500 Words, a short-story game administered by Dive at Small Glass Planet.
This week's sentence is taken from Willa Cather's slow-burn masterpiece Death Comes For The Archbishop. It is: 'Muerto,' he whispered.
Miss Bernice and the Newts
Miss Bernice Haversham slapped her purse on top of the desk and unzipped it. She reached in and pulled out a bag of peanut butter cookies she had made, a full set of finger puppets she had once sewn together for her own children now grown and a bottle of hand sanitizer. She squeezed some out in the palm of one hand and coated herself against the germs she was about to contract.
As she began to steadily lower herself into the too-small chair beside the desk, she spotted a boy standing in the corner by the bucket of wooden blocks. He looked at her and then at her purse, and he looked down at the spot of floor in front of him. Miss Bernice remembered one more thing she had forgotten to retrieve from her purse, and she heaved herself back onto her feet with a groan.
She reached back into the bag as the little boy watched her movements, and she pulled out a small plastic bottle of newt food. She set it on the desk and smiled at the boy. “I think this might be something you need,” she said as she pushed it closer to the edge of the desk. He took a step toward her, and she said, “It’s OK, it’s food for the newts. Aren’t you the one who is taking care of them at home?”
The boy stopped and looked down at the floor again. “Or have I confused you with someone else?” Miss Bernice asked.
The boy shook his head without looking up, and Miss Bernice knew she was addressing Emiliano, the boy who had asked to take the newts home for the week. The students took turns taking care of the class pets, and the newts were favorites. They didn’t bite like the hamsters, and they weren’t noisy like the parakeet. They scurried around over the rocks on the floor of a ten-gallon fish tank, and all they wanted was food and clean water.
Miss Bernice reseated herself on the tiny chair again and motioned for Emiliano to join her. He took small steps until he reached the teacher’s aide, and he looked up at her, stuffing his hands in his pockets and pursing his lips as if he would not speak unless she pried open his mouth with a set of pliers.
Miss Bernice patted her lap and helped Emiliano climb up to sit with her. She put her big, wide arms around him, and so no one else in the room could hear, she asked softly, “Emiliano, has something happened to the newts?”
He put his face against her ear and cupped his hand over his mouth. “Muerto,” he whispered.
“I see,” she said softly, and she kissed the top of his head, his shiny black hair resting against her chin. “Well, those things happen. We’ll just have to get more newts, won’t we?” Emiliano grinned and slid off of her knees to go play with his favorite blocks.