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.