The Tree in the Schoolyard

One by one or in groups, they came in strolling, strutting, shuffling, and meandering to their seats inside the bungalow. Every hour on the hour Mrs. Foster stood outside the classroom for six minutes, door opened, greeting her students in for their fifty-four-minute required lesson in English.

The sun was white hot over the concrete school yard, as it was over the San Bernardino Mountains to the east, barely visible through a summer haze that rose from steaming asphalt pavements and industrial fumes. The sun was white hot, too, over the Santa Monica Mountains to the north, where the Hollywood sign was visible on clear, crisp days. Today the haze rose over Griffith Observatory and tempered the brilliance of its white building and glistening black dome.

Mrs. Foster brought a hand above her eyebrows to cast a shadow over her eyes as she ushered her students into the classroom. “Get in. Get in. It’s cool inside. Copy the agenda that’s on the board.”

A lonely tree in the square cement cutout in front of her classroom had six leaves on it. Same as yesterday. It should be in full leaf in the midst of summer, she thought. The water sprinkler in the center of the square rained on the tree like clockwork each morning before the start of school, but at mid-morning, the water still hadn’t filtered through the soil, and a muddy puddle stagnated inside the cement cutout. The tree’s spindly trunk and bare branches seemed more appropriate in a stage set for Godot than a schoolyard. Mrs. Foster looked at that tree for those six minutes every hour on the hour. She couldn’t avoid it as she stood outside her classroom in full sorry sight of it, waiting for her students to come in, and when the school tardy bell rang, she closed the door and shut out the sun and the view.

Mrs. Foster removed the cardigan that was draped around her desk chair and put it on. The air conditioner always blew at full blast. She gathered the crumpled absence notes that returning students had dropped on her desk, and began the roll call. “Christian Aiken?”


“Jesus Belasco?”


“You were out yesterday. Did you bring a note?”

“I put it on your desk.”

She flipped through the absence notes. “It’s not here.”

Jesus emptied his pockets and the wrinkled yellow note fell out. He walked to her desk. “Sorry, Missus. I thought I put it on your desk.”

Mrs. Foster uncrumpled the note. “1—Medical reason” was checked off and signed at the bottom with what looked like Jesus’ scribbling in place of a parent’s signature.

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