A Square Deal
In a special creative writing class for a few gifted students at the West Macon consolidated high school, Miss Gertrude Winterfly, the ancient but knowledgeable English teacher, was writing example sentences on the blackboard. Behind her, Napoleon (or Nappy, as his closest friends called him), punched Lillian, who was sitting to his left, and handed her a folded note. He motioned for her to pass it on, indicating the name of the intended recipient, which was written in bold letters on the outside. Lillian glanced briefly at the name, grinned, and passed the note on to Sarah, who, in turn, passed it to Julie, who passed it to Fred, who passed it to Dorothy—to whom the note was addressed. At the ensuing rustling and giggling, the eagle-eared Miss Winterfly discontinued her penmanship and turned back to her six students.
“Class, what’s so funny?”
No one answered. Such a general question directed to no one in particular required no response. Therefore, Miss Winterfly, spying the culpable look on Dorothy’s face, singled her out. “Dorothy, what’s so funny? Is there something wrong with my sentences?”
“Huh?” Dorothy blurted, extracting a round of muffled laughter and guarded whispers.
Ever the patient one, Miss Winterfly repeated the questions, but then noticed the fold-creased sheet of notebook paper in Dorothy’s hands.
“Is that a letter you’re reading, Dorothy? Is that what’s so funny?”
Dorothy pressed Nappy’s note tight against her chest. “Oh, no, Miss Winterfly. This is personal correspondence, yes, but it in no way contains anything that might be regarded as comical.”
Miss Winterfly, not born yesterday (or any day close to yesterday, for that matter), and priding herself on her keen perception, picked up immediately on what was happening. “Dorothy and Napoleon! To the front of the class! Now!”
“But Miss Winterfly...,” Dorothy started.
“What in the world for?” Nappy asked.
“Never mind the reason. Just get up here. And, Dorothy, bring that love letter with you.”
“But, Miss Winterfly, this isn’t a love letter, it’s...”
“Don’t argue with me, Young Lady. I’ll be the judge of that.” Her jaw set in a manner that signified the discussion was closed. No one dared argue with Miss Winterfly once her jaw was set.
“Yes ma’am,” Dorothy said. She rose from her chair and sauntered to the front of the room. But Nappy stood (or rather sat) his ground. He was determined not to be humiliated in front of the class. If humiliation should come, he wanted to be seated.
“Napoleon, are you coming?”
“No ma’am. I’m staying right here. The last time I came to the front of the class, I had to conjugate the verb ‘procrastinate’ a hundred times. My tongue got so tied I tripped over it for a week. No ma’am, I’m sitting right here until the bell rings.”
Miss Winterfly considered Nappy’s reply with amusement, remembering fondly the conjugating punishment. “Suit yourself. But I don’t want to hear a peep out of you while I’m dealing with Dorothy.”
Nappy opened his mouth to utter the word “peep”, but quickly closed it. With Miss Winterfly, he knew when enough was enough. He just nodded his head in agreement.
“Okay, Dorothy, hand it over.” Miss Winterfly stretched out her hand to receive the note.
“No, I won’t. As I told you, this note is personal, meant for my eyes only. I’ll not pass it to you or to anyone else.” She closed her fist around the note, crushing it into a tight ball. She squeezed so tight, her knuckles turned white.
“I’ll just have to take it then!” And she leaped toward the suddenly frightened Dorothy. In a wink, she had Dorothy’s left arm pinned behind her back. “Hand it over, or I’ll break it!”
Dorothy grimaced in pain, but, with her free hand, she stuffed the waded-up note into her mouth. “Mmaff tth sassdkeks sefr!” Dorothy shouted. Miss Winterfly applied more pressure. The pain increased to an unbearable level, until, finally, Dorothy spat out the note.
“Uncle! Uncle! Oh, sweet Jesus, Uncle!”
“That’s better,” said Miss Winterfly, releasing Dorothy’s arm and scooping up the note. “Now, let’s see what was so important that couldn’t have waited until after class.”
No words of protest came from the defeated Dorothy. She rubbed her sore arm and after a quick glance toward Nappy, who was hiding in shame behind his opened notebook, diverted her eyes to the floor.
Touched by the defeatism displayed by her two star pupils, a rare spark of compassion stirred in Miss Winterfly’s heart. “I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” she said. She carefully refolded the note and wiped her saliva-wet hands on her dress. “I’ll offer the two of you a deal.”
“What kind of a deal?” Nappy asked, emerging from behind his notebook.
“Well, you can either accept a final grade of D-minus, or you can allow me to read this note to the class.”
“But, Miss Winterfly, what grade would we get otherwise?” Nappy asked.
“A fair question, Napoleon.” She opened the center drawer to her desk and extracted her grade book. She riffled the pages until she found the grades for Creative Writing 101. “Napoleon, so far you have a C-plus, and Dorothy, you have a B-minus.”
At her words, Nappy’s face lit up. And Dorothy was so happy that she danced a jig around Miss Winterfly’s desk, upsetting the pile of polished apples that had been placed there before class. “Read the note! Read the note!” she howled.
Ignoring the clutter on the floor, Miss Winterfly again unfolded the note. She slipped her spectacles to the tip of her nose and cleared her throat.
“Wait a minute!” Nappy interrupted. “Don’t I get a vote? After all, I sent the note to Dorothy.”
“Of course, you get a vote, Napoleon. I just assumed that from the beaming expression on your face that you were in complete accordance with Dorothy.”
“Well, I’m not.”
“You mean, you’ll accept a D-minus, rather than the C-plus, which you most certainly have earned.”
“I won’t accept either grade. I want the same grade as Dorothy. I want a B-minus.”
“But, Napoleon, you’ve hardly earned a B-minus. You wouldn’t want me to give you a grade that you didn’t earn, would you?”
“I didn’t earn the D-minus either.”
“No, you didn’t, Napoleon, but you and Dorothy did disrupt the class with your clandestine courtship. Both of you have to be punished.”
“But that’s my offer. You can read the note to the class if you’ll give me a final grade of B-minus.”
Miss Winterfly, ever the one for fairness and justice, considered Nappy’s offer. After a few seconds of contemplation, she turned to the others. “I’ll leave the decision with you, Class. Those in favor of Napoleon receiving a B-minus, raise your hand.”
Everyone raised their hand except Fred, who had turned an envious shade of green, for he knew his grade would be much lower than a B-minus.
“Only Fred opposes, so I guess the majority rules. Okay, Napoleon, you can have your B-minus.”
Fred’s hand shot in the air. “But Miss Winterfly, we all had a hand in disrupting the class: Nappy passed the note to Lillian, who passed it to Sarah, who passed it to Julie, who passed it to me; and I passed it to Dorothy. So we all should be punished. All six of us should receive a B-minus.”
“But Fred,” Miss Winterfly reasoned. “Your pathetic story about grandfather’s blue tick coon dog reduced your grade to a D-plus. And Julie, your imaginary town of Prosperity, where all the residents don’t have indoor plumbing and electricity, clearly shows a lack of imagination. Sarah, you write unbelievable horror stories with no titles and no endings. I’m afraid it’s a D for you. And Lillian—poor, poor, Lillian—the handwriting was so bad in the last story that you submitted that I couldn’t read it. I’ve given you an incomplete.”
Fred winced at the mention of his grade of D-plus, but he stoically held his ground. The others, too, murmured their disapproval. “But that’s our deal,” Fred said. “We’ll listen to you read the love note, if you’ll punish all of us with a final grade of B-minus.”
“But the others have voted.”
“Then I demand a revote.” The class murmured in agreement.
Miss Winterfly sighed, realizing the logic of Fred’s request. “A revote isn’t necessary. You can all have a B-minus as long as Dorothy reads the note. Okay Dorothy?”
“But...,” Dorothy started, but Miss Winterfly interrupts.
“Read the note or no dear.”
Dorothy looked at the others and they motion for her to go ahead. No one wanted to lose the grade of B-minus.
“Well,” Dorothy said. “Okay. If I must.”
Dorothy unfolded the note, glanced back at Miss Winterfly one more time, distress clearly showing in her face.
Dorothy cleared her throat and began. “I think Miss Winterfly is an okay teacher...” She paused when Julie sniggered. “But whenever she’s at my desk explaining something to me, I almost become asphyxiated with her acute halitosis.” Outright laughter ensued, and Miss Winterfly turned a dark shade of red. “And another thing...”
Miss Winterfly snatched the note from Dorothy’s hands. She crushed the note into a ball. She opened her mouth to admonish the class for their behavior, but quickly closed it for fear she would befoul the air. She opened the top left hand drawer of her desks, extracted a full tube of toothpaste and a pink toothbrush and left the room.
“Wow!” Fred said. “She isn’t too happy about the note now. Way to go Nappy!”
“But will she still honor the deal and give us all a B-minus?” Lillian asked. “She may fail all of us now.”
They looked at each other, searching for an answer. Finally, Nappy spoke. “From what I know about Miss Winterfly, she’s an honorable woman. I think she’ll keep her word.”
“Despite what the note said?” Sarah asked.
“Yes, despite that.”
“Shh... here she comes!”
They were quiet and attentive when Miss Winterfly entered the room. She returned the toiletries to her desk. Before she could address the class, the bell rang. No one stirred.
Miss Winterfly faced the class and smiled. With a breath that was sparkling clean and minty fresh, she announced: