Somewhere in 1965
The class clown had gone too far, for he and everyone in his classroom were informed that he was going to be kept after school. He'd resigned himself to miss playing with his gang of friends in the neighbourhood.
Winter was the most depressing time of the year. The leaves on the trees were gone that made them look like skeletons of the dead, the snow covered streets and lawns appeared like a cemetery, there was a funereal shroud of silence and the street lights would be going on at 4:30 in the afternoon. His gang would play without him in their King of the Hill or snowball fight games in the rapidly changing grey blue skies, the twilight, the dusk and the dark from the high piles of dirty snow thrown up by the snowploughs when they cleared the streets. The children's imagination transformed the snow piles into the Himalayan mountains bordering Shangri-La or medieval castles that brave knights would seize or defend.
He held no ill will towards his teacher, as he truly liked her; more than any other teacher that he had ever had. It was not that long ago that once a schoolteacher married she had to leave the profession. That left the newly started fresh faced young women who either left or remained where they transformed into the bitter and tragically prematurely-aged-before-their-time and the veterans who either were or just merely looked ancient. His current teacher, just over half way though his years of grade school was different. The unmarried smiling blonde who looked midway between the ages of the new teachers and the ancient ones was not only amazingly attractive, like the magician's assistant from The Magic Land of Allakazam whose beauty kept the audience from looking closely at the legerdemain and prestidigitation of the man in top hat and evening dress, but she had the look of actually being wise. Miss MacNeill didn't need a corset, bullet bra, fishnet stockings and stiletto heels to look stunningly beautiful; she naturally exuded femininity, wit and charm without any effort whatsoever.
She knew the tricks of his rival amateur class clowns, like when someone pulled the 'I can't see, I can't see' or the other Three Stooges Shibboleths. Her look of control of the situation manifested itself in an all knowing smile where she would ruin their jokes by knowing the punchline and making the clown look foolish by her revealing it first.
In contrast, she appeared to appreciate his own bon mots as they were never really disruptive, for he was never deliberately insubordinate. To his eternal admiration, she accepted his bits of wit as what they were meant to be, a slight break in the serious mood of the lesson. Best of all, she never seemed challenged by him raising his hand when bringing up a point that she missed, or suggesting a correction of a very rare error. She discussed and incorporated his polite interjection into part of the lesson for everyone's benefit. She accepted him and called him 'the Mayor of Shenanigans' after the Saturday morning kid's game show. His crush on her gradually grew.
There was one time however, when she made him the literal laughing stock of the class by threatening to tape his mouth shut. Rather than being frightened, he conceded to her as a gentleman knight to a rival who had fairly defeated him through greater skill and knowledge. Though it was at his expense, he was glad that everyone, especially Miss MacNeill, had a laugh.
He had been kept after class once or twice by his previous teachers for minor transgressions. It was a level of punishment just shy of being 'reported', where you had to go to the principal's office and deal with the genuinely sadistic Dean of Boys. He had once ran an errand with his best friend in the first grade from their classroom to another room to pick up and return something. When challenged by a male teacher of why they were outside their classroom in the mausoleum quiet of the halls, his frightened friend froze in panic. The class clown believed that he had nothing to fear due to the truth being on his side as he explained their errand. The male teacher, looking for something to get them on noticed that they had done the unpardonable sin of running up the stairs; that was a major Bozo No-No of the school. When the class clown explained that they were keen to complete their errand quickly and satisfactorily in order to get back in class, the teacher, rather than give the usual punishment of being made to walk up and down the stairs five, ten, or however many times, informed them that they were going to be reported. The class clown accepted the inevitable, his friend became visibly frightened with the triumphant male teacher acting like a shark seeing blood. He brought the pair to the faculty lounge where the teachers would retire away from the classroom and let off steam by smoking, insulting their charges and probably having alcoholic drinks. They waited outside as their captor went inside the OFF LIMITS area and brought out the insanely smiling Dean of Boys who looked like one of the class clown's uncles when he had too many alcoholic drinks at Christmas.
'So you were RUNNING UP MY STAIRS WERE YOU???'
'Yes sir', resignedly said the class clown; his friend began crying and shaking in fright.
Like the old movies, the Dean of Boys slapped him. His friend began shrieking, the Dean went into a frenzy giving him blow after blow, more blows than even the class clown's raised in the Depression, fought in World War II Dad or Moe Howard himself would do. He turned to the class clown.
'YOU, get back to your classroom.'
The class clown silently thanked the Lord and left his friend to God knew what as he walked, not ran, back to his First Grade classroom.
* * *
No one thought their teacher looked any different on that particular day. She may not have been smiling, but she certainly wasn't cross.
She was reciting and writing things on the blackboard as her students were copying her instructions in their notebooks. He couldn't remember what she said, but he provided one of his usual puns that in no way was meant to cause any offence, but made the class laugh.
In the snap of a finger she instantly wheeled around and pointed her right finger at him, looking exactly like the first glimpse of 007 in the gun barrel where he fired his Walther PPK at the audience, a wicked electric guitar played, and red blood oozed down the gun barrel as the sold out audience in the Genesee Theatre exploded in cheers and whistles because 'James Bond (Mixing Business and Girls!) is Back (Mixing Thrills and Girls!) in Action (Mixing Danger and Girls!) and Everything He Touches...Turns to Excitement!!!'
'You're staying after school with me, Mr. Miller!!!'
This girl was angry. No one had ever heard her speak in that tone of voice and she had never, ever, called any of the boys 'Mister'. Her facial expression looked exactly like SMERSH and SPECTRE's Number One Executioner Donovan Grant at the full moon. The entire class was stunned into a loud silence. He had recalled his brother's high school buddies talking how women went insane at certain times of the month, but obviously she wouldn't be a schoolteacher if she did, or would she?
* * *
When his teachers had previously kept him after school it was either to write punishment lines on the blackboard or there was the time when he was caught flying a paper aeroplane out the window and had to bring a ream of notebook paper to fold an air armada of paper aeroplanes. Being kept after school was nothing compared to his father's menacing and his mother wailing that he had disgraced the family and she couldn't show her face in town again; the price of the ream of paper was deducted from his allowance.
As usual, the liberty bell rang at quarter past three. All his classmates put on their coats and rushed out of the room in the joy of freedom. He thought he would begin by providing a sincere apology,
'Miss MacNeill, I want to apol-'
'Sit down in the front desk, Mr. Miller. Place your hands in front of you and clasp your fingers together with your hands on the desk top. You will remain in that position where you will look at me and not look at the clock.'
She spoke like a policewoman making an arrest, implying that failure to respond would ensure a .38 Special round in his forehead. She didn't threaten...she promised. His brother had said the position she made him adopt was the same one they used in high school detention for punks.
'You will only speak when you are spoken to, Mr. Miller.'
He complied with her instructions. Whilst he was pathetic at any form of sport, he was the undisputed school champion of winning staredown competitions. He could remain motionless, with rarely a blink of an eye. He would imagine himself growing up to be a Marine where he'd survive a Jap ambush and fool them as they ensured the Marines were dead, then he would rise with his Tommy gun and shoot them down in their sneaking backs.
She had her spectacles on and was doing paperwork. As he obeyed her implicitly, he had no idea of how long he had remained motionless. She looked up at him, removed her eyeglasses and beckoned him with her finger, again, in the manner of a beat cop terrorising a juvenile delinquent in front of his street gang.
He stood by the side of her in silence. Her eyes were intense.
'What am I going to do with you, Charlie?'
Perhaps because they were on a first name basis again he didn't think rationally, and he provided the first quip that came into his mind.
'You said you were going to tape my mouth shut.'
He didn't realise what he said until he had said it. She raised her eyebrow like Sean Connery and continued looking at him as she opened one of the drawers in her desk and produced a wide roll of masking tape and a pair of scissors...
She expertly placed three pieces of equal length over his mouth, he found himself offering his hands to her with his wrists together. She paused for a second, then wound the tape around his wrists, cut the tape and stuck the end of the tape down.
They looked at each other in silence, she was neither angry, nor amused, until she spoke in triumph.
'Now you're looking like a model student.'
He looked at her in curiosity.
'The real purpose of this exercise was to humiliate you in front of your entire class, where you'd suffer lifelong embarrassment and trauma. I could never bring myself to do it, and I've no idea why I've done this to you now....maybe because I'm feeling extra vulnerable today, and being vulnerable is a dreadful thing if you're a schoolteacher or you're single; it's horrifying if you're both.'
She had the feeling that he was understanding her emotions as she continued.
'It's like being a lion tamer, you can't let anyone get on top of you or they'll tear you apart and the audience will eat it up because you're finished.'
He had a vision of her dressed in a white blouse and jodhpurs set off by a black pistol belt and riding boots cracking her whip, but not pulling her pistol out until it was necessary. He wanted to jump by her side and defend her against the other lions roaring from the top of their stands that she put them up on.
'Can you keep a secret, Charlie?'
'You won't believe this, and please don't spread it around, but schoolteachers are human beings.'
He pointed at her and nodded.
He believed that she would be able to take away his undefeated Staredown Champion of the World belt, but he couldn't take his eyes off her. He had no idea of how much time elapsed.
'Are you enjoying what I've done to you?'
He neither shook his head nor nodded. There was a look of dependent trust in his eyes.
'Why don't you mind it?'
He held his hands up and pointed at her, then pointed at himself as she correctly said,
Then he folded all his fingers inward except for his right index and middle finger, that he crossed.
'This is bringing us together?'
He nodded and give an expression of sincerity. Her eyes expressed surprise, then a look of knowledge.
'I don't know why or how, but I think you're right, however this will be our first and final time.'
He gave a sad expression and nodded.
'You always seem like you're happy, I don't mean now, I mean every day.'
He nodded his head then pointed at her and gave a questioning look.
He exaggerated his questioning look.
'How funny, you seem to be the only one in the world that I can talk to...and you can't talk at all!'
He nodded, then repeated his questioning look. He picked up a book off her desk titled TEACHER'S EDITION, covered the word 'EDITION' and gave another questioning look as he showed it to her.
'It's like riding an eternal carousel...a fool's carousel...funny, Carousel is my favourite musical...You go around on your carousel in what seems like slow motion, for everyone has their own carousel. No one really wins, but no one really loses on a carousel...But after every revolution you notice that all those around you riding the horses are growing older, and when you spy your reflection in the mirrors on the sides and above you see that you're getting older too, and there's nothing you can do about it. No one can stop the carousel, except the old carnie who grabs and tells one person at a time that they're too old to ride the carousel any more, and he somehow walks them off the carousel whilst everyone else is still going in circles. He says 'thank you', then he gives that person a gold plated watch engraved with IF YOU THINK YOU'VE REALLY WASTED YOUR LIFE THEN YOU REALLY HAVE and after he walks that old person off, he goes back to watching everyone else going around in circles to see the next person who has reached the age limit. For the rest of us, instead of grabbing the brass ring, you try and jump off and land on a comfortable mattress or at least not get hurt. Some of us are afraid to leave the carousel and some of us don't want to because they convince themselves that they're forever happy riding the carousel, until they get their own engraved watch when they're walked off by the old carnie. Maybe they see the crowds watching them on the carousel and they imagine they're expert performers with the onlookers admiring them as they go by, because they're in a state of motion that the onlookers aren't. They look like they're going someplace the onlookers can't and they're happy doing it, but if they had taken time to think they'd realise that they're only going in circles and if they realised how futile their life really was, they'd jump off the carousel in a suicide leap. That's the definition of a fool; someone who everyone else but them knows that they're perpetually foolish until one day they find out themselves, and they mostly only find that out when it's too late...The carousel never goes backwards...'
His expression imparted a feeling of understanding, and he gave a slow nod of what she imagined was gratitude.
'I'm glad we can talk to each other alone and be honest with each other. You know we'll never be able to this again, right?'
His expression was sad as he nodded.
'Limit, one per customer...somehow this time and place occurred through some once in a lifetime conjunction of different worlds and shan't happen again.'
She was amazed how his facial expression could signify more things than his, or most other people's conversations ever could.
'I'm curious, why do some boys fall in love with their teachers? I don't just mean you.'
He pointed at the classroom with his finger, then made a circular motion.
He nodded, and slowly raised his head to the ceiling several times.
He nodded, and turned and pointed out the window from their top floor classroom to the muted noises of the traffic on the street and the early darkening skies of the growing later and later bleak winter afternoon. He repeatedly slowly moved his head down several times.
'When you're in school you look up to women, but outside you look down on them; "you" meaning all boys and men?'
He turned and nodded.
'You're right. Children look up to women, men look down on them most of the time, you're very lucky if you can find someone on your same level, then you've really got something. Most women would be suspicious of a man who looked up to her, she'd think he was trying to live off her wealth or he was an overgrown child who couldn't stand on his own two feet. No one marries their schoolteacher, and schoolteachers want to have children not marry them. In some ways that's sad as boys have an innocence and sincere honesty that men lose, have beaten out of them or try to hide. I think it's finding, seeing and guiding that innocence is what really attracts teachers to their vocation.'
He gave an understanding look as he nodded.
'Sometimes it's a shame that people grow up. I hope that inside you you'll keep your honesty. Everyone's innocence goes...like other things as they grow up', she stopped herself from saying 'virginity', but she continued without missing a beat, 'like your baby teeth that come out one at a time. Teeth grow back, but they're not the same...'
He wiggled one of his fingers and pointed at her hand.
He hummed a bit of Here Comes the Bride and gave a questioning look.
'Will I get married? Someday. I can't find a Mr. Right at the moment. Unlike some other teachers I know, I know that when you get married your problems don't end, you just get new and different problems'.
His eyes flashed in recognition as he nodded.
'I never wanted to rush into marriage, I'll marry because I want to, not because I have to. The longer you put it off, the less candidates there are, and the leftovers are either rarely very good or mostly very bad. The ones who are financially secure enough for the life you want aren't very much fun to be around and won't let you be yourself, and vice versa.'
'That's our equivalent of grabbing the brass ring and jumping off the fool's carousel. Will you land on a comfortable mattress or will you crash on the concrete and hurt yourself? Most of us land on our feet, but we stay on our feet for the rest of our lives looking for the comfortable mattress...why can't I speak to anyone else like I'm speaking to you?'
He gave a frightened expression and gave an exaggerated shaking.
'Yes, I'm never afraid to talk but I am afraid to be honest and open with my feelings...Someday I'll find Mr. Right, or Mr. Ehhhh', she held her hand out and shook it in the 'so-so' movement. 'Here's another bit of trivia, men marry women thinking that they'll never change and women marry men with the idea of their changing him from the very start.'
His eyes sparkled with laughter.
'I think I'm being taught a lesson, and I thank you for it. You think the principal and the school have it in for you and the other clowns? Believe me Charlie, they go after your teachers more than you. Have you ever wondered why so many schools make their students read The Crucible? The school administration copies the Salem Witch Trials as their procedures against teachers...of course, like everything else this is just between us...Mum's the word.'
She giggled for the first time and he smiled with his eyes.
'I'm going to let you go now, but I just want you to reflect on our secret conversation on your way home.'
He nodded his head and held up his hands. She softly sang the end title song of Shenanigans as she slowly freed him, then crumpled up the pieces of tape in a ball and threw it in the waste basket. They hugged each other.
'Limit one per customer', she smiled, 'It's time to go home for both of us, Charlie. Thank you.'
'Thank you, Miss MacNeill, I never meant to offend you.'
'You didn't, I overreacted, because there were other things on my mind. A teacher apologising to her favourite student is also only one per customer.'
* * *
Spring finally came, as it always eventually did. March had come in like a lion and went out like a lamb, April showers brought May flowers, Mayflowers brought Pilgrims as the old school joke said, then it was June, and the greatest day of the year when it was the last day of school and they received their final report cards with most of them, including Charlie's reading PROMOTED TO THE FIFTH GRADE.
Instead of fleeing out the door in ecstasy, he wanted to say goodbye to Miss MacNeill, but several of the girls were monopolising her attention. They loved school, unlike the boys and no doubt wanted to prolong their experience there rather than because they loved her.
'How are you going to spend your summer, Miss MacNeill?'
'I'm going to Rome this year, instead of Paris.'
'Working for the U-N-C-L-E, Miss MacNeill?', Charlie cracked.
'No, I think I'll have a go at working for THRUSH this year...they have a lot more fun. I'm licensed to kill...time.'
'Gee, Miss MacNeill, why do you want to spend your summer in Europe?', asked Betty.
Miss MacNeill's furrowed eyebrow stopped Charlie from answering 'Yeah, Waukegan is way more fun and exciting than Rome and Paris put together.'
'I just like going somewhere where I can be myself, Betty', she turned to Charlie and looked at him intensely, 'Being able to be yourself is a truly special thing.'
The gushing girls showed no sign of leaving.
Charlie went to one of the vacant desks at the rear of the room and wrote on a piece of paper.
DEAR MISS MACNEILL,
THANK YOU FOR EVERYTHING AND FOR BEING MY FAVOURITE TEACHER.
DO YOU THINK WHEN I'M OLD ENOUGH TO GET MARRIED I'LL BE ABLE TO MARRY SOMEONE LIKE YOU? I HOPE SO.
He folded it and wrote TOP SECRET FOR YOUR EYES ONLY on the outside of the folded paper, handed it to her as the girls continued chatting her up and walked away. He turned at the door for one last look, as for some unknown reason no one ever saw their old teachers again when they returned to school in the fall for the new school year, though the school wasn't that big of a building. The three girls were still talking to her, but she gave him a wistful look and mouthed 'Good bye, Charlie'.
Charlie waved, Miss MacNeill waved and said,
'Don't forget Charlie, the carousel never goes backwards.'
All the girls seemed to have question marks over their heads, like in the comic books.
* * *
At the beginning of July the heat was at its maximum level. It was too hot to play and the gang were clustered under the shade of their favourite tree on Myrtle Street, just across the street from Charlie's Chestnut Street home; Myrtle Street came to an end in the Miller's driveway. They had no idea what kind of tree it was, it wasn't one of the giant oaks, elms, chestnut or hickory trees shading their neighbourhood, it was a small dwarf tree that was incredibly short but gave a large amount of shade. Maybe because it was the only small tree in their leafy neighbourhood was why they made it the gang's special tree and meeting place. Indeed, all the North to South streets in Charlie's neighbourhood were named after trees. The sitting gang had their backs to the trunk of the tree and they talked to each other in a multitude of different things as kids did. The state of almost tropical torpor kept the gang of kids where they were, for not even the usual winds off Lake Michigan stirred.
The only thing that moved was the mailman dressed in his pith helmet and shorts. He walked down Myrtle Street then crossed over to Chestnut to make his deliveries. The gang managed a variety of Jungle Jim jokes, beating drums on their legs,
'Johnny Weissmuller, Skipper, Tamba and Kaseem...delivers the mail!'
As they idly watched the mailman do his rounds, Charlie's mother came out of the house, looked in their mailbox and examined something.
She walked across the street to the gang beneath their tree, all of them rose giving an,
Charlie was no doubt in trouble.
'Charlie!', she smiled. 'You've got a postcard...from ROME!'
Everyone made sounds of envy and incredulity.
The colourful card featured the blue skies of 'ROMA' and the Coliseum.
THINKING OF YOU AS I SIT AT A SIDEWALK CAFE WITH A BOWL OF SPAGHETTI.
I KNOW ROME IS NOWHERE NEAR AS FUN OR EXCITING AS WAUKEGAN (HA HA) BUT I'LL MUDDLE ON THROUGH SOMEHOW.
THANK YOU FOR ALL YOUR JOKES AND MAKING ME LAUGH WHEN I NEEDED TO.
PROMISE ME THAT YOU'LL NEVER FORGET THAT YOU ARE SPECIAL AND YOU ALWAYS WILL BE.
AS PER THE QUESTION YOU GAVE ME ON YOUR FINAL DAY, I HOPE SO TOO!
GOOD LUCK IN THE FIFTH AND ALL YOUR OTHER GRADES AND IN THE MARINES WHEN YOU JOIN. THERE'S A LOT OF WORLD TO SEE AND BE A PART OF.
'Who wrote it Charlie?', asked Chris.
'It's a secret.'
'Charlie's got a secret! Charlie's got a secret!', sang Betty Jo.
Charlotte acted like a mentally retarded child and slurred,
'Who wants to come over and have some ice cold lemonade?', Charlie's mother asked.
The gang cheered as they walked with Mrs. Miller across the street.
Author Notes: I am the author of three Extra Dimensional/Ultraterrestial military science fiction novels MERCENARY EXOTIQUE, OPERATION CHUPACABRA and WORK IN OTHER WORLDS FROM YOUR OWN HOME! as well as two travel books THE MAN FROM WAUKEGAN and TWO AUSTRALIANS IN SCOTLAND (all from Lulu.com). I live happily ever after with my wife in paradise (coastal Kiama, NSW Australia).