“It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Mr. Helling, and I’m sorry for the inconvenience. I trust you didn’t have any trouble finding the classroom. Cheryl tells me that you’ve been very busy with work and are, in fact, leaving in the morning on business.” Her voice was that of a younger woman, full-throated and rich, with a certain edge to it. Her manner of inflection and the slight hardness she affected in the use of particular words suggested a sort of warning, or perhaps more accurately a challenge. Through these means she attempted to establish her dominance as the authority in this situation, and I the vassal meant solely to consent and enact change in order to rectify what she viewed as a disturbance in her realm. I shook her hand firmly, calculating that she was likely at least mildly arthritic. The slight twinge as I did so confirmed my assumption.
“Mrs. Baker. No, I didn’t, and yes, I am.” She gestured to an armless plastic chair she’d pulled up to her desk, carefully positioning herself in her more comfortable seat even as she folded her hands into a seamless mass of crags. I sat in my allotted space, sliding my glasses back up with one hand as our gaze locked. There was a pregnant pause long enough to trigger my impatience at interruption to my usual routine. “Tell me why I’m here, Mrs. Baker.”
“Yes of course,” she breathed, shaking her head slightly as if stirred from a reverie. She’d been sizing me up and likely attempting to psychoanalyze me. Good luck. She opened a manila folder on her desk complete with a tab labeled “Darren” in thick blue marker. She withdrew a sheet of construction paper and looked at it pointedly before handing it to me. Taking and examining it, I could easily intuit the given project. A house (presumably ours) was in the distance to one side. There were several disproportionate, flat people rendered with nonetheless acute attention so that each was instantly recognizable. Cheryl was holding a laden plate and a Bible, an exaggerated smile on her face. Darren was playing with his toys near his mother. Scout was next to him as a nondescript brown blob identifiable only by his wagging tail and ears. I however was standing apart, very tall and spindly with large insect-like glasses for eyes. I carried a vial in my hand containing bright green liquid. The crowning glory of Darren’s depiction was the pale, pinkish blob attached to its feeding apparatus, multitude of limbs spread out as if the boy had counted them as he drew, the small tentacle protruding from its stomach with a spider at the end of it. Apparently he had rather recently been in my office while I was away. I couldn’t help but smirk slightly despite Mrs. Baker’s watchful stare.
“Interesting.” I said pensively, remembering to shake my head in order to affect wonderment.
“Isn’t it?” she replied in a slightly accusatory tone. She leaned forward with her elbows on her knees as if she were a coach about to give me an inspirational talk. “The assignment was to draw his family. I asked him about that—” here she pointed to the creature between me and the rest of my family, “—and he told me that it was his brother. That his name is Fred.” I looked at the drawing and then at the teacher.
“This is what you called me in for?” I uttered, mildly incredulous.
“Cheryl recommended that I speak to you because this is obviously tied to Darren’s impression of his father.”
“I’m a genetic engineer, Mrs. Baker. The neighbors reportedly take great pleasure in ascribing the role of Dr. Frankenstein to me particularly because I’m a very busy man. Children are quiet imaginative. If there were a problem with him don’t you think his drawing would be more frightening than a little pink monster sitting at my feet like a pet?” She stared at me long and hard for the span of several moments. Finally she broke the trance with a sigh.
“I’m also worried about his emotional state, Mr. Helling. He won’t play with the other children.”
“He doesn’t share their interests.”
“He doesn’t have any friends. Don’t you find that a little odd?"
“I don’t. I was a quiet child, myself.”
“I think your son would benefit from counseling.” It was my turn to lean in close, raising my brows and tilting my head to look at her over the rims of my glasses, clasping my hands loosely. I enunciated each word firmly and distinctly.
“If Darren is exhibiting behavioral issues or doing poorly in class, you can certainly let me or Cheryl know. My boy doesn’t like the children in your class and isn’t going to like you for forcing him to interact with them more than is necessary. Rather than pushing him, you need to let him be himself. Children are bullies enough on their own without help from their teachers. Good night, Mrs. Baker.”
She was entirely dumbfounded by my denunciation of her presentation and found herself unable to reply. Inevitably Cheryl would receive a lengthy email or phone call about the meeting supplying exaggerations of my response and vehemently offering rebuttal, but it was Cheryl’s contrivance which placed me under fire. She wouldn’t dare broach the subject of Mrs. Baker’s reaction with me. As to my son…
It was high time I gave him some introductory lessons in biology.