I pulled into my driveway. The sky was clear and the late afternoon air was still crisp, the way September should always feel. It had been a busy day at school. I was glad to be home. I pulled into the garage and walked into the house. It appeared that no one was home. As I climbed the stairs to the kitchen, though, I found my father seated at one end of the dining room table. Dinner was served, so I sat down and we dug in. We had a nice chat, the first one that he could actually participate in for as long as I could remember. His hearing seemed much better than it had been in our last conversation.
We polished off the burgers, potato salad, and corn on the cob, wiped our chins in perfect sync, and sat back in our chairs. We toted our things to the kitchen. It all seemed so ordinary. Dad had asked me about Nancy and Sarah and wondered where Farley was. I told him Nancy had been working hard at Horizons, Sarah was working hard at P.A. school, and come to think of it, I had no idea where Farley was. I had asked him about his mom and dad and brother and whether he’d been able to track down Emma. “Not yet,” he said, “but I’ll find her.”
“Good,” I’d said to him. “We miss her.”
I started loading the dishes in the dishwasher. I thought it was a bit odd that he was letting me do it. Maybe it was because he had made dinner. I couldn’t recall him ever cooking before. I also couldn’t recall him letting someone else load the dishwasher before. He’d always been very particular about it. It was one of his special skills, and it was hard to teach. This time he let me do it all by myself. Well, I was 60 now, a big boy, at least in the dishwasher loading sense, so I guess I was old enough to handle this task at my own house.
I told Dad I had some work to do, and headed upstairs…to my old childhood bedroom, where I found my laptop at the desk where my electric typewriter had sat 40 years ago. I opened the lid and began browsing for materials to share with my class tomorrow morning. I found several intriguing videos. The narration on one was uncanny. It fit perfectly (almost identically) with the articles I had just copied that afternoon on the Battle of Saratoga. In fact, the video was so intriguing that I found myself clicking on others in the series. In each one, I seemed to know all the words before the narrator finished his sentences. I must have lost track of time, because when I finally emerged from the video rabbit hotel, I had a strange feeling that I had overstayed. Would they charge me for that?
I glanced at my watch. 7:10, it said. That seemed to jiggle a memory loose. I had somewhere I needed to be tonight, but I couldn’t remember where. Oh, that’s right. Tonight is Back to School Night. I stood up and headed to the bathroom. It’s a good idea to brush your teeth before you meet a roomful of parents. I wondered aloud, “What time does Back to School Night begin?”
I pulled a sheet of paper out of my back pocket. It was completely out of focus. I pulled it closer to my face and then away from my face. Still blurry. I held it under the bathroom light. That was better. I scanned the schedule. “Oh, it starts at 7:00. That’s funny, I think my watch said it was 7:10 already. WAIT, WHAT?! It’s 7:10 and there are parents in my classroom right now? And they’re wondering where I am?”
My heart was suddenly galloping. I decided not to brush my teeth. I considered throwing up. That would be more appropriate. Had I ever done this before? Just forgotten to show up for Back to School Night? I couldn’t remember. Maybe.
Suddenly a vision formed. It was Mrs. F. who had already emailed me about 30 times this year. She was standing in the main office, hands waving wildly as she shouted at the secretary. “Has ANYONE seen Mr. von Euler? He hasn’t shown up for his presentation. That seems VERY unprofessional to me.” Spit flew from her mouth as she emphasized the P in Presentation. I wondered if she had brushed her teeth.
A large man stood off to the side. He was more succinct. “You’re fired.”
Back in my bathroom, panic thoughts rushed through my head. Should I call the school? Should I tell them I lost track of time? Should I tell them about the uncanny parallels between the text of the video narration and those articles that I had copied? Should I tell them about the unexpected visit from my recently-deceased father? Should I say that I was caught in traffic and I’d be right there? But I was in my childhood home. How far was that from school? I think about five hours… or forty years. That wouldn’t work. Very few parents would wait five hours for a teacher’s presentation. The desks and chairs are very small. And wait. Where is Nancy?! Where is Farley?!
I sat bolt upright in bed. The room was dark. I looked over at the clock, my heart still pounding. 4:21. Oh, thank God. I looked to my right. Nancy was fast asleep. I shook my head. “Like clockwork,” I thought, “the calendar flips to August and the anxiety nightmares begin. This’ll go on all month.”
Then, as I slowly regained consciousness, another thought came into focus. “Wait a second. I retired on July 1.”
I flopped back down, nestled my head on my pillow, closed my eyes and sighed, trying to slow my breathing. “I never have to do another Back to School Night presentation in my life.”
“Well, not in your waking life,” said a voice in my head. “Sweet dreams.”