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“Three minutes? Guess I’m done with lunch,” Joe Kleen said, gathering up his half eaten meal, replacing the top on his thermos of milk and packing everything back up in Tupperware.

“Oh, that’s our fault, Joe,” Barb replied. “We should have let you eat in peace. We can lollygag because we don’t have recess duty but you get the short end of the stick.”

“I’m just glad we don’t have lunch duty anymore,” Sarah intoned. “Before we had the B.D. classrooms we had to rotate through lunch duty too. But with six associates for the B.D. kids and five from kindergarten we have enough associates to cover lunch duty and the teachers just have to rotate through recess once every four days.”

“Except kindergarten, they get once every five,” Lisa said.

“Why every five?” Joe asked as he walked toward the classroom exit.

“There’s five classes for kindergarten. We’re allowed to have up to 32 kids per room in second and third but kindergarten’s maximum is twenty five, plus they get an associate.”

“Associate? When did we stop using the term ‘teacher’s aide’? Or is it a regional thing?”

“Oh, Lord. It’s that Ryan White fellow? The poor kid in Indiana who can’t go to school because he has the AIDS?” Sarah asked. “Cobb County decided that we should stop using the word aides because well, it sounds like AIDS and we don’t want the terrible uproar the folks had up north about teachers and AIDS.”

Joe shook his head back and forth three times quickly to show disbelief. “Okay. And on that insane note I will head out to recess. I shall return!”

“Good luck, MacArthur!” Barb called after him.

Joe hurried through the halls and stationed himself near Rachel Potthof and two other women that were waiting for the second and third graders to be released from lunch for recess. He looked at one of the women, looked away and then returned his eyes to her. The petite, young, dirty blonde seemed very familiar to him but he couldn’t place her. “You look familiar,” he said. “Have we met?”

She looked at him out of the corner of her eye, gave him a sardonic half smile and then snorted. “No, not really. I was in the hall with you when we were taking our kids from Nick’s room to Mrs. Weaver’s and you were picking yours up from art.”

“Oh! That’s it,” Joe said. “Joe Kleen,” he added as he extended his hand.

“Jill Kinkel,” she responded by shaking his hand, smiling and saying, “Nice to meet you.”

The lunchroom doors opened and in it stood eight rows of children thirty deep. A woman who looked to be five feet nothing and two hundred fifty pounds was speaking loudly and gruffly to the assembled children. “When Miss Potthof calls your teacher’s name you are dismissed to recess. Remember to walk quietly through the halls! If you cannot remain quiet until you get outside you can sit on the line during recess,” she hollered and then blew one short, piercing blow with her whistle.

Miss Potthof blew her whistle before saying, “Mrs. McCain’s class you are not ready. Mrs. Reilly’s class you may go!”

“Come on, Joe” Jill said. “We’re up.”

Joe followed Jill’s lead and escorted the class down the hallway to the double doors that spilled onto the playground. A line of tiny people was being escorted by their teachers back to their classrooms and two classes from kindergarten and first grade recess were standing in line under the pleasantly, warm November sun. One of the teachers who directed the youngest of East Sides students said something to the other, then blew her whistle, pointed at one of the lines and marched them into the building behind her. One of the small children waved at Jill as they passed and Jill winked at the little boy.

“That one’s mine,” she whispered to Joe. “His name’s Logan. Sweet little thing.”

The first half dozen students in Mrs. Reilly’s third grade class managed to walk through the doors to the twenty minutes of freedom that was lunch recess but once they were through the doorway and running out on the playground speed picked up for the remaining students until the class was exiting the building at a run.

“Walk!” Jill hollered but no one slowed and she did nothing to slow the pace except repeat the unbacked mandate for caution. “I’ll take the field, you take the playground equipment?” she asked Joe.

“Sure,” he said. “Sounds great.”

Joe positioned himself in the center of the playground equipment, rolled up the sleeves of his dress shirt, tucked his tie into it and surveyed the scene. The remaining seven classes spilled out into the beautiful afternoon, running pell-mell as soon as they were free of the restrictive building. Joe watched as Rachel Potthof blew her whistle but the children largely ignored her admonishes to slow down. The jungle gym was a popular spot and children were climbing up and through it, releasing pent up energy that they had been forced to control all morning. “Hey!” he hollered to two little boys who were walking up the slide, “No climbing up the slide! Use the ladder!”

The boys inhaled, their shoulders drooped but the complied with Joe’s demand and walked up the ladder and slid down the slide. Joe attended to similar playground policing and after about ten minutes Miss Potthof made her way over to where he was stationed. “Hi,” she said, extending her hand. “I’m not sure I caught your name before. Joe, right? I’m Rachel Potthof.”

“Yes. Joe Kleen. Nice to meet you, Rachel. Beautiful day, huh?”

“You said it. I love this time of year. Pretty soon though it’ll be too cold for the kids to play outside.”

“Really? Wow. They have recess all winter long up in Connecticut. Only time they stay inside is if it’s raining.”

“For real? We only go outside if it’s forty five or above. I don’t know if some of these kids even have coats for when it gets
cold. Is that where you’re from?”

“Born and reared. This is my first time living anywhere else.”

“Well, welcome. What brought you to Atlanta?”

“A beautiful woman. I got married in May.”

“Congratulations. I take it you haven’t found a teaching position yet?”

“Nope. Still looking. And I heard you’re pretty involved in theatre around here; is that true?”

“Yeah! Who told you that?”

“One of the second grade teachers. Lisa Powell? I think it was Lisa. We were all eating lunch together.”

“Were y’all? I’ve been trying to get her to audition for our next play. ‘Comedy of Errors’? You don’t act do you, Joe?”

“Not since high school. Shakespeare, huh? When are auditions?”

“This weekend. Oh! There’s Tommy Smith being a pain in the you know what again. Come see me after school if you have a sec, I’ll tell you about the show.”

“Sounds good,” Joe said to Rachel’s retreating form. “Sounds intriguing,” he added under his breath.