David Gilbert


Mr. Wood was almost too tal­ent­ed for the mid­dle school. His class­rooms were at oppo­site ends of the cam­pus, so he was often seen run­ning down the hall with his slicked-back hair and cropped mus­tache. When he taught art, he had an unre­mark­able pres­ence, yet was known for his draw­ing; he was rumored to have some kind of career draw­ing under anoth­er name. When he taught band, he always had a trum­pet in his hand. He was called “Dizzy” for his bulging neck and fast, if not accu­rate solos. He would play on over the band’s flag­ging rhythms. He bopped through “White Christmas” every year at the Christmas con­cert. Parents tried to com­plain about his play­ing but the song had no reli­gious con­tent, so they sat on their hands when he was done.

After school Mr. Wood rehearsed with two oth­er fac­ul­ty mem­bers for a trio they had formed when Ms. Peabody, the new math teacher, let slip that she had minored in music, piano, and had stud­ied jazz in school. With Mr. Townsend’s abil­i­ty to keep a sim­ple rhythm going on the bass and Ms. Peabody’s agile and cre­ative play­ing, the trio spent time more and more time play­ing togeth­er after school and on week­ends. They were rehears­ing to play at the hotel in town.

Mrs. Teagarden, Ms. Peabody’s senior col­league and advi­sor to new teach­ers, had not said any­thing about Ms. Peabody’s play­ing with Mr. Wood until Ms. Peabody returned to school one evening wear­ing a skimpy black dress for a rehearsal. She flit­ted about the teacher’s lounge mak­ing a meal out of left­over com­fort food while Mrs. Teagarden cor­rect­ed papers.

If you have a minute,” said Mrs. Teagarden. She slow­ly led Ms. Peabody down the hall to her class­room. Mrs. Teagarden thought of the school as a school and not a club.

Ms. Peabody adjust­ed the straps that kept her top in place, a detail not lost on Mrs. Teagarden.   It seemed as though she could not eat a small sand­wich and keep the straps up at the same time. Mrs. Teagarden’s hands were free, though, as she walked pur­pose­ful­ly down the hall in a heavy skirt and jack­et that had large pock­ets. She was dressed for weath­er that had not yet arrived.

I under­stand you are in a trio with Mr. Wood and Mr.Townsend,” said Mrs Teagarden.

Yes, it’s quite fun. I final­ly put all that train­ing to some use.”

Playing jazz off cam­pus is fine, I guess,” she said. “but we live in a small town.”

Mrs. Teagarden unlocked the bot­tom draw­er of a file cab­i­net in the back of her room. She stead­ied her­self as she retrieved a fold­er, tak­ing a moment to regain her bal­ance as the red­ness drained from her face. She for­mal­ly pre­sent­ed the fold­er — Mr. Wood’s draw­ings — to Ms. Peabody. In the draw­ings girls and boys washed cars in their shorts and skimpy tops. The draw­ings were skilled and flat­ter­ing, unusu­al­ly attrac­tive ren­der­ings of the active and play­ful qual­i­ties of teenagers.

This is Mr. Wood’s work,” said Mrs. Teagarden. She looked more stern than dis­ap­prov­ing, like a nurse warn­ing of a virus.

He has tal­ent,” said Ms. Peabody blush­ing slight­ly. “Is there some rea­son why I have to see these?”

Mrs. Teagarden was patient with Ms. Peabody, who, as a new teacher, was slow to understand.

Is anoth­er car wash sched­uled?” asked Ms. Peabody, now uncomfortable.

The draw­ings are more libidi­nous than appro­pri­ate for pub­lic school.” “This is how stu­dents dress, isn’t it?”
“Yes, but not how adults should see them.”

I’m not sure what Mr. Wood’s inten­tion was…did you ask him?”

No. I told him not to do this kind of draw­ing around here and he hasn’t.”

And you kept the drawings?”

Yes, that’s a mat­ter between us. But we have a pro­fes­sion­al under­stand­ing and every­thing has been fine since then. I’d like to keep it that way.”

Well, I won’t wash any cars,” said Ms. Peabody laugh­ing as both straps fell down her shoulders.

Mrs. Teagarden took the fold­er from Ms. Peabody and wait­ed for her to raise the straps, excuse her­self and leave before she returned the fold­er to the drawer.

Thanks for the warn­ing. I’m late.”

Ms. Peabody ran down the hall toward band room. Mr. Wood was stand­ing out­side fit­ting a mute into his trumpet.

Sorry. I had some busi­ness with Mrs. Teagarden.”

Mr. Wood rolled his hood­ed eyes as he began to play scales. Mr. Townsend was thump­ing his bass near the piano.

Do you have any string?” asked Ms. Peabody.

Mr. Wood did have a messy box of string. Ms. Peabody found a shoelace and tied her straps togeth­er but couldn’t fin­ish the knot. Mr. Wood quick­ly tied the straps.

Wrong dress,” said Ms. Peabody apolo­get­i­cal­ly as she sat down at the piano and joined Mr. Woods as he closed his eyes and began play­ing a melan­cholic “Autumn Leaves.”


David Gilbert is the author of I Shot the Hairdresser and Five Happiness. His sto­ries have appeared in Mississippi Review Online, In Posse and First Intensity.  After tak­ing time off to raise a son, he is fin­ish­ing a col­lec­tion of sto­ries, Overland, about trav­el­ing in India in the 1970’s. He lives California.