Updated: Aug 22
By Mick Bennett
You roll over in bed and study the old photograph you propped upright on your nightstand between the lamp and an ashtray full of loose change.
Some kid from the school newspaper framed it with two colors of hand-cut construction paper, brown inside orange, and left it for you on your desk. A black and white 8x10, its negative is stuck to the back with masking tape, and in one corner someone scribbled aperture 5.6, shutter 250, T-Max 400, ASA 400. In the upper right-hand corner is a name you don’t recognize—Curtis Cresmer.
Chronological hints suggest the photo is well over twenty years old. Your beard is more pepper than salt. You’ve remarried and lost Father. Born six years apart, both of your grown children have left home.
Male and female students wear T-shirts. The boys’ haircuts are short. Backpacks top most desks. The top of your file cabinet holds The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Great Gatsby, grammar and literature textbooks, the OED, and a coffee mug. A wooden hall pass rests on the blackboard chalk rail under the pencil sharpener.
The sliding wall partition is decorated with posters corresponding to American Lit units. Between posters, printouts detail highlights. You’re standing between rows, three desks back from the front of the room, fingers spread on both sides of a male student’s head. You’re trying to get him to turn to the camera. Your mouth is wide open as if pronouncing the long a in say cheese. The kid’s laughing with his eyes closed. High school boys can be goofy and bashful at once. Though his name escapes you, he must have enjoyed being the center of attention. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be behind the shenanigans. In the background other boys, also laughing, face the camera. Two girls, one standing, one seated, aren’t paying any mind to the nonsense. One boy stands at his front row desk, hands on his backpack, eyes up on the wall clock. Any moment, the bell will ring for dismissal.
Your wife calls upstairs about breakfast. Walking into the bathroom, you run a palm over a cheek. You decide to shave today. The water runs hot. You look into the mirror wondering what clothes to wear, how to speak in public. Will you scream at the stars? They say come September, it’ll hit you. You’ve been replaced.
Mick Bennett is a retired teacher/adjunct. He and his wife enjoy porch sitting with a golden retriever in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. His fifth novel, Take the Lively Air, is forthcoming from Unsolicited Press in June, 2023.