The class was quiet – no coughing, no rustling of papers – at the sight of Ms. Mirabel. She wore a bright pink jacket trimmed with what looked like feathers. She wore long earrings that had feathers, too. Maybe she would fly around the room, words falling like bird droppings on all of us.
“I am going to sit in the back today,” siad Miss Cash. “It will be Ms. Mirabel’s class. Think of her as your teacher. She will be visiting us for six weeks, sometimes on a daily basis. At times she’ll be in charge of the class. Sometimes I will be.”
The windows were open, and the breeze rippled the feathers on Ms. Mirabels.
“I’m going to read some things to you,” said Ms. Mirabel. “Words. Some I hope you will like. You may not like some of what I read. You don’t have to like everything.”
We all looked at one another. Miss Cash had never told us we didn’t have to like the things she read. I looked quickly at Miss Cash, but her face was still and stony.
“Some words may make you happy, some may make you sad. Maybe some will make you angry. What I hope” – a sudden gust of wind made Ms. Mirabel’s hair lift – “what I hope is that something will whisper in your ear.”
“What does that mean?” asked Russell.
Miss Cash sighed loud enough for me to hear. Russell always asked questions that made Miss Cash sigh.
Ms. Mirabel didn’t sigh. She smiled brightly.
“You will know,” she said.
Surprisingly, Russell grinned back at Ms. Mirabel as if they had a secret pact. Quietly, Miss Cash got up and opened the door at the back of the rrom and was gone.
Ms. Mirabel looked at us. “First, a place.”
“The barn was very large. It was very old. It smelled of bay and it smelled of manure. It smelled of the perspiration of tired horses and the wonderful sweet breath of patient cows.”
“Charlotte’s Web”, someone whispered excitedly.
“I knew that,” said Russell.
“Now, a moment, a time, a place,” said Ms. Mirabel.
“The road that led to Treegap had been trod out long before by a herd of cows who were, to say the least, relaxed. It wandered along in curves and easy angles, swayed off and up in a pleasant tangent to the top of a small hill, ambled down again between fringes of bee-hung clover, and then cut sidewise across a meadow.”
“Characters,” said Ms. Mirabel. And she began to read.
“`Did Mama sing every day?’ asked Caleb. ‘Every-single-day?’ He sat close to the fire, his chin in his hand. It was dusk, and the dogs lay beside him on the warm hearthstones.
“`Every-single-day,’ I told him for the second time this week. For the twentieth time this month. The hundredth time this year? And the past few years?
“`And did Papa sing, too?’
“Yes, Papa sang, too. Don’t get so close, Caleb. You’ll heat up.’
“He pushed his chair back. It made a hollow scraping sound on the hearthstones, and the dogs stirred. Lottie, small and black, wagged her tail and lifted her head. Nick slept on.
“I turned the bread dough over and over on the marble slab on the kitchen table.
“`Well, Papa doesn’t sing anymore,’ said Caleb very softly.
I smiled. I knew that story.
“Now a memory,” said Ms. Mirabel.
“The memory is this: a blue blanket in a basket that pricks her bare legs, and the world turning over as she tumbles out. A flash of trees, sky, clouds, and the hard driveway of dirt and gravel. Then she is lifted up and up and held tight. Kind faces, she remembers, but that mighbe the later memory of her imagination. Still, when the memory comes, sometimes many times a night and in the day, the arms that hold her are always safe.”
Ms. Mirabel smiled. “And a poem,” she said.
When cracked you’ll find inside
That tuck in snugly to make
Ms. Mirabel read on and on, some things I’d heard before, some things I hadn’t. The breezes came in and around us like the words Ms. Mirabel spoke. No one moved, even when the bell rang for lunch.
Ms. Mirabel stopped.
“Maybe tomorrow some of you will bring your writing. You don’t have to read it if you don’t want to. I can read it for you. When we talk about it, we will be very kind. We will talk about what we like, and we will ask questions.”
Ms. Mirabel waved her arm toward the door, her bird feathers rippling. “Go,” she said.
And we went.
Until the sun falls down
They tuck themselves under the
Green leaves of trees
And sleep until the sun calls