Saturday, March 29, 2008

Mercy, part 1

This is a short story I wrote a while back. Part 1 of it. I'll post some more of the story if anyone sends me email saying they want to read it. My blog has had a few visitors, but I don't know if anyone has actually reading any of my blog. I apologize for the appearance. For some reason, so of the paragraph indentations didn't carry on to the web properly.

A Strange Place, A Strange Time:
10:00 AM Wednesday

Bar-Of-Mail was on the rampage today – that was obvious. It was going to be one of those days when Sister Maureen Carr, known not so affectionately to the students at St. Quentin School as Bar-Of-Mail, was going to devour kids alive, figuratively speaking. Even Calvin Peterson, who was quite inept when in catching ever so subtle social cues, could see what was coming, but none the less, try as he might, he was not destined to steer clear of the nun’s wrath on this day. He had a premonition as such as he waited his turn to read aloud from the weekly reader that had been distributed by the nun. As he silently read along with whoever was reading, he found himself entranced by the article detailing the Apollo space missions planned over the next few years, culminating in trips to the surface of the moon. For the moment, he wasn’t in the class - he was bounding across the surface of the moon, planting Old Glory on its surface.

Sister Carr had been tagged with the moniker of Bar-Of-Mail by her students, because prior to the recent Church reforms that allowed the nuns to reclaim their given names, she had been known as Sister Mary Boromeo. This, of course, was naturally corrupted by the kids into what it sounded like to their twentieth-century American ears. The nickname, “Bar-Of-Mail” was not uttered with affection, or even a feigned contempt. It was spat out with loathing, much in the way front-line combat soldiers tag slurs upon the enemy with whom they dance a never ending waltz of death.

Most of her fifth and sixth grade students did not regard her as a role model whose job was to alternately pat them on the back and step on their toes as needed; they thought of her as “the lady who belonged in the ‘loony bin.’” She was not there to teach lessons of life, rather she was a rite of passage to be endured for a few years, and during that time, to be avoided as much as possible.

All students without exception knew better than to report her conduct to his or her parents. She would deny any abusive acts, and most likely believe her own lies. Naturally, the kid carrying the tale would catch hell from their parents for making things up. “I just knew Junior had to be fabricating that story!” Finally, they would encounter still more flak from the powers at school for spreading false rumors. “How dare you go home and tell your parents all these lies!”

In case students ever allowed Bar-Of-Mail’s intermittent friendly moods to let them forget her true demeanor, she could always be relied on to slip back into her default mode. Her conduct during the first few hours of school on this morning was a reminder of that unpleasant fact.

The day had started ominously enough, when the kids walked into their fifth grade classroom to be greeted by the message, “17-this means you,” scrawled upon the board in large letters. The class was collectively confused by the meaning of this rather cryptic message, but as the students discussed among themselves its possible meaning, they all agreed that it appeared to be anything but friendly. Bar-Of-Mail suddenly stormed into the classroom and started to rant. “Children, do you want to know what this means?” as she pointed to the board. “There are seventeen of you who stand to be sent back to the fourth grade where you belong. You lack the maturity to be in the fifth grade in the care of someone of my stature. Don’t think good grades will protect you. You can get all A’s, and if I say you are a BABY who doesn’t belong here, than you go back to the fourth or maybe even the third grade. Remember what I have told you from day one. The fifth grade is the turning point in your life; it will make you or break you. And you are especially privileged to have someone like me bringing you through these formative years. Now back to our warning. I’m not going to say who the seventeen are. I want you all to squirm. Whoever you are, just one more slip-up, and you will be out of here.”

Everyone in the class, with one exception, knew it was a bunch of bullshit. If someone earned the grades they could not be put back just because the nun had it in for him or her. A kid simply was not going to be tossed back a year based on some whim by a teacher who belonged in a rubber room. The only one who didn’t quite get what was going on was Calvin Peterson. He took her literally, as he was inclined to do in his dealings with people, actually fearing that there was a secret list of those at risk.

All and all, Calvin wished that he didn’t have to have this nun. He could deal with having to live in fear of Sister Dominic, the principal, because he did not have to deal with her on a day-to-day basis, as opposed to Bar-Of-Mail. Although he feared his teacher without respecting her, he still could not quite grasp the full picture. He assumed that she must be a competent individual or she would not be doing the job. Therefore, there must be a logical, or at least a semi-logical reason for this nonsense, thought Calvin to himself. This must be what the fifth grade was all about, sort of a boot camp for ten-year-olds, and it was probably the same in every fifth grade in America. It seemed pointless, but if this is the way that the adults wanted to run things, then to get by, one had to derive the magic formula for getting along. Calvin conjured a mental picture of a sheet on a wall somewhere in the convent. The sheet would be full of merits and demerits, and Bar-Of-Mail would enter red and blue checks beside the names of various class members. Calvin knew that his name probably had more than a few red checks beside it. It surely could not be because of any academic failings on his part, because, he piled up the A’s as if he didn’t know how to do anything else. This stellar performance did not keep him free from Bar-Of-Mail’s wrath though, he always managed to do something add a red mark on the imaginary chart.

On one occasion, she shrieked at him for putting something in the wrong place. On another occasion, upon violating some secret protocol that he was expected to be aware of, Bar-Of-Mail insulted him for turning in a quarter. After knocking it from his hand, she hollered, “You baby, you’re not supposed to give it to me, you’re supposed to ask you neighbors if they lost it!” He envied those who knew all these little things; most must have been aware of these secret rules, because he was one of only a few that was taken to task for these things. Calvin was too na├»ve to realize that because of his quiet demeanor and academic success, Bar-Of-Mail had to nail him on whatever little she could get, even if it was nothing at all, such as turning in a quarter. (instead of keeping it!) He was different, and in civilization, as in nature, predators go after that which stands out from the herd.

Bar-Of-Mail had kicked off the morning by screaming at a fourth grader visiting the classroom on an errand. He had arrived with some money collected from his class for a school trip that Bar-Of-Mail was organizing. On seeing him, she glanced at him, assuming that he would take that as a signal to toss the money on her desk and leave, as she was too occupied to speak to him. Unfortunately, he was under the impression that when delivering cash that was place in his care, he was supposed to actually give it to someone, instead of leaving it and walking out of the room. When the boy stood like a statue, thinking that she meant she would attend to him in a moment, the nun emitted her best Margaret Hamilton screech, “Puuut it on my deeeeesk and get out of here!” He did precisely that in short order. She followed up this act by playing self-appointed speech therapist to a first grader who arrived with a message from his teacher. He was forced to repeat the message a number of times, as Bar-Of-Mail prompted him to speak the perfectly WASPish style English she had perfected over the years.

Later on, spurred on by God knows what, she gave the students an extended lecture on how they were totally uncultured because of their devotion to contemporary music, and told them they should be listening to classical music as did she. Aside from being an exercise in snobbery, her description of her musical tastes was wrong, because what she actually listened to was “elevator music.” She was unaware of the difference between Mozart and Percy Faith.

By the time that she had passed out the weekly readers, and the students were reading aloud one by one, Bar-Of-Mail’s mood had deteriorated further. She could not refrain from picking on the students, as they failed to read and speak as perfectly as she perceived herself as doing. “Who told you that was pronounced You-ston. The city is pronounced Hoo-ston, Hoo-ston, Texas. It sounds just like it looks!” Yes, Bar-Of-Mail enjoyed displaying her refinement and culture to a captive audience. She also managed to slip in a remark that we probably would never make it to the moon, because if God wanted us to go there, he would have given us wings.

Meanwhile, Calvin had found the article on the moon missions so interesting, that he had become thoroughly engrossed in it, and began to drift ahead of the rest of the class, and so was caught naked when it was his turn to read. “Stupid, it’s your turn to read!” bellowed Bar-Of-Mail.

“Uh, Sister, I sorta got ahead of everyone else. I apologize; it was just so interesting. Could someone so me where I’m supposed to be.”

“You are not even on the right page, Baby #1. Don’t even bother to read. If you can’t stay with the rest of us, then I don’t want you to read. I will tell you this. You are one of those seventeen. You are on the top of the list, and will be one of the first to be put back, and I can’t wait!”

It was just as he feared. He had thought of asking her if he was on the list, but he knew she would tell him that it was none of his business, but in a moment of anger she had let it slip. What was he going to tell his parents when the axe fell?” If he had not been so rattled by the incident, he might have been able to appreciate the irony of the situation. A student that is ahead of others in the class is told that he should be demoted. If he had been behind the others, might that have implied that he should skip a grade?

© Copyright 1998-2008 by AAF --Violators will be turned over to Sister Bar-of-Mail
Part 2 to come

1 comment:

Gunnel said...

This one on your Catholic school experience was VERY well written.
And interesting.
Please write some more, I would like to read more about this!
/ Gunnel AS dxed at 51yo in 2001