Jeff Chon ~ Recess

Mr. Kim takes atten­dance as the kids work on their warm-up: list­ing items for their sur­vival back­packs. The all-fac­ul­ty email had sug­gest­ed col­or­ing sheets as a calm­ing mea­sure, but Mr. Kim had want­ed it to feel like a nor­mal day—there was no need to draw any more atten­tion to it. He saves the atten­dance page and clos­es the screen.

Show of hands, he says. Who needs a lit­tle more time?

Seven kids raise their hands. Sage Bennett at Table 1, whose page is still blank—he hasn’t even brought a pencil—keeps his hands on his desk. Mr. Kim tells every­one they have three more min­utes, but secret­ly, he’ll give them five.

He opens the all-fac­ul­ty email, the lat­est reply from Schulte, one of those not-to-sound-like-a-jerk emails that starts with not to sound like a jerk. Schulte says it’s mor­bid, hand­ing kids col­or­ing pages instead of address­ing insti­tu­tion­al this-and-that and the struc­tur­al blah-blah-blah…Schulte’s only 23, still a kid. He’ll fig­ure it out soon enough. Mr. Kim calls time and all pen­cils go on desks. They’re final­ly learn­ing to listen.

Good morn­ing, he says. Someone raise their hand and tell us what’s hap­pen­ing today.

He calls on Juliana Cockrum, who sits next to Sage Bennett at Table 1, and she tells the class what will be hap­pen­ing today.

Juliana’s right, Mr. Kim says. So in about five min­utes, Principal Mark will get on the inter­com and tell us to shel­ter. At that point, I will lock the doors and pull the blinds. And then what will you do?

The chil­dren call out, so Mr. Kim rais­es his hand, remind­ing them to not call out. He then calls on Sam Magtanggol, who sits at Table 6. This is Mr. Kim’s sys­tem. If he calls on some­one from the front row (Tables 1–3), the next per­son has to be from the back row (Tables 6–8), then the mid­dle (4–5). Sam tells him every­one is to crouch against the walls, away from the door and windows.

Ayesha Moore, Table 5, rais­es her hand and asks if they could use their desks as shields. Mr. Kim tells her just hud­dling against the wall should be enough, and then she asks if she can take her chair with her, hide under it.

Tell you what, Mr. Kim says, if it’ll make you feel safer, and you can do it in an order­ly fash­ion, I sup­pose that’s okay. So, after Principal Mark tells us to shel­ter, and we lock the doors and cov­er the win­dows, we’ll—

Mr, Kim, Lizzie Stringfellow from Table 3 rais­es her hand.

Yes, Lizzie.

My dad—he’s a police officer—says what we should do is break the win­dows and climb out. He says you hit the cor­ner of the glass—

You know, he’s absolute­ly right, Lizzie. If our hall­way is secure, we would rush out the doors and head toward the fire sta­tion. There are sit­u­a­tions where we would knock out the win­dows but this time—

Mr. Kim, Cyrus Montazeri says, wouldn’t we get all cut-up from the glass?

Good point Cyrus, but let’s remem­ber to raise our hand. What we’d do to ensure we didn’t get cut from the glass is we’d throw our jack­ets over the glass. But we’re not doing that today. Today, we’re just going to be crouch­ing against the walls. Quick thumbs-up if you understand.

He waits for the chil­dren to raise their thumbs in the air. He then gives the rest of the instruc­tions. Someone will be com­ing around and jig­gling the door han­dles to make sure they’re locked, and to sim­u­late an intrud­er. Mr. Kim tells the chil­dren they’re to keep calm and silent when that happens.

Sage Bennet rais­es his hand, and tells Mr. Kim if any­one broke in here, he’d stab them in the face with scis­sors. And then Cole Timmons says if some­one broke in, he’d spear them like Roman Reigns, and they’d go through the fold­ing wall that sep­a­rates their class­room from Mrs. Haugen’s room. And then every­one laughs, and then Travis Baalke begins chant­i­ng, Tribal Chief, and then Mr. Kim tells every­one to calm down and focus. As the laugh­ter dies down, he forces a smile.

Anyway, he says, we will wait for a sec­ond announce­ment that will give us the all-clear. Then we’ll unlock the doors, turn the lights on, and get back to our desks. And what will the vol­ume-lev­el be dur­ing the drill?

Zero, the class shouts.


Mr. Kim, Sage Bennet rais­es his hand again. I didn’t like the story.

It takes a cou­ple sec­onds for him to real­ize Sage is talk­ing about the assign­ment, the excerpt from Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet, the rea­son they’d begun class list­ing the items in their sur­vival backpacks.

Well, I’m sor­ry to hear that, Sage, Mr. Kim says. Here’s the thing, you still need to do the work­sheet. And besides, next year in sixth grade, you’ll be read­ing the entire book. Maybe you’ll like it bet­ter when you see the whole story.

He calls on Amari Francis, Table 2, who asks why there’s no recess in mid­dle school when his cousin, who’s in sixth grade at an ele­men­tary school, still gets to have recess.

Listen, Amari, Mr. Kim says, I totally—

Attention stu­dents and staff, Principal Mark says over the inter­com, in approx­i­mate­ly 30 sec­onds, we will begin the drill. Please lis­ten care­ful­ly to the instructions.

Mr. Kim holds up his fin­ger and class goes silent. They lis­ten as Principal Mark lays out the sce­nario and the pro­ce­dures. As the stu­dents head toward the walls, Mr. Kim peeks out the door to check for strag­glers. He locks eyes with Schulte, who peeks out from the door direct­ly across, and tries to give Schulte a reas­sur­ing look. Schulte winks and shuts his door.

Mr. Kim secures the door and turns around. Children sit hud­dled against the wall, the one sep­a­rat­ing their room from Mrs. Haugen’s, knees pressed against their chests, some of them sti­fling gig­gles. In the back of the room next to Table 6, Ayesha and a few of her table­mates have crammed them­selves into the cor­ner of the room, a bar­ri­er of chairs between them and any poten­tial intrud­er, shield­ing them­selves with books and binders like a Spartan pha­lanx. He returns Ayesha’s thumbs up and hits the lights.

Amari Francis lies on his back, hands fold­ed behind his head, knees bent, in a sit-up pose. For the rest of the drill, Mr. Kim will think about his recess ques­tion. It doesn’t seem fair for some sixth graders to get recess when oth­ers don’t. Doesn’t seem fair at all. The door han­dle jig­gles. The room stays silent—Mr. Kim is so very proud of them. He lis­tens to their soft breaths. The jig­gling stops.


Jeff Chon is the author of the nov­el Hashtag Good Guy with a Gun and the short sto­ry col­lec­tion This Is the Afterlife. His work has appeared in Juked, Barrelhouse, King Ludd’s Rag, and Seneca Review, among many oth­er fine places. He is very ten­ta­tive­ly work­ing on a new novel.