Monday, September 6, 2010

The Sneeze

The instructions for that day’s grade one assignment were quite clear. Draw three daisies. Simple. Karine loved to draw and for once felt certain Sister Imelda would praise her for her artistic talents, her flawless daisies, the shape of their petals and the green of their stem. Of course because she was only 6 years old, her thoughts ran more towards how she’d get her picture hung at the front of the class.

Karine’s gleeful use of the pale pink crayon was halted by Sister Imelda’s imposing finger with its frighteningly close cropped nail pointing aggressively at the daisy.

“What do you think you’re doing?”
“Drawing the daisies, sister.”
“Why is it pink?” She growled the question, over pronouncing the P and the K.
“Because I like pink.” Karine was more hesitant in her answer. She was beginning to recognize that trouble, as usual, was just ahead of her.

By now the entire class had stopped colouring and was watching the drama unfold.

“Really? Pink? Do you think God cares that you like pink? Does God make pink daisies?”

Karine saw an opening to share what she had learned. “My mother has pink daisies in her garden.” Karine was too young to know the difference between daisies and Echinacea.

“You petulant little child. God makes daisies WHITE.”

Karine knew what was coming next and gathered her books together before being ordered “Out in the hall.” She’d have to spend the rest of the morning sitting in the “desk of shame” in the hall. A desk was permanently parked outside of Sister Imelda’s classroom because there was usually at least one pupil ordered out there at any one time.

The desk of shame would not be so bad – rather peaceful in fact – except for the disapproving shakes of heads from the other teachers, and even worse, Father O’Leary, the principal. The taunts of her schoolmates didn’t help. Especially the snotty superiority of Sarah Beth Lindy who was always being praised by Sister Imelda.

Karine got to work. Her previous attempt at drawing was trashed by the good Sister. This time she’d try again and make them white with a yellow centre, green stem and three leaves. The result made her yawn.

After a lonely lunch Karine was allowed back into class. Things were going fairly well, but Karine could not let go of the injustice of being yelled at for making her daisies prettier than required. Her eyes bore holes into the back of Sister Imelda’s head as she wrote math gibberish on the board. When she turned to face the class, to Karine’s eyes Sister Imelda had horns, her nose had grown by three inches and warts had taken over her face and neck. Instead of being afraid of the gargoyle now teaching math, Karine was pleased with the look she had given to her teacher.

Her smug satisfaction was shattered when she realized her name was being called to answer a math question that required adding two impossibly large numbers. Karine sat there miserably with her mouth wide open. Sister Imelda pounced.

“You weren’t paying attention.” It was an accusation, not a question. Thankfully an answer was not required. Sister Imelda chose to humiliate her simply by barking “Smarten up” and turned back to the board. Karine happened to catch Sarah Beth’s triumphant face. Karine resisted the urge to stick out her tongue. It was the best decision she had made all day.

The dreadful day was almost done. The only thing left to survive was gym class outside. Karine was determined to pay attention, be quiet and charming and not get into trouble. She was not a child programmed to sit still but she wanted nothing more than to play the game and be a good girl and go home to her mom’s warm hug and perhaps cookies and milk to help forget the day.

The set up was standard. Holding hands and walking around the magic circle. It was a simple game. Karine could do this. Sister Imelda had made the circle arrangements. Karine had Sarah Beth on one side and Sister Imelda on the other. The dream of holding hands with Tommy Snyder was thereby lost. After a momentary pout, Karine returned to her plan of goodness.

Karine’s nose had a different plan. It started as a small tickle. An annoyance, but it grew. It was quickly mounting to be a colossal sneeze. First Karine tried to release her hand from Sarah Beth’s grasp. That didn’t work. Next she tried to struggle free from Sister Imelda, but her grip only seemed to get stronger. She resorted to pleading.

“Please, Sister, my nose.”
“Sit still, Karine. Enough.”
“But I’m going to …” It was too late. The sneeze was bigger than Karine herself. It was simply reflex that caused Karine’s little hand, still housed in Sister Imelda’s unyielding grasp, shot to her face and wiped up the offensive remnants of the sneeze. However, it should be reported that Karine’s hand did not mop up the mess. In fact, Sister Imelda’s hand and sleeve did a far better job of getting Karine’s face clean.

Sister Imelda’s reaction was as immediate as it was predictable. A high pitched screech could be heard threatening hell and brimstone and Sister Imelda hauled Karine away. She knew where she was heading – the gulag – the principal’s office. But Karine carried forward… bravely… with a huge smile on her face.

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