In class, Kelly is learning about the planets. He likes fumbling with the colorful styrofoam spheres from the models until Ines wipes the dribble off his lower lip and says it’s time for a break. 

Kelly’s recess runs longer than the other kids’. Once they’re all inside, he stands and walks in a zigzag pattern around 4-Square balls and hula hoops. Occasionally, he falls on the asphalt and scrapes his knees. When Kelly cries, Ines doesn’t yell or sigh, she simply rubs wounds with a handkerchief and mumbles cheerfully, “It’s like gravity works differently on you.” 

Kelly doesn’t respond, just scratches his forearm until his wheezes turn to mere sniffles. His arm is a constellation of red scabs that ooze with pus and blood, but Ines has a cream for them. As they’re nearing the end of the walk, Kelly places his hands on the sky and jumps. He stays in the air longer than one would expect and comes flailing back down. Another scrape. Ines just takes him by the arm back into the classroom and sees nothing new in his lost-in-space gaze. However, anyone else could have seen that even though his body came back down to Earth, when Kelly jumped his kind kept soaring past the atmosphere and amongst the planets. 

* * *

“He only got to Neptune, you know, in the curriculum. But he seems quite taken with Pluto,” Ines chirps, and folds her hands neatly in her lap. “Probably because he feels connected to the planet, like an oddball on his classroom.” 

Kelly’s parents sit across the desk and exchange skeptical glances. “Nonsense, he’s not out of place here. Where is the rest of the class in the curriculum?” his mom asks. 

“Neptune as well.”

“Good, good,” she nods, mostly to herself. 

Kelly’s dad leans back in his too-small first grade chair. “If he likes Pluto, then give him Pluto,” he remarks, then slips his phone out of his pocket to check his emails. 

Ines sets her elbows on the table, “I totally understand, sir, but Pluto isn’t in the curriculum because it’s not a real planet. Your son only saw it on an old model—we’d rather he stay on track and keep up with the others as much as he can.” 

Kelly’s parents look at their laps then divert their gaze to their son who’s fidgeting with puzzle pieces in the corner of the classroom. The ABC’s decorate the walls behind him as well as self-portraits, none of them Kelly’s. If Kelly were to paint himself, he’d paint a boy in yellow. Yellow is the color of the sun and stars and bananas and other things he likes. He’d paint himself without any scratches or dribble and with squiggly lines as his arms and legs. His hair would fall over his hazel eyes and he’d be floating in a black abyss. If Ines were to comment on this masterpiece, she’d simply say: “Good job, Kelly. Now go wash your hands with soap and water.” 

One cannot focus on what Ines would say, or what anyone would say, about a young child’s artistry and deep thought and emotion in his work, but rather what Ines is saying about the child. 

She saw Kelly’s parents watching him and staring with deep laser eyes at the self portraits. “Kelly didn’t make one, he was going through the rumble stage and then had a meltdown—one of his biggest.” 

Kelly’s mother licked her lips and her face twitched before she opened her mouth, “He has gifts, you know, that have nothing to do with his autism.” 

“I know,” Ines blurts, then sits up straight in her chair and tries again, “Of course.” 

Parent-aid conferences usually go this way: nothing changes, no losses, no gains. Kelly’s parents usher their son into the backseat of their gray Range Rover and set off down the street. From the classroom window, Ines watches them leave. 

* * * 

Kelly is in Ines’ special office. There are many posters about the steps for making a new friend and the colors of the rainbow. There is a poster of the solar system that Kelly observes for quite some time. It’s after recess and his scabs sting but he gives no attention to them, and the bowl of candy by the door and whatever Ines is doing. 

Ines files a few papers into a drawer, clearing her desk, before she spreads five objects across it. The first object is a plastic apple. Kelly notices its red reflection on the desk while Ines asks, “What is this?” When Kelly is silent, she asks again, “What is this? Can you tell me what it is, Kelly?” 

When snot comes from his nose, he tries to wipe it away but accidentally smears it across his cheek. Ines does not wipe it away, but rather stays put in a calm, patient stance. 

“P-p-a—” he starts, “a-a-p-el.” Kelly points his snot-finger at the apple. 

Ines’ face lights up and she almost stands, “Good, Kelly! Very good.” Never ‘great.’ “Now, what’s this next one?” The second object is a little book with a story about a mouse who lived in a mushroom house and had many friends. The spine is falling apart and he longs to touch it. 

“B-b-k-ooo-k.” All in one huff. 

Ines smiles, “I see you’ve been practicing and it’s very nice. What is the next one?” 

The third object is a paper heart. It’s cut haphazardly from yellow construction paper with jagged edges and lays awkwardly on the desk with the tip bent. Kelly hates it. No one can have love if he can’t love or be loved, that's the rule he thinks everyone should follow. He wants to cry and shake and let himself drown in dribble but he controls it—just like Ines taught him. He clenches his fists and whispers, “H-h-arrr-t. He-art.” 

Ines blinks and her smile doesn’t change. “The next one?” 

Kelly unclenches his fists. The fourth object is simple, something every kid should use twice a day. The color is what Kelly could only describe as an ‘orange’ orange, but 

is probably more marigold. On the other hand, the bristles are brown, and one would wonder why Ines has this in her desk. 

“T-t-ooo-t-th, um, b-rush. Tooth-brush. Toothbrush.” When Ines produces a mini-applause, Kelly produces a mini-smile. It’s lopsided and toothy, but still a smile nonetheless. 

He reaches across the desk to touch the toothbrush, to feel the bristles under his fingertips and the smooth sides of the handle, and before he could Ines inches it backwards. “Don’t touch, please.” He finds anger like sizzling-hot over-medium eggs in his chest but somehow keeps it hushed. “Just one more; can you tell me what this is?” 

The final object is a bouncy ball—barely the size of a tangerine, but it could fit on the end of a silver spoon. On one side is a big smiley-face in black, while the ball itself is beige. It looks like a reward Kelly would get from the dentist for sitting still while he goes in and touches every tooth in his mouth. 

He rockets up from his chair and grabs the ball, letting its round exterior smooth the end of his palm. Although there is dribble coming from a corner of his mouth, Kelly yells, “Plu-tow! Pluto! Pluto!” He chants this excitedly a few more times before Ines shakes her head. Confused, Kelly bounds up to the poster that holds the solar system and places the ball against it where Pluto should be. Pluto isn’t on the map with the rest of the planets but Kelly makes it work. 

“That’s not what it is, Kelly. It’s a ball. B-all. Can you say that?” Ines turns her hand over and extends it, hoping he’ll give her the ball back. 

He doesn’t. Instead, he hugs it and kisses it and mumbles, “Pluto. Pluto. Pluto. Plu-tow. Poo-poo, woo-tow.” When the sentences become a strange mixture of letters, Ines sighs and sits back down. Kelly notices, and eventually sits across from her. But before he does, he holds Pluto up one more time on the poster. Pluto does have friends. Pluto can be loved, too. 

* * *

A few days later, Kelly is clinging to the playground. 

“Just wait here,” Ines says, “I’m going to get my handkerchief then I’ll come right back. Just stay still and wait here.” 

His knee stings with blood and dirt and he’s got sticky-caramel tears that flow from his eyes. His hand grasps the railing of the stairs that lead to the slide and the fireman pole. He’s trying to keep himself upright on the stairs but it’s difficult. Instead, he stands, finds his footing, and half-crawls up the next few stairs onto the platform. Kids dash past him and slip down the slide. Some twirl down the fireman pole and shout “Marco Polo!” or “Grounders!” Usually, Kelly would be bothered by all this noise and the fast-paced whirl of recess, but he’s not. And suddenly, he’s in front of the fireman pole. 

Some kids notice him, others don’t. Right now, he’s just a planet orbiting amongst all the others, not judged about his mind or what size he is or if he’s worthy to be treated like a human. Do the kids see as he takes steps nearer to the edge? Or how his hands let go of the railings? Or how he looks up to the afternoon sky, longing for something more. Do the kids see Pluto? Because, Kelly sees it. Kelly will touch it, comfort it. The laws of gravity do not restrict him. 

He jumps.

February 25, 2022 12:48

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Thomas Pascal
12:08 Jul 08, 2022

Hey Scout, This was an awesome story and made me sad so good job!


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Laura Eliz
15:11 May 03, 2022

I feel like you have captured the experiences of teachers who work with children with varying needs as well as their parents. You really brought me back to my days of working with special needs kiddos.


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20:07 Mar 01, 2022

I love this, what a great interpretation of the prompt. You have a typo right at the top, where Ines is 'zines.' Other than that, I don't have any critiques!


Scout Tahoe
04:02 Mar 02, 2022

Agh, thank you, Rachel. I'm glad you liked it.


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Francis Daisy
02:34 Feb 28, 2022

Oh how my heart breaks for Kelly! You wrote so beautifully about such a sensitive subject. Well done.


Scout Tahoe
14:06 Feb 28, 2022

Thank you so much, Francis!


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