Sunday, May 4, 2008

The bell

We gather slowly, pulled like the tide from our jobs or homes or errands, bringing whatever we were holding when the time came--small children, dogs, briefcases. We enter the asphalt courtyard like supplicants, gazing almost longingly at the pale edifice of the school building, then shrinking from the brightness, turning away yet unable to withdraw. In summer clusters of people find sparse shelter in pools of shadow under the three trees; in winter they line the leeward walls, humbled by cold wind.

The mingle of people grows, each quietly intent on the individual business of waiting. Early in the year there are tentative glances, like at a high school dance, but the connections become stronger and after a few months there are hushed groupings: of neighbors, class parents, awkward strangers drawn into proximity by common experience. Still--through the light conversation that passes the time--eyes glance at windows or doors, expectant, hopeful.

And then the jarring shrillness of the bell, the old clapper style that beats relentlessly on a dome and seems to go on forever and as it echoes away we all sway backwards under the awesome wave of children that erupts from the school. The shrieking joy and pulsing energy seethes, rushing around parents who stand like stones at the edge of the sea, gulping the air as if we could somehow recover our own youth if we just breathe in their essence deeply enough.

Slowly we collect our children and their daily flotsam--papers, jackets, half-empty lunch boxes--and we trickle away, leaving the pavement unmarked except for the painted outlines of games we no longer know how to play.

1 comment:

  1. I was reading this just as our bell went off for the end of the day. It was poignant and poetic.