Jul/Aug '03 [Home]
from Chapter Three
by Meredith Sue Willis
We started rehearsals for the Fourth Grade Play, "Cool Girl and the Main Monster." The girls practiced acting and dancing all the time. The boys practiced wearing their masks and doing the Monster Mash dance. I added more parts for me, the Narrator. Then one day Lateesha's dad brought in the head for the Main Monster. The other masks were good, but oh man, you should have seen the Main Monster!
It was purple and blue with orange and yellow streaks. It had horns on top and horns in front and horns out the side. The mouth was wide open with teeth, and that was where Tyrone looked out. Everybody wanted to touch it, but Mr. Marshan said Tyrone first. So Lateesha's father slipped it over Tyrone's head.
Right then, Tyrone turned into the monster. I don't mean he started acting like the monster. He'd been acting like the monster already. What happened was...he grew! Right in front of us, he grew! His shoulders raised up and he got twice as tall as he used to be. He started to walk very slowly, and very slowly he raised up his arms and looked down at us and growled. We all got quiet.
Lateesha's father laughed and laughed. He said Tyrone was a High Class Monster. He gave Tyrone a high five and a low five, and he called him Young Brother and My Man, and by the time he left, Tyrone's real head swelled up so much he could hardly take off the monster head.
He said, "Let's have a rehearsal, Mr. Marshan!"
"No," said Mr. Marshan, "not till later. We have our Friday afternoon business."
"Can I do my work with the head on?" said Tyrone. "I need to, you know, get used to it."
"No, you can't do your work with the head on," said Mr. Marshan. He made Tyrone put the head back in the plastic garbage bag in the coat room. "We have to take good care of it," said Mr. Marshan. "It is a Work of Art. And now for our Friday afternoon business. I'd like everybody to get out their"
Tyrone interrupted him. "Mr. Marshan! Mr. Marshan! Can I take the head home? I want to show it to somebody."
I was starting to get tired of this. I said, in a little baby voice, "He wants to show his Mommy," and everybody laughed.
Tyrone said, "Are you talking about my mother, Marco?"
"That's enough," said Mr. Marshan. "That's enough about mothers and the head too. I want everyone to get out their pencils for the spelling test."
This was when the afternoon began to get bad. I had forgotten about the spelling test. Spelling is one of my pretty good subjects, but what I do is, I memorize the words right before the test. But that day I had forgotten it was Friday. I never once looked at my list.
Everybody groaned like they always do, and Mr. Marshan said like he always does, "Now you know we have the test every Friday. You have the whole week to study."
If he would have given us just one minute to memorize, I would have been okay, but he didn't. I got the worst grade I ever got on spelling. My grade was so bad, I'm not going to tell how many I got wrong.
We traded papers to grade them, and Tyrone always grabs mine and I do his. Tyrone started yelling, "Mr. Marshan! Mr. Marshan! I got a better grade than Marco! Hey, Mr. Marshan!"
That's how bad my grade was.
Lateesha said, "Tyrone got a better grade than Marco? Oh Marco!"
And old skinny Miriam was giggling, and Robert, who I used to think was one of my friends, laughed at me. All of them.
I pretended like I didn't care. "Mr. Marshan, that was some jerky word list you gave us this week. I only study good words."
Mr. Marshan told everybody to quiet down, but Tyrone kept leaning over his desk toward me. "Marco, hey Marco, Marco, what happened to you on the spelling test?"
I felt like I had a monster inside me. My monster made me twist around and pick up the edge of Tyrone's desk. I dumped it back in his lap, and all his papers and other stuff fell on the floor.
The weird thing was that nobody seemed to know I did it. They all looked at Tyrone.
Now, nobody gets in Tyrone's face, ever. He didn't care who was getting blamed. All he cared about was, you don't do that to him. He threw away the desk and came flying through the air at me. He was yelling curses and throwing punches. One got me right in the neck, and oh man, my head was turning around. I crawled under my desk to get away from him.
Robert and a bunch of them got hold of Tyrone. Mr. Marshan made him pick up his stuff and go sit in the back of the room in the Cool-Off chair. Mr. Marshan told Tyrone he had better develop some self-control pronto or there was going to be a play with no Main Monster in it. "This is Strike One, Tyrone," he said. "You know the rule, Three Strikes and You're Out."
Tyrone shook his shoulders and stomped his feet and growled. But he never told the teacher that I started it. Even when he wants to beat you up, Tyrone wouldn't betray you. Mr. Marshan asked me if I was okay, and the kids all looked at me, and everybody sat back down and turned their backs on Tyrone.
That was only the beginning of the bad afternoon.
At two forty-five, time to pack up and get my little sister and go home. I didn't see Tyrone, but the principal Mrs. Gates was standing in the door—staring at me. She told me to come with her. We started walking toward the office. "Marco," she said, "I'm going to tell you straight out. Your sister's kindergarten teacher Mrs. Rettle has accused her of causing the death of a gerbil."
I stopped, but she kept walking, so I had to run to catch up. "My sister Ritzi is not a killer, Mrs. Gates!"
"I understand. You don't believe your little sister did such a thing. I can't say I believe it either. But Mrs. Rettle says she has proof positive, not just the circumstance of your sister's disappearance."
"She ran out of the building, but we already heard from your uncle. She went to his store."
I said, "If anybody killed a gerbil, it was Mrs. Rettle."
"It seems to me," said Mrs. Gates, lifting her eyebrow a certain way that made me shut up, "it seems to me that there are altogether too many accusations flying around this school today."
But I was thinking that Mrs. Rettle was a liar and a cheat and a stinking rotten potato, and suddenly there she was in front of the school office door with her whole class of little kids—except for Ritzi. The kids were standing in the hall crying. And not just plain old crying, either. They were howling.
Mrs. Gates said, "Mrs. Rettle, why have you brought these children here! Children, don't mill around like a herd of lost lambs! Form lines!"
And then I saw why the children were howling. Mrs. Rettle was holding a shoe box. She tipped it so we could see it better. In the box on some Kleenex was this little ball of fur with its guts out. I'm in the fourth grade, and I almost puked when I saw it, so no wonder those little kids were howling.
Mrs. Rettle started yelling at me. "Do you see? Do you see what she did?"
I sort of got behind Mrs. Gates and yelled, "My sister never killed your gerbil!"
"Mrs. Rettle," said Mrs. Gates, "why have you brought the children here?"
"I was bringing the evidence. They just followed along."
"Will you please give me that thing and take your children back. Calm them down and dismiss them. No, on second thought, leave that in the office, and you and I both will take your children back and dismiss them."
"I'll leave it," said Mrs. Rettle, "but I don't want it destroyed. This is evidence! Don't leave it with that boy!" She snatched the box up in the air like I was going to take it away from her! "He'll destroy the evidence!"
Mrs. Gates said, "This is a school, not a police station! And this is my school. Now give me the box." Mrs. Rettle gave it to her. "Keep it away from him."
"I wouldn't touch it!" I said. "And my sister would never do that!"
"All right, Marco," said Mrs. Gates. "That's enough."
They left me and the dead gerbil in the office, and went back with the howling little children. Mrs. Allen the secretary came over and said, "Doesn't this box have a lid?" Then she picked up a newspaper and laid it over the box. "We don't have to look at that, do we, Marco?" she said.
I sat on a bench and waited and tried not to look at the box. Then I started thinking about last fall when my uncle had a hernia operation. Ritzi was talking about operations all the time then. One day she rolled my dog over on her back and marked on her belly with magic marker. Ritzi would never hurt a live animal, I thought. She knows a live animal from a Barbie.
But, somehow, that little gerbil ended up dead. That seemed the worst of all. Whatever had happened, the little gerbil was the one dead.
Mr. Marshan came in the office to sign out. He had his baseball hat on ready to go home, and he was carrying some shopping bags full of science reports and also my backpack. "I went in the coat room and got your backpack, Marco," he said. "I put your library book in it." Then he said, "What happened with your sister?"
"She ran away. But she didn't kill the gerbil."
He seemed to have something else on his mind. "I wanted to ask you. Did you see if any of the kids did you see anyone borrow the monster head? We put it back in the garbage bag, didn't we? And we put it back in the coat room? I'm sure we did. It's not there now. I guess I should go back and look again."
But he kept standing there.
"I didn't borrow it, Mr. Marshan," I said.
"I know, I know." Finally he said, "Marco, did you see Tyrone?"
"Mr. Marshan, if Tyrone took it—not that I think he did, but if he did—it would just be borrowing because he wanted to show his mother."
And then, I didn't mean to, but all of that happening—Tyrone hitting me and the spelling test and the dead gerbil and Ritzi and the monster head—I started to cry.
It was awful to start crying in the office, in front of Mr. Marshan and Mrs. Allen and the kids waiting for detention. Mrs. Gates came back and took me and Mr. Marshan into her private office. Mr. Marshan put his hand on my shoulder and told me about how It's Good For Men to Cry. But I wasn't doing it because I wanted to. I was doing it because all this bad stuff had poured down through my head and was coming out my eyeballs. I blew my nose and looked at the pictures of Mrs. Gates' children on her desk. The girl was in a graduation gown and the boy was in a Marines uniform.
Mrs. Gates pulled out Ritzi's emergency card and called my mother at work. I could hear my mother yelling through the phone, she was so mad at Mrs. Rettle.
Hearing Mama yell made me feel a lot better. She wasn't going to let anything bad happen to Ritzi.
"I hear what you're saying," Mrs. Gates said to Mama.
Mrs. Gates said everyone had the week-end to think things over, and they would have a big meeting first thing Monday morning and straighten it all out.
She hung up the phone carefully. Then she looked at Mr. Marshan. "We'll put the corpse in a plastic bag in the refrigerator," she said. "Mrs. Rettle doesn't want to take a chance on it being thrown away."
"I'll do it," said Mr. Marshan. "But it had better go in the freezer." He asked me if I'd be okay, and then he left.
Mrs. Gates took a long look at the photographs of her children. "Yes," she said, "we'll work it out by Monday, one way or the other. Now, Marco. You are to go to your uncle's store and pick up Ritzi. You and your sister and your mother should have a nice relaxing weekend. Do your homework early, that's what I always told my children. Get it out of the way. On Monday we'll clear all this up."
I started off for home feeling like the biggest problem was Tyrone borrowing the head to show his mother and probably getting Strike Two. I thought that was the biggest problem, but the bad afternoon was not over yet. . . .
(Meredith Sue Willis's fiction for adults includes Oradell at Sea (West Virginia University Press, 2002), In the Mountains of America (Mercury House, 1994), A Space Apart (Scribner's, 1979), Higher Ground (Scribner's, 1981), Only Great Changes (Scribner's, 1985), and Trespassers (Hamilton Stone Editions, 1997). Her books for children include The Secret Super Powers of Marco, (Harper Collins, 1994 and Montemayor Press 2001), and Marco's Monster (Harper Collins, 1996 and Montemayor Press 2001), named one of Instructor Magazine's best books of 1997.
Her three books on the teaching of writing are widely used around the country. Personal Fiction Writing (Teachers & Writers Press), in print since 1984, was revised and expanded in 2000. Named a Distinguished Teaching Artist by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts for 2000-2003, she teaches novel writing at New York University.
Willis's honors include the Appalachian Literature Award of Emory and Henry College in 1995, fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, and the NEA/PEN Syndicated Fiction Award.)