Mandy by Sandy Olson-Hill
It is explained to me there will be six students to participate. Mandy is either new or returned, a lot of the students are. Anagrams and labels abound. ADD and OCD. Cognitive disabilities, Tourettes or on the autism spectrum, like my grandson. Like me. We will be studying art today. Making fun in the academic atmosphere of polite where the small and strident arts are compacted. Are compressed neatly into cubbyholes. Next, stifled, stuffed, and jelly-rolled into seam-strained backpacks, between the background sounds of Sesame Street, and nursery rhymes. As the newest volunteer, I balance in this space. And I will this to work. I will this to matter. Lining up my paint brushes like the days of the week, I note I need six. Not seven. Take away one makes six. and two, makes one for me and one for you. Colan is at a corner table with ear phones on, eyes programmed to ignore. One of the two paraprofessionals is holding Mandy’s brother Danny. He is seven, and nursing on a bottle. He’s regressing, she mouths; we think something’s happened. I place my supplies on the table, an opened bag of red-glittered hearts, construction paper, ribbons, nontoxic glue, no scissors, no sharps, and crayons. Mandy eats crayons. Mandy eats stickers too. I say her name, and ask if she wants to participate. The other frenzied paraprofessional says, “She won’t know what you’re saying. She can’t understand”. There is a moment of commotion. What do you have in your hand Mandy? Followed by a confrontation, a shuffle, and a hush until the door bangs open. Until the paraprofessional exits, glaring at Mandy for slapping her. I look at Mandy. And then, I think of my grandson who caps FOR GOD’S SAKE STOP on his homework assignment. I think of my grandson who brings two desserts to school, a spare to share, a bribe, and a plea to make a friend. I think of my grandson struggling to stop the flow of squawks, of shrieks, of barks, of tics, and I think of my grandson until I exalt in her action. I want to applaud, to celebrate, to smooth away the mark on her wrist, to mantra chant #resist, resist until her red-glittered heart is a fist.
Sandy Olson-Hill is a disabled artist, a cat lady, and a writer. Recent publications include Anomaly Literary Journal, and Tuck. Awards include Academy of American Poets Prize, Open Doors Short Fiction Award.