Ms. Trudy was the most beautiful woman Garthalina had ever seen. She was Garthalina’s first grade teacher. She wore shoes with heels on them and a strap that went over the top, like old timey shoes from the movies.
The school was letting out before the end of the year, Ms. Trudy had said to the class. There was a virus that was not friendly and they had to go home and stay inside until it went away.
She then retrieved a large garbage bag behind her desk. Inside were red balls into which she had stuck purple strips of cloth. Pretend these are the virus! she said, tossing them out into the classroom. Let’s put these away where they can’t hurt anyone! And the class batted the balls around until they were all it in a big basket in the corner. Ms. Trudy smiled and clapped for them. Look what you did, class, you defeated the virus! Now I want you to be safe and listen to your parents so you can defeat the virus at home!
The next thing they did was go outside to collect rocks. Each student was to pick one small rock and put it in a plastic clear tube they wore around their necks on a string. It would be their new pet.
I want everyone to give their rock a name, said Ms. Trudy when they were all inside and sitting at their desks again. Every night, I want you to talk to your rock. Can you do that? I want you to tell your rock any problems you may have. Or anything that scares you. Or even anything that is making you happy. Can you do that?
And the class nodded. Some were secretly happy they didn’t have to come back to school tomorrow. Some were sad and confused.
I have something else for you, and she pulled out a big tray of gift bags.
I’m about to hand these out. These are supplies in case you need them. And some of you need special supplies and I have those for you too. Now you have to be very careful with these supplies. These are special snacks just for this time while we’re away, ok? This is your food if you are hungry. But you have to be careful. I need to ask you to be a little mouse. Only eat a little nibble when you are hungry. Save the rest for another time you are hungry. Ok?
When Garthalina got home from school that day, her mother was tipping over in her chair at the dining table, a big rubber band around her arm, a needle sticking out of her Popeye muscle.
Garthalina had walked home from the bus stop. Tomorrow she would have to start fighting the virus all alone along with her brother and sister. No Ms. Trudy.
She had watched the big yellow bus drive away. Whenever she rode the bus, she liked to sit beside the window and imagine herself in one of the houses closer to the creek. Would it be like Ms. Trudy’s house? She would choose a house made of logs, a stone chimney with smoke coming out. Ms. Trudy would make her grits with sausage and sing like Mary Poppins.
She turned the stove on to boil water for the mac and cheese Granny bought them each week with her government check. Her Mama had shown Garthalina how to boil pasta before she fell in love with the needle. She had shown her how to add the yellow cheese powder and stir it fast so it got smooth.
Social services ain’t comin’ out here now girl, so you ain’t got to worry about puttin’ on a show tonight. That was Mama’s slurry and sleepy Droopy voice, except Droopy wasn’t mean.
They always had to worry they might get taken away, ever since she set herself on fire at the stove and emergency services called it in.
After she ate in front of the television watching her favorite cassette, Garthalina put on her gown and lay on her bed and talked to her pet rock.
“Please, Cindy, let everything be ok. Are you scared?”
Garthalina never had anyone to talk to before.
She put Cindy up on the windowsill where the rock could enjoy the moonlight.
She put Ms. Trudy’s special treat bag in her night stand. She turned off her light and felt a little better. Ms. Trudy was there. She could feel it.
Next day by the time Garthalina woke up, Mama had eaten her peanut butter crackers from Ms. Trudy. Mama had thrown Cindy outside.
Mama spoke in her hard voice then, her Cruella de Vil voice. We don’t keep nature in the house. We ain’t trash.