Bea walks into the classroom wearing the clothes she had on the day before. The Teacher understands that this is going to be a bad day. Bea’s hair is uncombed, face unwashed. She arrives precisely twelve seconds late. Not so late that the Teacher has to make a big deal about it. But not on time. Bea walks like a prisoner forcibly escorted, snatching herself along, step by step, then pouring her thin body into the seat. She has no books, no pencil or paper. She drapes herself over the desk and waits for the Teacher to continue or challenge.

The Teacher rides the L two stops from the school and into an entirely different country. Chicago pieces itself together that way. The platform at her station offers a clear view of the rear deck of her condo and she always looks. Sometimes she hopes to catch her husband there with a woman, a stranger or a friend, his hand invading the buttons of this woman’s shirt, taking a fistful of her breast. This has never happened. She is relieved and disappointed. Occasionally she catches him grilling in the brown sandals she hates. She feels like a spy trying to decipher her own life.

The Teacher grew up in the country and has seen things die the right way. You can’t die right in the city. There’s no place to take yourself off to be alone with your thoughts and the last wind you will ever feel. In the living room, her husband reads a magazine with his ancient cat on his lap. She has told him that it is far past time for that cat. He was disgusted by her cruelty. She shouldn’t have married a man from the city.

The Teacher dissects Bea as the girl walks toward her classroom. She looks like a doll made for tea parties that was thrown outside to fend for itself. A nobility lives in Bea’s bones, an ancient, undiluted beauty that most eyes have forgotten. She grows in angles. The broadness of her nose and the wide, sculpted divot leading down to her lips and the deep, delicate hollows behind her collarbone. The disorder of her swarming hair, misshapen and dusty, but still a laurel.

The Teacher raises a glass to her friend the Engineer, who has been promoted. The Teacher can’t afford this restaurant, but the Advertising Executive will pay. She always pays. They crowd around a laptop, perfumes mingling, to watch her latest car commercial. The waiters weave around the obstruction. Someone asks about the Lawyer’s big case that has not been decided yet. The Other Lawyer handles lucrative but ethically disgusting cases that no one asks about. The Teacher knows how her friends imagine her in class, as sure as a mother goose, with students trailing obediently behind. Every gathering, she is sainted anew for her work. She regains a bit of purpose and savors it as long as she can, until it evaporates, processed into the air of the school.