1. THE UNBORN
Ms. Hansen-Knudsen was the most beautiful woman on earth, so her second-grade class was not surprised when the two chicks emerged fuzzy and so plump, and calm-seeming, and sunshine yellow: perfect. For a time their little chirps floating out from the pouch Ms. Hansen-Knudsen made in her blouse were enough to put everyone in the class in an ecstatic trance, but there was the problem of the third, unhatched egg. The specter of stillbirth was so unwelcome in the bright and clean classroom of young Ms. Hansen-Knudsen that a few of the most gallant boys in the class conspired to dispose of the unhatched egg without disturbing their beautiful teacher. But it all went wrong for these boys, and indeed for the whole class. Archie was caught with his searching hands inside of the incubator, and Ms. Hansen-Knudsen became, in her angelic way, upset. This is only to say that she expressed disappointment, and everyone felt the growing pains of the lesson they were learning. But she also took away the incubator and the two live chicks and the unhatched egg and brought them to her home. The unhatched egg was a different type of egg, which took longer to hatch, and when it did hatch it was a duckling that emerged. It was a filthy gray color, and standing next to the two spherical tiny chicks it looked buffoonish and slow-witted. But Ms. Hansen-Knudsen preferred it on account of the feet. It had the most harmless, charming webbed orange feet, whereas the chicks’ talons implied the spiky horrors they would grow into. Ms. Hansen-Knudsen kept the duckling for a while longer; the chicks, she fed to her cat.
2. THE EARLY LATECOMER
On the first day back from winter break there was an unremarkable amount of snow, and a two-hour delay was called. Two-hour delays made everyone feel wretched because they didn’t have the virtue to be school days or the guts to be snow days; they were days without moral character. And when the second-graders of Ms. Hansen-Knudsen’s class arrived at last, they learned that two-hour-delay-days were Trojan horses for new and unexpected enemies.
Thomas was new to the county and he didn’t get the alerts yet, so he didn’t know about the two-hour delay and he came to school on time. So did Ms. Hansen-Knudsen, who often came early to prepare her classroom for its daylong sacking by her class. So she took the opportunity to create an intimate bond with the new student, who spent two hours helping her with the sacred, opaque, adult tasks of teaching, such as going into the copy room to make copies, and preparing overhead slides.
When the second-graders of Ms. Hansen-Knudsen’s class were introduced to Thomas, they were open-minded. But when Ms. Hansen-Knudsen told them that she and Thomas had already spent the morning getting to know one another, all their minds closed at once, like so many exits from a room where a bad thing is about to begin. They began to fantasize about all the cruelties they would visit on this boy, who was small, probably born late for their year. The girls would lash out with physical insults and then retreat into surliness. The boys would blame misbehaviors on him, to turn Ms. Hansen-Knudsen sour. The girls would spread rumors to their mothers, to be brought up in serious adult places. The boys would invite him to copy and then give him wrong answers. He would atrophy, and fall into a depression, and his work would suffer, and then instead of coming anywhere with them he would be held back. And he would loom, hulking, among the next second graders, his held-back brain swelling inside the body of a third grader, like the giant duckling, too huge to be believed. A humiliation, perhaps, but perhaps a miscalculation: for what punishment couldn’t be borne for the sake of getting Ms. Hansen-Knudsen all to himself for another year, while the others were forced on?
3. THE UNBORN 2
They lived in terror of pregnancy and when it befell her they blamed themselves, for stinking of fear. There was no change in her shape yet when she told them all and slotted a letter into each of their take-home folders. Everything was going to change for the worse. They wanted to hurt it, but it lived within the borders of Ms. Hansen-Knudsen. They wanted to make her stop liking it but it touched her from the inside.
They counted out the months and saw that when it arrived, they would all be gone. It was the sickening relief of learning, as they would in Earth Science, that it will be a billion years before the Earth falls into the sun and perishes, nothing we need to worry about. What a relief, maybe, to die of something else besides that. Was that right? Or had they been tricked into craving the slow sludgy summer, away from her shifting moods? They watched Ms. Hansen-Knudsen spread the chalk dust around on the board. They were as good as already incinerated, watching her palm pass over her widening self.
Maddy Raskulinecz lives in Baltimore, where she teaches writing at Johns Hopkins. Her fiction appears or is forthcoming in Guernica, 3:AM, DIAGRAM, and elsewhere. Find her on Twitter: @littleraskul.