a few times I had a new sign over my door.

I had been converted into a dentist’s office with room for three patients to wait at a time. I had to wonder if the town expected an epidemic of toothaches.

I soon discovered that no one really likes to come through the door. I can feel the discomfort, the pain, the worry and the dread before they even get to the room in back.

They seem quite cheerful, putting on a good face, telling a flat joke. Then they get to the chair.

They lie down and mostly grip the arms. I fully expect them to bound up and take flight. Some of them do.

One gentleman, young, came in one day. He was a falsely cheerful as any of them. The woman got him in the chair and turned away. Like he’d be jolted by live wires, the fellow leapt up out of the chair and bounded straight out the door and the next door and the narthex where children hung their coats.

This happened a lot, but usually in a more controlled way as the patient talked his or her way out of the chair apologizing all the way out the front door.

Now, I’m empty again. They have left me as I am, one chair that they didn’t resell and a gutted x-ray machine. When people drive by they still call me the old school house. It is more pleasant that being called the old dentist’s office.

The Old Schoolhouse

By Sally

Sally Franklin Christie Blogger and Author of If I Should Die and Milk Carton People.