Vicky quietly made her way to the front of the classroom, unbeknownst to her sixth grade English teacher, Miss Dunning. Her teacher, a fashionable woman in her mid-fifties, was well known throughout the school for being quite easy going and happily independent. Both characteristics that would soon be tested by her lingering student. She was methodically erasing the blackboard while lost in the thought of a cup of hot tea and the newly released novel from her favorite author, Michael Ende. The final bell proclaiming the end of the school day stopped ringing about a minute ago, and all of Vicky’s classmates had rushed out the door before the bell went silent. Vicky would have joined them, as usual, but this day was different. This day she had a question to ask Miss Dunning. One that she was sure her teacher had never been asked before.
“I have a question about…?” Vicky started to ask, but she wasn’t able to finish. She had, unknowingly, caught Miss Dunning by surprise, causing her to fill the classroom with a scream only available to a classically trained soprano. The terrified teacher simultaneously turned around and launched the chalkboard eraser at her source of fright. The eraser hit Vicky directly in the face, covering her in white chalk dust. Thankfully, Vicky was wearing her sunglasses so she was able to close her eyes before the dust made its way around the lenses. She stumbled a few steps back after the impact but was able to keep her balance by grabbing ahold of a nearby desk. Miss Dunning was beyond apologetic.
“Oh my goodness, Miss Hemingway!” she exclaimed loudly. “I’m so sorry, dear. Are you okay?” She hurried around her desk and grabbed Vicky by the shoulders. She began to inspect her for injuries by vigorously jerking extremities towards her extended head. “I know that I haven’t been very happy to see you wearing those silly glasses, but now… well, now it seems like fate.”
Fate was hardly the answer Vicky was searching for concerning her sunglasses. She, of course, knew why she wore them, but she hadn’t told anyone else. Fear of being labeled clinically insane by doctors, as well as a freak by her peers, being the main reasons she kept her mouth shut. Still, the tauntings of other kids couldn’t have been as bad as what she was dealing with when her glasses came off. To her surprise, the opposite social reaction actually happened, and the glasses were becoming a popular trademark for her around the school. Some teachers gave her flack, including Miss Dunning, but most backed off when she refused to open her eyes after being forced to remove her glasses. Her classmates were impressed at her sudden rebellious streak and let her know that she was pretty hot stuff.
“I’m okay, Miss Dunning,” Vicky assured her. “You can stop shaking me now, please.” Miss Dunning realized what she was doing and stopped. She placed her hands awkwardly by her sides, but it was obvious to Vicky that she was having to willfully hold them back from trying to clean her off. Vicky started to wipe the chalk dust from her face as she attempted to continue with her first line of questioning. She adjusted her sunglasses as she spoke.
“I have a question about something from To Kill A Mockingbird, “ Vicky said. “It’s actually,” she paused and took in a breath of courage, “it’s actually got a lot to do with why I’m wearing these sunglasses.”
“It does?” Miss Dunning asked.
“It does,” Vicky agreed but considered another angle as to why it did. “Well, it’s not so much the thing from the story as much as it’s your… your, personal views on it. I thought it was weird that you brought it up but hearing you talk so passionately about it made me think I could trust you with…” Vicky hesitated and broke her momentum. She looked down at her feet and shifted her balance, not knowing how to continue with her thoughts. “Well…”
“Well, what, dear?” Miss Dunning asked kindly, trying to encourage Vicky to continue.
“Well, to see if you,” Vicky paused and raised her eyes to express what she was saying, “you know?” She quickly realized that her teacher couldn’t read her facial expressions behind the glasses. She pointed to them as she spoke. “To see if you know what’s happening with me.”
“Well, now I’m as curious as ever,” Miss Dunning admitted. There was a lot of talk in the teacher’s lounge about Vicky Hemingway and her nervous breakdown. This sort of talk never sat well with Miss Dunning, partly because she despised negativity, but also partly because she couldn’t help but to agree with them. The other students thought she was being cool, or whatever the kids called it nowadays, but the teachers had a little more wisdom in their assumptions.
Miss Dunning also wanted to address the situation with her parents, but that was hopeless, as well. Vicky’s mother had made it more than known that she didn’t care one bit about how her daughter lived her life. In her mother’s own words, Vicky is, “like, her own spirit, man”. There was no father in the picture to push the topic of a possible psychological evaluation, so Miss Dunning hoped she had the answers Vicky needed.
“What exactly is happening to you?’ Miss Dunning gently prodded. Vicky had no idea where to begin so she started with the first thing that made sense to her.
“Have you ever been standing in front of a mirror in the dark and turn the lights on and off real fast?”
Miss Dunning was instantly confused at this question. “Do you mean, like, playing Bloody Mary or something?”
“No, not like as a game or anything. Like, you go into the bathroom at night and all the lights are off, Vicky explained. “You turn the lights on to see, but instantly turn them off because it’s so bright that it hurts your eyes. In that split second, you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror. Ever had that happen?”
“I’m afraid I’ve not, dear,” Miss Dunning admitted.
“Well, it’s really weird because, like, there’s a form of you glowing in the dark for the first second or so after the lights go off.” She began to chew on her bottom lip as she waited for Miss Dunning’s response. He teacher showed signs of understanding.
“I actually think I might know what you’re talking about. It sounds a lot like the cards those Jesus People hand out around the mall. Have you seen them before?”
Vicky had indeed seen them before and was happy for the comparison. “Yes! Yes, exactly!” Vicky was so happy to have this more recognizable description that she didn’t notice her teacher’s face beginning to frown. “It’s just like the card where you stare at Jesus for, like, twenty seconds and then look up at the sky and he is still there! That’s such a better way of describing it.”
Miss Dunning was now no longer concerned that Vicky was dealing with a mental breakdown. Fears of an unknown medical condition started to form. “So, you’re saying that you see this type of thing when you’re not wearing your glasses?”
“Yes,” Vicky admitted. It was an awkward admittance because she was still so excited about the Jesus card comparison.
“Dear,” Miss Dunning continued, “are you having headaches at all?”
“No,” Vicky said while waving her arms as if swatting away something thrown at her. “It’s not headaches. I’ve already told everyone that I’m not wearing the glasses because of headaches.”
“Are you sure,” Miss Dunning persisted. “It sounds an awful lot like you are seeing migraine spots if you ask me. I hate to say that it worries me, but it’s exactly what my mother dealt with before she had a stroke.”
Vicky paused at that word. She knew without a shadow of a doubt that this was nothing of medical concern, but a word like “stroke” demanded to be recognized. Even if for just a moment.
“I promise that I’m not having any headaches or anything.” She drew the shape of an x across her heart and held up her right hand. Muscle memory from her times as a small child sharing secrets with her friends.
“Well…” Miss Dunning hesitated. “You did say there was something about To Kill A Mockingbird that you wanted to discuss. As much as I would love to run you to Trapper Memorial Hospital…”
“To Kill A Mockingbird,“ Vicky said, confirming its importance with a whip-like gesture of her right hand. “Yes, right! You talked about Boo Radley today, and how he was, like, the perfect example of that saying, ‘never judge a book by its cover’.That speech you gave us about taking the time to know someone for who they really are, was why I knew I could talk to you.”
Miss Dunning thoroughly despised jumping from topic to topic but felt compelled to say whatever she needed to in order to keep Vicky talking. “I did say that, yes.” A little teacher pride started to show with the realization that one of her students remembered her lesson. It was instantly removed by the gnawing sense that something was very wrong with Vicky.
“Well, like, I can totally judge a book by its cover,” Vicky said. “Everyone I see when I’m not wearing my sunglasses has that weird ghostlike, Jesus card type appearance on them, that shows me their actual emotions and feelings.”
Miss Dunning was at a lose. She was starting to wonder if she should stop speaking and encourage an intervention with the guidance department instead. “Vicky, my dear, you are worrying me. So much so, that I haven’t a clue as to how to continue…”
I think I can see your spirit!” Vicky blurted out. She had not wanted to do so, but she felt it was the only way she could get Miss Dunning to stop worrying that she was having a medical emergency. It worked.
“My, my spirit?” Miss dunning stammered. She placed her right hand over her heart as if she was about to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Her expression was a mixture of deep concern and extreme curiosity.
Vicky didn’t quite understand why, but she copied her teacher’s movements and placed her hand over her heart. They were an almost perfect mirror image of one another. “Yes,” she said, but then quickly cocked her head to one side as if thinking. “Well, maybe it’s not your spirit, and it’s not, like, right now, because I’m wearing the glasses.” She pointed at them again and gave a soft smile. “When they’re off, though, it’s like I get an inside scoop of what’s actually going on inside of people. Like, I’ll see a guy laughing with his friends, but there’s also this ghostly form around him that’s, like, really sad looking.”
“You see ghosts?” Miss Dunning asked.
“No, they’re not really ghosts, I think.” Vicky was struggling again to explain. She had an idea, though. She reached down and picked up the eraser that was laying on the floor. She held it in front of her and started to smack it with her other hand, causing another cloud of chalk dust to rise. She continuously hit it until Miss Dunning could stand it no more and yanked it away from her.
“What on earth are you doing?” Miss Dunning almost demanded.
“It’s like this,” Vicky began to explain, flailing her arms around in the dust. She had to spit a little before she could continue. “I can still see you, but there is this white stuff all around you. The thing I see… your spirit, or whatever it is, is like this. It’s like a transparent outline of the person, but it’s who the person really is.”
Miss Dunning didn’t have to see her eyes to know that Vicky was absolutely convinced about what she saw. Vicky’s exaggerated showmanship with the eraser plucked at a heartstring that Miss Dunning had nurtured since childhood. One that attempted to override her practical reasoning by beginning to believe the poor girl.
“Vicky dear,” She said carefully, her eyebrows perched on top of her forehead. “I need you to know that I hear what you’re saying, I really do. I can even believe that you believe what you’re saying, but there’s just no way that it can be true.”
Vicky nodded at her comment. She was disappointed at her teacher’s lack of belief but also understood the stretch of the imagination needed in order to accept it. “Fine,” She declared as she reached up with both hands, each pointer finger and thumb gently holding the frame around its lens. “I guess I’ll just have to prove it.”
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