The attic—the place that was once blooming with genius—is now a pool of broken parts.
It all started two months back, when she first spoke. “Hi, Lavender. My name is Selena Hendrick, but you can call me Mrs. Hendrick. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’ll be here to remind you that you can do anything.”
“It’s even more of a pleasure to meet you.” It’s even more of a pleasure to meet you after all these years, I meant, but I would’ve confused the programmed woman. She was almost a doppelganger of her predecessor, with the exception of her upright posture. Mrs. Hendrick, I remembered, always had a slight slouch as if she was subtly peering over a cliff, like she would get shot if she got caught doing it. After hearing my interpretation of my late teacher’s slouch, Mrs. Tao, the front desk lady, said Mrs. Hendrick really did fall from a cliff. The White Cliffs, she said. “She coughed blood, snot, and looked like a scarecrow that summer. That’s what TB does to people. We all miss her.” I looked at the innocent, impressionable woman in front of me. The White Cliffs was the whole reason for her existence.
This new Mrs. Hendrick and I talked every day. Every five nights, she would sleep, sprawled out next to my laptop. I felt guilty for a while about introducing a new sibling to my trusty, old laptop so suddenly. But after a while, I began accustomed to seeing both outlets next to my dining table occupied and white wires overlapping. Change, after all, should be embraced, I thought. Back then, I said that whenever it benefitted me.
One night, I was supervising New Mrs. Hendrick’s journey to the outlet. It was the same, perfunctory ritual. She would first bend her knees, thighs glued together, so that her blush-red pencil skirt would be at a perfect right angle from her waist. Then she would commit a feat of balance as she placed each individual knee on the polished wood, her thighs still glued together as before. Only after that would she rest her butt on her heels to begin the even more deliberate process of sprawling out her legs. But I always stayed with her until the white wire clicked into the back of her neck.
I had visited Jones Middle School about five years before that night. As I walked in, the tap-tap-tap-tap of Mrs. Tao’s typing struck an invisible roof a thousand of times per second. It had been striking like that since I attended it myself.
“Lavender! How’ve you been?”
“Didn’t get the promotion. Boss said I was giving the food too slow. Went to Columbia only to end up broke like this. Stupid headmaster kicked me out because my hobbies were ‘too distracting.’ And then he said the future was computers.”
“Oh, dear. They’re just bad at giving promotions. And that chap was a jerk himself. How ‘bout your colleagues? You got good colleagues, and you got a good life, Lavender. ”
“They’re all right. They're nice as they can be to me.” My head drooped. I sighed. Mrs. Tao held my hands. Her eyes scanned the floor for any students within earshot of us. Jones had a lot of stragglers.
“Listen, Lavender. We all miss Mrs. Hendrick. We’re all mad about what happened. No one chooses to get sick. Well, she didn’t.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“Well, feel free. Go right ahead. And please, try to say hello to the students. Please. Just because they didn’t know Selena when you were a student doesn’t mean they’re not worth talking to.”
“I can’t promise anything. But, thanks. I really mean it.”
“You’re very welcome, dear.”
I walked up the twenty-four stairs in my blush-red pencil skirt just like how New Mrs. Hendrick had been doing and Mrs. Hendrick had done. One boy in the halls in bright neon shorts yelled out “Teacher!” and a few others darted at the mention. I liked it, though. Mrs. Hendrick would’ve chuckled.
Then came her classroom. The name on the white board disagreed, but it learned that there was no point in telling me that this room wasn’t Mrs. Hendrick’s. The bulky, black monitors from our computer class had disappeared long ago, and test tubes, pipettes, and beakers were in their place. It felt wrong, terribly wrong. This was not the place for test tubes or pipettes or beakers. And the class must have gone outside for the second time this year. Plain backpacks, elaborate backpacks, cheap backpacks, expensive backpacks line every one of the three—no, four— rows of the classroom. Terribly wrong. Our computer class had never stepped foot on the musty, outdoor steps leading out of the room. The classroom’s air was never empty. It had always been filled with and guided by Mrs. Hendrick’s lecture voice, and we never liked to change that. Now it was confused, chilling my every vein instead of warming it.
I sat at my old bench. It was right in front of Mrs. Hendrick’s desk. For a minute, I saw her standing next to it. She was smiling. She was shining. “Anyone can work with computers. You, my friends, can do anything,” she was saying in her blush-red pencil skirt. Computers, I once thought, were labyrinths. My parents had forced me to take a class on them. But it was Mrs. Hendrick’s constant use of the words “anyone” and
“anything” that always melted my once indestructible worries. At home, it was always “anyone but you” and “anything but success,” especially when report cards came in. It was Mrs. Hendrick that had transformed the labyrinth that was my computer into a friend. A real friend. My computer, after all, always bore the same, expressionless screen. It couldn’t be proud of me. But it also couldn’t be upset with me. It couldn’t say I was smart. But it also couldn’t say I was “anything but success.” Mrs. Hendrick had introduced me to that friend.
I tried to look into the empty air and say softly, “This is not my desk. This is not Mrs. Hendrick’s classroom.” But I just ended up staring. Staring, staring, and staring. Until my gaze turned to the clock. 2:45. It had been ten minutes already. Five more than what I normally stayed for. I was lucky that a teacher didn’t open up, the class didn’t rush in, the principal didn’t stop by. I got up with a start and looked back at the classroom eight times for the eight letters in Hendrick.
After I got home, I promised myself something. I promised that somehow, I would bring Mrs. Hendrick back. Her blush-red pencil skirt, her “anyone” and “anything.” With Mrs. Hendrick back, human or humanoid, I knew that I could get any promotion I wanted just by hearing her words. With Mrs. Hendrick back, I would be anything but failure. I could already hear her affirming words like chants ringing through my head as I envisioned the idea.
And there she was, five years later, right in front of my eyes. “Goodnight, Lavender. Remember your power.”
She would sleep without sound and without thought. But never without hope. Never without confidence in me.
But her eyes were so vapid, her thoughts stolen from me. Her every word, nothing new to me. Every encouraging speech, I remembered feeding her like how a mother feeds antibodies to her child. It was as if I was talking to my reflection. It was as if she was mocking me. The only reason that Mrs. Hendrick’s words struck me so hard was because they didn’t come from a pathetic loser. A pathetic loser who couldn’t hide their report cards. A pathetic loser who couldn’t get a promotion at a fast food place. Mrs. Hendrick taught me the word “success”; New Mrs. Hendrick reminded me of the word “failure.”
I got sick of it. I couldn’t stand it. After a while, I even started to hear my own voice instead of hers. I detached her plug first and then her limbs, ever so carefully. Every wiry ligament seemed to remove itself, one by one.
And that’s why the attic—a place that was once blooming with genius—is now a pile of broken parts.