by Carmen Mason

Miss Benita Kroll, an early survivor of the raging blows from an initially beguiling but soon thankless husband, taught fourth grade at Boothbay Elementary her whole life. Her mother, Emerald Baxter (jewel-named but quite plain) begged her to flee to a new town, but she decided to stay put.

Never to be fooled by appearances again, Miss Kroll sized up her students in about five days: who the sheep, who the sheepdogs, who the wolves and who the stallion (never more than one) to finally reveal itself and canter deftly through, with grace and restraint to June.

At first Miss Kroll thought Loti sheep-like, unassuming, somewhat withdrawn or perhaps just reticent, like one with a secret treasured rather than shameful. She was skinny and wore home-made dresses (Miss Kroll could tell by the original styles, unusual fabrics and buttons and hand-stitched hems) and her brown hair was long and loose and looked home-cut, probably with a kitchen scissor or a razor. She was alert, articulate when called upon and she wrote about books and dreams, beetles and mica schist, and  solitary walks through the oval gardens near her project (the only one in Boothbay). And Freddy and Peter, the two most handsome boys (one a wolf, the other a sheepdog) were in love with her, probably because she was feminine and gentle-voiced yet rode her bike to school, played all the rough games (but as if she were all alone in them), her knees forever bandaged or scabbed over. Her eyes were hazel-green and they looked long and deep at things but not, Miss Kroll incorrectly assessed, at people.

What convinced Miss Kroll that Loti was the stallion – the one whose promise would flower by Spring if not sooner- was the prescient and life-changing act Loti performed one day while on a school trip to the zoo.

As Miss Kroll and her class wandered past the caged lions, pacing and listing back and forth, back and forth, Loti didn’t stop, taunt, laugh or throw peanuts at them as her class mates were doing, smug in their safe, railed off distance. Instead she waved regretfully at the lions, then walked quickly ahead, noticing the rare chipmunks and the bright colored birds flying free. Then, while she still heard her teacher’s calm yet stern reprimands to the class, Loti heard another voice, a loud and piercing harangue and looked ahead to a small bridge arched across a stagnant stream leading to the aviary. A towering woman, arms flailing, was glaring down at a small girl in a stroller. The child, chocolate ice cream dribbling down her chin onto her bright pink sweater, her hands dripping, her ice cream cone now smashed on the overpass, looked up, her face looking lost and afraid. A sweet small child, Loti uttered inside.  Lost and afraid.

“I told you, I told you but do you ever listen?” the woman railed at the child. Then she bent down and unhooked her brown high-wedged shoe. “I’ll teach you, I’ll teach you to listen…” and she drew the shoe high up over the child.

“Oh no, oh no, you’ll stop that at once,” Loti yelled. “No way will you touch her, no way!” Then she leaped into the air and grabbed the poor shoe, then threw it far into the stream.

Miss Kroll and the classmates now surrounded this scene, but not one word or gasp could be heard. The teacher stood ready. The children stood awe-struck. The child in the stroller gently sobbed. Then the shocked woman limped to the bridge’s edge, looked toward the lost shoe, then back at the shocked girl, both seemingly aghast at what they had done. Then the woman returned and bent slowly down to the small child, now silent and still.

The speechless class crossed the bridge lead by their teacher and Loti joined them. But only a minute passed before the woman rose and turning toward them all, called out loud and clear as they receded, “I’m sorry, damn sorry. I won’t ever do that again. Don’t know what got into me – I’m so, so sorry.”

Whether Loti held memories, treasured or shameful, Miss Kroll never learned.  But she knew she’d found her stallion early that year.


I have always written poetry and prose as meditation and to make some sense of things.
They are a way to duel and dance with love and fear, joy and discovery.