I tell them to glue first. They drag the orange nose of the glue bottle across the paper. I come around with the glitter, see what they’ve done—words, hearts, animals, suns. I sprinkle the glitter on the glue lines.“But why can’t we do it?” they ask, their little hands reaching for the shaker of glitter.“I have to be the one do it,” I say. “I know how to sprinkle the glitter. If you did it, the glitter would all flump out in a pile. It would be chaos.”
“It’s when glitter spills everywhere. And then sticks to everything. Sticks to you. To your skin. For weeks, months.”
Their eyes go wide. They touch their cheeks, imagine themselves covered in it. Then they look down at their papers, their arcing ridges of sparkle. Their eyes and thoughts move down and in; they pack themselves into the silvery gleam.
For Thanksgiving we make turkeys out of construction paper. For the feathers, there are orange, red, and yellow pieces of paper cut into teardrops. For the bodies, there are brown oblongs. For the eyes, there are wiggle eyes. The construction paper rasps when handled. While the kids work, I sit behind my desk, rub my knuckles on a grainy sheet of yellow.
At the Thanksgiving assembly, the kids sing songs about wheat and harvest and America’s institutionalization of neighborly love. Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness, sowing in the noontide and the dewy eve. Their little voices rise. But do they know what a dewy eve even is? Do I? When was the last time I enjoyed a dewy eve? When was the last time, as the dew fell and the night-mist rose, I felt the eve take hold? Their little voices rise again: We shall come rejoicing. I dream of wet grass, of sliding beads of water, of jeweled droplets glowing in the long beam of moonlight.
I could assign the job to one of my students, but I find it so satisfying. I put the pencil in, and the spiral blade tears away at the dull nub. According to the vendor catalog, the sharpener has a “flyaway steel helical cutter system.” It rattles as it churns. I plant the pencil’s flat end in my palm—feel its spin, its canted wobble. I watch the shavings curl and gather in the clear receptacle. The minutes pass. The sharpener grows warm to the touch, produces a cooked wood-chip smell. I don’t notice the students come back from P.E. until Claudia puts a hand on my shoulder. “Mr. Fisher,” she says softly. “I think it’s sharp now.”
I always thought they were called “Googly Eyes,” but when I go to order them, they’re listed in the vendor catalog as “Wiggle Eyes.” And though one would think they’d be the least realistic part of the children’s turkey collages, or their cotton-ball snowmen, or their felt dolls, or their clothespin reindeer, they are, in fact, the most realistic, the truest—wide, lidless, poached in terror, the pupils swiveling in deranged and pointless vigilance.
Every day at snack-time, Jeremy tests the markers. He says, with a workmanlike resolve, “Time to test the markers.” He tests a marker, eats a Cheez-It. To test, he makes a mark on a piece of paper. If it is sufficiently wet and inky, he puts the marker back in the marker basket. If it is dried up, scratching out a faint line, Jeremy says “Nope” and throws the marker in the trash.
Some days I think he really cares about the markers. Other days I think he just enjoys the sound of the marker smacking against the inside of the trashcan, thumping the hard plastic and ruffling the loose liner. I like that sound, too. One would think Jeremy’s parents work as quality control technicians at a factory, but no—his father is an actuary, his mother is a local reporter. And one would think Jeremy uses only markers when he colors, but no—only crayons.
“These are not pom poms,” says Daniel. “These are cotton balls.”
“A pom pom is a type of cotton ball,” I say.
“I know the difference,” says Daniel, squeezing the cotton ball as though testing a melon.
The students say they do not like this project. They say they do it every year around the holidays, and they just don’t like making cotton-ball snowmen. They say they’re sick of it. They say they’re sick of the the way the glue bunches the fibrous tufts of gauze into stiff clumps. They say they’re sick of how easily the balls detach from the paper. They say they’re sick of the way the balls bounce soundlessly on the classroom floor. They’d prefer it if they detonated, like snowglobes, in a hail of bright and gleaming shards.
“Class, I respect your wishes,” I say. “But this year the cotton-ball snowmen fit in perfectly with our Weather unit. For instance, does anyone remember another name for snow?”
“Snowball,” says Michael.
“Close,” I say, “but no.”
“Snowman,” says Grace.
“Precipitation,” says Isabel.
“Yes!” I say, writing it on the board. “Precipitation.”
“I thought precipitation was rain.”
“It is,” I say. “It’s both rain and snow.”
Outside, snow begins to fall—the first snow of the season. The kids rush to the window. I tell them to come back to their desks, finish working on their snowmen.
“But Mr. Fisher,” someone says. “This is the real thing!”
“Mr. Fisher, Mr. Fisher! This is precipitation!”
“Children,” I say. “Come away from the window. The snow’s not going anywhere.”
Claudia tugs on my sleeve. “Oh, yes, it is, Mr. Fisher! It’s falling!”
Copyright © 2019 by Walker Rutter-Bowman
WALKER RUTTER-BOWMAN lives in Ithaca, New York. He is at work on his first collection of stories.