The children chatted excitedly with each other as they walked into the classroom. It was a typical Tuesday. Most children weren’t usually this excited to go to school. Most children didn’t have Ms. Frizzle as a teacher.
What would it be today? Would Ms. Frizzle zap them all down to microscopic size and take them on a water-park-themed ride through Arnold’s gut? Or would she finally yank the tarp off of that bulky object in the parking lot, revealing it to be a spaceship? The children had all peeked, of course.
However, as the children pushed past one another to be the first in the door, they were greeted by none of those things. The woman standing behind the desk wasn’t Ms. Frizzle at all! Rather than Ms. Frizzle’s fiery red curls, this woman has gray wisps that seemed more like the idea of hair. Instead of Ms. Frizzle’s usual wacky earrings, dull pearls adorned this woman’s ears.
The strange woman didn’t say a word as the children took their seats. Only when the last one was seated did she say: “Good morning, class.”
The children echoed an uneasy “good morning.”
“Ms. Frizzle couldn’t be here today.” Her nasal voice was as dull as her beige outfit. “I am the substitute teacher, Ms. Drizzle. My understanding is that Ms. Frizzle usually takes you on an exciting adventure. Don’t worry, kids. We are still going on an adventure.”
The children’s eyes lit up. “Oh gee, Ms. Drizzle! Where are we going? The moon? The ocean? To build a suspension bridge over Phoebe’s toilet?”
“Even better, class,” wheezed Ms. Drizzle. “Arlington, Texas.” She snapped her fingers. A massive Greyhound bus honked twice outside. The children looked at one another. Uh oh.
After 17 excruciating hours, during which each of the children visited the bathroom exactly once, and each of the children spent exactly one second in that bathroom before deciding that nothing could be that urgent, the bus ground to a halt. The children looked outside.
“Globe Life Park,” drawled Ms. Drizzle. “Home of the Rangers. They’re playing the Mariners today. I figured you all could use a change of pace from all the excitement that Ms. Frizzle gives you. Save your hearts a few years of wear and tear.”
Twenty minutes later, the class had filed through the gates and into their seats, just in time to watch Lance Lynn strike out Mitch Haniger and Domingo Santana back-to-back. Daniel Vogelbach grounded out to end the inning. Wanda, the only one who knew much about baseball, said: “Well, at least this could be a real pitcher’s duel!”
A slight smirk formed on Ms. Drizzle’s face. She said nothing, only gestured at the Mariner trotting out to take the mound. Wanda’s smile faded. “What’s a Tommy Milone?”
The sun baked the children as the innings dragged on. Mariner after Mariner walked to the plate. Mariner after Mariner struck out, helpless before Lance Lynn’s barrage of okay-ness. Even the runs that the Rangers scored offered no respite from the boredom, divided by walks, ground-outs, and other boring manifestations of mediocrity.
Arnold was the first to complain. “Ms. Drizzle, what are we supposed to be learning here? Is it the physics of baseball? The effects of swinging a bat on the human body? The dangers of extended sun exposure?”
“No,” said Ms. Drizzle. “It’s nothing like that. You children have been over-exposed to too much fun. It’s not realistic. Real life isn’t like that. Real life is a slog. Real life is boring. Real life,” she paused. “Is the Mariners.”
Confused, Arnold looked at Keisha. Keisha was looking back at Arnold with horror. “Arnold,” she exclaimed. “You have graying five-o-clock shadow!”
Arnold felt his chin. Indeed, small hairs had sprouted across his chin. He looked again at Keisha. Her face was losing its tautness, giving way to the wear of time in no time at all.
Lance Lynn struck out Mitch Haniger for the third time in three at-bats, and Arnold’s whiskers grew, and Keisha’s wrinkles deepened. Tim’s hair grayed, and Phoebe’s hands began to shake. The children began to cry.
An inning later, however, something in the air changed. A large Mariner, who the scoreboard said was Daniel Vogelbach, walked! Edwin Encarnación singled, and then Omar Narváez did too! And then Jay Bruce his a sacrifice fly. Suddenly, the Mariners were scoring! Suddenly, the children’s bodies seemed to stop aging. Phoebe’s hands seemed okay. Arnold caught a glance of Tim’s hair, which really looked more like a touch of gray, rather than just regular gray. They were saved!
Except they weren’t. As Ms. Drizzle watched the children, a horrific grin curling her lips, they went right back to aging as J.P. Crawford and Tim Beckham struck out.
“Don’t you see?” she hissed. “It’s inevitable. It happened to me, it happened to the Mariners, and it’s going to happen to you. Nobody ends up happy. There’s no Ms. Frizzle in Arlington, Texas, or anywhere in the real world for that matter.”
As the Mariners were summarily retired to end the eighth, and then the ninth, Arnold felt himself growing fatigued. Am I really that tired? Is this really real life? he wondered. He saw the rest of the class, now fully wrinkled, fully grayed, fully bent, fully aged. Each had previously been panicking, but now they looked peaceful as their eyelids drooped. Unable to stop himself, Arnold let his own eyelids droop. At least we had fun while we could, he managed to think. With Ms. Frizzle.
Arnold’s eyes snapped open. He looked around, unsure of where he was. Then, in a flash, he recognized it all. The off-white melamine walls of his cubicle. The Raúl Ibañez bobblehead he’d had since 2007. The glaring blue computer screen, and the decidedly not-ergonomic keyboard.
What a strange dream, he thought. Oh well, back to work before Mr. Drizzle notices.
The phone rang. Arnold picked it up automatically. “Drizzle Copper Wire Logistics & Trading, this is Arnold.” It was just another wire order. Like always.
Arnold drove home in his Toyota Camry, too tired to stop by the grocery store. He heated up a frozen pizza, and cracked a Rainier. After just two innings of the Mariners game saw Mike Leake give up seven runs to the White Sox, he went to bed. As he was brushing his teeth, he looked in the mirror. For the first time, he noticed a wrinkle on his forehead.
As he crawled into bed and closed his eyes, Arnold had a thought. Is this it? Is this really, really it? He thought about his dream. He was still going to go back to school to be a scientist. Eventually. He really was. That’s what Ms. Frizzle must have symbolized. He thought about the Seattle Times article from earlier that year. About how Jerry Dipoto had said that the window was really going to be in 2021.
It will be, he thought. It has to be. 2021. Arnold smiled.
There’s still time.