Blue and green plaid skirts chase answers hung across the fence. A breeze skitters by blowing the folded papers end over end, making the answers disappear. The girls press their laptops into the crook of their elbows and stare at the screen, numbers waltzing in their minds.

One leg tangled over the other, she watches the girls trail after each other, calling out questions of “Where is less than four?” and “I don’t see negative seven.” The wind returns, bending the tops of the pine trees and flooding the sidewalk with golden light.

She thinks about last year, the feel of being paralyzed between too-close desks and moldy walls. She spoonfed algorithms and counted the tick of the gleaming red second hand, ears trained for the screech of the bell. She mourns that reality, the squeeze of supposed-to and the conflict of should.

The girls clamber toward her at the chimes from the bell tower, shouting out the unscrambled hidden message. She smiles, but it doesn’t reach her eyes, and she remembers the students she originally made this activity for, begging for pencils and paper as they banged through desks around the room.


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