ROOM 221 by Cheryl McGuire
Room 221 bustles. The Home Ec class is brightly lit by a bank of south-facing windows. Refrigerators, sinks, counters, and ironing boards line the perimeter. Two rows of stoves stand back-to-back. Opposite, twenty Singer sewing machines are set, ready and waiting.
What stands out in Room 221 is Freddie, a tall dark-haired, good-looking kid, full of confidence. Adorned with a knowing grin and a pink and green apron, Freddie is the only male in the class. He is worldly-wise and suggestive, his white shirt two sizes too small, stretched to bursting across his brawny chest, sleeves rolled up, everything maximized. He sweats magnetism and shimmers with swagger as he stirs something in a pot on the stove. The room steams. Flustered damsels giggle and blush crimson. A stanchion of conviction, Freddie told his friends, “If you want girls, you go where the girls are.” Freddie’s the only one with guts.
He’s right. Nature runs amok in Room 221. Girls buzz Freddie like flies and bees and garden fleas. He is high school’s nectar of the gods. Even old Mrs. Hurlburt, poor thing, well into her sixth decade of life, has a hint of peach-pink flushing her cheeks now and again. She fans herself often with her potholder.
There’s Margarite, a raven-haired Betty Boop, with her black coifed bouffant and Cleopatra-lined eyes. Physically gifted and emotionally sly, Margarite’s Maidenform does all the talking for her. She rounds the corner from behind her stove, gliding the long way around, past all the other stoves, heading toward Freddie. She capitalizes on a slow stride and the long view. When she arrives, Margarite leans in, pot in hand, reaching across Freddie’s torso for his salt, brushing her cashmere covered chest against his arm. Loitering there, she studies the shaker like an epicurean, shakes a sprinkling into her soup, replaces the shaker in the manner she fetched it, turns, and glides back to her stove. Mrs. Hurlburt looks down and frowns. Margarite has salt of her own.
Short, short Bobbie Jo, freckled with a chipmunk smile, cooks at the stove abutting Freddie’s. She flames instant-red if Freddie but cricks his neck in her direction. All the sewing girls have abandoned their pattern cutting and crowded round Bobbie Jo’s stove. The young women chirp and goo-gaw, fret and wiggle. The way they carry on, you’d think Bobbi Jo’s soup was a culinary masterpiece. They could give a hoot about the soup – it’s the easiest way to enter Freddie’s proximity and avoid trouble. They chirp and add more salt. They chirp and add pepper. They chirp and stir and chirp and blow on a spoonful, but no one dares taste it. The toxic brown liquid would curdle steel. Their extreme twittering attracts Mrs. Hurlburt. Shoo fly. She flutters her potholder and waves them on.
The bell rings. Freddie removes his apron and hangs it up. He is deliberate, slow. Posture straight and head erect, Freddie is proud and exits the room puffed up like a king, the lasses in chaos behind him, rushing to cleanup, pushing and shoving for position. Freddie knows the boys will be gathered outside the door, wide-eyed and agog, disbelieving the shrieking feminine flurry. Freddie doesn’t stop. The Pied Piper of maidens, Freddie turns left and strolls down the hall, the fillies jockeying behind him. He is the rock star of Room 221.