The First Things We Learn: a short story

Home S&S Expressions The First Things We Learn: a short story
The First Things We Learn: a short story

By JENNY BARDWELL
Staff Writer

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(Sterling Chen/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)
“Pew pew!” a boy yelled triumphantly as he pointed a stretch of a building set at Luna.

“That’s so cool,” she replied in an animated voice, “What does it do?”

“It’s a freeze gun,” the boy said, surveying his supervisor, evidently shocked by her lack of knowledge on such simple things. “It shoots freeze rays out of one end and nails out of the other.”

“So you can freeze someone and then use the nails to shatter the ice?” Luna questioned.

“So I can freeze someone and then build a ladder which I can use to escape,” the boy corrected. He lifted up the device again and made another firing noise. Luna immediately fell to the ground, locking her limbs in overdramatic positions to show the extent of her immobility.

Another teacher noticed her strange behavior and wandered toward the laughing boy. Her voice darted ahead of her feet as she warned the boy that weapons were not allowed. Upon scrambling to get up, Luna tried to defend the boy, but the teacher had already returned to the puzzle area.

Soon, craft time began, and Luna began to distribute the materials. The other teacher’s words swept the children into their seats as she gave them instructions.

“The boys are going to make pirate ships, and the girls are going to make mermaids,” she concluded.

“Can I make a pirate ship instead?” a girl at the end of the table asked. Luna opened her mouth, her tongue flooding with words. She was going to tell the girl to make whatever she wanted, but her coworkers responded more quickly.

“Only the boys are making pirate ships,” the teacher asserted.

“Don’t you want to make a mermaid?” the girl’s friend asked, “Look how pretty the mermaid is.”

Craft time drew to a close and Luna, covered in paint and glitter, emerged from the sea of kids piling through the narrow doorway. She took a few moments to enjoy the sequin-free ground and fresh air before she turned her attention to some large plastic blocks. She had been contracted by a girl to build a castle and dutifully started stacking the cubes in zigzag patterns. Before she could finish building the first layer of bricks, a horde of little girls managed to squeeze themselves inside and began declaring which princesses they were. A boy overheard their conversation and skipped over.

“I am Elsa!” he proudly declared as he tried to push his way into the already overcrowded block structure.

“You can’t be Elsa, you have to be Hans,” a girl replied.

“He can be Elsa,” Luna intervened, “it’s an imaginary game, people can be whoever they want.”

“Well he can’t be a princess,” the girl responded, “that’s just not the way it works.” Luna, realizing she was not going to convince the girl, turned to the boy.

“You can be a prince with ice powers, or a dragon, or a knight,” she recited in defeat. The boy was excited by the idea of being a dragon, and there was soon a war between the princesses, guards and dragons. Dodge balls flew through the air as kids ran around screaming and laughing. In the meantime, Luna tried her very best to keep the castle from crumbling.

The other teacher walked over and declared that lunch was over. She turned to Luna as the children began to put away the toys.

“Luna, we cannot have chaos in the playground. The children shouldn’t be running spilled water,” she sternly stated. Out of the corner of her eye, Luna looked at the sign advertising their adventure camp. Written at the bottom was a cheesy slogan about allowing children to use their imagination. She was so utterly confused.

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