The final bell rang. With a sigh of relief, I told the kids they could go. Unfortunately, the excited whispers that arose were killed by my last-minute announcement of homework. It was only two exercises, and yet they still moaned. Always moaning, always tired, devoid of any drive or ambition. The holoscreens on the desk turned off one by one. I still had to turn off the board, as I was the last teacher to have classes in this room.
“Bye, Mrs. Chapman,” a girl’s voice called to me from the exit.
“Goodbye,” I called back. I glanced up from under the desk to look up at the student. I smiled back at her, one of the few faces that actually showed some enthusiasm about learning something. Ellie Morgan was still a kid, but I could tell that with that kind of brain, she could do something great in the future. She looked a lot like her sister, too, except for the eyes. Ellie had much better grades in my class than Angela ever had, but the memories I had of her older sister were pleasant.
After locking up the class, I made my way to the teacher’s lounge. The look of schools in general has changed considerably since I was a student myself. Almost all the walls were made of interactive glass that would let in all the sun when on standby, but could be manipulated to block the view if need be. Even the classrooms were much more open and separated only by segments, never full walls. The atmosphere of the building, with its warm hues and abundance of natural light, made it feel like the perfect nurturing environment. Logically, the kids should want to take in knowledge gladly in a place like this. Yet most students would still approach learning with the enthusiasm of a zombie. There must be something fundamentally wrong with this system.
After leaving the key and grabbing my coat, I left the teacher’s lounge. I didn’t see anyone there, which wasn’t surprising. At this hour, there’s hardly ever any teachers left. Outside the school my lovely green car was right where I parked it. I took control of the wheel, as usual. The self-driving system was working just fine, I just never thought I needed it. I felt fine being completely in control of my car. Plus, there was no way in hell I’d let my supreme driving skills get impaired by lack of proper training. I rode out the driveway and into the street.
In an instant, I forgot all about the zombie teenagers and broken education system. The tall trees, with their leaves a collage of browns, oranges and yellows, with only the occasional splash of green, formed a tunnel over the street. It was rush hour, but you couldn’t tell it by looking at this street. One of the biggest perks of living and working in the suburbs – you were never stuck in traffic. That, and the beautiful houses built in the style of the 1950s. Both Jerome and I agreed – this is as good as it gets.
Before going straight home, I had to pick up Ivy, as usual. The elementary school was just a few blocks away. As I got there, I noticed my little girl stand by the metal gate on the red brick wall separating the school grounds from the street. Once she spotted my car, she ran up, a multitude of tiny braids bouncing on her head.
“How was school?” I asked her as she took the front passenger’s seat.
“It was okay,” Ivy shrugged.
“Lots of homework?”
“Mhm,” she nodded, her little eyebrows furrowed.
“What’s wrong, honey?”
“Well, there was this thing today,” she began. “We had this really difficult math equation to do in class today. And Mr. Green asked Sophia to come to the blackboard, which she did. And she even gave the right answer, but the teacher said she didn’t do it right, because she didn’t solve it the way he showed us earlier. So she didn’t get a star even though she’s really smart and deserved it. I think it’s unfair.”
“Yes,” she nodded again and turned her large brown eyes to me. “What do you think, mom?”
“Well, I think Mr. Green had a reason to say you have to use his method,” I told my child, but there was doubt in my head. Was this one of the fatal flaws in our system? I understand how students need to know certain processes before they move on to bigger things, but is this really the way to go about it?
We soon reached home. As we entered through the front door, I heard a pair of tiny footsteps rushing in my direction, as usual. I was wondering how Micah never got tired of it.
“Mommy!” a sweet little voice called. I lifted the boy and gave him a kiss on his round little nose. His thick curls were a tangled mess.
“Hello, sweetie,” I smiled at him. I noticed Jerome come out of the kitchen wiping his hands on his apron that was tied pretty tight around his large belly. His thick glasses were a bit askew, lips twisted into that smug little smile of his.
“Come on kids, dinner’s ready, give mom some room to breathe,” he said as he took Ivy’s backpack from her. I let Micah go and both he and Ivy ran to the dining room. Jerome approached me and gave me a gentle kiss on the cheek, his beard itchy as always. “Hey, honey. How was your day?”
“Ugh,” I groaned. “Same old zombie business. What’s for dinner?”
“Lasagne,” he said as he made his way back to the kitchen. “Just hurry up or it’ll get cold."
We all sat at the dining room table, recounting the events of the day. Jerome got pretty upset over Ivy’s story, or at least acted upset to make his daughter feel better. I was really impressed by how well Micah could use the fork and knife already. Looking at both of our kids and how they were turning out, at that moment I could safely say that Jerome and I were doing a pretty good job at parenting.
I offered to do the dishes, as Jerome still had a lot of work to do. Not that that was a particularly time-consuming task, as we had recently purchased a new dishwasher. I didn’t even need to do anything, just put the plates in it. It all worked like a charm. I then sat down with the kids, helping Ivy with her homework, while Micah filled out his new coloring book. Then evening came and I put Micah to sleep. Ivy was still playing some games in her room, so I just told her not to stay up too late.
I went to check up on Jerome in his study. The room always looked a mess, but there was no helping it. Batches of paper lay sprawled on the floor under piles of cables and wires. In the middle of it all stood a chair, and in it – my husband, a metal helmet on his head so big it covered half his face. I went in as quietly as I could and jabbed him in his flabby belly.
“Whoa!” he screamed. “Jesus, Mara. How many times did I specifically tell you not to do just that?”
“Sorry, Cerebro,” I chuckled. “You’re just such an easy target. You done for today?”
“Yeah, I think I can go to bed now,” he said as he put away the helmet. “I was correcting this super important document today. Now, this is classified information, but they’re going to announce a global disarmament tomorrow.”
“You’re joking,” I said in a flat tone.
“Huh,” I said as we made our way to the bedroom. “Well, when you said it’s classified info, I expected something… bigger.”
“Oh, come on,” he looked at me with his brown eyes, his dark forehead wrinkled from all the furrowing he always did with his brows. “This is literally the most important document I have ever worked on.”
“Yeah, I guess,” I ended that conversation there. I still thought about it as I took a shower, however. It was a big change, and yet, it really seemed like something obvious. I knew there was something wrong with the way things were run, and I was really starting to doubt gradual changes like these would really be enough to set everything right.
When I got out of the bathroom, Jerome was already in bed, reading a book. Our bed was really wide – it had to be if it were to accommodate both of our bodies, neither of which could be considered a size 0. Still, I stood there for a moment, just taking in the way the man I loved looked as he read that book, his face focused, eyes darting back and forth. Even though neither of us were exactly young anymore, I still felt we were both very attractive. Even if not by everyone’s standards, I knew we were still attractive to each other. That night, in a surge of spontaneity, I got on top of him, threw his book away, along with glasses both mine and his, and made sure we wouldn’t sleep for at least a couple of hours. We made sure to stay quiet so as not to wake the kids, though.
The next morning, I barely managed to go to work. Not because I didn’t want to or couldn’t get up early enough. Once he saw me, Micah decided he needed to cling to my leg and not let me go anywhere.
“Come on, buddy,” Jerome said to him as he forced the boy to release his grip on me. Micah instantly broke into tears. “Shh, there now. Mommy’s gonna come home from work soon, okay? Don’t you worry. We can have fun without mommy, right?”
“Don’t go!” Micah wailed. “Don’t leave, mommy!”
“Don’t worry,” I said as I laid a kiss on his little forehead. “I won’t be long.”
The day did seem long, however. I was growing more and more frustrated at how similar all the days looked. The same zombies roaming the schools, the same complaints from my kids. Yes, we got a global disarmament. That is fantastic. Too bad so many things are messed up anyway.
“You know,” I told Jerome as we lay in bed before going to sleep. “You’d think after all the changes the education system had, things would be better.”
“Well, aren’t they?” he asked. “I mean, at least schools are safe, and our kids don’t have to worry about getting different treatment just because they’re black. Plus, according to statistical data, kids are scoring better and better every year.”
He has a point. “I know what you mean, but what does it all matter in the long run? Everyone hates school anyway and it’s only a select few that want to gain knowledge for their own benefit. Imagine how much more people would actually consider higher education if the system let them spread their wings better?”
“Of course that would be good. But how can you do that? The system’s constantly evolving anyway. Maybe someday.”
“That’s just the thing. I don’t think this evolution is the right way to go. We need a drastic change, and we need it now.”
Jerome kissed me right in the lips. “Don’t you be going starting revolutions now, okay? I know something needs to change, and maybe it will someday. But for now, I think we have more important things to focus on.”
“You’re right,” I said. We both went to sleep.
I wouldn’t consider the state I was in sleep, however. The only word that comes to mind is vision. I saw Angela suspended in midair, surrounded by eleven people, me among them. The entire space was completely white, with an eye in the sky piercing through the white layers to reveal a blue sky beyond. The Contact the eye called the girl. I woke up from the vision horrified and ran straight to the bathroom to vomit. The feeling I had wouldn’t go away, though. Through the bathroom mirror, I saw lights in the sky. I felt a numbness fill me. It was all true. I went back to bed and hugged Jerome as tight as I could. The feeling inside my body was pushing me to find Angela as fast as possible, at all costs, but I fought it. I wouldn’t leave this place for the world, ever. I needed to be here, with my family. I had important things to focus on.
This change was too early for me.