One day I looked down at my desk and saw that someone had written “The Conquistadors are coming,” probably from the one Spanish class that used the room. So I wrote, “The gladiators are coming.” My secret friend wrote back “The conquistadors will kick gladiator butt.” Our correspondence went on for days, till the desk top was black with pencil, at which point Burke, the teacher, noticed and made me clean it off. I was heartbroken. A budding relationship nipped in the, well, bud. I never knew who my pencil pal was. I still wonder if I will be at cocktail party someday and meet some local person, we’ll start talking about high school and we will discover that each is the mystery student from long ago. I still try and guilt Burke about making me clean the desk, but she has that Teflon quality about certain things, and the guilt ain’t sticking.
Her room didn’t have a pencil sharpener. Normally I wouldn’t have noticed, since I rarely did any work in school and hence did not need a pencil, so I may have needed the sharpened point to poke someone.
Why didn’t this room have one? She told me it fell out the window. I looked at the window. It was an old school building with very wide wooden sills. The sill must have been a good eighteen inches wide.
“So, the pencil sharpener unscrewed its four screws, hopped over, what, a foot or so, pushed up the window, and then leapt to its death?”
I leaned out the window. “Then the body should be in the bushes.” I went outside later. No dead pencil sharpener in the junipers. Every day I brought this up. Had she hidden the body of the pencil sharpener? Was the pencil sharpener suicidal? When she was out of the room, I wrote a list of suspects on the board. Burke generally headed the list. Finally she cracked. I walked in class and the other kids ran up to me. “Burke wants to see you right away.” A hush fell over the room. Was I in trouble? What did I do? Well, I always did something, just usually no one found out about it. She walked up to me and looked at me sternly. “Come here.” She put her hands over my eyes and marched me to the window. She had requisitioned me a new pencil sharpener.
“You know that I know that you only did this to divert suspicion away from you and the foul crime you committed against his predecessor.”
I think back and try to remember why I liked this class. One, she put up with my babble. Two, she thought we were all human beings. She said she liked teaching because,
“I never know what interesting people will show up in my class from year to year,”
and I distinctly recall thinking,
“Wow. She thinks we’re people.”