Natalia blinked back tears. She’d read some of her husband’s poetry, and it flowed so similarly that it was frightening. But she also felt the nostalgia of days past between father and son, and then the heart-wrenching loss. She pulled a Kleenex from the package and dabbed her eyes. She glanced at the last two lines, and her face twisted again, and cries began escaping her in harsh, coughing sobs.
Mr. Timothy and Mrs. Maloney stood nearby, waiting patiently for her to get it out. Neither stood to offer any solace, and for that, Natalia was actually thankful. She didn’t know either of them well enough and didn’t want their consolation. As she slowly composed herself, she mopped her face with her hand and took a deep, sturdy breath. Her eyes didn’t focus on the guidance counselor, but rather, on the teacher.
“I can’t believe Evan actually wrote this,” she said softly. Her eyes scanned the words briefly, and she managed not to cry. “It fits him, for all he’s been through, but it’s hard to believe that my little boy could write so well.”
“That was my reaction as well, months ago when he started writing during our free time.” He had a warm smile and pleasant air to him, and Natalia could see why Evan liked his teacher so much. “I was thrilled. Most of the kids just want to draw SpongeBob or race cars or dresses.” He chuckled. “Not that that is wrong or anything. But to see someone truly working at a craft…it’s uplifting in my line of work.”
“Mr. Timothy let me read this one, because he felt like it was worthy of submission to some periodicals,” Mrs. Maloney said suddenly. Her mouth was pouty and doubtful, and her eyes seemed to look down upon the other two in the room. “I am not trying to discount your son’s talent. It is exceptional for a nine year-old to put together such a fine piece of poetry. But the underlying theme of this piece truly frightened me for Evan.”
“It’s in honor of his father,” Natalia said, face reddening. “It’s the most significant thing he’s ever gone through.”
“Is it in honor of anything?” Mrs. Maloney said. She took the poem from Natalia in her thumb and forefinger, holding it as if it were trash. “This reads to me like a boy who feels abandoned, not one giving his late father honor.”
“What makes you think he’s abandoned?” Natalia said, voice amplifying.
“Mrs. Fellowes, I never suggested that you…”
“Go ahead and spit it out, lady,” Natalia snapped. “You think I don’t take up any time with him? Is that it?”
“Evan is all I have left, do you understand?” Natalia was crying again, but now without sobs. She jabbed a finger furiously toward the guidance counselor. “I spend every hour that I can with him. I love my son with all that I have. How dare you call me in here and accuse me of neglecting him!”
“Mrs. Fellowes, please,” said Mr. Timothy, and he had a hand on her shoulder, soft and calm. Natalia pulled his hand away, her eyes never leaving Mrs. Maloney. Mr. Timothy wasn’t offended that his hand was removed, and his voice remained even despite the rise in emotion in the room. “I cannot speak for Mrs. Maloney in regards to whatever she was trying to tell you. I can say that I know your son seems very happy in spite of all that he’s been through and I give you credit for keeping him such a way. For a child to lose his father and still remain cheerful is a testament to his mother’s work.”
Natalia remained silent. Her eyes were locked on Mrs. Maloney, who was now fidgeting nervously. She stood up, smoothing her dress, and bid Mr. Timothy a good day. She only offered Natalia a soft little nod, which wasn’t returned. As the door shut behind her, Mr. Timothy let out a long, soothing sigh.
“I am so sorry she was here,” he said, and he collapsed into his chair. “Between you and me, I get the vibe that she wants kids to suffer emotionally, just so she can justify her position.” He gave Natalia an apologetic shrug. “Sarah –Mrs. Maloney, I should say, knows a guy that publishes a periodical of local literary talent. I figured she could help get Evan’s poem in more quickly. I never expected her to proofread it.”
Natalia leaned against her desk, face grim. “She thinks I’ve abandoned Evan.”
“No, she wants you to have abandoned him. Then she can play like she’s been a great savior to the children of our community.” He shook his head. “She drives the rest of us crazy, I’m sorry to say.”
“I can see why.”
“Truthfully, though, I was plenty surprised when I wasn’t getting responses on Evan’s writing earlier this year. He’s doing a fantastic job. I thought you would return those to show you’ve seen them.” Mr. Timothy’s head tilted, inquisitive. “I’m not accusing you of anything. I’m just making a fact-based observation. So please don’t yell at me.”
Natalia chuckled. “I won’t. And my response might not hold much water, but I haven’t seen any papers that Evan has written.” She thought hard. There might have been a week that she missed signing off on his homework or his planner, but if she did, it was usually there the following week. “I’ve seen tests. I’ve seen newsletters. I haven’t seen any writing.”
Mr. Timothy considered this, and shrugged. “I enjoyed writing in my youth. Stuff about alien invasions and everyday men saving us from being overtaken.” He laughed heartily. “I feel foolish for doing so now, and I never would have dared sharing any of it with anyone. Perhaps your son has a little anxiety in regards to his new, quite impressive, hobby. Was his father the same way?”
“Eric loved to write,” Natalia remembered those evenings she could see him silhouetted against the glow of the monitor, the keys clacking frantically as he wrote tales of the strange and supernatural. He was always at his most fervent when creating something new. She’d never been really excited about any of his writing, but he would always offer it up to her, hoping for her thoughts. “But he wasn’t shy about it. He daydreamed about being a paid writer, but usually he kept his head out of the clouds. It didn’t keep him from sharing things, though.”
“It is a mystery, then,” Mr. Timothy replied, amused. He reached into his desk and produced a folder. “This is all of his writing. I think you should give it a shot, Mrs. Fellowes. I cannot vouch for how interested you might be in the tales; we all have different palates when it comes to a good yarn. But they are the property of your son’s quite inventive mind. And that knowledge should, no doubt, make them of value to you.”
She took the folder, surprised at its thickness. She gave Mr. Timothy a nod of thanks.
“That’s really all I have for you.” He stood and offered a soft, plump hand. “It’s always a pleasure. Let me know what you think of his writing, and if you would like me to, I can get in touch with some magazines through different sources.” His smile was twisted. “I do not think it would be a waste of time, truth be told.”
“I’ll let you know.” She took an extra Kleenex. “Thank you.”
As she got to the door, she felt a hand on her shoulder again. She turned, and saw that Mr. Timothy was no longer smiling so warmly. “I might not care very much for Sarah’s ways of handling things, but part of what she said could be true. There’s homage to his father in that poem, no doubt, but there might be a cry for help in there as well. You would do well to discuss it with Evan and determine for yourself.”
“We all cope differently. If I can be of any help, please don’t hesitate to call.”
She nodded. Her eyebrows furrowed and she looked back at him. “Any suggestions if he gives me the silent treatment?”
“Kids will do that, won’t they?” he laughed. “Well, I would always suggest do things the secret agent way and snoop around his room.” He gave a big, mockingly confused gesture. “He’s not an adult yet, so it’s not like you’d be breaking any laws.” They shared a chuckle.