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Home > Making Faces(4)

Making Faces(4)
Author: Amy Harmon

Second hour pre-calculus was filled with seniors. Bailey and Fern sat in the back at a table high enough for Bailey to utilize, and Fern was his assigned aid, though he helped her more in the class than she helped him. Ambrose Young and Grant Nielson sat in the back of the room as well, and Fern was tickled to be so close to Ambrose, even though he didn't know she existed, three feet away from where he sat wedged in a desk that was too small for someone his size.

Mr. Hildy was late for class. He was habitually late to his second-hour class, and nobody minded really. He didn't have a class first hour and you could usually find him in the mornings with a cup of coffee in front of the TV in the teacher's lounge. But that Tuesday he came into class and flipped on the TV that hung in the corner of his classroom, just to the left of the chalkboard. The TVs were new, the chalkboards old, the teacher ancient, so nobody paid him much attention as he stood staring up at the screen, watching a newscaster talk about a plane crash. It was 9:00 am.

“Quiet, please!” Mr. Hildy barked, and the room reluctantly obeyed. The shot on the screen was trained on two tall buildings. One had black smoke and fire billowing out of the side.

“Is that New York, Mr. Hildy?” someone asked from the front row.

“Hey, isn't Knudsen in New York City?”

“That's the World Trade Center,” Mr. Hildy said. “That wasn't a commuter plane, I don't care what they are saying.”

“Look! There's another one!”

“Another plane?”

There was a collective gasp.

“Holy sh–!” Bailey's voice trailed off and Fern clamped a hand over her mouth as they all watched another plane burrow into the side of the other tower, the tower that wasn't already on fire.

The newscasters were reacting much like the students in the class--shocked, confused, scrambling for something intelligent to say as they stared with dawning horror at what was clearly not an accident.

There was no calculus assignment that day. Instead, Mr. Hildy's math class watched history unfold. Maybe Mr. Hildy considered the seniors old enough to see the images that played out in front of them, to hear the speculation.

Mr. Hildy was an old, Vietnam vet, he didn't mince words, and he couldn't tolerate politics. He watched with his students as America was attacked and he didn't bat an eye. But he quaked inside. He knew, maybe better than anyone, what the cost would be. It would be young lives. War was coming. No way it couldn't after something like this. No way it couldn't.

“Wasn't Knudson in New York?” someone asked. “He said his family was going to see the Statue of Liberty and a bunch of other stuff.” Landon Knudson was the student body vice-president, a member of the football team, and someone who was well-liked and well-known throughout the school.

“Brosey, doesn't your mom live in New York?” Grant asked suddenly, his eyes wide with the sudden realization.

Ambrose's eyes were fixed on the TV, his face tight. He nodded once. His stomach was hot with dread. His mom not only lived in New York City, she worked as a secretary in an ad agency that was located in the North Tower of the World Trade Center. He kept telling himself she was fine; her office was on a lower floor.

“Maybe you should call her.” Grant looked worried.

“I've been trying.” Ambrose held up his cell phone, the one he wasn't supposed to have in class, but Mr. Hildy didn't protest. They all watched as Ambrose tried again.

“Busy. Everybody is probably trying to call.” He snapped the phone closed. Nobody spoke. The bell rang, but everyone stayed in their seats. A few kids trickled in for their third hour class, but word was spreading throughout the school and the regular schedule was no match for the unfolding drama. The incoming students sat atop desks and stood against the walls and watched the screen along with everyone else.

And then the South Tower collapsed. It was there and then it wasn't. It dissolved into a massive cloud that swept down and out, dirty white, thick and fat, bristling with debris, dense with devastation. Someone screamed and everyone was talking and pointing. Fern reached over and took Bailey's hand. A couple of girls started to cry.

Mr. Hildy's face was as chalky as the board he made his living writing on. He looked out over his students crammed into his classroom and wished he'd never turned on the TV. They didn't need to see this. Young, untried, innocent. His mouth opened to reassure them, but his intolerance for bullshit robbed him of speech. There was nothing he could say that wouldn't be a bald-faced lie or that wouldn’t frighten them more. It wasn't real. It couldn't be. It was an illusion, a magic trick, just smoke and mirrors. But the tower was gone. The second tower to be hit, the first to go down. It took only 56 minutes from impact to collapse.

Fern clung to Bailey's hand. The billowing cloud of smoke and dust looked like the batting from Fern's old stuffed bear. It was a carnival prize, filled with cheap, fuzzy, synthetic cotton. She'd conked Bailey in the head with it and the right arm had torn free, spewing fuzzy white fluff in all directions. But this wasn't a carnival. It was a spook alley, complete with maze-like city streets filled with people covered in ash. Like zombies. But these zombies wept and called out for help.

When they heard the news that a plane had gone down outside Shanksville--only 65 miles from Hannah Lake--students began leaving the classroom, unable to bear more. They ran out of the school in droves, needing reassurance that the world hadn't ended in Hannah Lake, needing their families. Ambrose Young stayed in Mr. Hildy's room and saw the North Tower go down an hour after the South Tower collapsed. His mother still wasn't answering. How could she when he couldn't get anything but an odd buzzing in his ear whenever he tried to call? He went to the wrestling room. There in the corner, in the place where he felt safest, sitting on the loosely rolled mat, he offered an awkward prayer. He was uncomfortable with asking God for anything when He so obviously had His hands full. With a choked “amen” he tried to reach his mother once more.

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