Dear Ms. Thumbern, we are holding this year’s gala in your honor. We would be thrilled to have you attend. Your considerable donations for the last 20 years have been extremely generous, and we would like to recognize you… She didn’t need to read the rest; she knew she couldn’t attend. Yet, she had worked hard for this. She could not imagine another place more deserving of her money. Actually, their money. 

“Ms. Bloom?” She hadn’t even heard the first grader walk up to her desk.

She casually put the letter back into her purse, “Yes, Michael?”

“I tied my shoes without bunny ears!” She couldn’t help but smile as she leaned further across her desk to see the gray new balances.

“Oh my! Who taught you that?! You might have to teach me tomorrow.” This caused a furrowed brow followed by a newly toothless smile.

“Okay. I’m going to go play now.” She nodded him towards the door. Once his back was turned, she quietly exhaled, locked her purse in her desk drawer, and stood up. While her mind felt locked up with the purse, she knew she first needed to get through math, English and music class.

She finally settled into her dusty brown loveseat, clutching the letter in her right hand and a moderate glass of pinot noir in the left. She let her head fall back and her eyes settled on the water damage in the corner. This little apartment was the size of her childhood bedroom.

In her 20s, everything seemed easier. Thankfully, she had planned for this. She made the sacrifices she knew she was going to have to make. She gave up everything in exchange for this letter.

She remembered how it started. Her name, Abagail Gateworth, was mispronounced as she walked across the stage. She already completed her teaching certification tests and had a job lined up. She was about to change the world.

The next day, she packed up her single dorm room and moved to Upland, Pennsylvania. She was going to be teaching at Main Street Elementary School, part of Chester-Upland School District, where the median household income was $31,000. Teaching at such an impoverished school district would allow her to get her loans forgiven in the quickest way possible. She had always had a way with money.

She learned quickly that many of the kids could not even afford colored pencils. Each classroom smelled of mold. They shared textbooks in larger classes. They couldn’t even send their sports teams to competitions across town. Her biggest sadness came from the fact that these kids didn’t even realize the power of education.

Abagail was sitting at a bar on a Wednesday in November, her first year in Upland. The bar was in Chester. Since Upland was too small for its own bar. She noticed a woman, extremely out of place, throwing her entire head back in a laugh. She was with an older gentleman. Abagail thought of her father.

He was a sought-after plastic surgeon. Her mother never needed to learn any useful skills. They lived in a luxuriously vibrant bubble. Then, she turned 10. They had to downsize. Her father lost his practice. Everything because of a younger woman, in a bar, where she didn’t belong. She had been his mistress for almost 10 years. During that time, she took many pictures of them together, documented their relationship extremely well and when he threatened to leave her, she blackmailed him. He gave her everything to protect his secret. Abagail’s mother still does not know. Ignorance is bliss.

A car horn brought Abagail back to the bar, where she finished her Yuengling, left the bar and set up her first dating profile: Mindy. Mindy was a singer with big dreams. She loved diamonds and designer bags. Mindy dated many older men. But it wasn’t until she met Dale in January of her first year in Upland. Dale was quintessentially an investment broker with a stunning wife and 2 all-star boys. The secret of the affair made him never need to take Viagra. Mindy required a new present every week. She also was only able to do one date during the week and one getaway trip a month. She singing career kept her very busy.

Tammy was next. Tammy was an aspiring writer. She was finishing a novel currently. Tammy’s pictures rarely showed her whole face. They often showed her face buried in a book. Tammy had the pleasure of meeting Flinch, an art dealer/collector. Flinch loved giving away exceptionally valuable pieces of artwork. Flinch was also a collector of antique jewelry. Her relationship with Flinch was different. He had no family and no shame in his relationship with Tammy. She saw her relationship with him as a long-term investment.

There were countless others. Having multiple boyfriends never seemed as difficult as having multiple dating profiles with different names, personalities and boyfriends. 3 men was the perfect number to juggle. Yearlong relationships were just enough time. If possible, after a year, she would blackmail the man into $100,000. For the men she dated, this amount of money was no reason to put up a fight. She would give them an envelope filled with their pictures and she would receive an envelope filled with cash. It was always cash, never a check since they rarely knew her last name.

This façade worked for 10 years. Then, dates and messages stopped being as frequent. She knew it would. She started selling off her gifts. Twice a year she would give money to the school as an anonymous donor. The thing with anonymous donations, they are never completely anonymous. Anonymity by another name, Gretchen Thumbern.

Abagail always arrived before everyone else. On donation day she was bring a giant manila envelope with her. She would try to include at least $200,000. Along with a note stating how she wanted the money to be used: new books, technology, additions to the gym, field trips, etc. Abagail would ensure that she caught the principle first thing in the morning and tell him that she saw this envelope sitting outside the door and thought he’d want it since it had his name on it.

He once questioned why she was always the one to find the envelope, she reminded him that she was first at the school every day. Which meant that the person who dropped it off must be an even earlier riser than she is.

Now the school is recognizing Gretchen Thumbern, who dropped off her last donation a couple months earlier. She had not mentioned that it had been her last donation, but Abagail knew she would not find any more early-morning envelopes. In that moment, it occurred to her. She would find one more.

Dear Mr. Wallen,

While I am extremely honored to be appreciated in this way, I must respectfully decline your invitation. I have not been doing too well and I am not sure I will be up for the festivities. I also am sad to disclose that I do not believe I will be able to make any donations in the future. Thank you for everything you do for the children.


January 30, 2020 02:10

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Sam Kirk
02:44 Feb 07, 2020

A riveting tale of a secret life. Good job.


Kat Gruszka
23:14 Feb 07, 2020

Thank you!!


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K. Apple
17:54 Feb 02, 2020

Loneliness, anonymity. She’s tired. The blackmail affair with her dad grounds the story for me. Also enhanced the lonely tone as I understood that the main character’s way of life continually refers to this past sordid event. This way of life has been exhausting. It has exhausted her in the end. Thank you for this great situation that provoked interest and feeling!


Kat Gruszka
19:04 Feb 02, 2020

Thank you for the thoughtful comment! I'm glad you enjoyed the piece. It felt like an interesting juxtaposition for me - the cheerfulness that this typically portrayed for elementary school teachers tied to this dark secret that had such valor.


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Emily Sperber
05:18 Feb 01, 2020

Very interesting idea!


Kat Gruszka
05:59 Feb 01, 2020

Thank you!


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