Little Ray Takes a Break

The staff was briefed in a faculty meeting. The new arrivals would check in the following day. These children had seen “horrible things,” had been through “the unimaginable”. Some thought of pitch-black midnight border crossings or long, stifling hours crammed into the back of a box truck and wondered where those fell on the continuum of “horrible things”. Wisely they said nothing. Everyone had seen the pictures of the city underwater, of the desperate people, of the feeble response; the children had suffered. It was enough.

In the morning, a small, round, brown, bespectacled boy approached the door hesitantly. He was the first and the teacher tried to make him feel welcome without drawing unwanted attention. Just as the bell rang, another boy slid into the room and claimed a seat at the very back, glowering at anyone who turned to look at him. He was bone-thin, with glossy ebony skin, huge eyes and a carelessly wild ‘fro. The teacher’s greeting was met with something mumbled. She retreated and began the lesson.

She learned that his name was Ray. “They call me Little Ray,” he said. Beyond that, he didn’t care to share. The other boy, whose name was Anthony, clearly had no use for Ray. He came from the world of Catholic school and Ray seemed like everything the nuns had warned him about.

The lesson was about regional customs and foods and it started a lively discussion. Thinking to draw him out she asked, “But they do eat alligator over there, isn’t that right Ray?”

He rolled his eyes. “Nah, that’s them country folk eat that mess.”

Then he caught the twinkle in her eye and after that it was game on.

Ray’s street smarts found him in the assistant principal’s office at least once a week. One wrong look in the hall, one careless remark in passing and his temper boiled over. The assistant principal, a big Mississippi girl with the charm of a drill sergeant, found nothing amusing in Ray’s entrepreneurial spirit either.

“He’ll steal anything just to resell it,” she complained.

The teacher never saw that side of Ray. She learned that he was living with an auntie and a bunch of cousins. Mom was in the hospital at the time of the disaster. Dad was in jail. He didn’t elaborate. From what he said, she gathered he had run the streets and made money any way he could. Drug runner? Corner boy? Or was it all brag and hot air? Who knew?

When the water rose, Ray and the family had retreated to the big, chaotic civic center. True to form, Ray ran wild and soon lost track of the family. He slogged through the filthy water back to the house, but there was no sign of them. Finding his way to the underpass where people were boarding buses, he left. It wasn’t until the bus arrived in new city that he found his family in the enormous shelter. That story alone won the teacher’s grudging admiration… assuming it was true.

Bright and with a good sense of humor, he was an inconsistent student. One morning, he dragged in when the class was almost over, sleepy-eyed, hair uncombed and clothes wrinkled.

“Did anyone win at Jeopardy?” asked the teacher.

He grinned. “I was watching The Price is Right.” Anthony snorted and rolled his eyes.

Maybe there was hope for Anthony after all.

“You need to be in school, Ray,” she continued.

“I know,” he said, sighing deeply.

Months passed. He seemed to calm down. He was never actually suspended, but he suffered under the assistant principal’s eagle eye. One day, the teacher saw him having an actual conversation with Anthony. Progress for Ray or backsliding for Anthony? It was hard to tell. They both made it clear they were homesick.

“So, are you going to go back and help rebuild the shining city?” she teased.

“Wha?” he replied, looking baffled.

“You know. The shining city your mayor talked about,” the teacher explained.

“Aww…Roy Norton’s an asshole!” he spat out in disgust. Anthony nodded in agreement.

There was a sharp intake of breath all over the room as students waited to see what she would do about the profanity.

“Language, Ray”, she stated firmly, trying to look fierce and still control the urge to laugh.

“Sorry, Miss”, he said. But the contriteness in his voice didn’t quite reach the twinkle in his eye.

Another time, she noticed him fooling with something in one of his pockets.

“Whatcha got there?” the teacher inquired.

“Lucky penny,” he answered, drawing out the flattened bit of copper and showing her.

“It got runned over by a train.”

She left him to his luck. He would need it.


One day they all disappeared, gone as suddenly as they had arrived. No one knew where, but the word was they had gone home. The assistant principal waylaid the teacher coming down the hall.

“I never did understand what you saw in that boy,” she began.

“I’m sure,” the teacher replied, grimacing in the pretense of a smile. She moved away quickly as the bell began to ring.

In her classroom she noticed something perched the corner of her desk. She approached it curiously.  It was Ray’s penny.


Chris Fitzgerald is a retired public school teacher who lives in Houston, Texas. Her teaching career often finds its way into her stories. She enjoys reading Flash Fiction and short stories with a twist. When she isn’t writing, she likes to garden and walk where the quiet allows her to come up with new ideas. This is a debut.