Maeve and Viv
Maeve Sharpe turns from the squatting children in the darkened hallway. She’s shivering a bit, sucking in sharp, moaning breaths through clenched teeth, but the children don’t notice over the sound of the siren. Vivian pats the younger woman’s shoulders and shushes her. One of the seven-year-olds looks up, bending and turning to peek out from under her arms, which are folded, as instructed, over her head.
“Against the wall, Bonnie,” Viv says, and gently presses the child’s head back down.
Maeve shakes her head as if to free it from a cobweb, and mouths “I’m sorry” to Viv.
It’s the third drill of the year, and Maeve has been similarly agitated through every one of them. Viv understands. This duck and cover is nonsense. Cruel. Absurd. All those lovely children would be crushed by rubble, burned to ash. The teachers too, the lunch ladies, the school nurse. Principal Belcaro and his sexy secretary, Connie. Old Mr. Fabiano, the janitor. Huddling there in the hallway might protect them all from flying glass, but not from the fireballs, the radiation. And Maeve, in her first year of teaching, learned all about it in a sociology class at that liberal college. The professor showed a documentary film debunking government propaganda that suggested a Russian nuclear attack would be survivable. The images still bother Maeve, and she hates the way the sirens upset some of the children, the ones who don’t think the drills are some strange game. Viv hates the drills too, and wouldn’t expect to survive an attack, of course, but doubts its likelihood. Call it naiveté, or optimism. One mustn’t dwell.
She puts her fingers in her ears to muffle the siren and thinks about the fine spring afternoon ahead of them, how she and Maeve will take their first graders out to the field beside the school and let the children muck around in the stream at the edge of it. Viv will bring a bucket, as she has done for the past twenty springs, because the children will find frogs’ eggs, and screaming their mixture of delight and revulsion as the shining, slimy strings slide through their fingers, they’ll want to keep them. They’ll gather the eggs into the water-filled bucket, then put them in the aquarium in Viv’s classroom, and wait.
Viv smiles, imagining the first tadpoles, then the tadpoles with legs, then the fascinating, tailed, froglets, and finally, the frogs, which they’ll release back into the stream some weeks hence. The children will be so eager to announce the latest development in the life cycle. They’ll stand peering into the aquarium again and again each day, with the same excitement they’d had when they went to watch the chicks hatch in the incubator across the hall in Maeve’s classroom.
Viv is grateful to Maeve for taking over the annual chick project, dealing with the light bulbs, the smell and mess, care and feeding. Explaining to the children why some of the eggs didn’t hatch, why that chick in the corner wasn’t moving. Finding homes for the ones that made it. And she knows Maeve, despite her duck and cover nerves, is made of strong stuff.
The siren goes silent, and after a few moments, the hall lights flicker on. At first there is no sound but the hum of the lights; then three short beeps on the PA signal an all clear. The children stand, blinking and stretching, quiet at first, then, all at once begin their chatter. Like cheeping chicks, Viv thinks, not for the first time, then sees Maeve, blinking, stretching, her eyes a bit wet. Chicks, indeed, Viv says, again to herself, stretching her own arms up and out, then reaching for the classroom door.