Friday, 23 January 2009

Midnight Madness

I am up checking everywhere for the source of a dripping sound and wide awake, so I have written an email to a friend about the nature of relationships that start late in life ... more fragile, despite better choices, I think, than those that are made during our youth when sexual desire and the building of a life created firmer foundations.

I think part of the problem may be that it becomes harder to make a complete commitment to one person as we get older because we have established ties with other people who remain part of our lives, and we realize that the good people with whom we have allied ourselves in the past are no better or worse than the newest love. And they always remain possibilities, at least in our minds, and at least until they make a real commitment to someone else ... or we do.

Back to Kate and Alice.

Here is Chapter 3.


Miriam and Kate checked the timetables taped to the inside of their lockers, gathered their books for the first two afternoon classes, and went their separate ways, Miriam to math and Kate to Miss Cole's class for English. Kate was looking forward to her afternoon. Her favourite teachers were Miss Cole and Mr. Stevens, the history teacher, and she always enjoyed Mrs. Maxwell's art classes even though she had no artistic talent.

Miss Cole was not alone today; Mr. Stevens was up at the front talking to her as the class filed in through the open door. They were both smiling and consulting the handouts on the desk.

"I wonder why Mr. Stevens is in here," Shona Morgan asked quietly. "They make such a cute couple, don't you think?"

Kate looked at the two young teachers. Mr. Stevens' dark head was bent to catch something Miss Cole had said, and then he said something that made her smile. Kate didn't know whether they were a couple or not. Miss Cole's smiles surfaced easily for students too.

The bell rang and conversation ceased. Miss Cole said, "Mr. Stevens and I have designed a special project for you this term. It will combine a history research assignment with several writing challenges. Sometimes you will be doing assignments that are quite strictly history and other times you will be doing more English-oriented tasks. This means that you may sometimes be doing history in English class or English in history class ... but you won't get into trouble for it this term." The students smiled and looked at Shona who was notorious for finishing her history assignments in English and regularly got caught by Miss Cole.

Mr. Stevens took up where Miss Cole had left off. "The very first thing we want you to do is to take this period to look over the term unit, discuss it with your partners or group members, and consider the event that you will be researching. Miss Cole and I will simply be here to help you with any questions you may have." By the time he had finished, Miss Cole had already started to hand out the small booklets that still smelled of spirit duplicating fluid.

"Gads, there's an awful lot to do," Shona said, glancing at the assignments in dismay.

"Yeah, but we've got all this term to do it, Shona," countered Kate. "And after the research part, the assignments look like fun -- imaginary dialogues, letters, journal entries."

"But an essay at the end," moaned Shona.

"Only if you want to write an essay. It could be a short story or a play or a series of poems. You can even choose songs. You're good in music. Maybe that's what you should do."

Robert put up his hand to get the attention of one of the teachers circulating among the students. "What topics can we choose from, Sir?" he asked when Mr. Stevens came over to him. The teacher signaled for silence by raising his hand. When all the students were quiet, he repeated Robert's question and said, "We want you to choose a topic you find interesting so we have an open list. Some of the topics are very definitely regional; others are more Canadian in scope. If you don't see a topic listed that you would like to see included, you may discuss it with us. If we think you can find the necessary research materials, and if the topic is both relevant to Canadian history and manageable, we will allow you to work on a topic of your choice. The initial list is on the side board."

As soon as he stopped talking, the classroom buzzed again. "Some interesting topics," murmured Kate. "Maybe I'll do something on the wild ponies. But how much can there be on wild ponies that would be fun to do for the English assignments. I can't quite see a conversation between someone who started the first herd and a Junior Bengal Lancer who is now riding one of the descendants of that herd. I don't think they'd let a wild pony into the stable!"

"My Dad's told me a lot about the Cape Breton coal miners," said Shona, "and they have some really interesting folk poetry. I could write folk songs for it. Maybe I'll choose the Springhill mine disasters."

"That sounds really great. And look, there's the Halifax Explosion. Now that would be a good one. Imagine talking to a survivor and writing three journal entries for that person; one right after the event, one six months afterwards, and one ten years later. Do you know anything about the Explosion, Shona? I just know about the anchor that's still stuck in the earth."

"Nope. But there must be all kinds of people who were alive then that you could interview. That might make it even more interesting, and you wouldn't have to do as much reading."

By the end of the period, most students had tentatively chosen their topics and, when they moved into the history classroom, were anxious to begin delving into the books and magazines that their teachers had accumulated. Kate picked up Heart Throbs of the Halifax Horror by Stanley K. Smith, and, with her usual single mindedness, buried herself in the book and was transported to Halifax in 1917. The bell rang, and with a start she re-entered the 1954 world of the grade nine classroom, alive with pre-recess chatter. "Can I keep this book, Sir?" she asked.

"Yes, Kate. Just sign it out here so I know where the different copies are."

As she headed off to her locker to find Miriam, her mind was alive with the drama of the events leading up to the collision of the Imo with the Mont Blanc. Miriam's afternoon had been dreary, beginning with Mr. Adams' math class. Mr. Adams' whole life seemed to be composed of rules and details. He liked teaching the basic math classes because he felt they needed much more structure than average or superior students, and he was an expert on structure. "What he doesn't seem to realize," Miriam lamented, "is that we may find math difficult but that doesn't mean we are idiots. I hate being treated as if I'm dumb just because I don't like algebra, and if I hear once more that we must always use an HB pencil so that we can correct the errors we are bound to make, I will scream."

Kate laughed, "You know you'll bring the HB pencil and smile sweetly and say 'Yes Sir, No Sir, Three Bags Full Sir,' like you always do, Mim."

Miriam's brown eyes crinkled up when she laughed and she pretended to throw the apple she'd brought for recess at Kate. Kate thought, for perhaps the hundredth time, that she wished she had Mim's long eyelashes and curly black hair instead of her own ordinary brown hair and nonexistent lashes. Mim didn't need the makeup she was forbidden to wear. A little Vaseline on her lashes and lips and she looked great. Mim's hair was like that of Kate's boyfriend, Rick. It wasn't fair for a boy to have curly hair and a double set of dark lashes. She sighed, and wished the week would fly. She almost never saw him except on weekends, and it was only Monday. Kate refreshed her lipstick and they headed off for the washroom before their last period class.

"We're doing a neat project in English and History, Mim. I'm going to research the Halifax Explosion, and then do all kinds of creative writing exercises based on the research. Miss Cole and Mr. Stevens worked together on it. Shona thinks they're dating. What do you think?"

"I don't know, but you're sure lucky to have them as teachers. Mrs. Simpson's nice but she never does anything new. Every week it's read a story, answer the questions, do spelling, vocabulary, and grammar exercises, and write a composition on Friday. She gets excited if she has us read a Bliss Carman poem! And Mr. Sullivan's geography classes are deadly. Just wait till you have him. You'll hate it. He makes you memorize every word in his notes and then spout them all back to him on the tests. If you change a single word he marks the question wrong. You'll have your share of fights with him! By the way, don't forget you have a detention with Miss Johnson after school. She'll eat you alive if you forget."

"We'd better hurry. Mrs. Maxwell's class is at the other end of the school," Kate said as they washed their hands and checked their reflections in the mirror. They dashed off, binders held tight to their chests, and joined the milling crowds of students in the halls.

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