Todd’s mother answered the door. She stood there staring blankly at Lily-Rose, without recognition or curiosity, and said, “I’m not interested.” She started to close the door.
“Mrs Caper?” Lily-Rose said quickly. “I’m Todd’s English teacher, Ms Roades. I was just wondering how he is doing.”
“Oh,” said Todd’s mother. “Oh, well, come in. I’m so sorry, we get so many suspicious people coming to the door!”
Do you? Lily-Rose thought, slightly ill-at-ease with the lack of some kind of immediate connection with Todd’s mother. There was always something, she found, when you met someone new, if you looked. A warmth in the eyes, a recognition of challenges shared. A camaraderie based on a flimsy but mutual instinct. She felt none of that, and neither did Mrs Caper.
Todd’s mother was tall and thin, with wavy, partially grey hair pushed behind her ears, and now that she was smiling, was not unattractive.
She stood aside and Lily-Rose tentatively entered the Caper home.
Nothing wrong with it. Clean, carefully decorated and tended. Framed pictures on the living room walls, though Lily-Rose would be hard-pressed to remember their content later.
“How is he doing?” she asked Mrs Caper.
“Well of course the flu became pneumonia,” said Mrs Caper, as if that was the established progression of life. “He has always been delicate. I’ve done my best.” She looked at her watch.
“Of course,” said Lily-Rose. She held out a small brown paper bag. “I brought some fresh grapes,” she said smiling,” it’s kind of a traditional offering.”. Mrs Caper took the bag, looked inside, and then back at Lily-Rose. There was an odd silence. “May I see him?” said Lily-Rose.
Todd’s bedroom had the usual accoutrements expected of a “normal” affluent teenager: expensive computer, posters of badly photographed women, blood-spattered heavy metal band posters, wi-fi speakers everywhere, yet the room was completely neat and in order. Mom had obviously taken her son’s weak moment as an opportunity to tidy up.
His bed was dishevelled; a sign of restless sickness and restless sleep. A pitcher of once-icy water and a clean glass were set on the bedside table. There was a small plastic tub, too, presumably to catch any stray vomit. The room was not stuffy since the window opposite the bed was wide open. The curtains moved lazily, like ghosts.
Todd looked a little pale, with not unexpected dark circles under his eyes. He looked at her with a pronounced What the Fuck expression.
Which was not surprising, since Lily-Rose and Todd had evolved into mortal enemies since the start of the spring semester. He refused any attempts at discipline, and bordered on physical threats. Lily-Rose had never experienced such hostility in her teaching career before, and needed to see where he came from. She needed to know if it was her failing, or his– or no one’s failing, but a circumstance to be endured, a problem to pass on to his next set of teachers.
“How are you feeling?” Lily-Rose asked when his mother finally retreated from the room.
He didn’t answer. He stared at the ceiling.
“I have your last test results with me,” said Lily-Rose. “And a little outline about what we are studying now, into next month.”
He then turned his gaze on her. “Get out,” he said.
“Here,” Lily-Rose said, pulling a sheet of paper out of her soft-sided briefcase, “is your answer to one of the test questions, Use ‘pensive’ in a sentence.” She read his answer: “He was very pensive.” Then she looked up and smiled.
“I thought that demonstrated a sense of humour,” she said.
“I don’t care about you, your class, what you think, who you fuck,” said Todd.
Ouch, thought Lily-Rose.
“Well, I appreciate a sense of humour,” she said. “But anyway the main reason I am here is to apologize.”
He pretended not to be interested.
“I came into the classroom when I had the flu,” said Lily-Rose. “I should have stayed home. I’m sure you caught the bug from me.”
Todd looked startled. Lily-Rose concluded he was expecting a different kind of apology. She was intensely interested in what apology Todd expected. She was missing something.
Mrs Caper came into the room, unannounced, with a thermometer. Lily-Rose stood up.
“Let me show you out,” said Mrs Caper.
They walked to the front door, and Mrs Caper said politely, “Thank you for coming.”
Lily-Rose caught her eye, and held it for a moment. “Please keep me informed,” she said.
And she walked home, thinking about the look in Mrs Caper’s eyes, and what it meant in relation to Todd. She understood it completely. It was a look of complete detachment, disinterest, distance, and disdain.
That was the look that Todd, as a child and now an adolescent, faced every day. Lily-Rose would think about it, but she believed when Todd returned to school, they might become allies instead of enemies.