Sunday, March 14, 2010

Telephone Numbers and Teakettles

I started my job as an SSO (classroom aide) at the Miles Patterson Primary School a week later than scheduled.
            The day before my start date, I came down with an impressively toxic sinus infection.  Not the most auspicious start to working with small children.  I felt - and sounded, contagious as all hell.  The next morning, at 8:45 promptly, I blew my nose three times, practiced my "t"s and "n"s until I was very nearly coherent, and called the school from the card they'd given me at the end of my tour:
            "I'b Mizziz Tabubil."  I said.  "I'b subbozd to stard as a voludeer today.  Yezderday I started wid a sidus infegtion.  I'b going straid to the doctor this mordig, and I dode thig I should cub in -"
            "My word."  The secretary said.  "I don’t think you should come in either.   Not around the children.  You're a volunteer- how about you give us a call next week, when you're feeling better?"
            "Thag you."  I said humbly, and tottered back to bed.

That was Wednesday.  By Saturday, by the grace of antibiotics and hot lemon tea, I was practically human again, but on Sunday night I was floored by a horrible monster virus that knocked me flat on my back and put me right back into bed.
            Monday morning, groaning, I called the school again.
            "Hi."  I said, comprehensibly this time.  "This is Mrs. Tabubil.  I called in sick last week with a sinus bug?  I'm embarrassed to say this, but I'm still sick - "
            "I'm so glad you called."  The secretary cut in.  "When you called last week, I didn't recognize your name.  I looked through the SSO roster - you're not on it. I didn't have your number to call you back, so I went and talked to Marilyn, the principal, about you, and she's never even heard of you-"
            "Marilyn?"  I said.  "Your principal is named Cathy, isn’t it?"
            "Cathy?!"  The secretary said, bewildered.  "Just what school did you mean to be calling, dear?"
My heart sank down to a level somewhere below my bedroom slippers.
            "This isn't the Miles Patterson Primary School, is it."  I whispered. "They gave me this number - "

When the secretary of the Stanley Street Junior Primary School stopped laughing she offered to act as a corroborating authority and character reference and gave me the correct phone number. And when the secretary of the Miles Patterson Primary school stopped laughing, she told me to call again when I was feeling better and rang off, giggling.  I went back to bed and buried my head under the pillows and listened to my ears burn.
            And that's how it has gone ever since. Three days later, I arrived, in person, on the campus of Miles Patterson Primary School.  Approaching the classroom building, I saw Cathy in the distance, walking in my direction.  I know that she saw me because her shoulders had begun to shake.
            She put a kindly hand on my shoulder. "Never you mind, dear, "she said.  "These things happen when you're sick" - and then she was off again, fizzing like a teakettle.
            I was assigned to shadow an SSO whose eyes glittered suspiciously as she asked after my health, and the assistant principal burst into a full-fledged fit of the giggles when she passed me in the corridor.
            I can live with it. Better to be thought a flu-fuzzed ditz than a flake who bails on her commitments - but why on earth was I given that number by the front office in the first place?!

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