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Christen taught science and math and a few other things. No one was really certain what went on in her room, except maybe Christen. I'm certain, though, that she taught religion. Before the school year had started all the teachers met for a combination prayer breakfast and teachers' meeting. The prayer part of the breakfast was Christen reading from the Bible while the rest of us silently counted the breakfast part of the meeting; there were thirteen of us and only twelve donuts. Aside from losing her place twice and mispronouncing "Ephesians," she did alright.

"I tried teaching in public schools," Christen explained, "but once you've taught religion you can never go back."

We all helped ourselves to the donuts while Christen talked. Christen was pregnant, marginally less so than the amount of time she was married. She could quote the Pope's stand against contraception and she even knew which Pope had said it; it made her very proud to be able to do so. Christen was truly remarkable. The heat didn't help her morning sickness one bit, but Christen never let it slow her down. She kept a bucket by her desk that she would empty promptly after each class period.

"We must all suffer like Christ. The heat is only a minor discomfort we need to endure. Heaven is our reward."

Christen was an idiot.

"But she is a devout idiot, and that," Marge had confided in me, "makes all the difference in the world."

I liked Marge. She had been teaching forever, maybe even a little bit longer. She was going bald and really needed to shave; she had given up trying to lose that extra fifty pounds sometime in the late ‘forties. I had misjudged Marge. I really though she would be no fun at all. Marge had been raised a Methodist, which, she explained, was alright, except you had to say "Excuse me" every time you wanted a beer, and "Pardon me" every time you drank one. Marge was hot, too. She was on the floor above me, which meant that she was really hot. The sweat would roll out from underneath her wig, straightening out little wisps of hair that would have preferred to have remained hidden, and every once in a while a glistening drop would slip from the end of her nose and land with a "plop" on some worksheet she happened to be grading.

I personally don't think the fan helped a bit. I only had one, and it just chopped the heat, moving one gust of steamy air somewhere that another gust would have rather remained. The whole problem with the fan was that it didn't move, unless, of course, I got up and moved it. If I aimed it at one half of the room, the other half complained, and visa versa. Even if we took turns it wouldn't work. Seventh and eighth graders never seem to be happy about anything, except about not having to button their shirts all the way up - the boys, that is. The girls could do nothing, which, I know, wasn't fair.

So I got rid of the fan. I sent it upstairs to Marilyn. Marilyn was so damned cute that she could have asked me for my desk and I would have given it to her. I offered it to her, but she didn't want it. I can't remember Marilyn ever sweating. All her kids were cute, too. They weren't really her kids; they all went back to their mothers at night. A few of them went home to both their mothers and their fathers. Marilyn taught the first grade. She had gotten married the day after she graduated from college. With her teaching certificate in hand, she spent most of the summer honeymooning in various parts of the Caribbean Sea. I'm almost positive she didn't keep the certificate in her hand the whole time, and if she did, she managed to shift it regularly so as not to diminish her tan any.

Marilyn didn't get to take anything off, either, much to Scott's and my disappointment. We were the first male teachers ever to grace the halls of Our Lady of the Americas Catholic School. We all just called it OLA for short. You didn't need to take two breaths in order to say OLA.

It was quite an event - our being hired. Half the kids came down to look at us two weeks before school even opened. A steady line of them passed by us as we stood on ladders while wet paint dripped off the walls and onto our tennis shoes. The rumour was confirmed. I believe quite a bit of money changed hands in the process.

"What's the matter with these damned kids?" I asked.

"Beats hell outa me," Scott answered.

Mrs. Ragusa smiled at me reassuringly. I had just explained to her that I had a degree in Literature and a minor in Communications - getting up in front of the class would be no problem. What the heck, as long as I had the teachers' editions of the textbooks there would be no problem with teaching.

"I'm going to offer you a contract to teach seventh and eighth grade Literature," Miss Ragusa beamed. "Usually I start new teachers out at $9,500 a year, but I'm going to offer you $10,000 for your first year here at OLA."

Miss Ragusa was being generous because I was a man and because I had a family. Heck, with that kind of money my wife and I could even have more kids. "But I don't want to plan your family for you," Miss Ragusa half-apologized. I had no concept of money in those days.

"I really believe the Holy Spirit has guided you to OLA," she explained.

That should have been my first warning. I had just spent two-and-a-half hours driving lost through neighborhoods where they don't even wait for your car to stop before stealing your hubcaps. I quit asking for directions when I realized that nobody spoke English in that part of town.

"Usted está en Estados Unidos, señor, pero es posible que usted no está aquí, pero entonces, ¿dónde?"

Scott had just painted over a window completely.

"There's something in my room I'd like you to paint."

"What?" asked Scott.

"I'll show you later," I said, then I continued, "Hey, did I tell you what she has me teaching now?"

"No," said Scott. He was trying to decide whether he should take the paint off the window or put another coat on and let it go.

"I've still got my lit classes, but now I've got Religion."

"Religion?" questioned Scott. "I thought you said you weren't Catholic." Scott had begun putting another coat of paint on the window.

"I am Catholic," I explained. "I'm just out of practice."

"Oh, really? How long out of practice?"

"About fourteen years." I carefully dabbed a spot on the window that Scott had missed.

"Does Ragusa know that?" Scott artistically smoothed over the spot I had just dabbed.

"No," I said, "she never asked. I figured the Holy Spirit had told her."

"Oh," said Scott, hopping off of his ladder so he could get a better perspective of his window. The paint on the window had dried quickly in the heat.

"Do you suppose anyone will notice?" asked Scott.

"Naw, I'll just make them pray every morning. That should do it." I was confident. Unfortunately, the heat outlasted my confidence.

Jesus had sworn that he had seen our patron saint sweat. The life-size mural of the Blessed Virgin Mary (which we all conveniently shortened to BVM), who was depicted as standing on the earth while groveling peasants cluttered the corners, completely covered the back wall of my room.

"That is what I'll miss most about this room," Miss Ragusa had confided in me. "I got so much comfort out of just looking on the hands of Mary."

Mary's hands were spread out, as if she were trying to touch the groveling peasants.

Scott had quit painting long before we ever got to my room. He had just finished painting over his second window when he quit.

"You really do need to come down to my room and do some painting," I pleaded, "only the back wall - that's all."

But it was too late.

"Are we getting paid for this?" Scott asked.

"I think so."

"How much?" Scott asked again.

"I'm not sure," I answered.

"It's not enough." Scott didn't even wash out his brush.

If only Scott could have been called out of retirement it would have solved the entire problem with Jesus. Scott had made the mistake of actually calling the poor kid Gee-Zuss, which Scott thought was down-right funny. Hey-Zeus had no sense of humour whatsoever. In fact, none of the kids did. I didn't even get a smile out of my favourite Catholic joke:

Do you know why Jesus was crucified instead of being stoned? (Wait time...) So Catholics could go like this (Cross yourself) instead of this (Act like your fists are stones that are repeatedly hitting you in the face).

I loved that joke.

So, at any rate, here's Jesus swearing that the Virgin is sweating. I prudently passed up a very good one-liner.

"It's only a minor discomfort that she needs to endure. We all must learn to suffer like Christ." Oh my god! I was beginning to sound like Christen. "Now shut up and get back to your damned seat." That was much better, more like me.

Tony lit up like a Christmas tree. "Mr. Soetaert, you said Damn! We're not supposed to say Damn. Damn's a curse word. You said Damn. Did you know you said Damn? Damn, he said Damn. Damn. Damn. Damn."

"Tony, shut up."

"But you said Damn."


"Does that mean we can say Damn, too? You said Damn so we can say Damn, too. Damn, we can say Damn."

Miss Ragusa wanted to know just two things. One: Why was my necktie around Saint Joseph's neck; and Two: Why were all my students saying Damn? She also wanted to know who painted over the windows in Marge's room, but she had long ago given up trying to find out.

I could have had either Saint Joseph or Jesus (with a "G"). Since I had to have a statue in my room, and since Joseph is my middle name, I figured that I'd keep it in the family. Besides, Joseph was holding baby Jesus. This way I could kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. That's why I had a Joseph in my room. And since it was so unmercifully hot I got to take my tie off. Saint Joseph just seemed to compel me.

"I need a tie," he had whispered to me.

"Mr. Soetaert, why is it so Damned hot?" Little Christina always looked so innocent. There was a running bet that she would be pregnant by the time she was fifteen.

"I really don't know, Christina. Please don't say Damn anymore."

"Miss Christen says it's so Damned hot because we all must suffer."

"That may very well be true," I said. "Please don't say Damn anymore."

Christen snarled at Scott and me as she passed us in the hall, swinging her bucket menacingly. Christen had begun to snarl a lot more it seemed. I always thought it was because all my students wanted to say Damn in her room, too. Scott said it was because she hated him. It think Scott was right.

"You missed a Hail Mary," Scott reminded Christen.

Christen had been silently wearing out her Rosary Beads in the teachers' lounge while the coffee pot sizzled the last forgotten drops of coffee into a black crust that no one would ever bother to wash out.

"What?" Christen always looked somewhat wild-eyed. It was a hard look to place - somewhere between a desperate vampire and a double-crossed pimp. "What do you mean I missed a Hail Mary?"

"You said ten Our Fathers and only nine Hail Marys..."

"Do you know what ‘hallowed' means..." I tried to interject, but Christen ignored me.

"What do you mean I missed one?!" Christen was beginning to look a lot less like a desperate vampire and a whole lot more like a double-crossed pimp.

"You said only nine Hail Marys," Scott calmly explained. "You missed one."

"How dare you tell me how to pray!" Christen was almost yelling, "At least I'm praying! I never see you praying!"

"So?" asked Scott, becoming increasingly calmer.

"It means sanctified or sacrosanct - super holy, so to speak." I wasn't about to give up.

"What the hell are you talking about?" screamed Christen.

"Hallowed," I explained, "that's what hallowed means. You know, ‘Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name...'?"

"Please don't say Hell," Scott added.

Christen had a way of turning very red when she got extremely angry. She also had a way of slamming the lounge door so hard that the crucifix on the wall above it would swing back and forth. Scott and I watched it swinging, swinging, swinging, moving our heads like we were at a tennis match until it all but stopped.

"Double or nothing tomorrow," I said, certain it was going to fall.

The door violently flew back open. Christen grabbed her bucket off the floor and slammed the door behind her once again.

"I believe that makes a whole case," Scott said as the crucifix finally stopped swinging.

Christen still carried her bucket, although she no longer needed it. The sight of it alone scared any seventh grader into submission.

"What's the matter with Christen?" asked Marge, coming into the lounge.

"She forgot her bucket," I explained. "Hey, I have an idea," I said to anybody who cared to listen. "What if I filled a bucket with shit. That would probably end my discipline problems."

"Naw, someone'd just steal it." Scott was trying to make a card house on the table, but the cards kept falling over.

"Please don't say Shit," said Marge as she unloaded her lunch from her crumpled paper bag and then carefully folded it back up again - her bag, not her lunch.

"Christen hates me," said Scott, carefully lowering a card destined to be the roof. And the cards tumbled in.

"And she hates me, too," I said, coveting Marge's apple. "She hates me because Scott and I are friends."

"But she hates you devoutly," explained Marge, "and that makes all the difference."

Just then the coffee pot sizzled and popped as the last drop of moisture gave up its earthly existence.

"Would anyone like any coffee?" asked Marge cheerfully.

"Only if you're making a pot anyway," I obediently replied, thankful that it would never finish brewing before I had to be back in class.

I had never noticed before that the teachers' lounge didn't have a statue of anyone in it.

"Juan Valdez, patron saint of Coffee Pots, Coffee Drinkers, and those little packets of sugar previously not covered under Saint C and H, patron saint of sugar." I chuckled out loud.

"What?" Scott looked up from his pile of cards.

"Never mind," I said, still chuckling.

"By the way," said Marge after her jagged teeth marks ruined any hopes I had that included her apple, "do either of you know how to get paint off of windows?"

If we had a statue of Saint Juan I would have taken it over Joseph, but that's the way it goes. Miss Ragusa got the statue of Saint Mary. She had called dibs sometime last year.

Genuflect... Genuflect... Genuflect...

"It is necessary to genuflect before the Chalice that sits to the right of the Altar...."

But the Baltimore Catechism said nothing about Mary. I felt that I should genuflect before the Mary in Miss Ragusa's office. Miss Ragusa had a small office to begin with, and half of it was Mary. She stood atop an ancient doilied table that had been hand-carved by someone's great-grandfather who was still in Mexico - buried, and the doily had been hand-crocheted by elderly nuns and was actually blessed by the Pope; or maybe it was just a Cardinal. I had never given it much thought, but I suppose that a Cardinal could bless just as well as the Pope - at least things like doilies. Blessing people might be different, but, then, I'm really not sure. Miss Ragusa's Mary had the same out-stretched hands as the one that I had painted around in my room. She also had the same complacent smile. There was a place somewhere in Kansas City that sold the statues. They had them all, even Saint Juan, I'm sure. Supposedly, the statues came over from Italy where the Pope blessed them by the truck-load before they were loaded on a boat. Only Popes can bless statues of saints. He blessed the boat, too, for good measure, although a Cardinal probably could have done the boat. But one can never be too careful.

Behind the statue of Mary, hung from the ceiling by twisted bailing wires, was a portrait of Mary. The portrait looked almost identical to the statue, which looked almost identical to the Mary I had painted around in my room. The glaring difference was Mary's halo - the Mary in the picture, that is. It was huge, almost twice the size of Mary's head. It seemed to illume the room.

"Is that black light?" I asked.

"What?" asked Miss Ragusa.

"Never mind." I continued to stare at the portrait. At least it kept my eyes off of Miss Ragusa. I'm certain that if she tried Miss Ragusa could stretch her bottom lip completely over her nose with absolutely no assistance. And she constantly smoked those little brown cigarettes. I suppose she was trying to hold her lip back from the slow creeping - so slow she would never notice it until it started to blur her vision. But the truly amazing thing about Miss Ragusa was her fingernails. The lady had six-inch fingernails. It was beyond the point of arguing whether they were real or not; indeed, that was beside the point. She had to dial a phone with a pencil. I have no idea whatsoever how she ever managed to go to bathroom, not that going would be the hard part.

"I'll take a piece of that action," Marge said, overhearing Scott and me making bets in the teachers' lounge.

I said she just didn't. Scott said that she did.

"But if she does," I reminded Scott. "You got to prove how."

"Verification's going to be the bitch," Scott said.

Christen violently threw open the door. Her face was brilliant red. Her eyes screamed hate as they tore us apart from the doorway. And then just as quickly as she had come, she slammed the door to the lounge as hard as she could. The crucifix above the door rocked twice and then crashed to the floor, causing Jesus to pop off the cross.

"Shit!" Scott cursed. "There goes a whole Damned keg!"

"Please don't say Shit," Marge said.

"Please don't say Damn," I said.

So I sat in Miss Ragusa's office trying not to stare at her fingernails, becoming more and more convinced that she just didn't.

"I find it comforts me, too," said Miss Ragusa, noticing my distraction.

"Yes," I agreed, "she does take one away from their present distractions."

"From his present distractions, or her," Miss Ragusa interjected.

"Excuse me?" I was forced to face her fingernails.

"'One' is singular, and 'their' is plural," she corrected me.

"Oh," I said.

Miss Ragusa's lip started to move. Quickly she took out a brown cigarette and even more quickly I returned my attention to Mary. A crucifix was draped carefully over Mary's hand. Had my necktie been so blessed by the Pope I might have had an argument.

"I know I shouldn't genuflect, but shouldn't I at least cross myself?" I couldn't stand the suspense any longer; I just had to know.

"Excuse me?" Miss Ragusa looked puzzled.

"Never mind." Perhaps there was somebody else I could ask. Perhaps my life would be complete if I never knew.

"You told me you were Catholic, right?" My worst fears came true. This was going to be a serious conference.

Yes, I had been a Catholic. Once a Catholic, always a Catholic. That's what the nuns always told me in CCD classes. To this day I have yet to learn what CCD stands for.

"When was the last time you went to Mass?"

I'm not certain, but I don't believe anyone blesses ashtrays. At any rate, I had been intently watching the ash at the end of Miss Ragusa's little brown cigarette become increasingly longer. The longer it became, the more I wished that Marge were there. By the time Miss Ragusa finally moved her little brown cigarette toward the ashtray I would have given Marge 17 to one odds that she wouldn't make it.

"How did you do that?" I sat in amazement. Miss Ragusa had not flipped her ash; she had simply looked at it and then nodded her had, and it fell off on its own, landing perfectly in the middle of the ashtray.

"Do what?" Miss Ragusa asked.

"Never mind."

Still, Miss Ragusa wanted to know when was the last time I went to Mass. I knew I couldn't count last Saturday. All the teachers got to... no, had to, we had to parade in front of the entire congregation. We were given nifty stainless steel crosses to wear daily. I suppose they were purchased at the same place where the statues came from. I had stopped wearing mine when I had to take my tie off of Saint Joseph. Since I was wearing my tie no one could tell that I wasn't wearing my cross. Besides that, it had cooled off. It's not that my tie felt good around my neck when it was cool; it's just that it no longer felt like I was slowly strangling. Of course, the kids were complaining because it was too cold.

"Complain to God," I told my class. "It's not my fault, and I know it's not fair. Now take out your literature books... the blue one with the dog on the cover."

Scott let it be known that he was willing to go half-ers with anyone in on a gun.

"If Christen says that we need to suffer one more time, I'm going to shoot her." That was the first thing Scott said after we finished the first six pack. I wouldn't let him say anything until we had three apiece. Scott had a conference with Miss Ragusa, too.

"And after Christen, I'm going to shoot Miss Ragusa, too."

"That's not fair," I complained. "I get to shoot at least one of them."

"So, what was your conference about?" Scott asked.

"I'm not teaching religion anymore."

"Oh," he replied.

I had done such an outstanding job, too. I personally think I taught religion better than literature. I'll never forget the day I gave the now famous "Our Father" lecture. I found it incomprehensible that the kids all said their numerous Our Fathers daily and didn't have the slightest idea what "hallowed" meant. I hit on it all - everything from eschatological theory to historic Judaic theology. I was confident; they would never say their Our Fathers the same again.

We even did a nifty play about the Ten Commandments. I believe that is what caused me to lose my religion class. Either that, or it was the follow-up lecture when Miss Ragusa, who happened to be observing my class that day, decided to take over the lecture after I got the seventh and eighth commandments confused. Had I not left out number nine altogether I might have been able to fake it. But still, it could have been the play. It was an entire class project, with several small groups acting out the important segments of Moses getting those infamous slabs. It looked so good in my lesson plans that Miss Ragusa invited herself to the final production. And she, in turn, took the liberty of inviting Father Garcia.

Father Garcia always wore a poncho that looked more like an old rug than a poncho and sandals that had been made from bus tires. In the evenings, after the last of the kids had finally finished their detentions, you could hear Father Garcia from the rectory banging on his guitar and singing hymns in Spanish. Father Garcia was not Hispanic, although I suppose that it didn't matter. I could imagine whole rows of monks walking hours on end into the night, outside in the freezing drizzle, while they went through their Gregorian chants, and there, in the middle, would be Father Garcia, oblivious to it all, chanting away like a trouper while his thoughts were somewhere slightly above Purgatory. He never got upset over anything. You could have told the good Father that Satan, himself, had risen from Hell and had stolen the sacrificial wine, and he would not have gotten upset; the Father, that is. He simply would have reached beneath his poncho and come up with a few loose dollars before sending you down to the corner to do the best you could before Mass. When you got back Satan would be gone, the hole boarded up, and never a mention of it would be made again.

In fact, there was only one time that anybody could recall Father Garcia ever changing his expression. He and Miss Ragusa sat in the back of the room and quietly watched our production of the Ten Commandments. Neither of them got upset when Moses dropped Commandments eleven through fifteen; they didn't seem bothered that God wore dark glasses or that Aaron started break dancing. It was when Moses stood up to the Pharaoh and said, "Let my Damned people go...."

No one at that school had a sense of humour.

Perhaps Miss Ragusa did, after all, have a point about my not teaching religion. I couldn't really understand why Scott was so upset, though. It had something to do with curriculum.

"It's either my way or the highway with Ragusa," Scott snorted. "Hell, I've been teaching three years and none of my principals ever watched me as much as that Damned Ragusa."

"Please don't say Damn."

I had to take Scott's word for it since this was my first school. I had thought it odd, though, that Miss Ragusa had observed my class on the very first day. The first day was supposed to be a half day - since it was so hot - and I suppose it really was (a half day, that is), although to this day I still get confused. Someone had worked out an amazingly elaborate schedule so no one class lost more time than the others, but every class lost different amounts of time every day until in the end it all worked out right. If that just didn't make sense to you then you'll probably understand why it never made sense to me. It so happened that my literature class was scheduled to lose more time the next day than the day I thought it was, which was the day Miss Ragusa dropped in, which was still the first day of school.

"Weren't you supposed to have been here yesterday?" I asked.

"Excuse me?" questioned Miss Ragusa.

"Never mind."

If anyone ever tells you that students are willing to learn, he is lying. He is lying through his teeth. And students are even less willing to learn on the first day of class.

Miss Ragusa sat in the back of the room, tapping her pen ever so softly on her brown notepad. There are times in your life when you wish you'd learned how to do a soft-shoe shuffle.

"OK, class, pick up your books and read something."

"What do you want us to read?" Joe asked.

"The first story in the book, Joe."

"What book?"

"Your literature book, Joe."

"Which one is that?"

"It's the blue book with the picture of the dog on the cover."

"Oh, this book?"

"Yes, Joe. It's the very same book that everyone else has out on their desks." I waited for Miss Ragusa to correct my English from the back of the room, and she did.

I didn't like Joe. Perhaps it was a quick decision, but those are the kind we all tend to make.

"OK, Joe, why don't you read first?"

"Out loud?" Joe looked shocked.

"Why would I have you all take turns reading to yourselves?"

"Oh, I just thought maybe..."

"Just read, Joe, we'll work on thinking later."

"Hubo un hombre que se comió mierda...."

That was before the class learned that they could say Damn. Miss Ragusa quietly sat in the back and wrote a lot. She probably would have written a lot more if the students had learned how to say Damn.

I was trying to drive and hit a road construction sign with an empty beer can.

"It's an exercise in coordination," I explained. I carefully gauged the distance of the sign, the weight of the can, and the speed of the car. Then I flipped the can over the roof of the car with the precision of a professional basketball player and missed by a mile. I watched the can bounce stupidly alongside the road until the gush of a truck's tires chased it into the curbside weeds. Still Scott was mad. So I had another beer.

"What's to get so upset about? You just go in and teach and then they pay you for it, right?" I thought about what I had just said for a moment and then added, "Well, you get a check. Whether or not you call it pay is up to you."

It didn't matter that we were both getting shellacked. We were perpetually stuck in traffic all the way back to the shopping mall where we met each day to trade rides. We couldn't possibly get up enough speed to kill anyone, except maybe ourselves, and that no longer seemed a great concern.

"So she wants to change the curriculum? Who cares?" I didn't. "Besides, what the Hell is a curriculum, anyway?"

"Please don't say Hell," Scott reminded me.

I really can't explain exactly why I quit. To do that I would have to explain exactly why I took the job to begin with, and I don't know the answer to that, either. I remember telling Marge first, but by that time Marge was getting used to teachers' quitting. I suppose that Miss Ragusa was getting used to it, too.

The PE teacher was the first to go. Janis only lasted two weeks, which was not nearly long enough to get to know her well enough to ask her why she had a tattoo, but I had asked her anyway. She had gotten "Daisy," she explained, to cover up another tattoo that didn't look nearly so cute. Daisy's cute little eyes always seemed to be trying to peak out of Janis' blouse. Daisy was a little skunk that looked like one of those air fresheners you can get for your rearview mirror. Janis had one hanging over her rearview mirror. I suppose there was a connection between the two skunks, but I never found out before Janis quit.

"There's nothing wrong with a tattoo," Marge explained, "as long as you get one devoutly."

I wonder if just a priest could bless a tattoo. I suppose he could, unless it were on a person, but then would he have to bless the whole person? And how could he bless a tattoo if it weren't on a person?

It was Janis' first year of teaching, too. I'm really not certain why she quit, but it had something to do with her moving to Jefferson City to be near her fiancé until he could get out of prison. It took both Scott and me to hold Janis back as Christen walked out of the teachers' lounge saying something about suffering and Jesus (with a G).

Scott quit next, or rather, as Scott put it, "It was a mutual separation. My way's the highway."

Actually it worked out quite well, as it were, since Scott quit right after it was decided that I would no longer teach religion classes. It was decided that I would now teach Scott's Social Studies classes, which meant I was no longer teaching literature at all.

"Shouldn't somebody tell Miss Ragusa that I never studied Social Studies in college?" I asked Scott. "I mean, somebody besides the Holy Spirit?" The Holy Spirit didn't seem to be holding up too well lately. Scott was busy taking his few worldly possessions out of his desk drawer and packing them into an old paint can box. There was a whole closet full of all the old painting stuff that nobody ever bothered to clean out.

"Would it matter if she knew?" Scott was trying to find any playing cards that might have gotten loose from the rest of the deck.

"I don't know," I said, finding the Queen of Clubs. "What's left for me to teach?"

"Relative to where?" Scott snapped the rubber band around the deck. "If you find any cards, you can keep them," Scott added.

"Here." I handed Scott his only plant. "Don't forget this." The only crusted brown leaf hung limply to the blackened stem that was anchored firmly into the moldy-white, cement hard dirt. "I think it needs water."

"I think it needs a beer." Scott pulled a cold beer out of one of his desk drawers. We both watched the pool of yellow suds sit on top of the soil with no intention of going anywhere.

"I believe it's too far gone," I said, wishing I had a hat to take off. "Shouldn't we do something?"

Scott gently took the only remaining leaf into his hand, lightly touched one of his free fingers in the pool of beer, and then crossed the leaf. "I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit." The leaf came off in Scott's hand.

"Oh well, at least it's with the angels now." I did feel better.

"The hell with this, then," Scott said, throwing the leaf, pot, and plant into the trashcan. It bonked solidly on the bottom.

"Did I ever ask you why you have a Snoopy trashcan in your room? I asked Scott.

"I think so," Scott answered.

"Did you ever tell me?"

"No, I don't believe I did."

I never asked Scott if he thought he'd ever return to teaching.

Marge was standing on a chair in the faculty toilet when I told her I was going to quit. She was trying to tie a string to the flash button of a Polaroid camera.

"When she flushes the toilet the camera will take her picture." Marge smiled with the gleefulness of a child.

"Wouldn't it be after the fact, though? I mean, when she flushes the toilet we'll just get a picture of her flushing the toilet."

Marge stepped off the chair and sat down on the toilet, not even noticing that the lid was still up. She was obviously disappointed.

"Keep working at it, Marge." I tried to cheer her up. "You'll come up with it yet."

I sat down in a chair across from Marge so I could help her think, too.

"How about drilling a little hole in the door?"

"Naw," said Marge after a few moment's thought, "I'd probably just have to pay for the door if Miss Ragusa found out."

"I kicked a hole in my desk." Marge looked up at me and smiled.

"Will you have to pay for it?" Marge asked.


That had been Ragusa's first idea. But there was no money missing from my final paycheck. I did have to sit in her office, though, while she lectured me about my not being able to teach before she finally gave me my money.

"I wish you would have thought about more than just money when you took this job." Miss Ragusa was doing a very fine job of acting angry.

"Can I go now?" I quietly asked.

I had brought my year-and-a-half old daughter with me on my final trip to that hot brick building that sat underneath the freeway viaduct with its steeple almost touching the deck of the bridge. All the time Miss Ragusa had been lecturing me I stared in amazement. Her bottom lip really was moving up over her nose. I was so amazed I hadn't notice that my daughter had pulled the Sacred Mary Amulet off the Mary Shrine. Blessed by the box load by anyone above a Bishop, they're handed out on some special Holy Day to be worn around the neck, protecting the wearer from certain hell fire in case his or her brakes were to fail, or something like that. Rachel chewed on it twice and decided to put it back, safely beneath the out-stretched hand of Mary.

As I pulled away from the curb for the last time, I could have sworn I saw Marge waving from the small hole she had managed to chip through the paint on her window. Either she was waving good-bye, or she was trying to motion to me that somebody had stolen the beauty rings off my car.


Springfield, 1987