Devan Aptekar

In​ ​the​ ​mornings,​ ​the​ ​room​ ​smells​ ​dusty.​ ​It’s​ ​strongest​ ​near​ ​the​ ​fourth​ ​sink.​ ​I​ ​try​ ​to avoid​ ​opening​ ​the​ ​cabinet​ ​beneath​ ​but​ ​sometimes​ ​I​ ​have​ ​no​ ​choice​​—​​all​ ​the​ ​donated paper​ ​towel​ ​rolls​ ​are​ ​down​ ​there,​ ​stacked​ ​like​ ​logs​ ​in​ ​a​ ​crinkly​ ​wedge.​ ​Really​ ​it’s​ ​more musty​ ​than​ ​dusty.​ ​Word​ ​choice.​ ​I​ ​want​ ​the​ ​kids​ ​to​ ​be​ ​specific​ ​when​ ​they’re​ ​making​ ​their field​ ​observations,​ ​so​ ​let​ ​me​ ​hold​ ​myself​ ​accountable​ ​too.​ ​Sunlight​ ​drenches​ ​the​ ​room​ ​in the​ ​mornings,​ ​east-facing​ ​classroom,​ ​the​ ​series​ ​of​ ​tall​ ​windows​ ​like​ ​tipped​ ​pitchers.​ ​The black​ ​lab​ ​tables​ ​shining.​ ​It’s​ ​mostly​ ​quiet​ ​here​ ​this​ ​early.There’s​ ​a​ ​hole​ ​in​ ​the​ ​floor​ ​under​ ​Table​ ​8​ ​that​ ​you’d​ ​think​ ​would​ ​be​ ​the​ ​likely culprit.​ ​The​ ​sea jelly​–green​ ​tiles​ ​cross​ ​some​ ​kind​ ​of​ ​seam​ ​there,​ ​a​ ​ridge​ ​transecting​ ​the room.​ ​Our​ ​school​ ​building​ ​is​ ​settling​ ​awkwardly​ ​after​ ​sixty-five​ ​years.​ ​Where​ ​the​ ​ridge passes​ ​under​ ​Table​ ​8,​ ​ten​ ​inches​ ​of​ ​it​ ​have​ ​crumbled​ ​inwards,​ ​revealing​ ​the​ ​worn​ ​edges of​ ​weight-bearing​ ​two​-​by​-​fours​ ​and​ ​a​ ​rind​ ​of​ ​shadow​ ​between.​ ​I​ ​can’t​ ​stop​ ​predicting​ ​that the​ ​hole’s​ ​the​ ​source​ ​of​ ​the​ ​smell​ ​but​ ​that​ ​hypothesis​ ​needs​ ​to​ ​be​ ​dismissed.​ ​I’ve crawled​ ​under​ ​the​ ​table​ ​to​ ​check​ ​too​ ​many​ ​times.

It’s​ ​coming​ ​from​ ​that​ ​fourth​ ​sink,​ ​from​ ​the​ ​gap​ ​behind​ ​the​ ​wall.​ ​I​ ​just​ ​know​ ​it. That’s​ ​not​ ​evidence,​ ​of​ ​course.​ ​I​ ​would​ ​never​ ​allow​ ​a​ ​student​ ​to​ ​cite​ ​“just​ ​knowing​ ​it”​ ​as support​ ​for​ ​one​ ​of​ ​their​ ​claims.​ ​Gotta​ ​dig​ ​deeper:​ ​Why​ ​do​ ​you​ ​think​ ​that,​ ​how​ ​do​ ​you know?​ ​I​ ​need​ ​to​ ​pry​ ​out​ ​the​ ​paper​ ​towel​ ​rolls​ ​after​ ​school​ ​one​ ​day,​ ​after​ ​the​ ​kids​ ​have gone​ ​home.​ ​Someone​ ​needs​ ​to​ ​look​ ​inside​ ​and​ ​I​ ​guess​ ​it’s​ ​me.​ ​At​ ​times​ ​there​ ​are noises​ ​coming​ ​from​ ​back​ ​there​ ​too,​ ​bristling.​ ​Four​ ​sinks,​ ​sure,​ ​it’s​ ​excessive​ ​for​ ​a​ ​middle school​ ​science​ ​lab​ ​but​ ​it​ ​is​ ​nice​ ​to​ ​have​ ​them.​ ​We​ ​use​ ​them.​ ​Though​ ​I’ve​ ​stopped​ ​letting the​ ​class​ ​use​ ​the​ ​fourth​ ​this​ ​year,​ ​just​ ​in​ ​case.

When​ ​they​ ​come​ ​in​ ​each​ ​morning,​ ​one​ ​or​ ​two​ ​kids​ ​will​ ​mention​ ​the​ ​smell.​ ​And lately,​ ​occasionally,​ ​the​ ​sounds.​ ​But​ ​they​ ​usually​ ​only​ ​mention​ ​it​ ​right​ ​as​ ​they​ ​walk​ ​in and​ ​then​ ​we​ ​all​ ​forget​ ​again​ ​until​ ​the​ ​next​ ​day,​ ​There’s​ ​so​ ​much​ ​else​ ​to​ ​keep​ ​track​ ​of. Nadia​ ​is​ ​having​ ​a​ ​seriously​ ​tough​ ​time​ ​at​ ​home​ ​and​ ​feels​ ​comforted​ ​if​ ​I​ ​let​ ​her​ ​hold​ ​the rock​ ​hammer​ ​during​ ​class.​ ​Victor​ ​and​ ​Kayla​ ​need​ ​me​ ​to​ ​find​ ​them​ ​a​ ​mic​ ​for​ ​the​ ​plate tectonics​ ​song​ ​they’re​ ​working​ ​on.​ ​And​ ​it’s​ ​the​ ​sugar​ ​cube​ ​lab​ ​today,​ ​where​ ​they​ ​use tealights​ ​to​ ​send​ ​sugar​ ​through​ ​a​ ​simulation​ ​of​ ​the​ ​rock​ ​cycle,​ ​bash​ ​the​ ​cubes​ ​down​ ​to sediments,​ ​melt​ ​them​ ​into​ ​magma.​ ​I​ ​need​ ​to​ ​find​ ​extra​ ​hairbands​ ​before​ ​class​ ​starts​ ​and print​ ​the​ ​procedures.​ ​And​ ​cut​ ​some​ ​aluminum​ ​foil.​ ​Get​ ​out​ ​the​ ​tongs,​ ​the​ ​goggles. Figure​ ​out​ ​when​ ​to​ ​have​ ​a​ ​conversation​ ​with​ ​Jenny​ ​because​ ​I​ ​promised​ ​her​ ​a​ ​seat change​ ​and​ ​that​ ​class​ ​has​ ​a​ ​bunch​ ​of​ ​tender​ ​personalities​ ​to​ ​keep​ ​track​ ​of.​ ​Flip​ ​through yesterday’s​ ​mini-quizzes​ ​and​ ​figure​ ​out​ ​who​ ​needs​ ​a​ ​check-in.​ ​The​ ​faint​ ​noises,​ ​the snarling,​ ​the​ ​scratching,​ ​and​ ​that​ ​persistent​ ​smell​ ​get​ ​drowned​ ​out by​ ​124​ eighth ​graders moving​ ​through​ ​all​ ​day​ ​so​ ​of​ ​course​ ​we​ ​forget.​ ​But​ ​it’s​ ​there.​ ​Every​ ​morning​ ​it’s​ ​there. I’ve​ ​been​ ​quantifying​ ​the​ ​smell​ ​on​ ​a​ ​1–5​ ​scale​ ​and​ ​the​ ​data​ ​suggest ​it’s​ ​getting stronger.

Copyright © 2019 by Devan Aptekar

DEVAN APTEKAR teaches 8th Grade Science at Tompkins Square Middle School on the lower east side of Manhattan after many years there as dean. A native New Yorker, he grew up by the beach in Brooklyn. While he has published over twenty children’s books and loves teaching science, he is devoted to writing strange bittersweet novels.