By: Michael Gigandet
Martin used his elbows and hips to work his way to the end of the line of 4th graders spread across the front of the classroom. At least he could delay the humiliation coming to him which is the best you can hope for sometimes.
This was shaping up to be the worst school year of his life, and he didn’t need any additional notoriety.
A few weeks earlier, just as his classmates stopped asking him about his parents’ divorce, he’d been the only student in his class who’d not gone on the field trip to see Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.
“Now is not a good time,” his mother said when he asked her to sign the permission form.
“But all my friends are going…” She appeared to hear him, but she didn’t say anything. She wouldn’t even look at him. It was unjust.
A class field trip on a bus to Mammoth Cave was too marvelous to miss. He would be the only one in the class not there. Even a sickly girl named Susie who had already missed so much school that year that she would have to repeat the 4th grade was going.
He couldn’t ask his father; he’d left them, and the family was roiled in a custody battle. Martin’s father had told the court that his mother was crazy, and a woman had come to interview him. Whenever Martin answered her, the woman would say “I see” and “How does that make you feel?” She’d asked that so many times that he realized she did not care and began making things up.
“It must be the money,” he decided. His mother had none. Maybe she didn’t want him to know how poor they were. There had been few presents under the tree that Christmas. He knew it was wrong to notice that; still, it gave him a lump in his throat. Later Christmas day at his aunt’s house his father gave him all the toys his mother couldn’t, and he was embarrassed when his mother saw him unloading the gifts from his father’s car.
He forged his mother’s signature on the travel permission form, but as he was getting in the line to the bus, Mrs. Brixton asked him for his trip fee, and it all came apart right there in front of everybody. His classmates watched him walk away to the library where he spent the day reading all of the books on dinosaurs. When he thought about his classmates he told himself: “We don’t have the money.”
And now this:
A few days after the Mammoth Cave excursion, Mrs. Brixton asked the class to bring $4 to school for a plastic flute. He didn’t ask his mother for the money.
When Mrs. Brixton tired of asking him, she gave him a flute. “We have an extra one,” she said and shoved it into his hands.
In the afternoons, the class practiced on their flutes, and Martin pretended to play along, but he never played a note. Not one. He had not planned on Mrs. Brixton lining the class across the front of the room to demonstrate their skills on one of the songs they had learned.
He listened to repeated renditions of “Three Blind Mice” and “Mary Had A Little Lamb” as each student performed, the sound coming toward him like the feeling he got on Sunday nights when he thought about returning to school the next morning. The students sat down after they played, and soon Martin was the only student standing. He stood there a long time with his hands at his side. When the class stopped laughing at him, he said: “This is not my flute.”
Mrs. Brixton gave him a zero for his music grade.
At recess some of the kids teased him. “You could have tried,” one of them said.
“From the sound of your playing, I wish you hadn’t tried,” Martin said. The other kids laughed.
“Well you got a zero.”
“Who cares?” he said. “They can’t make you do anything you don’t want to do.”
They seemed impressed.
When they returned to the classroom, Martin walked over to the trash can and dropped in his flute.
Mrs. Brixton told him to take it back. Instead he walked out of the classroom intending never to return.
Michael Gigandet is a lawyer living on a farm in middle Tennessee. He has been published by the Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Reedsy, Spelk Fiction, OrangeBlushZine, Transfigured and Potato Soup Journal. He has published stories in collections by Palm Sized Press, Pure Slush and Down In The Dirt.
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