*Recorded during Parent/Teacher Conferences at a suburban Midwestern high school.
6:27 p.m. Walter “Dutch” Van den Berg
Henry Van den Berg’s single-parent father was in tears. His son’s F in World Literature at midterm would make him ineligible for the swim team, jeopardizing his scholarship offer from NC State. I suggested a makeup quiz on Toni Morrison could raise his grade to a D. I also recommended that his son should read the book prior to taking the quiz. Dutch shook my hand. Early conferences are the easy ones.
7:03 The Butlers
Nina Butler’s parents told me they were concerned because Nina went into her room every night after supper and didn’t reappear until after ten o’clock. She popped microwave popcorn, watched the Channel 4 sports segment, and announced she still had an hour of homework left to do, “not that anyone in this house cares.”
“She says that every night,” her father told me. “‘I’ve got an hour of homework left to do, not that anyone in this house cares.’ Her mother and I don’t know what to do. She wasn’t like this in Middle School. Nina was a sweet child. She loved her family. She shared her popcorn.”
I nodded sympathetically. That seemed to be the response they were looking for.
7:26 The Willards
“Last year Elizabeth decided to be an Marine Biologist after she swam with the dolphins at Sea World–”
“–but she’ll need to get into a first tier college–”
“–so you can see why she just can’t afford to get a C–”
“–in Advanced Composition class.”
Mr. and Mrs. Willards were in sync. They’d probably rehearsed because when we’d met at the September Open House, they’d found me difficult to talk to.
“Plus, on every paper you’ve returned–”
“–she’s gotten an A.”
“She showed us,” they said in unison.
I slid Elizabeth’s grade sheet toward them with three blank spaces circled. “It’s difficult to get more than a C if you only turn in two-thirds of the assignments.”
“Elizabeth didn’t say–”
“–missed assignments.” The Willards rose in unison. “We will–”
“–tonight.” And they were gone.
7:43 Mrs. Potek
Someone sat down and signed in. I looked up. “Good evening, Mrs. Potek.”
She had carefully selected her wardrobe, and her perfume was newly and generously applied. She looked almost normal, not at all like the “alcoholic zombie” Nikki described in her journal.
“You’re sick of seeing me.” There was an element of truth in her statement. Mrs. Potek and her attorney ex-husband were frequent visitors to the high school.
“Nonsense. I’m always happy to talk about Nikki. So many of our most recent conversations have dealt with your son.” Justin had difficults with boundaries.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
I backed off. “Nothing, Mrs. Potek…. May I call you Jackie?”
“My ex-husband calls me a lot worse.” I decided to stick with Mrs. Potek. She grabbed my arm. “Can you help me with this kid? Nikki’s not like Justin. After Don Horsley’s suicide, she got really dark. I told her to just get a new boyfriend. That’s what I’d do. She said she’s outgrown boys. Now what’s that supposed to mean?”
“Mrs. Potek, it’s normal for someone Nikki’s age to be confused.”
“I know the divorce bothered her, but it’s not her business. It’s my problem.”
I attributed Mrs. Potek’s candor and profound lack of insight to the smell of gin on her breath. She let go of my arm and pulled out Nikki’s grade card. “Is your class the one’s she’s passing.” She struggled to focus.
“That’s probably Mr. Griffin’s class.”
She put the card down on the desk. “Well, it’s no wonder she’s failing yours, all that heathen literature you read.”
“Oedipus. The Odyssey. Violence. Pagan gods. It’s quite a challenge to her Christian beliefs. I make her get down on her knees every night and pray about it.” Mrs. Potek looked at me without blinking. “We pray for your soul, too.”
I glanced behind her. There were a half dozen concerned parents waiting. “I appreciate that Mrs. Potek.”
I returned the favor when I got home.
Paul Lewellan lives in Davenport, Iowa, on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. He shares the writing space with his wife Pamela, an annoying little Shi Tzu named Mannie, and their ginger tabby Sunny. Paul’s short stories have recently appeared in Front Porch Review, Quiet Storm Magazine, Fragile, and Remington Review.