The Lesson

Image: notebook and pen. Text: Mary was in the back row, taking notes as if nothing had happened.

The Lesson

Short story by Iris Carden

The principal had determined that lessons would go ahead as normal. Students who needed time out, or who wanted to talk about the incident could go to the school counsellor. It was not to be discussed in class.

Elizabeth gasped when she first saw Mary enter the room, looking so normal, as if nothing had changed. Could she, perhaps, not know?

Elizabeth looked out over the room. She knew that none of her students wanted to learn about the methods advertisers used to sell products. However, she began her lesson, and talked about things like hyperbole, and repetition, appeals to emotion, selling the image rather than the product. And what about Mary, the only student who seemed unaffected? Surely Mary was the one who should have felt it the most.

The students weren’t really engaged. The only one paying attention was Mary. She was sitting in her usual place in the back row, taking notes quietly, as if nothing had happened.

Every question, Elizabeth asked, Mary would put her hand up first. She always had been the most enthusiastic and most diligent student.

Elizabeth did her best to ignore Mary’s waving hand, and called on other students, gently encouraging them to share ideas and thoughts. Trying to get them, if not to focus on the lesson, at least to be present in the room, not having their minds in that terrible place.

When the bell rang, the other students went out to their next class. Mary approached Elizabeth’s desk.

“Miss Jones, did I do something wrong? You didn’t let me answer any of the questions.”

Elizabeth sighed.

“Mary,” she said gently. “Do you remember what happened yesterday?”

“Yesterday? It was just another ordinary day, wasn’t it?”

“Think Mary. Think back. You came to school. You had science first period. Do you remember?”

“I had science, yes. Oh wait. I remember. My experiment went wrong. There was an explosion. Then I don’t remember anything after that, not until this morning, coming to class. Why don’t I remember?”

Elizabeth struggled to find the right words, to break the news as gently as possible. “Mary, that explosion was very, very bad. The reason I couldn’t call on you in class, was because no-one else could see you. Mary, I’m so very sorry. I don’t know how to tell you this. You died yesterday.”


By Iris Carden

Iris Carden is an Australian indie author, mother, grandmother, and chronic illness patient. On good days, she writes. Because of the unpredictability of her health, she writes on an indie basis, not trying to meet deadlines. She lives on a disability support pension now, but her ultimate dream is to earn her own living from her writing.

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