Originally published in “Move” by The Arts Tribune (Fall 2019, volume 8, issue 1)
“Agnes, come line up for class now, dear,” the woman who is not my teacher coos at me. My teacher’s body lies on the ground behind this woman who wears her skin. She does not come closer to me, so long as I do not move. When I move, she will run at me. The other children run around me on the plastic rainbow playground. They have taken their skins from my classmates who lie on the ground.
“Agnes, be a good girl now, dear,” says the woman with my teacher’s voice. I must remind myself that she is not my teacher; my teacher lies on the ground. The children continue to run around me. “Don’t be naughty like the other children, dear. Come.” I wonder if she means because they run in circles, or because they have murdered themselves.
Still I do not move. I practice breathing slow like my mother taught me for when I have trouble sitting still. She would be proud of how still I am now , how quiet I’ve made my breath. I wonder if she is still waiting for me to come home from school, or if she lies on the ground like my classmates — her skin running in circles above her body. I decide I will not go home. If I do, the thing in my mother’s skin will murder me too, and Mummy would be heartbroken if she knew what her skin had done. In my mind I try to send her a song.
“Send me a song, Aggie,” Mummy would say in her voice like windchimes, “and I will always hear it. When I hear your song, I will know how you’re feeling, if you are sad, or scared, and I will send one back to comfort you.”
“How will you hear me, Mummy, if I am far away?” I knew the answer, but I liked to hear her tell it anyways.
“I’ll hear it because I’m your Mummy. The music of your heart beat in mine before you had ears to hear it, so your music and my music will always be connected.”
I imagine my mother’s song playing in my ears. I imagine it wrapping around me like blue candy floss on a paper cone.
My teacher’s skin stares at the place where I stand, motionless. My eyes sting, but I won’t blink. Eventually her skin will have to blink — they are human eyelids, after all — I will blink then. I wish I could look at my watch with the Frozen characters on the band. Soon my classmates’ parents will come to pick them up from school, and she will have to look at them instead. They have bigger, stronger skins than mine. The children too, no doubt, will look. They’ll stop their running in circles and run to the parents of the children whose skins they wear. The parents will not see it coming. Not until they see their real children on the ground, but by then it will be too late. That’s when I will run.
For now, we stand still — my teacher’s skin and I — blinking in unison.
“Agnes, Darling. Don’t make me ask again,” the skin says as it steps closer, but I’ll not move. My teacher’s body lies on the ground and I try to send her a happy song too. One like waterfalls and pretty birds. Soon the parents will come, and I will run.