In seventh grade, our beloved English teacher desperately needed back surgery to relieve her of pretty constant pain. I don’t remember what the cause was; all I know is that the long-term substitute teacher who replaced her was a nightmare. His name was Mr. Woodason, and his hair was always a mess, and his suit was always rumpled–it was clear he had no wife to be sure he was presentable–and he insisted on speaking to us as if we were adults. It was early March when he marched into Mrs. Forrest’s classroom and immediately decided to rearrange the classroom so that all the desks faced away from the windows; we were stuck with him for two and a half months while Mrs. Forrest recovered. In the first semester Mrs. Forrest had assigned us projects that helped us learn more about ourselves, even as we improved our vocabulary and mastered complex grammatical rules; Mr. Woodason scoffed at us from under his unkempt mop of brown hair, sniveled under a pair of heavy plastic glasses, and announced from time to time that “to assume makes an ass out of you and me.” As if our behavior could make him any more asinine than he was on his own. This opinion, however, did not deter me from nearly three months of practical jokes, back talk, missed assignments and every attempt to skip class.

I blame all of my splenetic behavior since I was twelve on him alone.


He squinted at me through his round, wire-rimmed glasses, as if he assumed we were trying to bamboozle him.

I planted a hand on my hip, to tell him that I didn’t care what he thought of me, but that I could take my money elsewhere.

He cleared his throat, a bit chidingly, and said, “I don’t have any room on the pay roll.”

I smirked. “Yes, Miriam said you needed some cash.”

Miriam darted back from the bar with a drink in either hand. She handed me one of them and smiled first at Varian, and then at me. “So?” She asked him. “What do you think?”

Varian gave her a long look, cleared his throat again, and lowered his voice as he leaned into the two of us women. I was sure we couldn’t be the only ones in this bar discussing Marseille’s refugee problem.

“Look,” he said, and he did look me square in the eye. “This isn’t a game, Ms. Gold. There is serious work to be done.”

I regarded him coolly. “Even if it were a game, Mr. Fry, I’d still put my money on you.”

Miriam seemed to be holding her breath. She fiddled with the straw in her drink, and then she sighed impatiently. “Varian, come on. You can trust Mary Jayne. She probably can’t type worth a cent—sorry, Mary Jayne—but she’s on our side.”

He seemed to be considering Miriam’s opinion for a third or fourth time. He looked at me again. “You’re on your way back States-side?”

I signaled ‘yes’ with a tip of my forehead. “And I’d like to leave a few thousand here before I go.”

He pursed his lips and leaned away from us again, rifling his jacket pockets for a cigarette. “It’s not just about the money, Ms. Gold.”

I smiled, linking my arm with Miriam’s. “Of course it’s not. But I’ve already given my plane to the French Army, and Miriam’s right: I can’t type. Money’s all I’ve got left to give before I go back to America. I can give you six thousand straight away. And I want to help. Let me answer the phone or something, but I want to be useful.”