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Photo courtesy of Sharon McCutcheon

Creative Nonfiction

Accept No Substitute 

By Christina Fishburne                             

It was not real.

It was kindergarten: a “child garden”— not a real grade. 

It was purgatory: neither fish nor fowl, between all and nothing, limbo, no man’s land. 

          I’d done a Looking Glass version of this before. I’d graded research papers. I’d once had office hours. I’d given lectures on The Yellow Wallpaper with a cup of Starbucks in my hand. I was high-brow. Why was I glaring with such malice at Ben R. for sharpening his pencil again instead of circling the group of penguins that was larger?

            Those who can’t do: get MFAs. But then they have to eventually do something. And something was just a little bit off here. Askew, if you will. One of us was in the wrong place. My chant became: this is not forever. It would soon be 3:00. These small people would be collected and I would collect myself. I would soon figure out where I was and where I would go. 


             In kindergarten, I found my kindred spirit: the boy who cries all day. 

             “I want to go home,” he whimpered. His soulful eyes awash, his round velvety face squinched up in agony. “I shouldn’t be here,” he moaned. 

             The innocently profound phrases drew my shiftless MFA wandering spirit to his. I knelt at his side and sacrificed a bountiful Lego offering on the table to distract him from his wretchedness while the other kids laughed and played contentedly around us like chumps.

            “Let’s make a car,” I said extracting wheels from the pile. Head still hung in abject misery, eyes blinking tightly to squeeze the unabashed tears down his smooth cherub cheeks, his small doughy hands grasped Lego pieces and blindly fit them together as his shoulders shook. Another little representative of the proletariat joined us happily and began snapping Legos together. I found myself constructing a mass of jagged careless pieces much like my little weepy erudite friend, who had since stopped crying and was dejectedly snapping fragments together. Our creations made no sense. They were beyond bourgeoisie description.

          “Look!” The happy little boy grinned at me. “It’s a boat that flies!” He demonstrated. My world-weary companion raised his head and his eyes filled with tears afresh.

“I wish I were a bird!” he cried.  

           Yes.  Yes, I thought to myself, nodding.


            Later, while presiding over the fiasco Show and Tell, my small inner self in boy form puked near the pig-tailed girl. It was the sort of purge that begins at the balls of the feet and initiates a cleanse of regime-inspiring scope. There could be nothing left in there. Observing his catharsis, the little boy glared at me! At me, the only one who understood him, and snarled, “See.  I told you I needed to go home.” 

            We passed him, in our line marching to the playground, as he sat behind the office glass waiting for his deliverance.  He waved at us from the other side.

Christina Rauh Fishburne is a writer, army wife, and mother of three currently living in England. She has self published two novels and is at work on her third. She blogs at

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