“Eliza, your mother needs to be changed,” David yelled across the classroom.
Six-year-old Eliza threw her multi-colored blocks at the tower she had been creating. The mini architectural masterpiece flew into pieces, adding to the mess of toys already on the floor.
“Already? I just changed her!” She tossed her head back dramatically and stomped over to the corner where the parents were watching a Disney movie.
David was used to the theatrics of the children. But he was finding it hard to get used to babying the grownups. It had only been a week since adults all over the country had started reverting to the mental state of infants. Right now he was helping a couple of his kindergarten students feed snacks to their parents. They spit most of it out, whining at the fresh veggie sticks more than their children did.
“This will make you grow big and strong, Dad,” tiny Claire told the large truck driver wedged half under the rainbow kiddie table. A carrot went flying into the DVD player across the room. The Beast and Belle stopped dancing as the DVD ejected. Deep-voiced wails erupted from the crowd that had been contentedly watching.
“No, Daddy, we don’t throw things!” Claire scurried to the TV and pushed the DVD back in. A few parents continued to sniff to themselves, but most were quieted by the flash of colors on the screen.
“Open wide for the airplane!” David made whooshing noises and flew some broccoli through the air for the benefit of a skeptical mother. Her low-cut dresses no longer aroused the same feelings in him that they had a few weeks ago. “If you finish this last broccoli, you can go watch the movie with the others.”
She scowled at the offensive vegetable, no comprehension showing in her eyes. Just yesterday she had been able to follow simple directions. They were getting worse. David sighed and sent the rest of the holdouts to sit in front of the TV.
“But they didn’t eat it all. It’s not fair!” Michael always made a fuss about vegetables and David always told him they had to finish everything before they could go play.
“And when you’re an adult, you can decide what you eat, too.” It was all too much. David flipped the switch on the wall near the door and watched the kids curl up with their parents in front of the movie. Like magic.
He tiptoed to the bathroom at the back of the room. A tall cabinet full of cleaning supplies and extra pants (accidents happen) stood in the corner next to the diminutive urinals. David had recently stocked it with adult diapers from the store down the street. Though money had always been tight, he didn’t mind picking up the supplies. There was no paying for things these days. There weren’t many people left who knew enough to care about money.
A pyramid of toilet paper rolls hid David’s bag, out of reach on the top of the cabinet. He pulled it down and fumbled inside for the bottle. Drinking on the job wasn’t allowed, of course. But his boss was sitting on the ABC rug with her finger up her nose, so what did it matter?
He gulped a mouthful and grimaced. Yuck! He wasn’t much of a drinker. But there was something about going out and picking up diapers for 40 year-olds that made David grab the vodka as well.
He wrinkled his nose at the liquid sloshing inside before screwing on the lid. It would be there later.
He wondered if there was time to nap a little before the movie ended. This was his first time being surrounded by people who needed constant care 24 hours a day. It was exhausting. Before this all began, whatever this was, the kids were gone by 4:00. But for the last few days, he was all they had. He had hardly had any time to himself since.
The first couple of days Miss Abner from across the hall had helped. But now David had to take care of her students and their parents in addition to his own while she tried to put her foot in her mouth.
He decided against the nap and sat with his legs crossed on the cold tile opposite the propped-open door. His thumb slid to the corner of his mouth as he leaned his head against the wall and started to nod off. He was so sleepy.
David’s mouth stretched in a gaping yawn as the characters sang the closing number. He shook the fuzz from his brain and stood. He’d forgotten how good that movie was. They could watch it again later. On with the lights.
“Who wants to go outside and play?”
A chorus of “I do” answered. The kids grabbed their parents’ hands—a built-in buddy system. At least now he didn’t have to hear them whine about their buddies any more. They walked down the empty halls together, their footsteps echoing in the abandoned classrooms. David felt the absence of the other adults and students like a weight. For all he knew, he was the last man on earth. The last who could write his name, anyway.
Outside was sweltering. David didn’t like the hot. He wanted to go inside and rest. But it was good for the students and their parents to get some fresh air. The kids ran to the swings and slides and seesaws, leaving their parents standing in the middle of the yard with their fingers in their mouths.
David wanted to play, too. He knew he should wait his turn, but he really wanted to swing. So when Michael got off he jumped the line and started pumping.
“Hey!” someone yelled.
Yeah, David was being a bad boy. He should get off and let someone else have a turn. When the swing reached its apex, he leapt into the air. His legs collapsed when he hit the ground, sending a shock through his shins.
The kids were staring now. He didn’t like it when they stared. And his leg really hurt. And it was hot. And he was sleepy. He didn’t like it! He ran through the gate, away from the playground. Outside, his foot slipped over the curb and he crashed to the ground. He jumped up and brushed the gravel from his knees. His hand came away hot and sticky. That was it. David sat down in the middle of the road and began to cry.