Anna knew that her stores of knowledge might not be appropriate for the hodgepodge group of children who attended her classes. When Justine and one of the miners’ wives showed her around, they explained that the last teacher had regularly taken the children out fishing in the afternoons instead of focusing deeply on history or math. Anna knew what it felt like to have a free heart, but she wasn’t sure about fishing, or accepting beer as tokens of affection, which the last teacher had also been known to do. The miners’ wives thought Anna was too young to teach their children in a firm and uplifting manner. How could someone younger than they were know enough to share? What they didn’t know was that Anna was a fountain, a dictionary, a travel journal, a lightning rod.
What she knew the most about were the places and people on the Earth. Her modern train station Bedouin parents had seen to that. When she was ten they lived near Chinatown in San Francisco, and Anna had known as fact that temples are not always on postcards and are sometimes underground. That gold, green, and red silks are not only smoothed out at Christmas. She knew that there really are gold and red dragons that snake through city streets; if you close your eyes tight enough you don’t even see the dozen pairs of legs pushing the dragons forward. She also knew that man-made things disappeared underground, and became layers of rock and ancient history, and that our future selves with similar faces would dig with chisels and dynamite into the rock and pull out your mother’s fine china. Sometimes the Earth shakes and rattles the plates and cups and bowls above and below.
Anna also, like all wise humans, that she had a lot to learn, especially from children. The miners’ children were sweet and dusty and cold and probably homesick for places where you could swim outside in summer. Their rapid growth would be a lesson in biology and evolution for her. She could learn from the songs they sang and the games they played, as an academic.
On her first day of teaching Anna heard the children clambering up the grey-silver steps to the classroom. The hallway that led to her was long, and their voices echoed and their tin lunchboxes clanged and pounded against their legs. Anna stood up from her chair and smoothed her dress down, trying to smile with teeth but quickly retracted the smile into a small smirk. It suited her more. It suited her style. She was calm and cool and collected and she would be the teacher that the younger girls would want to grow into.