Grace entered the staff room. By her third step in, the room fell to a hush. Some of her colleagues gave furtive glances towards her, others kept their heads down and eyes locked.
She took a deep breath in as she squirted the edge of the room. The floorboards were firmer along the edge of the room compared to the usual path she took each day. In the centre, in between the tables, the floor joists bounced with each footstep.
Someone's food had twenty seconds to go in the microwave. The orange plastic container lid had boiling soup spluttering out, staining the walls.
The bell chimed too loudly and Grace waited half-a-metre off to the side to allow the owner plenty of space to access their lunch.
The young student-teacher gayly dressed in her PE tracksuit sheepishly stood up and, as if she were weaving between defenders, grabbed her lunch from the microwave.
Grace waited for the girl to clean the mess but she'd returned to her spot, embarrassed.
She would not crack. That is what they wanted from her. They were no different from the kids. The game was to break the teacher, rile them up, so they lost their temper and the yelling began.
In twenty years of teacher, Grace had never ever lost her temper. Not once. But this, her first day back since the funeral, she seemed to have slipped down to somewhere deep where the equilibrium was no longer possible.
By the silence of the room, every teacher here heard what she had said. If they hadn't, word had spread so quickly that even the student-teacher, who had been out on the oval teaching kids to swing at a baseball, now knew what she had said.
The principal approached her, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder. He whispered that perhaps she this was too soon. She wanted to say that this was her lunch, and it was lunchtime and that she needed to get back into the strict routine of school life but at the end of it all, when the bell rang for the last time, she'd still be going home to an empty house. That’s what she wasn't ready for.