Hanna woke up early on Thursday morning, before her alarm. Her third day here – and she still had no idea what was going on.
She pushed her disturbing dream to the side. Just a dream, she told herself.
But she opened her Bible eagerly, hoping her morning devotions would help dispel the remainders of the dark vision. Remind her that God was still in charge – and that he wasn’t the kind of God who would mess with her mind for no reason.
She read a few chapters, as usual, and that did bring a sense of calm. The orange glow of the sunrise, peeking in through the blinds, helped as well. But her prayers were rather confused – as they had been, for the last couple days. She usually started with a stock prayer – one composed mostly of people she prayed for. It had grown over the years, as she added new people to the list. But, if she really was twelve, she hadn’t yet met most of the people on the list. She found herself starting to rhyme off names, like normal, but then faltering, not knowing how, or if, she should pray for the rest. She had no idea what their lives were like, at this time in history. Several of them hadn’t been born, yet. How did you pray for someone who didn’t exist? That opened up questions she wasn’t ready to ask, especially when she thought of Adele. And then, when she tried to talk to God about other things, what was there to say? She didn’t have anything to ask for. All she had were questions. What was going on. Why it was happening. What she was supposed to do. When it was going to end.
As usual, though Hanna talked to God, she didn’t hear any answers. She got off her knees – the seriousness of the situation had compelled her to kneel by her bed – just as confused as she’d been before. Even worse, in some ways. The more she thought about her situation, the less sense she managed to make of it.
Well, there was no use dwelling on it. She had another day ahead of her. Whether it was real or not, she couldn’t spend it inside this room. Life had put her back in grade seven, so, until she had a better idea, that’s what she would do.
There was still lots of time to get ready for school. She spent it carefully choosing her clothes. She added a few finishing touches to her navy blue corduroys. The night before, she’d added flares and carefully removed the unflattering pleats. It had been finicky work, something she’d never attempted before. But it seemed to have worked out. They could still use something more, but embellishments would have to wait. To the cords, she added her favourite shirt. The one shirt she had ever owned that she really, really liked: a long sleeved, fitted brown t-shirt. It had been a hand-me-down from someone, but from the moment she’d first put it on, it had felt like her. It was soft, it matched her hair, and it made her feel pretty. It was this shirt that first made her like the colour brown – 16 years later, it was still her favourite. And though she hadn’t been able to wear the shirt in over a decade, it was still packed away, in a bag of clothes that were too small for her, somewhere in her parents’ house.
It was a little big on her, at the moment. But the material was stretchy, so it wasn’t bad. And she’d always regretted not wearing this shirt more when she had the chance – she had so few articles of clothing she cared about, that she tended to hoard them, for special occasions that never came. Not anymore. This shirt was going into her weekly rotation. She was going to wear it out.
She assessed the overall effect of the cords with the shirt, in the mirror, and found it satisfactory. Then, because her success yesterday had given her more confidence in her own judgement, she decided to do something with her hair.
There was nothing she could do about her bangs, until they grew out a bit. But she parted the rest of her hair in a messy zigzag pattern, and made two thick French braids. The results pleased her. Ponytails, which she’d always favoured, were too plain, making her look mousy. The braids widened her face, which was a little thin – especially noticeable, now that her cheeks weren’t so chubby.
Lizzy, who had woken up, watched the last of Hanna’s preparations skeptically. But when Emily came down the hall, she was awed.
“Hanna!” she cried out. “You look cool.”
Hanna nodded. Yes, she did look, well, almost cool. Cooler than she ever had in grade seven, anyway. Possibly too cool for her classmates to properly appreciate. But in a year or two, they would look back and realized how ahead of her time she had been.
“Someone went to bed early last night,” her mother commented, when she appeared downstairs.
“I’m conducting an experiment,” Hanna told her.
“I’m going to sleep and wake up with the sun, or as close to it as I can. And see if it makes me healthier.”
Her mother took this declaration in stride. “How will you know if it does? You’re not exactly ill right now.”
“I’ll keep track of how I feel every day, and how much sleep I got, and write down every time I get sick.” She hadn’t actually thought of that, before. But it was a good idea. She’d start tonight.
“And how long do you intend to keep this up?” her mother asked.
“I don’t know. As long as it takes.”
Her mom smiled. “Whatever gave you such an idea?” she asked.
Hanna brought her bowl of Rice Krispies to the table. Tomorrow, she wouldn’t spend so much time on her clothes, and get downstairs in time to make oatmeal.
“It’s what people used to do,” she said. “Before electric lights. I think it’s probably the way God intended for us to sleep. Besides, I get tired at school.” Maybe not this school, but every other school. High school, university, and then all the schools she’d taught at. She’d been constantly tired since… well, possibly since she was twelve years old.
“Well, we don’t want that,” said Mom.
“Actually, if you’d let me use candles and not turn on any lights after dark, it would be much more authentic,” Hanna quipped.
Her mom didn’t go for that. Predictably. But it get another smile. The candles would just have to wait until Hanna had her own house.
Her own house. Something she had always wanted. Looked forward to as a natural consequence of adulthood. But at the age of 28, it was something she still didn’t have.
Life was a lot more difficult than she’d ever thought it would be. She really had very little desire to return to it.
School began much as it had the last two days. There was still some mild interest in Hanna from her classmates, but she wasn’t terribly interested in making conversation. In class, she spoke only when spoken to, and didn’t raise her hand for anything.
Until their first Geography class, when Mr. Carey tried to tell them that potatoes didn’t grow in Manitoba.
They were learning about the major industries of each province. When they got to Manitoba, Mr. Carey asked for suggestions, just as he had for the other western provinces. They’d identified agriculture, and now they were working on specifics. Someone said wheat, someone else said corn. But when Nathan Gowanloch suggested potatoes, Mr. Carey shook his head. Manitoba was too cold and dry for something as exotic as potatoes.
Hanna remembered what was coming next. Knowing she was from Manitoba, Mr. Carey was going to solicit her confirmation. Originally, she had protested weakly – feeling, somehow, that he was wrong, yet doubting herself in the face of a teacher’s superior knowledge. Lacking conviction, she had quickly capitulated.
“Hanna’s from Manitoba,” she heard him say, his voice interrupting her memories. “Any potatoes?”
Before she could answer, she noticed something different. Something that didn’t match her memory. Mr. Lawrence was standing in the doorway.
“Um…” she tried to focus on Mr. Carey. “No. I mean yes. We have potatoes in Manitoba.”
Mr. Carey’s smile began to look strained. “Sure, of course, in gardens, maybe. But you didn’t have whole fields of them.”
And she remembered, then, the real reason she had given in, before. Yes, she had doubted that she could know better than a teacher. But she had also known they grew potatoes in Manitoba. She just figured Mr. Carey was getting his information from a book, and the book must have been wrong. And she’d felt sorry for him. She knew this, because she felt sorry for him now. She didn’t want to contradict him. He was just a grade seven teacher – not exactly new, but younger than Mr. Lawrence. He couldn’t be expected to know everything.
Still, she had her convictions to stand up for. She couldn’t let these children grow up with the false belief that the province of Manitoba was devoid of potatoes.
“I don’t know how many potatoes are grown in Manitoba,” she admitted. “Maybe it’s not one of their major agricultural products. It’s not like Prince Edward Island. But there are fields of them,” she maintained, solidly. “We used to go potato picking behind the harvesters, and dig up the ones left behind.”
The class was stunned into silence. Staring at her. It was rather a long speech, she supposed. But really – it wasn’t like she’d done something extraordinary. She’d just stated some basic information about potatoes.
But she had contradicted a teacher. And – perhaps – with a bit too much confidence.
This was confirmed by an appraisal of Mr. Carey’s reaction. He was – and she knew the feeling, from experience – flummoxed.
She took a deep breath. This could go one of two ways. He could take it in good humour, admit that experience trumped the text book, and move on. Or, he could be offended. He could choose to see her assertion as a challenge to his authority and intelligence. The way he had with the writing assignment.
It looked like it was going to be the latter.
“Well,” he said, carefully laying his new piece of chalk on the chalkboard ledge. “Since you seem to know so much about Manitoba’s agriculture, Hanna, why don’t you just finish the list for us?”
It was a surreal moment. Hanna stared at Mr. Carey, wondering if he could possibly be serious. But, though his expression was neutral, and his voice tightly controlled, the tension in the air was palpable. There was no mistaking his intention: she had made a fool of him, but he would have the last laugh.
She wasn’t sure what he expected her to do. Try to get out of it? Get up there, and make an idiot of herself? Burst into tears? Maybe he wasn’t thinking about that at all. Maybe his embarrassment had made him start something without really thinking it through.
Hanna could understand that. She could sympathize. But he had just made a big mistake.
Because she wasn’t a twelve year old girl. And Mr. Lawrence was still standing at the doorway, watching the scene unfold.
Mr. Lawrence would not see her fail. She commanded her legs to stop shaking like jelly – and they did. She squashed the squirmy feeling in her stomach. She stood up, and she became Miss Graham.
Miss Graham walked confidently to the blackboard. Picked up the chalk, like it was an extension of her fingers. And in the column titled Manitoba, under wheat and corn, she wrote, in neat, even letters, potatoes.
Then, she turned to the class. In a clear voice, she asked – “Has anyone here heard of canola oil?”
After a few seconds, two hands raised, tentatively.
“Good,” she said. “Do any of you know where it comes from?”
The hands went down.
She wrote canola underneath potatoes. “Canola is a grain that was bred in Canada, from a plant called rapeseed. It has been genetically modified to produce large quantities of oil, and is grown throughout the prairies.” With effort, she avoided a rant against GMOs at this point. “It produces tiny yellow flowers, so that in the summer you drive by these huge fields of beautiful, buttercup yellow.”
She continued with the lesson. They added rye, flax, sugar beets, and sunflowers. She had a bit of extra information, or a story, for each of them. Rye was used to make sourdough bread, and was hardier than wheat. Flax produced beautiful bluish-purple flowers, and was used for its seeds and oil. The stalks could also be used to make linen. Sugar, in Canada, came from sugar beets, not sugar cane. And sunflowers were huge flowers, on stems taller than an adult, with a center like a honeycomb, each compartment containing a single sunflower seed.
The class ate it up. With each addition, they participated more. Raising their hands, asking questions, even answering them. Treating her like, well, a teacher.
“Mr. Carey is right about grains growing well in a dry climate,” she said, when their list seemed long enough. “But Manitoba gets more precipitation than Saskatchewan or Alberta, so we can grow things that they can’t. Also, I lived in a particularly fertile area of Manitoba, close to the U.S. border,” she explained. “So the farmers there took advantage of it by growing several different crops. It’s better for the soil if you can rotate, not just plant the same thing in the same spot every year.”
Nathan Gowanloch, in particular, seemed to get a kick out of this. He sat with his elbow on his desk, resting his head on his hand, looking at her with a wide grin.
“Preach it, Hanna!” he called out.
The class let out a collective burst of laughter.
For the first time since taking her place at the front of the room, Miss Graham glanced at Mr. Carey. It wasn’t hard to see that he was not happy. There was a flash of something in his eyes that told her he did not intend to let her get away with this.
But at that moment, Hanna remembered Mr. Lawrence, still standing just outside the doorway. She’d forgotten he was there. And he had the oddest look on his face.
He looked like a parent whose kid had just scored a winning goal in a hockey game.
Ok, maybe not the winning goal. Maybe not even a goal. Maybe like a really good pass.
Either way, she had to fight an answering smile. And Mr. Carey, whose back was to the doorway, looked over his shoulder to see what she was looking at.
Mr. Lawrence nodded to him, beckoning, as if he’d just arrived to speak with him. Mr. Carey joined him in the hallway, his expression carefully emptied of any traces of hostility.
While the men had words, Miss Graham tried to wrap up. “Any questions?” she asked the class, while it was still hers.
“Where’d you learn all this?” asked Tami Baker, from the front row. “Was your dad a farmer?”
“No,” said Miss Graham. “I guess I just picked it up.”
“What did your Dad do?” asked Tiffany Baker, from beside her sister.
Mr. Carey was just returning to the classroom.
Miss Graham put the chalk down, preparing to return to her desk. “He was a truck driver.”
From the back of the room, there was a loud snort, followed by a stage-whispered, disbelieving – “Truck driver?”
Miss Graham looked up in surprise. To see Yvonne Carrington, holding her pointy nose, looking like she had just heard the most hilarious thing ever.
“I’m sorry,” she said, in a high-pitched voice, doubled up in poorly concealed laughter. A couple of the girls around her shared knowing smiles and silent snickers. “Really,” said Yvonne. “It’s not funny at all.”
Hanna would have turned red. She would have been flustered. Anger and embarrassment would have rendered her unable to act.
But at the moment, she was not Hanna. She was Miss Graham. And Miss Graham was not the least bit intimidated by a girl like Yvonne Carrington.
“I’m sorry, Yvonne,” she said, coolly. “I didn’t know you were against the truck driving industry.”
The class went dead silent. Jaw down, mouth open, silent.
“What other professions would you like to laugh at?” she asked, slowly pacing the floor, without taking her eyes off the offending party. “Bus drivers? Janitors, perhaps? Waiters? Garbage men? Customer service representatives?”
“Hairdressers?” said Kristen Campbell, unexpectedly. She was turned around in her seat, her eyes narrowed toward the girl that was usually her friend.
“The ladies who clean your teeth at the dentist’s office?” added Nathan Gowanloch.
“That brings up a good point,” said Miss Graham, not cracking a smile. “Exactly how much money does a person have to earn, before you can stop yourself from making fun of them? Would bank tellers make the cut? Mechanics? Plumbers?”
She had walked down the aisle beside Yvonne’s row, and now stopped in front of her. “How much of the world doesn’t have enough money to earn your approval?”
Yvonne rose. Her face, unlike Miss Graham’s, beet red, and furious. And, without warning, her hand connected with Hanna’s cheek, with a loud slap.