The Word: Wash
Frances stood by the sink in the small, dilapidated bathroom of the Free Child Nursery school co-operative. It was snack time, and the children lined up to have their hands washed. Sink was written on the wall. Toilet. Door. Of all the jobs she did regularly at Free Child, handwashing was her favorite. She endured Trikes and Bikes–it was better than Art Table (two-to-five year olds armed with glue and scissors was no laughing matter). Swings and Slides had too much potential for disaster. Blue Tables was lost puzzle pieces and fights over the brio trains, and she was afraid of the yellowjackets that often hovered, attracted to the spilled juice…
But Handwashing was sweet. She got a chance to talk to every child for a moment, to touch their squishy arms and busy hands. The children lined up and, one by one, they came in and mounted the wooden step before the basin, held out their hands. She put soap on Missy’s paint specked hands and began to wash. On her arm was a small crescent of marks she hadn’t noticed before. Frances didn’t really give it any attention, until it was Gray’s turn, and he too had the small crescent. Her mind immediately went to that bane of every nursery school–ringworm. Pinkeye, head lice, ringworm, the unholy trinity. But ringworm was round, and this was crescent.
She surreptitiously examined the next child, Hillary. There it was again. “What’s that?” she pointed, trying to sound casual.
“Jimmy bit me,” she said, matter of fact.
Giovanni. “Jimmy bit me.”
Terry. Madison. Hector.
Far down the line, Jimmy, a restless redhead, laughed and jostled the children ahead of him.
When he got to the head, Frances washed his grubby hands, and asked, as neutrally as she could, “Jimmy, why are you biting the other kids?”
The scampish smile. The shrug.
“Why do you do it?”
“I like it,” he said.
“But it hurts the other children,” she said.
The shrug again.
She didn’t know what to say. Frances never had been able to know what to say to someone who hurt other people and didn’t care. Who did what they liked without concern for the pain of others. She looked into this happy little freckled face and saw every man who had ever left her, every future hold-up man and deadbeat dad, conman, slipshod contractor, domestic abuser, sarcastic co-worker, snotty hipster. Suddenly, she wanted to turn him over her knee and paddle him until he wept. Maybe then he would feel what other people felt.
But you didn’t paddle at Free Child. What could she say that might stop the future sociopath, the future heartbreaker? “Would you like it if they bit you?”
She wanted to bite him. Every inch of her wanted to sink her teeth into that soft freckled little arm. And it would feel good. She would like it.
But here was the difference between her and Jimmy. She would like him crying even more than the feel of the flesh in her teeth.
Part of a weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word. “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”
Next week’s word is: RIB