“How are you feeling, Philip? Mrs. Armstrong asked. Philip looked up from his book.
“How are your parents?”
“Is everything okay at home?” Philip looked up in alarm. Mr. Atwood had asked the same question. Had something happened to his Mom? “You can tell me. I’m your friend, Philip.” Philip looked at her.
“Everything’s fine.” He looked back at the page and tried reading again. Mrs. Armstrong opened her mouth to say something, but then closed it again. She looked at the thin awkward boy. He seemed so uncomfortable in his own skin. Even as he sat he rocked back and forth, reaching down to pull up a sinking sock or yank at the sleeves of his T-shirt. He was very smart. She did know that. However, he would turn in unfinished papers with the mangled text extending to the very edge of the page and then following it down to the bottom of the page before shooting back up to the next line, often skipping words or seeming to start an entirely new paragraph. And what papers! A simple paragraph on the history lesson would begin with a fragment sentence answering the question before dissolving into a rambling essay or story or something. Characters from TV shows would make an appearance, along with leprechauns preaching long sermons about the dangers of household appliances or magical doorways or a host of vices. Strangely comic situations whose narrators would invariably run from the rooming howling “I’m outta’ here!” followed by strings of exclamation points would punctuate the most mundane writing assignment or even the backs of science worksheets or spelling lists. That, of course, was when he’d turn homework in at all. His homework was always late. He would bring the wrinkled and dirty pages of homework in weeks or months overdue and put them inconspicuously on the edge of her desk. She watched as the boy bulldozed through the pages sniffing his nose loudly and pushing up his glasses. She had seen his parents several times already this year. They were a nice middle class suburban couple who tried their hardest to work with their son, but had lately shown the strain of dealing with him through a non-committal indifference or exasperated surrender. The question was whether he was a problem child or simply eccentric. As young as he was his behavior could be easily written off as boyish immaturity. But what if it continued? With the world the way it was today was this a boy we would someday read about in the papers? Mrs. Armstrong considered the boy and then decided not to press this latest issue.
A clanging bell ushered the shouting and breathless children back into school after recess. As they settled down, Mrs. Armstrong wrote the words “Halley’s Comet” on the chalkboard.