Edgar hated manning the door during changeover at lunch. He’d taken the job in the offices of the West Village Early Childhood Development Center because, well, it was a job. A thing with a desk and a computer and tasks he knew how to complete, or could at least learn how to complete after a quick internet search. But this direct interaction with the children was overwhelming. His main objective was something like stopping them all from blindly running into the street like feral cats. His obstacles were many. Edgar didn’t know these children, didn’t spend his day with them like the teachers. He was a slightly animate statue to most of them, not a trusted person whom they needed to obey. In addition, he didn’t know ANY children. How do you control a child with only your voice? Edgar could control animals. Brusque shouts of an animal’s name followed by sharp hissing or claps would usually stop it from doing whatever it was doing. Could he clap at these children? How loud could he be without scaring them or looking like a monster to the other adults in the hallway? What were most of their names? And if there was a communication breakdown with an animal, there was always the last resort of a good rump slap. Definitely out of bounds here.
The changeover was only about ten minutes long, but it was ten minutes like a few rounds of boxing is ten minutes. Edgar placed himself by the door shortly before the morning period ended. A nanny or two would trickle into the hallway from outside, absentmindedly reading the New York Post or some paper in another language that seemed to consist entirely of coupons for TVs. A few of the caregivers were young like Edgar, trying actually to do something else, like Edgar. He could carry on decent conversations with them. More nannies and even some parents filled the hallway, waiting to receive or deliver a child. Edgar came to know a few of the afternoon session children who waited in the hall. It did him little good. They weren’t steadily ebbing to the door pulled by some suicidal urge to bolt into traffic. Their day was just beginning, so they were eager to make their way to the classroom upstairs.
Eventually the door on the second floor would open and the voices of a couple dozen juiced-up four year olds echoed down the stairwell. The children waiting to go up became agitated by their peers, who were agitated by the wide open afternoon in front of them. It all agitated Edgar. The children came down the stairs single-file, led by a teacher in the front and herded along by one in the rear. The line fell apart near the bottom, as the morning kids spotted their friends and family and hired proxies. This part was manageable for Edgar, and sometimes entertaining. It was when the parents started catching up with each other or asking the teachers questions that it got hairy. The children, having dropped out of focus of all the adults except the one who was mostly terrified of them, starting shambling towards the door. Edgar, that last line of defense between them and certain abduction or roadkill, had to stand politely strong. The first child, Bobby or something, reached the door and stared out the lower window. He looked at the doorknob, then back out the window. He put his hand on the doorknob. “No Bobby, you can’t go outside yet. Where’s your mom?” Bobby slowly turned his face up to Edgar’s, staring blankly. Did this man-shaped furniture just make sound? Was that sound something like language? “You have to wait for your mom before you can go outside.” More blank staring, hand still on doorknob. Edgar gingerly placed his fingers on the doorknob, taking care not to touch Bobby’s for fear of impropriety. What Edgar lacked over the children in terms of command, he made up for in dexterity and strength. Bobby tried turning the knob but Edgar’s fingers held strong. More children bottlenecked behind Bobby, trying to glimpse the wide open world on the other side of the door. Snatches of the adult conversations floated over their heads; about how Gabriella didn’t get orange juice at home because of the sugar so please don’t give her any here, about how Jackson couldn’t wait to have a sushi date with Darby.
Edgar marvelled that these children even knew what sushi was, yet they wept blood at the mere mention of a peanut. His childhood diet consisted largely of Chef Boyardee and various applications for peanut butter; only once at the same time. The fact that these children were attending the West Village Early Childhood Development Center already put them several tracks beyond anything Edgar experienced in the suburbs of the South. The limited, sought-after slots here were the first steps on a path that ended with trying to dodge the estate tax, a building named after you at your alma mater, and several ulcers.
Finally, a few nannies who didn’t speak English and thus could not converse with the teachers or parents had gathered their wards and made way for the exit. Edgar was prepared for this after several weeks on the job. He boxed out the growing mass of children by the door like he was about to make a quick jumpshot, then opened the door in a manner that swept them aside while allowing the nannies and strollers to leave. This required an exact timing that he had learned the hard way. Opening the door too early or leaving it open just a second too long led to a panicked sprint down the sidewalk to shepherd back a child wild-eyed at the prospect of freedom. If Gabriella’s mother knit her brow at the thought of orange juice and all its sugary glory tainting her child, the look she gave at the sight of Edgar guiding Gabriella back inside could melt glass.
One by one children were plucked from the milling herd and, each now matched to an adult, all left the building in one last noisy push. Edgar closed the door behind them and his shoulders slowly began to make their way down from his ears. Mariel, the kindergarten teacher, said “That was an easy one. See you tomorrow Edgar.” She led the afternoon children up the stairs in a line.
“Uh huh,” Edgar sighed, his shirt sticking to his body in dark patches of sweat.