The first-grade teacher, Miss Bliss, pulled the closet door open and gasped at the sight of me. I was sitting on the floor, looking at her, wide-eyed with knees to chin. The coats of the cloak room enveloped me as the teacher put her hands to her hips and nodded for me to follow her. I complied. She marched ahead to the principal’s office, throwing back his door.
“I found her,” she told him, scowling at me, “in the coat closet.”
After briefing him on what I’d done, he stared at me with his index fingers rested on his chin. I stood at the back of the room, staring back with my lips pinched.
“We need to call her mother,” he said.
An hour before, Miss Bliss was giving her math lesson, but I was staring at the coat closet. At the morning bell, the first-graders crowded into the tiny space, hanging coats and dropping lunch pails. The elementary school was small, one room for every class. There was no cafeteria for lunch, no gymnasium for sports.
Susie Spalding had been standing next to me, stretching forward to hang her pink jacket on the last rung. Her lunch box, a tin pail with Michael Jackson’s gloved hand waving, has dangling from her arm. The boy beside her pushed through the group, shoving Susie against the wall. She struggled to free herself, losing grip on the lunch box. It hit the ceramic tile with a bang and the latch loosened releasing her lunch onto my foot.
I reached down to help her as she scrambled to retrieve her food. I handed over her Swiss Rolls, staring at them as I did. Her orange had rolled over the edge of the package, smashing the contents. The cake oozed the white center onto the plastic packaging. She smiled and thanked me for the help.
Two hours later, during addition and subtraction, those Swiss Rolls were still on my mind. I wondered if she’d eat them now that they’d been damaged. Would they taste different? Every day Susie Spalding had a different snack cake. Did she pack her own lunch? She had a sandwich and other things in the lunch box. Would she eat the dessert first?
My lunch was always the same. Bologna with ketchup on homemade bread, carrots, milk, and homemade oatmeal raisin cookies. I didn’t much care for raisins. We never had snack cakes in our house. Sometimes my mom would buy Pop Tarts, but only the cinnamon kind and those were only for breakfast. I didn’t much care for cinnamon.
It was almost time for morning recess and I kept thinking of those Swiss Rolls. My mouth watered as I imagined the smell of the sugary filling and waxy chocolate coating.
The bell rang. Children ran for their coats, leaving pencils to roll to the floor and papers splayed out atop their desks. I lagged. Taking my time to tuck my things inside the front cubby, I was the last child in the room. I watched as Miss Bliss followed her students down the hall. She didn’t seem to notice I was not with the group.
I opened the closet door and inspected the pile of lunch pails on the floor. The room was silent, no noise coming from the hall. I sat on the cold tile, struggling to pull the door closed. Sifting through the lunch boxes, I found Michael Jackson with his sparkling glove. The Swiss Rolls peaked from under the potato chips, which I shoved to one side, reaching for the sweets. Moments later I’d eaten it and began wondering about the other lunch boxes. The one with the dinosaurs had a Twinkie in it. The brown sack has brownies.
I’d almost finished the brownie when Miss Bliss threw back the door, startling it from my hand. When she realized what I’d done and beckoned me to follow, I hesitated. Reaching for the dropped brownie, I shoved it into my mouth.
Miss Bliss marched forward, heels clicking down the hall. She was an oddly shaped woman with a narrow top and large round bottom. Walking behind her, I noted that her butt looked like two large and jiggly water balloons stuffed into a dress.
My mother rushed to the school after the principal called. Sitting in the chair across from him, she gaped at me. I lowered my eyes, shuffling, as I stood in the back of the room.
“I don’t know what to say. We will replace the items,” she stuttered.
“I’m uncertain that’s necessary,” Miss Bliss comforted, “but she will have to serve detentions during her recess.”
“Of course,” my mother obliged, “I just – I don’t know. We feed her,” she insisted.
The principal and the teacher nodded. My mother looked at me again. Later that evening, after typical punishments and scoldings, my mother asked me why I’d done it. I admitted that I didn’t know, that I couldn’t stop thinking about the Swiss Rolls. I’m certain my mother thought I was crazy.
The next day, at lunch time, I pulled out my brown sack. It was heavier than usual. I opened the bag and dumped the contents. Instead of one sandwich, there were two. Instead of two cookies there were four. And it was this way for the rest of the year. I never finished all the food. Sometimes I would take the leftovers home. My mother would yell at me and insist that I eat it all. So, I started throwing what I couldn’t eat away.
I’m certain none of the other kids knew what I’d done. No one teased me. No one stopped talking to me. But, Susie Spalding’s lunch pail never spilled again. And Miss Bliss kept a watchful eye on the coat closet.