Nina Hiken

COFFEE

Ms. Hiken has to have more coffee. She has to; making it through a lesson without a cup of coffee nearby presents an agony not to be faced. Unfortunately, recess lasts just 20 minutes and in that time she can buy and drink only one cup. It is not enough.

She will sneak out of the classroom, leaving the children with an aide, a visiting parent, her room partner, anyone, so that she can get over to the cafeteria for one more cup. But they open only from ten to twelve-forty-five and moreover, she knows this is a no-no; we never, ever, ever leave the children without certificated supervision during instructional time, no, no, no, no, no! A classroom of unattended children creates opportunity for paint in hair, petty theft, pee-pee in the pants, broken arms, scissors in the back, lawsuits, or at the very least a written reprimand for not teaching during teaching time.

She feels utterly abandoned. Why does she have to be the adult? Why does she have to be the one to make the lesson plans, to gather all the ingredients for the peanut butter balls, to clean out and cut open enough milk cartons for 35 bean plants? These kids can’t do anything! They’re so young and needy!

She has to have more coffee. Somehow, taking a sip of that hot, sweet, sugared liquid pacifies her. With the cup in her hand she is not alone. She wraps her fingers around her mug. The smooth ceramic glaze comforts her; the heat of the clay and the weight of it befriend her in this demanding world of Room 27 afternoon Kindergarten.

And at the time, I truly felt that way. I was furious that all my five-year old charges came to me for sympathy, came to me for guidance, and came to me for permission to use the bathroom. They bothered me, they pissed me off with their needs, and I was utterly jealous of the fact that they had me, and I did not. I didn’t have me for myself; I didn’t have a sweet young Ms. Hiken in my life.

I also had no idea that I felt that way. I only knew I needed something. So I drank about ten cups of coffee daily, ate heavy bran muffins on recess break, stuffed myself with three gummy worms for every one I passed out to a child. I couldn’t find any soothing, and I couldn’t get lasting relief from all my various angers and sorrows.

Ms. Hiken needs her coffee. Finally, she gets an idea from Ms. B., the highly organized, slightly bitchy morning Kindergarten teacher in neighboring Room 26: Her own Mr. Coffee! Ms. B. has one on the paper towel dispenser above the sink. It even has a little quilted choo-choo train cozy cover matching the kiddie seat covers that she sewed over summer break.

This is brilliant, empowering, a thunderbolt, greater than scented play dough or a new Madeleine story. Limitless coffee on demand. Yes, yes, yes! That very same afternoon she stops at a Lucky’s Supermarket. They have coffee makers. She buys herself a basic Mr. Coffee, a pound of French roast, some Coffee Mate, and a box of Sweet and Low. She would have bought sugar but it felt like a little too much indulgence.

The very next morning, about seven-thirty, Ms. Hiken joins her Kindergarten room partner, Mrs. K., in Room 27. She bounces in bright and early to set up the new comfort machine and still have time to run off the math copies.

“Hey, Mrs. K.”

“What is it, hon?”

“I’ve got us a coffee maker. I thought I’d put it here, behind the plant on top of the towel dispenser. Is that okay?”

Mrs. K didn’t turn around. She was deep in bulletin board design, and had several pins in her mouth but she answered, “That’s nice. We ought to be able to have a cup whenever, right?”

“That’s what I thought. So is this an okay spot, here at the sink? I can’t really think of another place that has an outlet in the right place.”

“Oh, you know something, hon?”

“What?” asked Ms. Hiken, already anxious about the acceptance of the appliance installation.

“There seems to be, yes, I think there is, although it may have… gosh,” said Mary Pat. She finished taking down the jolly pumpkin poetry and began to arrange fat turkey poems on the wall. Talking to Ms. Hiken was a bit of a distraction to her primary task.

“There seems to be what?”

“Yes, I do think so… but then again, it could have changed, I don’t know…”

“Mrs. K., what? What could have changed? What?” Ms. Hiken’s Kindergarten partner, Mrs. K. always spoke slowly and thoughtfully; she took her time and deliberated as she shared her words. Sometimes a single idea took a full recess break to come out fully articulated. The young, coffee-drinking Ms. Hiken didn’t have the time for this.

“She hates me. She is torturing me. This is way too passive aggressive. I have got to get a new partner,” decided Ms. Hiken. “What, Mrs. K.,” she prompted again, as she squeezed the Mr. Coffee box to her chest.

I actually did know that Mrs. K. was a kind, deeply sensitive 20-year teaching veteran and a breast cancer survivor who really needed all the time she took. I just didn’t want to give it to her, so great was my discomfort at finding myself 28 years old, chubby and a Kindergarten teacher without any romantic prospects.

“What are you thinking of, Mrs. K,” Ms. Hiken asked again, trying to keep the annoyance out of her voice.

“Well, there’s a law, well, not a law, a rule, you know, something like that that says we can’t have anything in the classroom that’s dangerous to the kids.”

“Really? But they have a coffee pot in the office.”

“Well, you know how that goes.”

“Well it might be more dangerous to the kids if I don’t have the coffee pot, you know what I mean?”

“Uh-huh.” Mrs. K. went on pinning up giant construction paper turkeys and little poems about gobbling and being stuffed.

“Well, how about we keep it until they tell us not to? I mean, God! I want to be able to have a cup of coffee, you know, when it might not be recess break! And I want it to be good coffee! I got French roast!”

“Yeah, I know!” said Mrs. K., shaking a fat paper turkey in the air for the young unhappy Ms. Hiken.

“So you don’t mind?”

“Gosh, no,” said Mrs. K.

Ms. Hiken sighed a heavy breath. She unboxed the pot and set it over the paper towel dispenser, just like Mrs. B.’s. She stretched the cord along the splash guard at the back of the sink and reached the outlet under the wall-mounted, stainless-steel framed kiddie mirror. The mirror, covered with tiny magenta tempera paint finger prints, caught her face as she bent down to plug in the cord.

Ms. Hiken looked at herself. She studied her face every chance she got. The 7:50 warning bell rang. She tucked her hair behind her ears. It was a good face, not a bad face at all. She saw thoughtful blue eyes, a funny nose, and a kissable mouth. She checked her flaws. Chipmunk cheeks, yes, a few zits, sure, and a terribly crooked hairline, but still… She stared at her self and thought, “There has got to be a man who would love this face. I know there has got to be.” She took a lip gloss out of her pocket and touched it to her mouth.

The 7:55 start of school bell rang. She kept looking in the mirror. She ran a finger over her slick, glossy lips. She didn’t move.

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