Sorry, thought Prue, directing her thoughts to the plant. She could certainly sympathize; it wasn’t even the plant’s proper season and here it was: being grown in a science class hothouse. And she couldn’t imagine having had a fellow tomato plant’s limb grafted onto your stalk. It was positively barbaric!
The tomato plant seemed to heave a sigh.
Prue had an idea. You know what would be funny? she thought.
RMPPH, hummed the tomato plant. Prue laid it out.
Suddenly, Bethany flinched her head backward, crinkling her nose. The students gasped. It had appeared, for a split second, that the top leaf of the tomato plant had actually slapped Bethany in the nose. It was evident that Ms. Thennis had not seen it; she shot a glare over the classroom. “Now kids, c’mon,” she said.
Gasp! the classroom heaved again. It had happened once more; the topmost limb of the small, green tomato plant had feinted upward and undeniably given its holder another swift swat across the nose. A look of bewildered terror had spread across Bethany’s face, and she began holding the plant at arm’s length. Following the students’ gaze, a very confused Ms. Thennis turned to watch Bethany as she inched toward the little greenhouse.
“M-maybe it needs a little more time,” managed Bethany, her face grown perfectly pale. She gingerly placed the plant back in the glass confines of the greenhouse and backed away. “It was totally healthy this morning.”
A low, satisfied whistle had replaced the tomato plant’s unhappy hum.
Ms. Thennis’s eyes swiveled to Prue; she stared at her with shock and disbelief. Prue smiled and returned her gaze to the window, to the falling slush beyond the glass and to the gathering puddles in the rain-swept streets.
FROM THE DESK OF LEE BREAM, PRINCIPAL
GEORGE MIDDLE SCHOOL
Anne and Lincoln McKeel
Parents of Prue McKeel
Dear Mr. and Mrs. McKeel:
Since your daughter’s admission to this school last year, she has proved herself to be a bright and independent thinker. Her promise was judged to be very great.
It saddens me, however, to report that this promise has been somewhat clouded of late. Since the beginning of last term, her grades have fallen precipitously, and her behavior in class has been reported as being—across the board—uncharacteristic. She has shown little of her former interest in her schoolwork and has taken to exhibiting a very unbecoming attitude to her teachers. The bearer of this note, Ms. Darla Thennis, has kindly volunteered to speak to you on this subject, and we hope that her involvement can lead to a happy resolution.
We understand that the crisis your family underwent earlier in the school year, the disappearance of your young son, must have been incredibly difficult. We are aware of the effect that such trauma can have on the minds of our children. However, we would wish to get to the bottom of any unfortunate backsliding and nip the problem in the bud lest it should become insurmountable and lead to a promising student being suspended, or worse—expelled.
Principal, George Middle School
Prue lowered the letter from her eyes, allowing the faces of the three adults in the kitchen to rise over the page like the orbiting moons of some distant planet. The room was silent, save for the regular sproing coming from Prue’s little brother Mac’s doorjamb-mounted bouncing chair.
She shrugged. “I don’t know what you want me to say,” she offered.
Her mother and father shared a concerned glance. “Hon,” said her mother, “perhaps you should…”
Prue’s dad looked away from his wife to the dashiki’d teacher, the third of this celestial triumvirate. She was leaning against the refrigerator.
“Ms.…,” began Prue’s dad.
“Please,” said the teacher, her gaze transfixed on the little boy in the bouncing chair, “call me Darla.” She seemed to be waiting for the next loud—