Lessons Learned

by Iris N. Schwartz

Brooklyn, New York; autumn, 1972; nine-forty a.m.: Seamus Brennan descended two flights two steps at a time; serpentined one hallway around clusters of students; arrived in room 326 before his second-period classmates.

Amber Zuckermann — the luminous, pigtailed girl for whom Seamus Brennan saved a seat in room 326 — obsessed over the tawny liquid science teacher Mr. Demeroff spooned onto his tongue daily. Seamus obsessed, too. So he said. He’d say anything to see Amber’s pallid, fine-boned face fully turned toward his own ruddy countenance.

Two days later Amber whispered importantly to Seamus, “I noticed Mr. Demeroff taking two spoonfuls.”

Seamus pursed his cracked lips, imagined them pressed against the girl’s soft mouth. His innards somersaulted, but he said, evenly, “We must investigate.” Seamus said nothing more; he had decided to discover, on his own, if their teacher’s bottle contained a different kind of medicine. He thought, Amber will be impressed.

During his last class that day he eyed the wall clock repeatedly; three minutes before the scheduled bell he slid from his seat, edged toward the exit. Miss Schtauber’s voice rang out: “Seamus, where are you going?”

The sixth-grader: “Nowhere in particular.”

His teacher: “I hope no one in particular appreciates your promptness.”

Raucous laughter threatened to swallow him. The bell — finally — cut through the din. Still, the boys smirked. The girls made way. Seamus flew, embarrassed even more than his crimson cheeks proclaimed.

In search of the freestanding supply closet in the back of his favorite classroom, Seamus Brennan nearly bumped heads with Amber Zuckermann and — who was this — one of those boys smirking at him after Miss Schtauber’s careless remark?

How could Amber take up with one of them?

Seamus’s face turned the color of shame — crimson — once more. Amber opened her mouth, but Seamus wouldn’t halt to hear her words.

Girls! The hell with them!

He would never know the taste of Amber’s pillowy lips. What did he want with kisses? With Dublin girls, plenty. With Brooklyn girls? He wished to know — a lot. The faintest smile found its way to Seamus’s face.

* * *

Iris N. Schwartz’s fiction has been published in dozens of journals and anthologies, including Blink-Ink, Crack the Spine Literary Magazine, Fictive Dream, Gravel Magazine, Jellyfish Review, and Literary Orphans. Her second short-short story collection, Shame, contains Best Microfiction 2018-nominated story “Dogs” and was shortlisted by North of Oxford for recommended summer 2019 reading. Her debut short-short story collection, My Secret Life with Chris Noth (2017), was nominated for two Pushcart Prizes.

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