Other than the high ceilings in the student lounge [where he practiced his juggling], the only thing I liked about school was English. The teacher's name was Miss Smith. Mostly she gave us books to read—novels by Thomas Hardy and Upton Sinclair, Edgar Allan Poe stories, Tennyson poems like The Lady of Shallot. We wrote about them for homework and talked about them in class. She gave us writing assignments too. Once she asked us to write an expository essay about our favorite place. Naturally I wrote about the boardwalk. A few days later, Miss Smith asked me to stay after class.
"Jason," she said, motioning me to an empty seat in the front row while she sat at her desk. "I enjoyed your essay on Atlantic City."
"Oh, thanks." I smiled. Miss Smith was nice. Mid-thirties. Bright-eyed. Good posture. Brunette hair pulled into a tight bun. With her knee-length gray flannel skirt, her thick, dark stockings and sensible brown Wallabee shoes, she looked like she got her clothing from a catalog called The English Teacher's Nook. "You don't want me to juggle at a pep rally for the English team, do you?" I asked.
Miss Smith laughed. "You're funny," she said, slipping her metal-rimmed glasses off and dabbing at one eye with the tip of her pinky. "I think that's the first time I've seen you smile."
More pity from my captors, albeit a nice one. I flicked my eyes at the ceiling. Miss Smith must have picked up on my defensiveness. Instead of saying anything further, she stood up and motioned toward the door. "You mustn't be late," she said smoothly.
I stood up and flung my backpack over my shoulder.
"If you ever want to talk," she said as I reached the door, "come see me." By now, the throng of kids rushing to their classes was beginning to thin out.
I stopped and turned toward Miss Smith. She knew about Mom because I'd mentioned it in my essay. "Thanks," I said, stepping out of the classroom and into the hallway.
Let's pause for a moment to appreciate English teachers everywhere, whether or not they wear sensible shoes.