The first chapter of Melancholy Mondays continues:
The Middle School was in full bustle. Teachers were back and forth from cars to classrooms, administration was manning the entries and directing new students and parents to late registration tables, custodial staff was buffing and completing final touches for opening day, and small groups of students darted around finding and testing new lockers and peeking into classrooms. This was exactly what Ella had expected to see Monday morning. What she did not expect to see, however, was the scary-looking security guard standing in the background down the hall.
Having just met her teacher peer group briefly last week, and not knowing any of them well enough to feel comfortable chatting, Ella focused on her own mission: to create a positive environment in which her new students would be happy to learn. It took several trips to empty the contents of her jeep, and now it was time to decorate.
She immediately moved the teacher’s desk, a metal monstrosity, to a less conspicuous location at the back of the sterile room. She wanted the entire area in front of the chalk board open, and did not plan ever to sit while her students were working. Nevertheless, she taped a huge yellow cardboard smiley-face to the front of the desk for the infrequent times she might engage a student there. One of her education instructors was focusing the next week’s assignment on how the arrangement of desks in a classroom can influence participation, and Ella had already decided that the days of uniform rows were over.
Pushing the old student desks and chairs to the edges of the classroom, Ella spread out the new multi-color 5×7 carpet in front of the chalk board. This would be the focal point upon which she would deliver her vast knowledge to eager ears. She decided to arrange the student desks in staggered semi-circles around the carpet. After drawing a sketch of the arrangement, she then could assign names to seats, decisions she realized might need to be tweaked once she got to know her kids and observe how they interacted with one another. During last week’s staff meeting when Ella had mentioned her intent to allow students initially to sit where they felt comfortable, only the fact that she was new prevented her peer group from laughing out loud.
Still, her students would figure out that she was not like their other teachers, many whom Ella suspected might be jaded from year after year of the same routine. Ella—all 5’4” inches of her—was young and strong and tough. She had combat experience. She had jumped out of airplanes, trudged countless miles, and wielded significant fire power in defense of herself and the soldiers in her charge. Her students would respect her immediately and would tell others how lucky they were to have the cool new English teacher.
Ella couldn’t believe her eyes when she finally looked up at the clock and realized that she had worked through lunch; it was one o’clock. Bones had been home alone for six hours, longer than she had ever left him before. She locked her classroom and ran out of the building, nearly slamming into Roger Jones, who preferred the nickname “Razz” and was one of two full-time security guards assigned to walk the halls of North Middle School, home of the Eagles. Razz was 6’2” and build like a brick wall.
“Whoa there, little lady, there’s no runnin’ in these here halls,” Razz said with a little twinkle in his eyes, “unless there be a fire, and I don’t see no fire.”
“Sorry! Sorry! I’ve got to go . . . I’ll be back soon,” Ella apologized to the clearly amused man, and out she ran.
As soon as she opened the door to her home, Ella realized that six hours was about two hours too long to expect a year-old dog to entertain himself appropriately.
“Awww, Bones, what have you done?” she asked the mottled fur bag who looked up at her through half-averted puppy-dog eyes, tail wagging guiltily between shaky back legs, an unknown papery white substance hanging from his whiskers. She knew that it was her fault, and took full responsibility immediately. After stepping over what could have been a much larger pile by the front door, Ella made her way through the small apartment. She had only a few decorative pillows on her Ikea hide-a-bed couch, and their contents now decorated the living room floor. The lamp on the foot-locker by the window—Ella’s reading area—lay smashed on the floor under one of the window’s curtains. Following a narrow white paper trail from the living room to the bathroom, Ella could no longer suppress a laugh when she looked at the condition of the bathroom. In the kitchen, there was surprisingly little damage, though the upturned water bowl made for slippery footing.
“Come ‘ere, Bones, it’s okay,” she called to her pup, who sensed that he had done something very wrong but didn’t understand what, and felt a need to distance himself from his master. Bones shuffled over to Ella, tail still wagging low between his legs, and sat by her feet.
“Looks like we’ve got some work to do when I come back tonight, huh boy?” Her tone told him that everything was going to be all right, and he started a quick dash around the living room/kitchen loop, losing it on the slippery kitchen floor and slamming into the cabinets.
Ella opened the back door to the tiny yard and let Bones romp outside while she threw a couple towels on the kitchen floor, made a mental note to find tip-proof feeding bowls, cleaned up the mess by the front door, and did what she could to remove any potential dangers for the next few hours. She thought Harry might pop his head out for a quick hello, but he did not, and she made another note to swing by the hardware store for an extra key to her place that afternoon.
“Okay, Bones, be back soon! You’re a good boy.” She ruffled his head and drove back to add the finishing touches to her classroom. Just one more day before every seat would be filled with fresh young minds to influence. Ella knew how important first impressions were, and she wanted to ensure that her new troops left her classroom feeling excited about what they would learn this year.