Moving — Cezarija Abartis

            “Tomorrow we’ll begin reading Romeo and Juliet,” I remind them. A groan, of course. In the front of the room Cecilia sits up straighter. She has already read the first two Acts, probably the whole play. Myself, I still don’t understand Romeo, how he can abandon his feelings for Rosaline, transfer them to Juliet, and will the feelings last beyond a week? In the back of the room, Carter and Ashley are staring love-eyes at each other, challenging each other to fly up above this mortal coil to a beatitude of joy eternal. I was there once too.

            “Mrs. Haeska, can we do set design instead?”

            “No. Not yet. And that’s Ms.”

            “Or maybe costume design?”

            “We’re going to read the whole play and then put it on for the school.” A groan again. “The set design and costumes come later.”

            Cecilia raises her elegant, self-confident hand. “Will there be auditions? Will they be soon?”

            “Soon, yes.” I have barely finished grading their papers on Oedipus Rex and making appointments for parent-teacher conferences in the school cafeteria. I have barely packed my matched pots and pans to move to Robert’s apartment. Mother gave me those for my wedding to Fritz; he didn’t ask for them during the divorce.

            Cecilia volunteers: “Some readers might find the play overly romantic.” Her lips are pursed in judgment.

            Robert’s lips purse that way.

            “Love is forever,” Ashley says in a sudden response to Cecilia. I hadn’t realized she was paying attention.

            Brooke is scribbling hearts on her paper. The hearts spell “Alex.” Brooke’s mother is a dental hygienist and wants her to be a doctor, but Brooke likes playing the guitar. My Robert plays the guitar. He once belonged to Cecilia’s mother and Cecilia. Ours is a small town.

            I’m taking a night class at the university an hour’s drive away. We’re reading Antony and Cleopatra. Something I’ll never get a chance to teach to ninth-graders. And maybe I don’t want to teach that beautiful, anguishing play.

            My students think that life is life and books are books, that books can’t save you. Perhaps they’re right and I’m wrong. I tell them we sail on this journey, and we can take advice with us, and aspirations. We can listen to the music in our ears, the bird on the branch, the wave on the water. Things change, like clouds. We need help to move along.

            Outside the window, the clouds form and reform, puff and scud and billow, the shreds changing in high wind, making castles, camels, trees, hearts, all sailing across a rain-blue sky. The ground is still wet and black from winter, but spring will bring green shoots reaching upward, unfolding.

            In Robert’s science class, he teaches that clouds are tiny water drops and ice crystals whose molecules are always moving, the droplets condensing and evaporating endlessly.

            Cecilia raises her hand. “Ms. Haeska, can you please tell us about Romeo’s love for Rosaline? I’m confused—is it real love?”

            I nod. I started out hopeful as a robin in springtime singing on a branch. We have a new hire. She teaches eleventh-grade social science.  She is hopeful. She wants to contribute to shaping their lives, making a better world, showing the beauty of humans. Yesterday we went through an active shooter drill. I explained about atomic bomb drills in the fifties and how no bombs were actually dropped.

            We will have a good life, Robert and I, right? Though both of us have left behind previous partners. This time it’s the real deal, the top of the mountain, the star in the firmament. I want to teach my students that books can show them the world, the heart and lungs of the universe—can reveal the insides of themselves, their own dark mysteries.

            Romeo never felt guilty for turning from Rosaline. The other day Robert said he felt guilty. He was putting his own happiness above that of Cecilia and her mother, tendrils of guilt weaving around him.

            “I think I’ve figured it out,” Cecilia says. She puts down her elegant hand, raises her elegant head. “It does happen. People can fall in love again after making mistakes.” She glances outside. Her eyes take in the sky. I breathe in. She is not being ironic: her eyes have clouds in them but she is sincere. She understands.

***
Cezarija Abartis
has published a collection, Nice Girls and Other Stories (New Rivers Press) and stories in Bennington Review, FRiGG, matchbook, Waccamaw, and New York Tyrant, among others.  Her flash, “The Writer,” was selected by Dan Chaon for Wigleaf’s Top 50 online Fictions of 2012 and “To Kiss a Bear” was selected for Wigleaf’s Longlist 2016. Her flash “Sisters” was selected by Amber Sparks for Best Microfiction 2021. Recently she completed a crime novel.