‘Because pretending was sometimes the only way to get through the day.’

an empty playground, in black and white
Photo by Eric Vondy via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In a piece of short fiction in the Nashville Review, Paul Crenshaw brings us a teacher helping her fidgety students pass a rainy recess indoors with a familiar childhood game — don’t touch the floor, it’s lava! — who finds that the ability to pretend takes on an unexpected gravity when violence visits the school. The story is sweet and sad, nostalgic and timely, dreamy and painfully realistic.

Then Jeremy slipped from his seat on the radiator and Joel jumped from the coat hooks, not quite making it to his desk, both their feet touching the floor, and the other kids called for them to be out. In the back of the room Hannah and Jody were pretending to be statues where they stood on their sleeping mats, which Ms. Young supposed was technically off the floor. She looked at her watch. The rain still fell down. There was still 23 minutes left in recess and another hour left in the day and it was too early for anyone to be out. They’d had no recess since before noon, no time to run and throw their arms up and scream, and Jeremy would sulk and perhaps storm if he were forced to sit out, so she told them that lava sometimes cooled slightly on top, and if you were quick as a hiccup you could touch it—slightly, children, ever so slightly—as you went from place to place.

Which of course sent them swinging around the room. Clinging to the backs of chairs, flinging themselves from wall to wall. A game of it. Because it was dark with the flickering lights. Because children needed to play, to let their imaginations explode. Because pretending was sometimes the only way to get through the day.

Read the story