February 26, 2014 by David.Groveman
In the sample below Jeremy Grimm, the story’s hero, is delighted by the apparent absence of his 5th Grade Geometry teacher. This chapter introduces the major players in the book: Jeremy, Mr. Pendergrass and Mrs Wyte. Who Jeremy’s teachers REALLY are is a question for later chapters.
Chapter 1: Auto Shop
It started with a Gremlin. What Jeremy was not aware of was that the AMC Gremlin had the reputation as being one of the ugliest and least reliable cars produced in the country. The car, which looked like a station wagon that was partially crushed so as to become a “subcompact” car, was particularly un-attractive but so were most of things produced in the 1970s, like “Member’s Only” jackets. He wasn’t aware of any of this because few Gremlins were still on the road and Jeremy wasn’t a particular “Car Enthusiast.”
Jeremy saw the car as he walked down Long Hill Rd. to school with his pack slung over his un-eager shoulders. Normally Jeremy was not the type of boy who noticed cars. Sure a red Lamborghini with flames on the sides would have gotten his attention, but ordinarily he would have trudged past the teacher’s parking lot with his usual somber pacing.
Today, he happened to notice a car. He saw it and his heart raced with sudden joy. The rust colored car was parked in Mrs. Wyte’s spot and that meant the doom of his impending Geometry quiz might be averted. The car meant a substitute and a substitute meant an hour break between a boring history lecture on the Trojan War and another embarrassing hour of trying to dribble a basketball whilst simultaneously not falling on his face.
The car, a hideous dented monstrosity that had been once painted the ever attractive color of rust, was worn with paint peeling away into a motley of yellows, reds and browns. It was an ugly, detestable automobile and Jeremy loved it. He would be forever in its debt and for that he gave the car his unyielding allegiance.
Theodore Roosevelt Middle School was (and probably still is) a squat building of tan brick with rows of black rimmed windows. It sits at the bottom of a valley between two hills of suburban homes. Jeremy lived up the hill to the West of the school and had to pass the teacher’s parking lot on his way into the building every day. Every day he’d pass by and see (without meaning to) the slate gray sedan parked in number thirty one. That car and space belonged to Mrs. Eugenia Wyte and, for Jeremy, there was no car he loathed seeing day in and day out as much as hers.
Mrs. Wyte, as far as anyone knew, was just a mean old woman who had taught at Theodore Roosevelt longer than anyone could remember. Longer than any faculty or administration longer even than Mr. Phypps the school’s elderly custodian. She was called Mrs. But not a soul knew if she ever had a husband or if he were still alive. It was quietly whispered that his bones lay shackled to a wall in Mrs. Wyte’s basement. Jeremy wasn’t the only student who dreaded this Geometry teacher, but Jeremy feared her more than most. Jeremy wasn’t exactly a dimwit, but for whatever reason calculating the circumference of a circle seemed an elusive subject for him to grasp. So much so that he had legitimate fears of being left back and disowned by his parents.
Yet today, he’d not be forced to face his fears. Today, perhaps for the first time ever, Mrs. Wyte was absent.
He skipped the final yards towards the building, passed his friends Aaron and David with a wave and swung wide the doors. Today was actually going to be a good day. Today wasn’t going to mean a letter home to his parents, a permanent blotch on his permanent record and the potential of his parents abandoning him to the streets. For that he owed a debt to the ugly car in spot thirty one of the teacher’s parking lot. Smiling, he walked past the stairwell and parted the inner doors and was greeted with the angriest face he had ever seen.
The face of Eugenia Wyte could never have belonged to an attractive young woman. For all anyone knew she could have never even been young. She was the kind of teacher hewn straight from the darkest imaginings of every school child. Her skin was pale and shiny, as if it had been polished. Her white hair was long and straight. She wore only black and gray and always wore a jacket. Her face, lined deep with frowning, was accentuated by a mouth that seemed to naturally pucker angrily for no reason at all. When she wished it she could make a scowl that would make a charging rhino re-evaluate its life choices.
And this was the very face that awaited Jeremy on the other side of the double doors.
Mrs. Wyte’s black shoes tapped loudly on the tile floor of the entryway as she led the principal, Mr. Kenton, to see the teacher’s parking lot. She stomped straight towards Jeremy who had frozen like a deer in the headlights. He was still in such shock that he couldn’t yet wipe that previous optimism from his face. Eugenia Wyte stormed up to Jeremy refusing to walk around. She greeted Jeremy’s apparent optimism with a hatchet of a frown and stared angrily at him. “Move aside Mr. Grimm.”
All Jeremy could think was, “But, you’re absent today.” Thankfully all he did was mutter incoherently as his legs pretended walking was foreign to them.
Jeremy improvised a movement halfway between a shuffle and a squat and in an instant ducked away as she led Principal Kenton past. “Imagine my surprise,” she spat at Mr. Kenton, “When I was to find my number thirty one occupied. Need I remind you that my spot is the closest of any of the teaching faculty and earned only through the merits of my … prolonged tenure? I was forced to park in Davis’ spot, eight spaces away.”
Mr. Kenton was flummoxed. He was always flummoxed but not so badly and rarely so early in the day, “Yes… But- there is a substit-”
“I don’t care if he’s Davis’ guardian angel. I want it out of my spot immediately!” Jeremy imagined he could see angry smoke fuming from her nose and ears.
Mr. Kenton sputtered, “Yes, well… I will- I will have to have a word with Mr. Pendergrass.” He wiped the sweat off his bald head with a handkerchief he kept in his breast coat pocket.
Mr. Kenton didn’t like to have “words” with anyone. Mr. Kenton liked to have quiet evenings alone with a book and a cup of Earl Grey tea. He wasn’t naturally suited to being a school principal. He didn’t so much delegate responsibility as avoid it. Jeremy was sure that Mr. Kenton was absolutely terrified of Mrs. Wyte and for that, Jeremy couldn’t blame him.
“So have him move that horrid monstrosity.” Mrs. Wyte continued, “And see he gives me a formal apology.”
Mr. Kenton nodded absently. His hands were shaking slightly and his head beaded with sweat. He was trying to say something but the words would not come. “Ahm… ermsen…” was all he could manage and Jeremy couldn’t tell what that might of meant if he were a language expert for the FBI. Mr. Kenton wanted desperately to have Mrs. Wyte simply go berate the substitute herself and save him the worry. He wanted to quit his job then and there and return home to his book and tea. He wanted a number of things but Mrs. Wyte held him in place with her angry stare. Mr. Kenton decided he would likely be forced to do something when suddenly there came a tapping of shoes from up above on the stairwell.
“I’m afraid that’s impossible.” The voice, a stiff English tenor came from above Jeremy. A man in a patched corduroy jacket and polka-dotted tie descended the stairs. He had a youthful posture but hid his face beneath a neatly trimmed salt and pepper beard that indicated he was probably in his late thirties or forties. He walked in slow easy steps and exuded confidence. “My horrid monstrosity won’t be moving for some time.” He paused for emphasis and gravity. “Its engine gave up what had been a long and beleaguered struggle with mortality. A tow service has been telephoned, but they will be some time.”
“Then,” Blustered Mrs. Wyte, “I feel I am owed an apology.”
“Sadly, an apology that needs to be asked is meaningless.” The man gave Jeremy a sly conspirator’s smile, “I am not in the habit of meaningless gestures. However, know that I take full responsibility for the Mistake and will compensate you for every extra step you’ve been forced to take. If you will kindly let me lift you I will carry you anywhere in the building you please.”
“Carry m- Who do you think you are?” She declared.
“I’m fairly certain I’m Neville Pendergrass. So far, you’ve demanded I do something I can’t do, requested something I won’t give and ignored my humble and sincere attempt at consolation. So you can do anything you like, so long as it requires nothing of me.” He turned to the principal, “Mr. Kenton, is there anything else?”
“Th-that will be all,” Mr. Kenton seemed ill at ease being left to decide if the situation had been resolved. He nervously peered at Mrs. Wyte, who, with her expression made it abundantly clear that it was NOT resolved.
“William!” Mrs. Wyte’s dismay was palpable.
“Then I shall be on my way. You,” Mr. Pendergrass turned to Jeremy, “It’s rude to lurk, get to class or some such.”
The last thing Jeremy saw before fleeing to his locker was Mrs. Wyte. From her expression, he was sure that all of this had somehow been blamed on him. Her eyes told him that he would pay for seeing her thwarted by this petty substitute. He turned and silently made his way to his locker. There he sighed and let his head fall with a clang against the metal door. He stoically loaded his bag with the books he would need for the first half of the day. He should be prepared because today, at second period Geometry, Mrs. Eugenia Wyte would surely kill him.
He sighed again, shaking the image of Mrs. Wyte’s angry stare out of him as best he could. As he did he felt the compulsion to cry. The car was supposed to be his savior. That ugly rusted piece of junk was supposed to mean he’d be able to study another night. Maybe he could get a passing mark; maybe he’d even ace it. All that car had meant was that Mrs. Wyte, the oldest and meanest woman he had ever known would be angry on the day she flunked him and ruined his 5th Grade life. Jeremy would never again let a Gremlin give him such false hope.