On 14 April, Mrs. McClaine's army of thirty sixth graders dispensed from the weary school bus and left its equally weary driver to guard the paper-bagged and lunch- boxed sandwiches and juices tucked carefully away. Some of the students plunged immediately into the sandy shores while the more disdainful and manicured children remained in a neat and protective circle in the cement parking lot surf. Despite the promising weather and relaxing beach atmosphere, the students were here to learn. They retrieved their writing instruments, ready for their teacher's command. A boy who did not don their school's uniform and wore strange shoes that sprouted wheels from beneath them when he tinkered with the small latch at his heel, whirled in small circles and approached Mrs. McClaine and the younger and wider eyed assistant teacher. He cleared his throat and said, "Our teacher, Mrs. Randall, wants to know if you would like to have lunch with our class later..."
At this he attempted a whobbly figure eight, not bothering to listen for an answer, and continued to spin throughout the parking lot until he disappeared behind the school bus.
"Whatever!" some of the girls whined in unison. "If she's anything like our teacher, she'll talk so much we won't even be able to eat any lunch!" Frowning, they recalled the last field trip at the zoo, in which their teacher meticulously went over the rules and their agenda and then began to tell a detailed story of when she was a little girl lost at the zoo and how it could have been prevented all the while the students' stomachs cried out in protest.
Would Mrs. Randall insist upon the same torturous droning? It did not matter, for Mrs. McClaine would surely accept this proposal.
"What school are they from?" clamored the children as they trudged though the sand. "Are they those snobby St. Perpetua kids?"
"No, no. They have to wear uniforms too."
"Who Cares? We're at the beach!"
After gathering information about various sea life and tide pools, the sun rose higher overhead as a burning reminder that lunch time was near. They walked back toward the parking lot which shared borders with a flat, grassy and welcoming picnic bench area. The smell of cupcakes lingered in the breeze and the assistant teacher confirmed with a smile when the children's hopeful eyes looked toward her.
Scott Marks, the oldest and tallest boy in the class, who despite his advancement in age and growth had the crackling voice of an irritated bird, and who seemingly had the most experience with girls because he was the first in the class to have gone on a date with one, said through throat clearing squeaks, "I bet they have hotter girls than our class."
Mrs. Randall, a pleasant faced middle aged woman, wearing a long floral dress as compared to the stiff black skirt Mrs McClaine wore, stood up from the picnic table where her students were seated and said regrettably she did not have enough cupcakes for everyone but they were still welcome to sit beside her class.
She smiled and nodded at Mrs. McClaine's class, but if one looked longer upon her face it was noticeable that she seemed uncertain at the prospect of adding even more children to the mass that she was overlooking herself. She was trying to be friendly though, and as Mrs. McClaine's students began to shuffle out to the benches they could feel the eyes of these casually dressed children sizing them up from their polished uniform shoes to the buttons on their collars. Mrs. Randall's students scooted down the benches to make room for this foreign group, as not to be rude and avoid a glaring look from their teacher.
The uniformed students slid down the long benches until they faced the children with the colorfully diverse attire. This fidgety mixture sat in silence for awhile until Mrs Randall broke the tension with her sweet voice. "Well, don't be shy now, you can say hello to each other!"
Some of the children mumbled their names and greeting, others appeared robotic, and some spat out their names very hurriedly so they could bite into their food as quickly as possible.
Miriam was perhaps the most awkward of these two groups combined. Everything about her was mousy. Her large ears poked out from long stringy light brown hair that she let hang over and cover her face and her wide, sad eyes shifted nervously from the ends of the table. She never felt comfortable in her own class, let alone with an entirely new one. But as the children began to chomp their food loudly and small conversations arose, Miriam breathed out a small sigh and relaxed a bit. She had the excuse of at least having food in her mouth for being so quiet. As her anxiety faded, she heard the students begin to talk about their school's basketball teams and this stirred quite a debate. One of the more mature girls from her class--who experimented with makeup--vehemently defended her school's team though she had never been to a single game, simply to be on the better side and to have the eyes around the table drawn to her.
After most of the students finished eating, they were allowed a short break to mingle with one another. Scott Marks was now able to fully scope out the new girls as they stood up from their wooden seats. He moved into their blossoming blockade stealthily and jokingly pulled on the ponytail of one of the new, not-in-uniform girls until she spun around. Noticing his more matured physical appeal, she smiled playfully back at him, poking him in the ribs.
Nearby, a boombox could be heard over the crashing of the waves and the children remembered that this was a lovely day at the beach. The sun warmed their young skin and seem to illuminate them as if they were shining flickers of light. Some swung their arms and hips to the distant tunes. Miriam peeked through her hair with one curious eye, not wanting to be seen, but secretly wanting a boy to twirl her around in the sand and carry her with his strong arms off into the ocean. She knew, though, that this only happened to the girl with the hair confidently pulled back and out of her face, to the girl with a flirty smile and lipgloss knowledge. Once jealous, she was by now accustomed to this loneliness and sat lost among the many grains of sand.
She decided to walk alone, as she was used to this. She approached a small cave that she noticed the boys from the other class fled from as soon as she stepped towards it (probably because she seemed to appear to be a tattletale). She noticed a crumpled piece of paper,rejected, like her, at the floor of this cave. Smoothing out its creases, she realized that the small scratchy writing was a poem.
It must be love at first sight.
Your hair shines so bright.
You have the prettiest eyes,
They're better than a sunrise.
You have the best smile
And the coolest style.
You're so great,
I think we should date!
She folded this poem neatly and put it in her pocket, but she somehow thought that everyone else knew that she had this note, that she had just come out of the cave so she must have discovered it. Miriam realized, though, that everyone was just as they were before, laughing and swaying in the sun. With this realization she took the note out of her pocket again and read it over once more and beyond the tresses of her hair a smile could be seen uncurling. She wanted the breeze to blow the hair away from her face, to stand straight and tall, and to swing her hips to the music, laughing and talking enthusiastically with her classmates. One girl noticed Miriam's rarely seen smile and appeared puzzled.
"It is such a nice day!" Miriam said lifting her head up a little more than usual.
The girl then offered back simple conversation, how she couldn't wait for summer, asking if Miriam was going anywhere and if she would do any of the summer reading. Miriam beamed by the mere fact that she was being asked questions and suddenly that loneliness she had grown used to drifted away from her.
As the children groaned about lunch ending, Miriam began to dissect what had just happened. Surely one of the boys that fled the cave had written it and dropped it. This of course must have been intended for some other girl, perhaps one from the different class, and it was an attempt to ask her out. 'But who wrote it?' she thought, and if only she had gotten a better look at the boys' faces. She looked towards the potential Romeos, and tried to imagine each of them writing it. She glanced at Scott with his broad shoulders and tall frame and she wanted him to be the one who wrote it, to write it for her...but she heard the distressed pitches of puberty in his voice and changed her mind. If it could just be him with some other boy's voice and maybe if he were a little bit smarter with darker, less greasy black hair...She formed this ideal romancer in her daydreaming mind and imagined him giving her this note and twirling her in the sand.
The two classes soon boarded their buses. The children with their sunburned shoulders and sleepy grins were exhausted and floated onto their seats. Though Miriam sat pressed against the window casting her eyes over blue green waters which turned into black tar rivers, her mind was still in the cave. Her classmates were playing games that involved finding letters or words on license plates and signs, but all she saw was the lines of the poem inviting her to read them again, meant for her to read it over and over. 'Who wrote it though?' she wondered again, and she tried to form this dream boy in her mind once more. A boy that wrote her poems, and complimented her, and wanted to date. A boy that made her feel as though she had found something special and secret, and no one else had discovered it the way she had.
'People who are liked and admired receive these kind of poems,' she thought. She had heard of girls and boys receiving notes, seen them giggling with delight over them, answering back with hearts around the edges and a crafted signature, and she wanted this, this dream that was so real and simple. Even Christine, a girl with fat cheeks and braces, had received a note. She felt she had something to share now with the other girls, that they might guess at who the mystery writer was with her.
"So I found this note in a cave at the beach," Miriam said bravely to the girls who were around her seat on the bus.
"What does it say? Let me see," said a slender girl named Taylor who was flashy like her white teeth. She read it in almost a blink of an eye, and Miriam felt sheepish for having read it so carefully, over and over.
"I want to see!" exclaimed Veronica, the blonde long haired girl sitting behind Taylor. She grabbed the note out of Taylor's hands and Miriam felt a pang for it because she had folded it so neatly in her pocket and here it was being ripped out of her hands.
"Oh I got a note like this a few years ago," Veronica said matter-of-factly. "Except it was a little longer than this one and he made me a drawing with it."
"How could you even read it Veronica? You said you didn't know how to read until you were eight!" Taylor protested.
"Well we can't all be perfect, Taylor. Maybe the note's about you, you do have bright hair!"
Taylor pretended not to seem too delighted by this possibility and said, "Well, whoever wrote it, it's not very good. Anyone could make those rhymes. If a boy really wants to impress me, he'll buy me something nice."
"Yeah, I guess it's not very good..." Miriam replied weakly letting out a half hearted laugh.
After the field trip, the students uniformed life resumed, and the days passed quickly as childhood does. Miriam did not forget about this note though, and she pined for a boy who did not exist. She held onto the hope that this boy would come for her in the future, and brush the hair away from her face and tell her that her eyes were better than a sunrise.
Later that May, Miriam asked her father to drive her to the very same beach where she found this note. She wandered along the sand, but of course she knew that she wanted to return to the cave. Eagerly she stepped inside it, but its floors were empty with no promise of crumpled romance for her to read. She sat there alone, until her father's worried calls disturbed her silence. Hearing her name called out, she suddenly felt absolutely absurd. "Obviously that note wasn't meant for me! How stupid could I be!" But she knew all along it was not meant for her and perhaps if she had seen who truly wrote it she would never have tangled her mind into its silly daydreaming.
She stepped out of the cave and saw the waters steadily destroy a sand castle that had been built. Its proud towers were now turned to muck. What was the point?
Everything she had hoped for seemed foolish. Everyone seemed to laugh at her, take what was hers and deem it as "not very good." All this imagining and wondering was worthless.When she returned to the car with her father and she pressed herself to the window as she did that day, he asked her if she was going to the dance that all the local schools were invited to. At first she imagined the mystery writer to be there, asking her to dance and there was a small spark in her eyes. But she frowned and simply shook her head, letting this hope fizzle and be swallowed by the sea.