Somewhere at the back of the muggy room, a pencil flew and hit the back of Joseph Meyer’s neck. His head bolted up off his desk as he snapped into focus. He stared at the blurred chalkboard ahead of him, slowly looking around and gradually taking in the contents of his English classroom. Ms. Thomson glared at him piercingly as the sound of her pencil heels paced up and down the class.
“Holden Caulfield isn’t exactly our typical protagonist.” She explained. “His narrative voice is very different from other novels that were published at that time. But this seems to emphasize many of the author’s intended points.”
Joints? Did she just say the author’s joints?
Joseph let his hand casually fall over top of his pocket. He reached for his battered wallet, hoping it smelt solely of leather.
“But why do you think Holden possess such a negative outlook on the world?”
Probably because he can’t sleep, Joseph thought as he reached for the pencil on the ground. He handed it to the girl beside him, who seemed to be rummaging through her bag looking for one. She gave him a warm smile.
The class was dead silent and the heat lingered heavily in the air. Ms. Thompson was clearly frustrated with the lack of her students’ participation, “No one is leaving this class until we analyze Holden’s self-conflict.”
Who the hell cares? the girl thought, reaching for the pencil. Sarah was too busy trying to plan her week to occupy herself with the problems of a non-existent character. She needed the ramp to be built tonight. That way she could save approximately half an hour taking him to and from appointments each day, leaving herself at least…three hours -no, three and a half hours this week-to finish reading the book. That seemed like enough time to make up a stupid character analysis about Holden, like the fact that he was obviously indecisive about his opinion on prostitution. What a waste of her time - something she was learning to value more and more lately. In the midst of her thoughts, she noticed Joseph wink at her. She smiled back, hoping the heat hadn’t melted the layers of concealer over her growing dark circles.
“What can we infer,” Ms. Thompson asked restlessly, “about his character?”
Outside the window, a group of children were playing tag. Their screams and laughs echoed into the still classroom; a handful of students turned their heads to catch a glimpse. Ms. Thompson massaged her temples.
“What significance do you think the title holds in relation to his character development?” She walked over and closed the window, cutting out the noise from outside.
A girl with jet black hair slowly lifted her head from something beneath her desk. Jessica stared at her teacher for what seemed like a minute, and then slowly shrugged.
She grabbed the pencil on Sarah’s desk and began to outline her sketch in her sketchbook. It was a flower, beginning with lush petals and ending in wilted ones. She took a good look at Sarah in her fitted shirt, twirling her blonde hair as Joseph smiled at her. Jessica forcefully returned to her sketchbook as she stroked her discoloured wrist and pulled down her sleeve.
The abrupt sound of a paperback hitting wood startled the class. Ms. Thompson had flung her copy of the book onto her desk, her eyes glaring.
“Did anyone read what they were supposed to?” Her voice was raised in clear annoyance and irritation.
A moment of guilty silence followed. The room was so quiet that when Joseph coughed almost everyone jumped. Ms. Thomson’s eyes surveyed her students like she was choosing her prey, and then she took a deep breath and collapsed loudly into her chair. “That’s fine,” she said. “It’s your responsibility, not mine. Did you at least look into the author like I told you?”
A handful of hands made their way up into the air, including the tip of Jessica’s pencil.
After a while, a sole hand resurfaced.
“Go ahead Omar.”
He had always been the type of boy that hid behind his long hair and preferred to sit at the back.
“I don’t think J.D Salinger was trying to make a statement,” he said, the class suddenly becoming aware of what his voice sounded like. “I doubt he even gave a fuck about who read his book.”
Suddenly, the seemingly boring discussion topic had everyone’s attention. Jessica stopped shading in her wilted petal and placed her sketchbook and pencil on top of her desk, and Joseph turned himself around to smile incessantly at this boy he had never noticed before. The children’s’ laughter from outside made its way through the glass.
Ms. Thompson raised her eyebrows and brushed a strand of hair behind her ear hesitantly. Before she could remark on his inappropriate vocabulary, a loud ringing erupted. It was the fire alarm.
For some reason, everyone tentatively remained in their seats.
“What are you waiting for?” she asked bluntly. “Single file, come on.” She sighed loudly and got up to usher her students out, clearly deeming them hopeless.
One by one they made their way out, like a line of prisoners. And as she turned off the lights and locked the door behind her, the pencil rolled off of the desk and hit the dusty tiles.