A symphony of sounds—running footsteps, slamming lockers, shrieks, giggles, and the sharp reprimands of Mrs. Cane, the teacher on duty—alerted Mrs. Andrews to the fact that her fourth graders were finished with recess. One by one, sweating, skinny, squirming bodies converged on the classroom with a noise level created only by hyper children. It was going to be a long afternoon.
“Okay, class—take your seats.” Mrs. Andrews moved to the front, ready to corral stragglers. “Charlie, that means you. In your seat. No, you can’t let the class guinea pig out. Sit. Kaylee, what are you doing? Did I ask you to erase the chalkboard?”
“No, I didn't. Seat, please.” Resisting the urge to rub her forehead, Mrs. Andrews, instead, sequestered the sigh that punched at her lungs and put on her smiling face.
“Alright, who can tell me what we’ve been talking about in science?”
As usual, Amy’s hand was the first in the air.
“Space!” Max blurted out.
“Right. What kind of things in space?”
Amy’s hand wiggled.
“Very good. And what are stars made of?”
A twitter of laughter rippled across the room, and Max pinched his nose between his thumb and forefinger.
“Not that kind of gas, Max, but thank you for paying attention. Next time raise your hand. Today we’re going to be talking about something new. Instead of telling you, I want to see if you can guess what it is. I’ll give you a clue, and then you have to ask questions to find out what it is. Got it?”
A few heads bobbed, some noses were picked, a pencil was dropped, a few kids in the back row tried to stifle the giggles that had been ongoing since Max’s mention of “gas,” and Amy’s prim voice piped up, “Got it!”
Mrs. Andrews shook her head. “Okay, here’s your clue. It’s similar to a vacuum cleaner because it sucks things in.”
Jimmy, one of the gigglers, stopped giggling. “There are vacuum cleaners in outer space?”
“Duh. Alien kids have moms too, ya know.”
The giggling got louder.
“No, Jimmy. I said it’s LIKE a vacuum, meaning that objects get sucked into it. And, Max, one more word without a raised hand and you’re writing spelling words.”
Jimmy raised his hand again. “So if stuff gets sucked in, what about people?”
“Well, there aren’t really people in space, but, yes, I suppose so. If you were in a spaceship and you got too close to this ‘mystery word’ you’d get sucked in, as well.”
“So you better stay away from it, huh?”
“If you’re traveling through space, yes.”
“Could it suck in the earth?” Charlie wanted to know.
“No. You see, this ‘mystery word’ has what is called a ‘horizon,’ or a border. You have to cross the border in order to be sucked in.”
Max’s hand shot toward the ceiling. “What does it look like?” Then, after seeing her glare, he objected. “I raised my hand! Didn’t I raise my hand! You saw me!”
To her future detriment, she assumed, Mrs. Andrews chose to ignore the issue. “I suppose you’d call it black, but in fact, you can’t really see it.”
“If we can’t see it, how do we know it exists?”
“Because you can see the objects being sucked in.”
“What if you accidentally get sucked in?” Jimmy wanted to know. “Can you get out?”
“Nope. Once you’re in, you’re stuck. Not even light can escape.”
“I bet God could get stuff out,” Amy corrected. “God can do anything.”
“Well, yes.” Mrs. Andrews hesitated, knowing she wasn’t allowed to dwell on the subject at a public school but not wanting to let it slip away. “God CAN do anything, Amy. So I guess I should say, only God could pull something out of it. Alright.” She clapped her hands together. “Let’s review.” She held up a finger. “It sucks things in”—a second finger—“you can avoid it if you stay away from it”—third—“you can’t see it, but you can see objects falling into it, and without God’s help, nothing can escape. Any guesses?”
Danny, a nose picker, blew a snot bubble.
Mrs. Andrews sighed. "Danny, get a Kleenex. You know better than that. Come on, guys, pay attention. Any guesses?”
Quietly, in the back row, shy little Rachel raised her hand. “I know,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper. “It’s sin.”
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