“Here’s your lesson for today. Pay no attention to what your teachers say. Just notice what they wear, and that will tell you everything you need to know.” — “Clifford” to his niece in Crimes and Misdemeanors.
Mrs. Henry wore smart black dresses almost every day. Usually, with black stockings through which, if you were looking carefully, you’d notice the black hairs sticking to the nylon-like spider webs attached to old screens.
And her shoes.
They were always heeled, with pointed toes.
They were always too small for her feet, too, as anyone with eyes could see.
It was hard to pay attention in Mrs. Henry’s science class because, first, I didn’t like science, hadn’t since I’d seen a 3-D picture of the cardiovascular system in sixth grade, which made me so queasy I thought my spaghetti lunch was about to wed itself to the glossy, sheer text page.
Also, who could pay so much attention to life cycles of tree frogs when the woman discussing such natural phenomena was surely in pain? I know her feet had to hurt, which might also have been why she was often so stern, so demanding, and at times, so angry.
Of course, she might have been angry because of us, her “pupils,” one of which, Saul Reid, was a sixteen-year-old guy with tattoos still working his way through his seventh-grade year. Saul had a younger brother, and you’ll believe me, won’t you, when I tell you the brother’s name was Paul? Why wouldn’t you? This was small-town Alabama, in the heart of both Dixie and the Bible Belt, where even the school “hoods” got themselves some religion.
Saul “talked back” to Mrs. Henry every day. He asked questions of her that no teacher should have to tolerate. I don’t know what deal the school district had with Saul and his teachers, but Saul himself was just biding his time until he turned seventeen, the legal age for him, or anyone, to drop out.
It’s funny that Saul would adhere to any legalities, especially to put himself into the care of any institutional authority for seven hours a day, four days a week. I said four purposefully because Saul told all of us that,
“Fridays are my day off.”