2008 – Merle Drown – Sixth Grade

Flash fiction selection from the 2008 issue

Sixth Grade
by Merle Drown

In the tumult of sixth grade spring, Brent began weekly visits to Mr. Atwood at the nursing home. On Brent’s third visit, Mr. Atwood said, “You’re a very polite young man, Brent, but I’d like it if you called me Walter.”

Like Brent, Walter lived in a small room with a single bed, a bureau, a closet, and two windows. Through Walter’s window, Brent could see the little pond formed by a river meander just below the small, stone town library.

During his two hours with Walter, Brent would describe the ice breaking up, the trees budding, robins hunting the library lawn for worms. All things Walter couldn’t see well. Walter explained about stamp collecting and gave Brent a little magnifying glass, duplicate commemoratives, and even a small stamp album he’d started years ago, that held gently faded stamps on yellowed hinges.

Brent didn’t tell Walter about the scary fights at recess. He didn’t mention his frustrating crushes on girls in his class. He never told Walter how his parents slipped into angry silences.

Walter asked Brent to read to him so he could save his eyes for his stamps. Sometimes Brent read funny articles from Reader’s Digest, sometimes he brought his Sherlock Holmes collection, and sometimes he picked a passage from Walter’s Bible.

“For a boy of twelve,” Walter said one day in June, “you’re awfully grown up.”

Brent didn’t feel grown up. He felt he was falling into chaos with nothing to hold onto except his two hours with Walter. That summer Brent’s parents sent him to camp. He never saw Walter again, though he kept Walter’s old stamp album through the long slide to adulthood and beyond. Now Brent is old and thinks those sixth grade spring visits with Walter saved him from despair. And not just sixth grade despair.

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