I asked Charlie to tell me about his drawing.
“I’m in the green car,” he said, “and I just stole lots of money and the guys in the blue car have the red lights, and if they catch me, the red lights will eat up the green car.”
“They’ll eat it up?” I asked.
“Yeah! Like the arithmetic game where the red lights eat the green numbers when you’re not fast enough!”
“Oh,” I said. “I see. But why did you steal the money?”
“To buy candy.”
“Oh. But you know stealing is wrong, right?”
“Mae!” he said, drawing it out to about five syllables. “It’s just a story!”
Today was his first day of school. We’d made a plan to do homework first thing in the morning. He told me about his drawing while I made the bed, and by the time I finished making the bed, he’d not only finished his story, he’d finished his homework. Smart little monkey.
He looked so confident when he headed off to school.
As soon as he was gone, it struck me. The house is silent. My little boy is at school.
I decided I’d spend the morning at the chess park. It’s just down the street. I was enjoying meeting new people, looking at a few opening positions, and then, my body shivered–not a cold shiver, but electric. I looked up and saw Paolo entering the park.
We’ve hardly seen him. He’s called once or twice when I was busy and couldn’t meet up with him or even chat on the phone, and he’s hardly even stopped by.
I don’t mind, for, oddly enough, when he’ not around, I don’t think about him. I would’ve guessed that Charlie would always remind me of him, but Charlie is just Charlie, not little Paolo.
I assumed that Paolo was my two-night fling–nothing to it but a bonus gift for me. All of Paolo’s talk about wanting to be there, wanting to be part of his son’s life, that was talk. Sure, he probably felt it at the time, but I figured Paolo was like me, as soon as Charlie and I weren’t around, we were out of his thoughts. Out of sight, out of life.
But this shiver. This electric jolt. Sure, it’s physical, but that doesn’t make it less real. Maybe that makes it more real.
“What is the happening with the little Carlo?” Paolo asked.
“It’s his first day at school!” I said.
There were people around, so I couldn’t say to Paolo the one word my body was screaming for me to say, “Closet!” But I could tell from Paolo’s grin that he was thinking it, too.
We’re going to have to make an appointment with each other soon.
When Charlie got home from school, he was furious.
“The test is so stupid!” he says. “It’s little circles! What do I learn from circles?”
He had filled them in in a pattern that he liked, and when his teacher saw it, she’d scolded him for not following instructions.
I had a moment’s rage. Standardized tests? Here? Even in Windenburg?
Berry stepped in. “Chazzie,” she said, “how about you take a shower? Let the water wash away all your angry feelings. Water can do that. When you come out the world will feel new again.”
While Charlie showered, I did some research on the school district’s website. Standardized tests–bubble-tests, no less!–were government mandates. But they weren’t evaluated on an individual level, and, in fact, it seemed that they hardly served any purpose at all. So perhaps, like so much in life, they’re simply one more innocuous waste of time.
Maybe I’ll run for the school board. I could have fun making change.
“Can I use the computer?” Charlie asked when he got out of the shower.
“Do you feel better?” I asked. “I downloaded a typing game for you.”
“Good,” he said. “I want to relax.”
As I left the room, I heard him telling a story while he played the game.
“The C-A-T wasn’t a normal cat. It was a S-U-P-E-R cat with magic H-A-N-D-S.”
What does a standardized test matter when a little boy can turn a typing game into a story about a magic cat?