Aubrey Rose McCallum

Submitted into Contest #152 in response to: Write about a character whose life changes for the better.... view prompt


Coming of Age Contemporary Fiction

“My name is Aubrey Rose McCallum.” She told me on the first day of class, “And I am autistic.”

Now I want you to see something.  Please, follow me.  It’s on the north wall of the gymnasium.  Right there.  Beautiful, isn’t it?  It took her over a semester and a lot of spray paint, but it is a true work of art, don’t you think so?  

As you can see, Aubrey used such  brilliant colors to transform that plain, dull brick wall into this striking figure of a heavenly angel with both wings and arms spread out welcoming those who seek guidance and direction, is to say the very least, quite inspirational, don’t you think?

As with every true life miracle, there is a story that goes with this wonderfully depicted mural and if you have a few minutes, I’d love to tell you her story.  

“You have Aubrey Rose McCallum.  I pity you.” Mrs. Komstock shook her head, “Had her last year.  She was a real problem child.”

“Comes with the territory.” I commented as I tried to find a five letter word for emotionless in the crossword puzzle I had almost completed.

“She tore all of the posters down from the walls when she threw a fit.” Mrs. Komstock sighed.

“I don’t usually put posters up in my classroom.” I smacked my lips after sipping my hot coffee.

“What do you do?” She gave me a complete expression of derision.

“Art work.” I answered with a pleasant smile.  Dealing with Cynthia Komstock required complete diplomacy and careful navigation through social norms and customs. 

“Some of the students can’t draw a straight line.” She laughed.

“So I put up whatever kind of lines they are capable of drawing.” I put down the word “stoic” which fits into the blank spaces of the crossword puzzle. 

“Mr. Dorsey, you are a different breed, that’s for sure.” She purses her lips as she walks out of the teacher’s lounge. 

When I moseyed into the classroom ten minutes early, I wrote the date on the whiteboard and “Welcome Back” underneath.  Starting my fifteenth year of teaching, I have developed a process, as they call it, or routine as I call it, because my methods have stood the test of time with my special students who have discovered the traditional methods don’t work for them as they have for the other four hundred “normal” kids who attend Woodrow Wilson Middle School.

My classroom isn’t as big as the general education classrooms or the classrooms where the normal students go.  I have stashed a lot of plastic toys known as manipulatives in the spare spaces that I will use to help determine physical dexterity and cognitive developmental progress.  There is also an element of social dimension, in case I forget to mention it.  When the bell rings in a few minutes, I will have twelve students who will wander in provided all of them are present on the first day.  

As it turned out, I had eleven students seated in the classroom as the bell rang.  One by one I called out their names, but found that Aubrey Rose McCallum was absent.

“She don’t come to school unless her mom wakes her up on time.” Eric informed me.  Eric Schueller had Aubrey in his class for seven years and knew her quite well.  

“Very well.” I sniffed, “Let’s stand and say the Pledge.” 

The eleven present did as they were told and we said the Pledge of Allegiance which was punctuated when Aubrey walked into the classroom announcing, “I am Aubrey Rose McCallum. I have autism.” 

“Welcome Aubrey.” I nodded.

“Sorry I’m late.” She said in a voice that was a few disciples above an appropriate classroom tone, “Are you Mr. Dorsey?” 

“I am.” I nodded.

“Are you nice?” She asked as she put her finger in her nose.

“For the most part.” I shrugged. “Aubrey, please take your seat.”

“And where might that be?”

“Right over there.” I pointed to the only empty desk in my classroom.  Without hesitation, Aubrey plopped herself down in the empty chair and put her backpack on the back of her chair just like everyone else had. 

The morning routine went smoothly and I began to wonder in what way Aubrey was a behavioral problem. Very often teachers would talk in the lounge about students who presented difficult behaviors and I would laugh to myself knowing that each student in my classroom had some form of behavioral shortcomings.  Six students, presently in my classroom, were not able to sit in a regular classroom for more than fifteen minutes tops. We had started out talking about the day and our schedule and then we got out a piece of paper to draw on.  This was supposed to be an icebreaker, but it also was a valuable exercise into some of their inner processing.  

As I collected their papers while they went to Mrs. Walnut's music class, I saw Aubrey’s paper.  On her paper was a picture of an angel, much like the one she would later paint on her mural.  The angel had a very welcoming expression on her face.  I had assumed the figure was female.

When they filed in from music class, I made it a point to talk to Aubrey.

“It’s my mother.” She informed me quite matter-of-factly. 

“You mother?” I asked, holding the drawing.

“Yes, she died when I was little.” She explained.

“I’m sorry.” I said with genuine sympathy.

“It’s okay.  She looks down on me from up there.” She pointed to the ceiling. 

Later, her father Roger McCallum came to pick her up from school.

“Are you Aubrey’s father?” I asked.

“Yes, yes I am.” He smiled, but then his smile quickly faded, “Did she do something wrong?” 

“No, no.” I could tell he was used to hearing reports of her poor behavior from previous teachers. “I’m Shawn Dorsey, her teacher.”

“Pleasure, Mr. Dorsey.” He shook my hand with a firm grip. “She is a challenging young lady.”

“I’m sure she will be, but I have had my share of students with behavioral challenges.”

He pulled me aside where no one else could hear us.  Aubrey was playing on the monkey bars with her classmates.  

“She can be challenging from both a physical and emotional perspective.” He explained using an undertone, “She is angry her mother is gone and she hates her grandmother. I have taken her to some of the best child psychiatrists, but we have not been able to solve her anger issues.”

“She has autism, right?”

“Yes, yes, but if that’s all you know, you will mark it all up to her autism.” He shrugged, “It’s not only that, it’s much deeper.”

“She drew this.” I showed him the picture.

“That’s her mother.” He recognized it immediately. “She is in Heaven.  Her grandmother takes her to church where she learned about angels and now this is her mother.”

“You sound dubious.” I noted.

“Her mother, Angie, took a bottle full of antidepressants. By the time they got to her, she was already gone.” He sighed, “Her mother, Anne, told Aubrey that her mother will rot in Hell.” 

“That’s not something you should tell a child.” I shook my head.

“Yea, that’s what I said, but Anne can be quite dominating.” He glanced around as if Anne might suddenly appear. “Just keep in mind, Anne is not a very loving person.  When Angie went on the medication, Anne told her she was a weak person for having to rely on pills.” 

“I think this picture is quite lovely.” I held it up again.

“Glad you think so.” He smiled a forced smile, “If I were to take this home, I’d have some issues with Anne, I’m afraid.” 

A few weeks later, Anne came to school to drive Aubrey home, but Aubrey ran out of the classroom screaming. 

“Go find that child, Mr. Dorsey.” She demanded.

I found the small child hiding in the janitor’s closet.

“I don’t want to go home with her.” She sniffed.

“You have to.” I told her.

“I want to go home with you, Mr. Dorsey.” She grabbed a hold of my arm. 

“You can’t.” I shook my head.

“Why not?” She had tears running down her cheeks.  

“Mr. Dorsey, are you in there?” It was Mrs. Komstock rapping on the closed door.  


“You’d better come out.  Aubrey’s grandmother is here to take her home.” She said,

“I don’t wanna go home.  I wanna stay here.” She cried.

“You don’t have a choice.” Her grandmother sounded quite cross. 

“Pleeeeaaaassseeee.” She grabbed my arm again, but the door came open and both Mrs. Komstock and her grandmother were standing there.

“Let me have a moment with her.” I asked Anne.

“Not on your life.  I won’t have you do bad things to her behind closed doors.”  She reached out and grabbed Aubry by her hand, yanking her out of the closet and dragging her against her will, down the hall.

“She was molested by a teacher.” Mr. Wilcox, my principal, explained a few days later after Aubrey had been absent from class. 

“I would never-”

“I understand that, but still the fear remains with Anne Mullenson.” He sighed. “Autistic children are vulnerable, as you well know.  Now she has come to our district schools with the same result.  Not a single teacher has been able to control her behavior.” 

“What if it’s not a question of control?” I asked.

“What do you mean?” He eyed me suspiciously.

“What if instead of controlling her, we find what makes her tick?” I nodded.

“Mr. Dorsey, our job is to prepare these kids for adult lives.  Get them ready to lead productive lives in our community.”   

“And what if we find the hidden talent?” I asked.

“Hidden talent?” 

“Yes, students with autism have hidden talents, but no one bothers to look for them.” I shrugged. 

“We don’t have time for that.” Wilcox turned his head.

“What if I was willing to take the time?” 

“You are wasting your time.” He laughed, “Until two years ago, she never even spoke.  She just threw tantrums in her classroom and caused damage to herself or the other students.  She is on her last chance.  If she does not show academic progress, we will have to place her in a more restrictive learning environment.” 

Now aware I was put on a time constraint with her, I began desperately searching for something that would prove academic development. It seemed the more I pushed for results, the worse her behavior became.  

One of our fall field trips was to a horse ranch in the local area where the kids could ride horses with adult guides helping out.  Every time we went there, I came back with some positive outcomes.

“Her grandmother has refused.” Mr. Wilcox informed me a few days before the field trip.

“What do you mean?”

“Aubrey can’t go.” He finally told me.

“If she can’t go, then I won’t go.” I was angry.

“You have to go.  You are the teacher.” He shook his head.

Behavior got worse after the field trip to the point where I had to ask for help restraining her for the safety of the other eleven students in my classroom.  One day she ran from the classroom with a bottle of oil paint I had locked up in my closet.  In the few minutes that door was open, she managed to grab the bottle.  

She ran to the playground behind the gymnasium and before two classroom aides were able to retrain her, she threw the contents of the bottle against the brick wall.  It was violet and left a splatter pattern against the dirt red bricks. When she saw what she had done, she smiled as she watched the violet streaks run down the rough red brick.

“We can’t wash that off.” Principal Wilcox ranted when he saw it.

“What if we paint a mural over it?” I asked.

“A what?  You want graffiti on a school building?” His face was all red at this point.

“No, a piece of art.” I shook my head.

“And who will do this work of art?” His voice was raspy.

“Aubrey Rose McCallum.” I answered.

“Sure, let the vandal herself do the artwork.” Wilcox stormed off.

I explained what I wanted to her and she seemed really eager to do it. “I will make a picture of my mama.” She agreed.

I made the paint available along with one of my two classroom aides. When asked for a scaffold, I made sure some of the janitorial staff could be there to help her.

“Are you crazy?  Have you completely lost your mind?” Mrs. Komstock ranted when she saw me up on the scaffold with Aubrey. “If Anne Mullenson gets wind of this, I’d hate to be you.” 

And that was the point.  As long as we abide by the rules, nothing happens, but the minute someone suggests coloring outside the lines, the whole world goes berserk.  Meanwhile Aubrey Rose McCallum happily spent long hours painting her mural.

Principal Wilcox would not guarantee that once completed, Aubrey would have demonstrated adequate academic progress, but all I knew was something had awakened inside of her and for the first time she did not throw any dangerous tantrums or display any other negative behavioral outcomes.

“Mr. Dorsey, are you going to go out with Aubrey today?” Eric asked when class began.  I was worried, because the fall weather would quickly turn to winter and we still had some work to do.

“Yes, I suppose.” I answered.

“Can we all go, too?” He asked as the other ten students bobbed their heads.

“You would be willing to go out and help?” I asked.

“We sure would.” Eric answered for the rest.

That day, all twelve students, two classroom aides and I painted the mural of the angel with the open wings and arms on the side of the gymnasium wall.  As we did, the rest of the student body wandered out to watch us.  Some of them took brushes and began helping out.  

As it turned out this would continue for four days until the mural was nearly complete just as the winter weather began sending big old snowflakes down.  The angel stood there and welcomed the snowflakes with open arms.

“You should be fired.  Dismissed.” Anne Mullenson hissed when she saw the mural for the first time. “Did you tell Aubrey her mother was an angel?”

“I said nothing.” I shook my head.

“For what she did, she will spend eternity in Hell.” Anne slammed her hand against the wall. “I want this whole thing painted over.”

“No grandma.” Aubrey stepped forward, her hazel eyes met her grandmother’s eyes.  

“We talked about this…” Her voice caught in her throat.

“I know she’s watching me.” Aubrey’s voice did not waiver. 

“She took those pills, because she was weak.” Anne turned her head away.

“No.” Roger spoke up, “She took those pills, because she was sad and nothing could make her feel happy again.”

“And whose fault was that?” Anne closed her eyes.

“It's all our fault.” Roger answered. “Except Aubry, but when the doctor told Angie that her daughter had brain damage, she had no hope.” 

“She does have brain damage.” Anne looked at Roger.

“No, she has autism.” Roger stomped his foot.

“Same thing.” Anne shrugged.

“No it’s not.” Roger’s voice cracked, “I wish people would quit treating her as if it is her fault she has autism. Mr. Dorsey is the only person who saw possibilities where everyone else didn’t.” 

“How can you look at Aubry and not see something is wrong with her?” Anne blurted out.

“I see it.” I pointed to the angel.

“As do I.” Roger took his daughter’s hand, “And I am very proud of what I am looking at.” 

“Do you like it daddy?” She asked as she looked up at him.

“Yes, I do and it’s beautiful.” There were tears in his eyes.

Father and daughter went walking together as the big old snowflakes continued to fall, turning the ground white.  

So now you know the story.  I have decided to retire this year.  I have learned that Aubrey Rose graduated from college, got married and had two children with a husband who thinks the sun rises and sets because of her.  In my tenure at Woodrow Wilson Middle School, we have been blessed with that angel she left behind to keep an eye on us all.  

June 24, 2022 19:46

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Katy B
18:30 Jul 02, 2022

I really enjoyed this story. I thought it was genuinely touching. Thank you for sharing!


18:47 Jul 02, 2022

Thank you, Katy


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Alice Richardson
09:23 Jul 02, 2022

A good story, written with compassion and understanding.


18:47 Jul 02, 2022

Thank you, Alice.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply