Mostly I am furniture. I stand, like a lamp. Or I sit, like a chair. And people don’t really notice me too much, not until they need me for something. And that’s okay with me.
I didn’t want to be in a study hall. So when they came around to ask if anyone wanted to work in the office that period, I volunteered. No one else did. That’s because in study hall there are kids who want to work (a few), to mess around (a lot), to sleep (a lot), to read (a few). And almost all of them would rather be with their friends than in the office with a bunch of adults who might at any minute send you somewhere to look for someone, or to do something you don’t really want to do.
Because I am furniture most of the period I’m here, I see things and hear things that most kids don’t. It can be interesting. Take the other day …
A mother brought a new kid in the office to register, right at the beginning of first period. She was in a hurry, kept looking at her watch, but she filled out the papers and then turned to her son: “Have a good day, Brian, and I’ll see you at home. Okay?” She bent to kiss him but he turned his head aside. I smiled. He’d done just what I would do—just what about any kid would do in that situation. Who wants a big kiss right there in the office? Not me. Well … depends, I guess.
No one else was in the office—all the homeroom stuff had been done already, attendance slips sent down. Oh, well, Craig Burns was there, waiting in his wheelchair. He doesn’t have a first-period class, so he just sits there every day and waits—for what, I’m not sure. It’s sad about Craig. I’d say something to him. But I don’t know what. He has a little keyboard that he types stuff on with his one hand that still works. He has a little pocket recorder, too. Sometimes he turns in digital recordings instead of writing.
Anyway, Mrs. Keyz, the main secretary, she looked over at Brian—that’s the new kid—and said, “Welcome to Spoon River Middle School, Mr.”—she looked at the card—“Novell. Mr. Brian Novell.”
Brian just stared at her, and then something happened I’d never seen before. Mrs. Keyz looked down! She couldn’t return his look. Slowly, Brian swung around to see me sitting there in a chair, waiting for an errand. “What are you looking at?” his eyes demanded to know. My eyes dropped, joining Mrs. Keyz’s.
Then I heard her voice again. “Brian,” she said, dropping the “Mr.” part, which I always thought was pretty dumb on her part, and on anyone’s part, really, calling a kid “Mr.” or “Miss.” One teacher of mine, in sixth grade, a math teacher, Mr. Morpheus, did it all year long. “Mr. This” and “Miss That.” At first it was just weird, then it was annoying, and then no one cared, no one even thought about it, mostly because the class was so boring that we didn’t even hear what Mr. Morpheus was saying half the time.
Brian swung back around to look at Mrs. Keyz. “We have one more little thing you need to do before we get you your schedule.”
Brian never said anything. Just looked.
She dug in a folder and came out with a sheet of paper. I knew what it was. Instructions for the writing thing he had to do—the one every new kid has to do.
“What’s that?” asked Brian.
“Every new student has to write something for us,” she said, sounding like this was going to be fun. “Here’s what it is.” She held it out, and for the longest time Brian never moved.
Mrs. Keyz made a “tsk-y” sort of sound, then waved the paper at me. “Here,” she said, “would you hand this to Brian, please?”
I got up, moved to the desk, took the paper, handed it to Brian. He looked right through me. But took it. He glanced at it, then made a sort of snorting sound, like he didn’t think much of it. I didn’t suppose he would have.
“Where?” was what he asked, picking up and slinging over his shoulder the ratty backpack he had with him.
“Mercury, can you show Brian into the clinic? To the desk where he can write?”
“Sure. But there are a couple of kids already in there, and—”
“There’s room,” she said.
So I walked past Brian through the clinic door. He followed.
The nurse wasn’t there (she was down the hall helping some kid with a bloody nose), but I found the empty desk, turned, and pointed to it. Brian sat right down.
I started to ask him something (“Do you need anything?”), but he looked up and froze me with the most ice-blue eyes I had ever seen. Slowly he moved his forefinger to his lips, shushing me. Suddenly I felt cold. Even afraid. I turned and hurried back into the office, right past Craig Burns, who was slowly typing on his keyboard.
Back in the office I sorted the attendance slips for Mrs. Keyz, then spent the rest of the period reading a book. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to see Brian Novell again, at least not that period.
But just before the end, he came out. He surprised me, though. As he reached Craig’s wheelchair, he turned and leaned down and whispered something in his ear. Craig never moved. And it’s impossible to tell what Craig is thinking or feeling anymore, now that his face is so, well, damaged. He doesn’t blush, he can’t smile, so I couldn’t really tell what Brian said to him. But Craig quit typing for a minute.
Brian walked over to Mrs. Keyz’s desk and flipped the paper on it. He didn’t say a word. He just stood there. Mrs. Keyz looked over at me. “Mercury,” she said, “please show Brian to Mrs. Moody’s office. He needs to get his schedule.”
“Sure,” I said. I headed off down the hall, hoping Brian would follow. He did.
When we turned the corner and saw Mrs. Moody’s office door, it was closed, and there were a couple of boys sitting on the benches outside—one on the opposite side of the hallway from the other. “Here’s the guidance office,” I said. He didn’t answer, and I suddenly felt so confused and frightened that I blurted out, “And my name’s Mercury Swift.”
Before he could say anything—or do anything—I hurried back around the corner and left him there. I guess he saw Mrs. Moody all right because he was in a couple of my classes later in the day.
I forgot to tell you … when I got back to the office, Craig Burns was typing again, typing faster than I’d ever seen him type before. Which isn’t all that fast. But it was fast for him. His one hand, the one that really got burned, it looks like a claw. Then he stopped. Picked up his recorder and started whispering into it—for a long, long time.
I had no more errands, and classes were about to change, so I picked up my stuff, sat down, hugged my books to my chest, and tried to breathe slow, tried to get my heart rate back to normal. Tried not to think anymore about Brian Novell. Tried to be furniture. A lamp. A chair.