“It’s March!” Mrs. Pidgeon said as she wrote the day’s date on the chalkboard. “In like a lion, out like a lamb!”
She turned around and asked her second grade class, “Anyone know what that means?” The children all looked puzzled. Then Nicholas’s hand shot up.
“Nicholas?” Mrs. Pidgeon said.
“Ah, it means that, well, lions come in from the desert, and then—”
“Lions don’t live in the desert!” Tyrone called out. “They live in the jungle!”
“No,” Barry said in his professor’s voice, “lions live on the Serengeti Plain.”
“Whatever,” Chelsea said. “Tigers live in the jungle! Isn’t that right, Mrs. Pidgeon?”
Mrs. Pidgeon sighed.
“And what about those lambs?” Tyrone added. “Lions would just eat lambs. They’d have a big lamb stew for dinner!”
“So would tigers!” said Chelsea. “They’d pig out on lamb!”
“No, they’d lamb out! Munch munch munch.” Tyrone moved his mouth ferociously. “Then they’d just spit the bones on the ground.”
Keiko gasped and covered her ears. “Oh,” she murmured, “please don’t talk about that!” “We won’t, Keiko,” Mrs. Pidgeon said. She went to Keiko’s desk and gently took her hands away from her ears.
“Actually, class, I was quoting a saying that has to do with the weather.” She went back to the board and pointed to the date. “It’s March first today, and it’s very cold outside. It’s often cold at the beginning of March. Sometimes even snowy or icy. So the saying means that the beginning of March can be very fierce, like a . . . what?”
“Tiger?” said Chelsea. “Rhino?” suggested Nicholas.
Felicia Ann timidly raised her hand. Mrs. Pidgeon nodded toward her. “Lion,” she said in her soft voice. “It means that the beginning of March is very fierce, like a lion. But the end of March is like a lamb. Gentle.”
“Good! Thank you, Felicia Ann,” the teacher said.
Malcolm began to sing loudly. “Mary had a little lamb, little lamb, little lamb . . .”
Mrs. Pidgeon put her hand firmly on his shoulder. “Enough for now, Malcolm. We’ll do some singing later today.”
Malcolm stopped singing and slouched in his seat with a scowl.
“Grumpy face, grumpy face,” Nicholas teased in a singsong voice.
“EVERYONE!” Gooney Bird said loudly. “I have an announcement.” The students all fell silent. They looked at her. Every day there was something unusual about Gooney Bird. Sometimes it was quite startling, like the day she had worn a feathered hat and elbow-length black gloves to class; sometimes it was something very small, like the rhinestone earrings that she had described as “tiny, but tasteful.”
Today Gooney Bird’s clothes were fairly ordinary, at least for Gooney Bird. She was wearing black leggings under plaid Bermuda shorts, and a sweatshirt that said humpty dumpty was pushed across her chest. On one wrist she wore a silver bracelet jingling with charms. The children all loved Gooney Bird’s charm bracelet, which she had bought at a yard sale. (“Fifty cents!” she had told them. “And it’s real silver!”) From the bracelet dangled a tiny pair of sneakers, a little rocking chair, a basketball, a pair of spectacles, a miniature Volkswagen, a lobster, a wineglass, a pipe, a book, a slice of silver pizza, and—surprisingly—a skull.
Sometimes the second-graders had tried to make up stories about the charm bracelet. They had created a story about a marathon runner who finished his race, wearing sneakers, and then drove in his VW to a pizza parlor. They had created a different story about a lady who sat rocking while she read a book and a lobster crawled across the ﬂoor and grabbed her foot.
But none of the children quite knew how to work the skull into a story. The skull was spooky. Felicia Ann had suggested that Gooney Bird detach the skull from her bracelet but Gooney Bird thought that was not a good idea. “Someone created this bracelet,” she said, “and each thing had a special meaning to that person. It wouldn’t be fair to take anything away. We’ll figure out what the skull means. It will just take time.”
She always removed the bracelet and kept it inside her desk during the school day because the jingling of the charms made it hard for the children to pay attention to their work. But today the day was just starting and Gooney Bird was still jingling.
“Does your announcement have to do with what we are talking about, Gooney Bird?” asked Mrs. Pidgeon.
Gooney Bird thought for a moment. “It doesn’t have to do with lions or lambs. And it doesn’t have to do with weather. But it has to do with March, and with school, and with what we are going to study in March.”
“Human body!” shouted Tyrone.
“Human body!” called Chelsea.
All of the second-graders joined in. “Human body! Human body!” they called.
Mrs. Pidgeon laughed. “I don’t think you need to make an announcement, Gooney Bird,” she said. “Everyone remembers what’s on our schedule. So we’ll turn to that section in our science books right now. Page fifty-two, class.”
All of the children began to turn the pages to the section that was called “The Human Body.” They had already completed the sections called “Weather” and “Insects” and “Engines.”
“But, Mrs. Pidgeon, I think I’d better make my announcement right away. Otherwise you won’t be prepared and it might come as a terrible surprise.”
“What might come as a terrible surprise, Gooney Bird?” Mrs. Pidgeon asked. She had gone to the side of the room and was pulling down a large chart that had been rolled up like a window shade. The children, watching, could see two feet appear at the bottom of the chart, then the legs, until gradually the whole outlined body was there. At its top was the smiling face of a child.
“Yikes! I wouldn’t be smiling if my whole insides were showing!” Beanie said.
“What’s that big yucky blobby thing?” Malcolm asked, making a face. He pointed to the middle section of the child’s body.
“I think maybe he ate an enormous mushroom,” Keiko murmured. “At my parents’ grocery store we sometimes have mushrooms that look like that.”
“No, he ate a giant burger,” Barry suggested. “A Triple Whopper,” Tyrone said.
“Gross,” Beanie said.
“But if you ate a mushroom or a burger, it would be all chewed up. It wouldn’t be a huge blobby lump like that,” Nicholas pointed out. “It would be moosh.”
“I don’t think I’m going to like ‘The Human Body,’ ” Felicia Ann whispered. “Not the insides, anyway.”
“I really think I ought to make my announcement,” Gooney Bird said in a very loud voice. “And by the way, that big blobby thing isn’t something the guy ate. It’s his liver.”
“You’re absolutely right, Gooney Bird,” Mrs. Pidgeon said. “Good for you! Have you been studying the human body already?”
“Sort of. I always turn to it in our encyclopedia at home. And I’ve been thinking about it a lot because I knew we were going to be studying it in science, and because—well, this is my important announcement—”
But she was interrupted. The intercom speaker made a sudden buzzing sound. The class looked startled. Mr. Leroy, the principal, had already done the morning announcements, and Monroe Zabriskie, a sixth-grader, had led the Pledge of Allegiance.
“Mrs. Pidgeon?” They recognized Mr. Leroy’s voice over the speaker.
“We have a guest here who says he is delivering a gift for your classroom.”
“A gift?” Mrs. Pidgeon looked puzzled. “I’m not expecting anything.”
The children could hear Mr. Leroy laugh. “Well, it’s quite a large box. And it looks heavy! I’d bring it down myself but I’m not sure I could manage. Your guest—Just a minute.”
They could hear the principal talking to someone else. “Your name again?” they heard him ask. Then he returned to his microphone. “Your guest, Dr. Walter Oglethorpe, says he’s happy to deliver it to the classroom. Shall I send him down?”
“Well, I suppose so,” Mrs. Pidgeon said in a confused voice.
“All right. He’ll be there shortly.” They could hear Mr. Leroy click the microphone off.
“Gooney Bird?” Mrs. Pidgeon said. “Does this have something to do with the important announcement you were trying to make?”
Gooney Bird nodded.
“And this person—Dr. Walter Oglethorpe? He is—?”
“My Uncle Walter. Actually, he’s my mother’s uncle.”
“That makes him your Great-Uncle Walter.”
“Right. My Great-Uncle Walter. He’s a professor at the medical school.”
“And he has a gift for us? In a large box?” Gooney Bird nodded. “Don’t freak out,” she said.
“What is it? And why is he bringing it?” asked Mrs. Pidgeon. She went to the closed classroom door and looked through its window.
Gooney Bird sighed. “It will be very educational. And he doesn’t need it right now so we can borrow it. And it’s connected to what we’re studying.”
“ ‘THE HUMAN BODY’! HE’S BRINGING US A HUMAN BODY!” Chelsea shouted.
“Don’t be silly, Chelsea,” Mrs. Pidgeon said. “Here he comes.” She opened the door.
“Please don’t freak out, anyone!” Gooney Bird said to the class.
Keiko and Felicia Ann had both covered their eyes. Malcolm was standing up at his desk and ﬂapping his hands the way he always did when he was nervous or excited. The class was whispering and giggling, but everyone fell completely silent when a tall, balding man entered, awkwardly carrying a very long, narrow box.
“Coffin,” announced Barry in an awed voice. “It’s a coffin!”
The man smiled and looked at Barry. “Good guess, young man,” he said. “But not quite.”