by Donald Barthelme
Well, we had all these children out planting trees, see,
because we figured
that ... that was part of their education, to see how, you know, the root
... and also the sense of responsibility, taking care of things, being
responsible. You know what I mean. And the trees all died. They were
trees. I donít know why they died, they just died. Something wrong with
possibly or maybe the stuff we got from the nursery wasnít the best. We
complained about it. So weíve got thirty kids there, each kid had his or
little tree to plant and weíve got these thirty dead trees. All these kids
these little brown sticks, it was depressing.
It wouldnít have been so bad except that just a couple of weeks
thing with the trees, the snakes all died. But I think that the snakes Ė
reason that the snakes kicked off was that ... you remember, the boiler
shut off for four days because of the strike, and that was explicable. It
something you could explain to the kids because of the strike. I mean,
their parents would let them cross the picket line and they knew there was
strike going on and what it meant. So when things got started up again and
found the snakes they werenít too disturbed.
With the herb gardens it was probably a case of overwatering, and
now they know not to overwater. The children were very conscientious with
herb gardens and some of them probably ... you know, slipped them a little
extra water when we werenít looking. Or maybe ... well, I donít like to
about sabotage, although it did occur to us. I mean, it was something that
crossed our minds. We were thinking that way probably because before that
the gerbils had died, and the white mice had died, and the salamander ...
now they know not to carry them around in plastic bags.
Of course we expected the tropical fish to die, that was no
numbers, you look at them crooked and theyíre belly-up on the surface. But
lesson plan called for a tropical fish input at that point, there was
could do, it happens every year, you just have to hurry past it.
We werenít even supposed to have a puppy.
We werenít even supposed to have one, it was just a puppy the
girl found under a Gristedeís truck one day and she was afraid the truck
run over it when the driver had finished making his delivery, so she stuck
her knapsack and brought it to the school with her. So we had this puppy.
soon as I saw the puppy I thought, Oh Christ, I bet it will live for about
weeks and then... And thatís what it did. It wasnít supposed to be in the
classroom at all, thereís some kind of regulation about it, but you canít
they canít have a puppy when the puppy is already there, right in front of
running around on the floor and yap yap yapping. They named it Edgar Ė
is, they named it after me. They had a lot of fun running after it and
ďHere, Edgar! Nice Edgar!Ē Then theyíd laugh like hell. They enjoyed the
ambiguity. I enjoyed it myself. I donít mind being kidded. They made a
house for it in the supply closet and all that. I donít know what it died
Distemper, I guess. It probably hadnít had any shots. I got it out of
the kids got to school. I checked the supply closet each morning,
because I knew what was going to happen. I gave it to the custodian.
And then there was this Korean orphan that the class adopted
Help the Children program, all the kids brought in a quarter a month, that
the idea. It was an unfortunate thing, the kidís name was Kim and maybe we
adopted him too late or something. The cause of death was not stated in
letter we got, they suggested we adopt another child instead and sent us
interesting case histories, but we didnít have the heart. The class took
hard, they began (I think, nobody ever said anything to me directly) to
maybe there was something wrong with the school. But I donít think thereís
anything wrong with the school, particularly, Iíve seen better and Iíve
worse. It was just a run of bad luck. We had an extraordinary number of
parents passing away, for instance. There were I think two heart attacks
two suicides, one drowning, and four killed together in a car accident.
stroke. And we had the usual heavy mortality rate among the grandparents,
maybe it was heavier this year, it seemed so. And finally the tragedy.
The tragedy occurred when Matthew Wein and Tony Mavrogordo were
playing over where theyíre excavating for the new federal office building.
were all these big wooden beams stacked, you know, at the edge of the
excavation. Thereís a court case coming out of that, the parents are
that the beams were poorly stacked. I donít know whatís true and whatís
Itís been a strange year.