Things We Like the Best
climbed her basement stairs at a leisurely pace and breathed a
sigh of relaxation. It was nine-thirty on a sunny Friday morning,
and she could go into work whenever she got good and ready.
Natalie used to teach sixth grade at a little country school,
where she wore long denim skirts with crisp cotton blouses, and
whirled around the chalkboard with her gold chalk holder poised
in her quick hands. She liked the smells of the old country school
as she walked through the front door each morning. As she passed
the cafeteria, she savored the aroma of bacon and sausage, and
most of all, the smell of piping hot coffee, luring her to come
and drink. Each morning when she entered her classroom, she got
a whiff of chalk dust mingled with old musty books, new Crayola
crayons, Elmer's glue, and magic markers.
Natalie liked all of these things. She liked it when the principal
watched her obedient class march down the hall and into the library,
and she liked it when the librarian bragged on her well-behaved
students. Natalie liked being viewed as a smart authority figure
who mastered the English language, and she liked to stand amid
all the library books in the little country school and feel that
somehow, if she merely stood in their presence long enough, knowledge
would absorb into her very being.
Yes, Natalie liked her teacher role, but something annoyed her.
There was something she longed to find, some missing piece, something
she was supposed to do.
So Natalie quit her job at the little country school and went
to work in her husband's law firm two days a week. The rest of
the time, she piddled around. Oh, sure, she told people she helped
her husband, and she told people she was busy at home, and she
told people she quit teaching to stay with her two sons, who were,
by the way, in school, but what Natalie really did most of the
time was piddle. And she loved it.
At nine forty-five, Natalie pulled her mini ironing board out
from under her bed, plucked a khaki skirt from her closet, and
took off her white terrycloth bathrobe and flung it onto her bed.
She wore only a pair of orange soccer socks that went up past
her knees. She already had her makeup on, and she felt fresh and
vigorous, like a firm, ripe peach.
As Natalie ironed, she sang "I like Bread and Butter,"
in a real sassy tone of voice, and her Siamese cat stared at her
from the windowsill. Outside, the air was crisp and the skies
were solid blue. It was early fall, and Natalie was in the mood
for a pumpkin.
Natalie turned off her iron, held the skirt up next to her body,
and posed in front of the mirror. She smiled a cute little smile,
puckered her lips at herself, and released the skirt, which fell
to the floor. Then, Natalie pulled off her orange soccer socks
and stood naked in front of the mirror. She studied herself from
head to toe, then turned around and looked at her backside. Finally,
Natalie bent over and touched her toes and viewed her reflection
in the mirror with her upside-down head between her legs. Whatever
Natalie was looking at, her cat was looking at it, too.
Natalie stood up straight and walked over to her underwear drawer.
She pulled out a pair of white cotton panties and a white cotton
bra, put them on, and admired herself once more in the mirror.
She gazed approvingly at her reflection, turned, and walked away.
Natalie put on a white blouse and stepped into her skirt, smoothing
it down over her hips and giving her brown hair a good shake.
She turned out the light and grabbed her loafers on the way out
of her bedroom. Her pumpkin was waiting.
Natalie drove to The Pumpkin Patch, a large produce stand west
of town, where they sold ornamental gourds, squash, Indian corn,
October beans, and pumpkins. She smiled to herself as she reminisced
about previous class trips to The Pumpkin Patch. Natalie had enjoyed
her friendships with the other teachers, and she loved the thrill
of leaving school for a field trip. Sometimes she missed her teacher
identity. After all, it was predictable, and it provided her with
comfort and support. But Natalie longed for the thing it did not
provide, and she was determined to find it.
Often, when Natalie went shopping or to church, she ran into some
of her old school associates.
"Don't you miss teaching?" the teachers would ask.
"Where are you teaching now, Natalie?" her principal
"Why don't you come back?" her students would whine.
Natalie always replied, "Oh, I'm working for my husband and
I just love it. I wanted to spend more time with my boys, and
catch up on things at home. Besides, I was ready for a change."
The teachers would look at her with envy or incomprehension. The
principal would respond obligatorily, just as he had asked obligatorily,
and the students would just look at her, and say, "Oh."
Natalie always exuded confidence when she spoke of her career
move, but inside she wavered. Had she done the right thing? And
how was she to know for sure if she had done the right thing?
If she died right now, how many people would send flowers to her
Natalie pulled into her driveway and pushed the button on her
garage control. She whipped into her spot, just the way she liked
to do when her husband wasn't around to raise an eyebrow.
She carried her pumpkin upstairs, placed it in the middle of the
table, and savored the beauty and simplicity of the moment. Before
her on the kitchen table sat Halloween, Thanksgiving dinner, autumn
leaves, Jack Frost, and Cinderella all rolled into one. Natalie
felt thankful for the time to think such lovely thoughts. It was
twelve oclock noon -- time to hush and rush her students
into the cafeteria.
Pumpkins were better.
Natalie walked into the kitchen to fix herself a cup of soup.
Her teacher calendar sat on the shelf above the stove, and she
read the words of wisdom for the third day of October: Freedom
has its price.
Natalie smiled and poured herself a cup of vegetable beef, then
walked over to her kitchen window that overlooked the garden.
The sunflowers were dead and drooping, but the okra stalks were
still green and full of pods. "Next year," she thought
to herself, Ill plant my own pumpkins."
She finished her soup and walked back to her bedroom and changed
into her old faded Levi's and her husband's thermal underwear
shirt without once looking into the mirror. Then, she curled up
under a patchwork quilt on her bed and took an afternoon nap while
her Siamese cat watched her from the windowsill.
Lee Pollock is a seventh grade English teacher in Columbia,
Tennessee. She also writes feature stories for area newspapers,
and she has just completed her first novel. In addition, she writes
short stories and songs, and she is a member of ASCAP.
Julia Lee Pollock