By William Baker
It is noisy in the dark, stuffy house and hard to sleep. Momma has a lot of people over and they are loud. Paul looks at the globe on his nightstand and shakes it. The silver white snow swirls around the miniature figures on the bridge and they become obscure, hidden in the glittery white whirl. It is the globe Gramma gave him.
“Glitter globe,” he says aloud. “It’s a globe. The world is a globe,” he is remembering his wonderful folder. The folder Gramma gave him for school with the picture of the earth on front and the words above: LOVE ONE. LOVE ALL. A cross of Jesus separates the phrases. Paul knows his folder right now is in his school classroom, Ms Gendron’s second grade. It is in his pouch on the wall next to the coat hooks, holding his spelling and writing papers. He is the only one with such a wonderful folder. The class likes the folder and Ms Gendron says the cross is most important. The cross on the folder is almost like the one Gramma wears, almost like the cross Momma used to wear before she took it off long ago. Ms Gendron has a cross too, tiny and gold, it looks the same but also different from the other crosses. Paul asked Gramma why she wears the cross and she says it is so the world knows who you belong to. Paul wants a cross but Gramma she says he is too young. Instead she sews a patch on his school backpack. A patch of a cross of Jesus. He likes the patch. He likes tracing the cross with his finger, from up to down, then back up and side to side.
“The world sees who you belong to,” he says to the globe.
Paul knows from his folder that the earth is round like his glitter globe. He asks Gramma if the earth is a globe too and She says yes, it certainly is but much larger and made by God, not man.
“The earth is made by God,” he says to the glitter globe and shakes it. Someone bangs into the wall from the other room and all the adults laugh and get louder over the blasting music.
Paul wonders what Gramma is doing now. He doesn’t know why he can’t go to her and live in her house. He stayed the summer and Momma said he could stay for school. Then one day Momma came, argued with Gramma and brought him to the city.
At Gramma’s everything is bright. Her house is bright in a bright little town. Gramma is bright. She is happy and fun. She plays games, she cooks and bakes, goes to her job, and works in the garden. Gramma calls him, her little towhead and Paul thinks that is a funny thing, he doesn’t think his toes look at all like his head. When she goes to work Paul stays with Gramma’s church friend, Mrs Rodriguez and her grandson Esteban. Paul and Esteban play. Mrs Rodriguez is fun too, in a different way. She is a round, brown, soft, happy person and laughs a lot. She makes sandwiches with no crust. She talks in English but different, sometimes she says words in Spanish. She calls Paul chico feliz. Which means happy boy.
At Grammas everyone likes Paul, they like his smile. When he smiles his cheeks turn red and the band of freckles across his nose stands out in brown dots. His smile would be full if not for the lost teeth on the top and bottom.
Someone is shouting in the other room and they all laugh again. “Chico feliz,” Paul says and shakes the globe. He does not smile. He watches the globe until sleep.
In the morning Paul is up with the alarm and gets ready for school. The house is quiet except for the sound of people sleeping. It is dark when he makes his way to the kitchen and turns on the light, it is a mess and smells bad. He looks at the clock on the wall. He likes this clock. It is like the one in Ms Gendron’s classroom only smaller. The same red numbers to tell him when it is time to do things. On school mornings he knows a 7, 2 and 5 means time to go to the bus stop. At school he knows an 8, 3 and 0 means the bell will ring for class to begin.
When Momma worked she used to see him off to school, that seems long ago. “Seven, one, one,” he says aloud and opens the refrigerator. Inside is a lot of drying cold cuts, bread, pop, beer, wine, and soggy cut vegetables. He makes a sandwich and tries tearing off the crust but tears too much and has to use another piece of bread. He eats the sandwich with crust. He drinks part of a pop and leaves the can on the table with the leftover party trash.
“Seven, two, three,” he says to the clock. He traces the cross on his backpack, up and down, side to side. Then shoulders the backpack. “Seven, two, four.” Then, “seven, two, five.” He walks past the sleepers and out the door to the bus stop in front of the house. It is dark and chilly and the other kids are there with parents. Paul looks back to his closed door.
On the ride to school he thinks of his folder, then Gramma, then Ms Gendron. All the kids like his folder, except some older boys who came in after school, they call it stupid. He wants Gramma to come visit so she can see his classroom, see where he put the folder, see Ms Gendron. They would like each other. Ms Gendron is kind and lovely. She is from Martinique and speaks English different but not like Mrs Rodriguez. Ms Gendron says it is a French accent and showed the class France and Martinique on the map. Ms Gendron has beautiful brown skin, not brown like Mrs Rodriguez and Esteban, Ms Gendron is smooth dark chocolate, so rich and lovely she shines.
At school Paul hangs his backpack on a hook. A girl in class comes to him saying, “look,” and pointing. Paul sees his spelling and writing papers on the floor and the folder with them. Another girl leads Ms Gendron by the hand and she sees. “Oh, my. Who could have done this?” Ms Gendron asks and picks up the mess. The other students do not know. The folder is torn through on the front cover, separating the picture of the earth. Paul stares.
Ms Gendron bends to him and says, “Please, don’t worry. Let me take this, maybe there is something I can do.” He looks at her then at the class gathered around. His lip trembles and the 8:30 bell rings. “Do you trust me, Paul?” she asks.
He looks at her holding the papers and the ruined folder, the little gold cross hangs from her neck. He nods. He does trust her, she is Ms Gendron, she shines.
The big clock has the numbers 8, 3, and 3 when class starts. Paul looks at his hands folded on the desk. “Ms Gendron is from Martinique,” he whispers.
When he gets off the bus there are already people at the house. It is not noisy but they all have beer. Momma tells Paul there will be pizza later when they watch football. Mr. Bart is there and he always talks to Paul but doesn’t know what to say. At least he talks, the others don’t see Paul. Mr. Bart looks as old as Gramma and drives a shiny red car. Mr. Bart calls the car a Portia and tells Paul he will give him a ride sometime. Paul likes this and thinks it will be great when Mr. Bart lets him ride in the red car with the girl’s name.
Paul plays outside then has pizza and pop. The adults eat and drink and yell about football on TV. Paul plays in his room and finally closes the door and gets in bed. The adults are louder as the night goes on. He plays with the glitter globe a moment and puts it on the nightstand. He wants to call Gramma, he wonders how she gets on without him. Momma won’t talk about it, she has taken off the cross she always wore and taken Grammas picture away from the living room. Maybe Momma put the picture in the same place as her cross.
The noise is not as bad as usual and he falls asleep.
In the morning it is quiet except for the sleeping people. Paul gets ready for school and watches the clock. He traces his finger over the cross on his backpack. “Seven, two, five,” he says at last and goes to the bus stop. When he looks back at his house the door is closed.
At school he sits at his desk, the clock has an 8, 2, and 5. He watches Ms Gendron writing on the blackboard and working at her desk. He wonders why people say she is black, why they say he is white. He knows colors and Ms Gendron is not black and he is not white. He wants to ask Gramma.
The bell rings and everyone sits. Ms Gendron comes to Paul’s desk and says, “I hope this is alright, Paul,” she lays a folder down.
He looks at it. It is dark blue and like any regular folder but on the front is the torn earth and it is still in two. Ms Gendron has glued the earth with a space in between and cut out the phrases, LOVE ONE and LOVE ALL and worked them into the broken space with the cross of Jesus between.
The other children gather around. They like the folder. The color rises in his face, his freckles show brown. “Do you like it,” Ms Gendron asks. Paul nods furiously and smiles. His smile has a gap on the top and on the bottom. Ms Gendron says, “It is nice to see you happy again,” she shines as she returns to the front of the room with the ringing bell.
He runs his hands over the folder, it is more wonderful than ever. He whispers, “The cross is most important.”
At home he plays in the yard until time to come in. The driveway fills with cars as people arrive. Not as many as usual and they do not drink beer but something else, bottles of brown liquid that smells funny, worse than beer.
Mr. Bart asks him if he likes school and he nods. He talks to Mr. Bart about the clocks at home and school and all the important times. He asks Mr Bart about Portia the car. He talks to Mr. Bart about crosses, the one Gramma wears looks different from the one Ms Gendron wears but they are really the same. Mr. Bart sits in an armchair and leans forward. He listens with long fingered hands hanging between his knees. He is a small, quiet man, grey at the temples and sad eyes with a long nose and droopy cheeks. Paul wants to tell Mr. Bart about how Ms Gendron repaired his folder but someone starts joking with Mr. Bart about something Paul doesn’t understand. Mr. Bart’s eyes are sad when he laughs.
After Paul is in bed they play music and turn up the TV.
He shakes the glitter globe and watches the sparkle move around the figures on the bridge. It is a globe, the earth is a globe and Ms Gendron’s earth is a globe even torn in two with the cross and the words. He wants to show Gramma the folder. It is even louder in the other room, he hears Momma arguing with someone, Paul can’t tell who and hopes it isn’t Mr. Bart. “A car named Portia,” Paul says to the globe.
In the morning the clock in the kitchen has 7, 1 and 5. Paul checks his backpack, looks at the trash and garbage on the table then looks in the refrigerator. A few pieces of drying bread, a little bit of cheese in a block and a lot of things he can’t eat. He gets the cheese and a piece of bread. He hears noise behind him and turns to see Momma, she is pale with dark eyes in a threadbare robe. She looks at him then makes coffee.
Paul uses a butter knife on the cheese block. He can’t get the knife to cut no matter how hard he tries. Momma takes the knife from him and motions to the table where he sits. With her back to him she uses a sharp knife to slice the cheese, finds a packaged snack cake and a few pieces of microwave bacon. Paul watches her at the counter. She is thin with dull, loose hair down her back. She sniffs a lot as she works and her nose and eyes are red. She washes a plate and puts everything on it. There is no milk and she finds Gatorade.
“Seven, two, one,” he says, looking at the clock. He eats quickly, checks his backpack again and traces the cross. “The cross tells the world who you belong to,” he says. Momma watches him.
He looks at the clock, “Seven, two, five,” he says.
Momma leans against the kitchen doorway with the coffee cup to her chin, her eyes are closed now. Paul stands next to her and sees the steam bathe her pallid face. He can’t tell if she is happy or sad or anything but tired. He hugs her around the waist then picks his way through the sleepers and to the bus stop. As the bus pulls away he remembers to look, he thinks the door is open.
The classroom clock shows an 8, 2, 7 and Paul hurries. He hangs his backpack and shuffles through it until he finds what he wants, then goes to his wonderful folder at the back of the room. He holds the folder to his chest and rushes to Ms Gendron’s desk.
Ms Gendron works on something with head down. “Eight, two, nine,” Paul says and she looks up.
Paul puts it on her desk and holds the folder to his front with both hands.
“Oh,” Ms Gendron says.
“It’s a glitter globe,” Paul says. “My Gramma gave it to me.”
“I see,” Ms Gendron says. “It’s beautiful.” She wonders if Paul’s mother wants him to give it away and thinks to hand it back, then stops. She looks at him clutching the folder. “This is special to you, isn’t it?” she asks. Paul nods. “Then it is special to me,” she adds. She shines as she admires the globe and Paul.
Paul’s color rises and his freckles are there. He smiles with the gaps on top and bottom. He hurries to his desk as the bell rings.
On the bus Paul thinks about the glitter globe. No longer his, Gramma gave it to him now he gave it to Ms Gendron. He still has a globe, on his folder, a globe divided and in between the words and cross; his folder, his globe, healed by shining hands. He looks out the bus window at the passing city and whispers, “Love One. Cross of Jesus. Love all.”
Paul gets off the bus in front of his house and sees the empty driveway, no cars, not even Portia. Momma is at the door and lets him in.
Paul looks around the room, it is neat, bright and clean with no bad smell and no other people. Momma sits on the sofa and pats the place beside her. He drops his backpack and sits. On the coffee table in front of him is a plate with a sandwich, no crust. There is a cookie and glass of milk. Next to the milk is the picture of Gramma.
Momma is not like in the morning her face looks healthy and pink. She has a little make up and is dressed in good clothes. She looks at him and reaches out, brushing a cowlick from his forehead. She is wearing her cross, it is shiny and silver on a delicate glittery chain, identical to the one Gramma wears. Paul wants to trace it but keeps still.
Momma’s hand travels to the side of his face. A revealing touch that renews. She is bright, like Gramma. Soft, like Mrs. Rodriguez. Shining, like Ms. Gendron. She is fresh, new and beautiful, like Momma.
She says, “Tell me about your day.”
He leans his face to her hand. The cheeks color and the band of freckles stands out, the smile has gaps at the top and bottom. He is chico feliz, like Paul.
William Baker has had his short fiction published a number of times since 2013. He thrives and lives a positive and purposeful life in central Indiana. He maintains an author website at www.sylbun.com