ILLUMINATION
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ILLUMINATION

Part of the Back to School Nightmare Series

Why Parents are Scared of Going Back to School

A short story on why parents believe returning to school in the fall is a nightmare waiting to happen

Photo by Dinuka Lankaloka on Unsplash

“Leah, breakfast is ready!” Mary set breakfast for herself and her daughter on the table.

“Coming, mom!” Leah called from upstairs. Mary heard the step-stomp-step-stomp Leah made on the way down to the kitchen.

“Don’t stomp your feet going down the stairs, this house ain’t new,” Mary snapped at her.

“Sorry, mom,” Leah plopped down at the kitchen table and ate from the plate Mary served her.

“What’s wrong, baby?” Mary held her hand to Leah’s forehead but found no fever.

“I already told you, mom,” Leah sighed. She rested her head on her hand and placed her elbow on the table.

“You know very well I can’t let you stay home by yourself,” Mary crossed her arms. This wasn’t up for discussion.

“I know. I’m just scared.”

“I know, sweetheart. But I have to work, and I can’t let you stay home on your own anymore. I’m always worried about you being here by yourself.”

“Yeah, okay,” Leah poked at her food but didn’t eat from it. Mary leaned over and kissed Leah on the forehead.

“You sure you don’t want to eat?”

“Yeah, I’m not hungry,” Leah shook her head.

“Okay. Well then, let’s go before we’re late.” They both grabbed their bags and headed out the door. Mary dropped off Leah in front of the school. As Mary drove away, she noticed some kids who stood in line for their temperature to be checked. They removed their masks and coughed on each other. She honked her horn at them. The boys stopped and got back in line.

After School

“How’d your first day go, baby?” Mary asked as she picked up Leah.

“Fine, I guess,” Leah shrugged as she threw her bag in the back seat of the car and plopped herself onto the front seat.

“Were there a lot of kids that showed up?” Mary asked.

“No. Like two or three per class. The teachers all said they were supposed to have like, eight or ten show up to class. The teachers still did their lessons anyway. We finished the work in like, thirty minutes,” Leah pulled out her phone and browsed through Instagram.

“Did they say anything about tomorrow?” Mary tried to continue the conversation. She wanted to know whether those boys she saw in the morning might have caused an issue at school.

“No, why?” she asked while keeping her eyes on her phone.

“Nothing. Just curious,” she responded. “Was anyone sick, or sent home?”

“Um, I think there was one kid they found had a fever. They tried sending him home, but his mom couldn’t pick him up, so they kept him in the nurse’s office.”

“Oh my god, when was that?” Mary gasped.

“I don’t know, I didn’t ask. Lemme find out,” Mary sent messages to a few of her friends. While they waited, they both stared out the window in silence. After a minute or two, Leah’s phone rang. She checked her messages to find out what happened.

“So, Bethany says Ivan and John showed up to first period, but that John said his stomach hurt, so he went to the nurse. Ivan got a fever after lunch, so he went to the nurse also, and neither of them returned to class,” Leah looked at her mom. Mary’s eyes were wide with fear, but she didn’t say anything as she drove them home.

“Oh, and Christi texted me too,” Leah continued. “She said she saw a few people taking off their masks in the back stairwell to make out,” Leah flushed red. She read Christi’s text out loud without screening it first. “Oops, sorry, mom.”

“Jesus Christ,” Mary answered.

The Second Day

As Mary drove Leah to school, Mary probed her daughter about the two boys who were sent home.

“Did you find anything out about what happened to the two boys?” she asked.

“Which boys? Oh, you mean Ivan and John? Yeah, they were tested and are not allowed back at school until the test results come back,” Leah said as she reached in the back seat for her schoolbag. Mary stopped her car in front of the school.

“Whatever you do, remember — ”

“I know, mom. Keep two meters apart, don’t take off my mask, and stay away from anyone that does. Love you,” Leah stepped out of the car and closed the door. Mary sighed as she drove off. Even if Leah did remember, she hoped nothing would happen to her.

One Week Later

“Mom, I don’t want to go to school anymore.”

Leah swirled her cereal around her bowl. She didn’t want to eat it since it became too soggy.

“I need you to go, baby. I have to work, and I can’t leave you here anymore.”

“Why not? You left me here all summer, and I was fine.”

“It doesn’t matter, I don’t want the school calling and I’ll get in trouble at work if they assume you’re sick. C’mon, let’s go.”

Later that day

Mary organized some files her boss had left out at work. They were mostly cases from a few years ago. Her boss wanted to review them in case they were relevant to cases he was dealing with in court next week. Her phone rang as her boss walked into her office.

“Everything all right?” her boss asked, looking at her phone.

“Yeah, should be”, She stared at her phone before she answered it. The school was calling.

“Hello?” she replied.

“Is this Leah’s mother?”

“Yes, this is she.”

“You need to pick up Leah. She has a fever, and we cannot allow her to be on campus.”

“I’m at work right now, I can’t — ”

“Well, we cannot keep her here ma’am. Either you can pick her up right now, or we call the ER to take her to a hospital.”

“Crap, o — okay. I’ll pick her up in a bit.” Mary hung up the phone as her boss put his hands in his pocket. He sighed. Her phone was loud enough for him to have heard everything.

“I’m afraid she needs to get tested. Both of you. And if either of you come out positive, you have to stay home for two weeks.”

“I know,” Mary answered.

Photo by Brandon Holmes on Unsplash

One Month Later

Leah had tested positive. She had no idea how she might have gotten sick since she kept her distance from everyone in school. She was not the only one. Dozens of kids had gotten sick in school. A few days after Mary had picked up Leah from school and being confirmed as positive, Leah had a coughing fit. She did her best to suppress it, but she could not. Mary rushed her to the ER. The nurses hooked up Leah to a ventilator. Eventually, Mary got sick as well. Her case wasn’t as bad as Leah’s.

A nurse walked in to check on Mary. Her condition was stable, for now.

“Nurse?” Mary called through her mask. It was a little muffled, but Mary pushed herself to speak loud and clear. She coughed a little.

“Yes?” the nurse replied. She kept two meters apart. Mary looked at the nurse, who wore a ghost-looking hazmat suit.

“Can I — can I please see my daughter?”

“Absolutely not — ”

“Please, I need to know if she’s still sick,” Mary replied.

“Oh! Right, you’re the patient who brought in her daughter. Yes. I’ll request they move you into the same room. Just give me a few minutes.” The nurse left. Mary waited. She counted the dots of paint on the ceiling until she returned.

The nurse returned after Mary had counted 722 dots. At least, that’s what it felt like. She had lost count after a while. The nurse showed up with two other people, who wheeled her out of the room and down the hall. The nurses wheeled Mary into a room with only one other patient inside.

The patient was hooked up to a bunch of dangling cables, which were hooked up to various machines. The patient lay face down. Her hair covered her face, but Mary knew who it was. Tears ran down her face as she heard Leah gasp for air as the machines pumped air into her lungs.

If you want to read another story in the Back to School Nightmare series, click here.

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AJ Krow

AJ Krow

Teacher. Writer. Author. Aspiring Polyglot. Progressive Voter. Atheist. Twitter @ajkrow_writer.