Sister Lucille was mean; she
was the first person that Janie ever met, the first real human being,
who was really mean. She was, of all things, a kindergarten teacher. "Mean",
so it seemed, was always the same trait, no matter who it was, no matter
where that quality was found. Shortly after she discovered that Sister
Lucille was a mean person (but almost certainly not until afterward),
Janie noticed that other people could be mean too. She noticed other little
girls who were sometimes, not always, mean, and one baffling girl who
was usually mean. The others, however, were only extensions of a fearsome
nucleus of evil which was Sister Lucille; they, only the outstretched
tentacles of the octopus.
Her eyes were not kind; they were piercing and scanned your whole person,
waiting for you to make a mistake that she could "correct".
Her voice was not sweet; it was bitter, except for some times when she
a strange adult, would make your flesh crawl as she hung over you,
speaking in your ear. This tone was mostly reserved for when parents were
present. Most were fooled. Mary's parents and Laura's parents thought
Sister Lucille was wonderful, but they were wrong. Janie's mom would shake
Sister Lucille's small, tight hand and say
"How are you?", or "How is my daughter doing?". Sister
Lucille would usually say... usually say... what was it that she said?
Who else had existed before Sister Lucille? A brown-haired pre-school
teacher, a few kids who, indistinct, may or may not have been in the kindergarten
class, some others, further back, lingering hazy and unformed. Sister
Lucille, patron saint of inadequacy, was so hard, so fast, so viscous,
that despite the mutable shapes of memory, she would never decay, never
fade, and never dissolve in time.
The Crawling Hand
It always showed up, quickly, quietly, unexpectedly, but when it did its
icy grip was familiar. One day Janie was sitting at one of the long tables,
red, like a fire engine or a warning, in the middle of the kindergarten
room. She was bent over one of those pieces of oblong
yellow paper with the green lines that looked like the lines on a highway,
practicing the letters of the alphabet. Three times over: big A, big A,
big A, little a, little a little a. Next line, big B, big B... There was
a quick movement in the corner of her eye, hardly perceptible. As a matter
of fact, Janie did not even recall seeing any movement until Sister Lucille's
vice-like hand was covering hers, and squeezing hers into a tight moulded
shape around the pencil. "No, its like this," cold clamp of
her fingers relentlessly forcing Janie's hand to make abrupt, mechanical
movements across the pages surface. "This is how you make a capital
B," Janie's fingers no longer held the pencil in place of their own
power, but were laced tightly around it by the nun's sinewy grip. "Yes,
Then Sister Lucille noticed something drawn in small detail down at the
bottom of the page.
"What's that?" she asked. It was a tiny beach scene, with the
yellow of the page forming the yellow of sand.
"It's me and my brother at the beach."
"I see that, but what's that?"
"That's the mousetrap."
Janie just shrugged; it was the first of many works of art containing
One day a strange lady came into class and stood in the corner over by
the door. Everyone thought she must be Sister Lucille's friend, and sometimes
during the course of a couple of hours, the sister would sneak over to
the corner and speak in hushed voices with her. She only came out of the
corner once; she approached Janie at one of the long tables and said "How
"Fine," Janie said, and kept scratching her pencil across the
piece of paper that she was drawing on.
"Would you like to come and talk to me?"
Janie just bent closer to the desk and the drawing and wouldn't say anything.
The lady went into one of the walled off play areas where there was a
kitchen set for playing house.
"Go and talk to the lady," Sister Lucille said.
Janie obeyed. She was afraid of sister Lucille.
Later that day, Lucille and the lady were over talking in the corner again.
They started out whispering, and the lady was shaking her head side to
side. She said something friendly, but Sister Lucille's voice kept rising
higher and higher, uncontrollably. "I'm not wrong," Sister
Lucille said. Having lost her patience, the child shrink finally left.
Every day, near the end of the day, it was story time and the kids all
came and sat around the rocking chair on the round braided rug. Sister
Lucille, wore a two piece polyester sea green suit, Janie's favorite color.
Also, she was wearing an off-white turtleneck with a braided pattern on
it, which nearly covered her neck. Also, glasses, buckled shoes, and a
huge gold cross. The skirt, being so narrow, hardly covered the chair
at all, and she, being so narrow, didn't take up much space either. Even
with her glasses making her eyes appear bigger than they were, they were
still small and piercing. She was a small, frail
woman, but she was terrifying.
She could have looked any way at all. She could have been a three headed
werewolf, and still have been very nice. But she wasn't. She was mean.
"Who can give me some names of things that aren't real?" she
asked. Some suggestions were shouted out eagerly. Everyone seemed to demonstrate
a solid understanding of what did not exist. There were a lot of things
that were not real. Janie, sitting before the nun's
tightly pressed knees, raised her hand. "Janie," from those
jaws, strong and creased as a werewolf's, even if she was not. "What's
not real?" Those pursed lips.
"Mighty mouse is not real." Something which Janie had been told,
over and over again, so that at this point, even the kids knew how to
respond when Janie started talking about Mighty Mouse.
"Yes. Yes, that's right." Sister Lucille was especially glad
to hear this from the kid, the mop-haired girl, who wouldn't shut up about
the big M. She was completely taken with him, harbored a huge crush, of
sorts, on the red and yellow crusader. It wasn't an obsession such
that she'd relate parts of certain shows or retell whole episodes, but
she'd speak of his better qualities as if he were a respected citizen.
When a situation arose, Mighty Mouse would or wouldn't do this or that,
and based on his good authority, a decision could be made.
"Who knows what is real?"
There was silence.
"Jesus is real," she said, and showed them a picture in a book.
"And I'm going to read you all a story about him."
The Block Swing
Once during after lunch playtime, Sister Lucille went over to the yellow
chart on the wall to see whose turn it was to play with which thing. "Ashley,
Sam and Jenny, you get to play with the kitchen. Mary, Ben and Janie,
you get to play with the blocks..."
There was a pile of big wooden blocks in one of the play cubicles, as
well as several wooden planks.
"Lets build a house," said Mary, and everyone thought it was
a good idea, so they started stacking the blocks up on top of each other.
Everyone helped each other to build a nice small house. For the last step,
they laid the planks across the top for a roof. There was a black little
doorway and black square windows. Janie looked inside; the inside of the
house was dim and bare. There were still some blocks left over. There
was a red phone on the wall that you could use to talk back and forth
between the cubicles.
"Hey!" Ashley yelled over the wall. "We're calling you!
"What?" Mary said, picking up the phone.
"Come over. We're making dinner."
"In a little while," Mary said. "We're busy at the moment."
"Let's go inside," said Janie. "And do the stuff that we
need to do."
"I have an idea," said Mary. "Me and Ben will be the mom
and dad, and you can be the kid and go play on your swing outside."
"This swing," said Mary, grabbing one of the spare blocks and
setting it down along one of the walls outside of the house. "Okay?
(affecting a mom's voice) Now, you go play outside, okay?"
Mary and Ben went inside the house. It was all quiet. Janie looked at
the block. "In learning the distinction between real and make believe,"
she thought to herself, "there are certain standards that have been
set, and certain conclusions that I have come to. One of these, is that
even in the world of make believe, this is a fucking lousy excuse for
"This swing is not real," she said aloud.
on which Eddie Appears as a Horse
"I had a dream last night," Jon said.
Jon and Katie and Janie and Eddie were sitting on a the tan and pine green
swing set at Jon and Katie's house. Jon and Katie were two nice kids,
and even though Katie was a lot younger than Janie, the four of them were
still good friends. The swing set, a really nice one because Jon's dad
was a doctor, was located on the downhill side of their huge barn. It
was rambling and ancient, painted in barn red, and rested its chin up
near the road, while its back end sagged downhill. It's backbone, the
roof spine, undulated up and down far over their heads. The swing set
was located in front of one of the cavernous openings in its underbelly,
where livestock was once kept but there was now nothing but musty hay.
Jon's skinny legs dangled down from the monkey bars above the slide.
"I dreamed I was at a carnival where there were lots of rides,"
he said. "I was running around by myself, and everything was free,
and there were no lines. I could do whatever I wanted. I saw my mom asleep
under a tree, and a clown on a bike that looked like a spaceship was riding
circles around her. I went to a candy shop, and there was nobody there
either, so I started to eat all of it. Do you know what flavor they had?
"Gross," said Katie.
"No, it was really good."
"Did you throw up?"
"No. I came up to a ferris wheel, but none of the horses were normal
horses. Some of them looked like the aliens from Star Wars, some of them
looked like go-bots, one of them was a big lion, but one of them had a
normal horse body, with Eddie's head for a head. Guess which horse I picked?"
"No!" said Eddie.
"Yes," said Jon. "I rode around on you for hours and hours."
"No!" said Eddie.
"Yes," said Jon. "But my dream is not over." And he
continued on, expanding, for what seemed like hours and hours.
One morning Janie went to see her friends out in the back yard, where
they all usually hung out.
"Good morning," said Mrs. Tree, a sickly, dying, un-identified
specimen of a tree that clung helplessly to a brick wall, but sometimes
had pretty blossoms in the spring. Mrs. Tree was not much taller than
Janie, and mostly because of her position up on the crumbling patio.
Her voice was weak, and just saying good morning sent a few spasms of
coughing through her body. "What are you doing not in school?"
"I've decided not to go anymore," said Janie.
"Good for you," said Mrs. Tree.
"No," Janie said. "It's Saturday. There's never school
"You came to talk to us instead of watching cartoons?" said
a spider on the wall.
"Yes, today I have."
Beed-bat, the gray striped cat, smiled.
"Have you seen the Mouse?" Janie asked. Cloud shadows trailed
each other across the lawn and up over the patio.
"Not lately," said Mrs. Tree, and shivered in the breeze.
"I think he and I are fighting," said Janie. "I think he's
upset with me."
"I saw him a couple of days ago," said Mr. Boy Tree, a huge
coniferous tree which was rooted into the ground away from the others,
several yards across the lawn. He was mostly Eddie's friend.
"I'm sure I'll run into him," Janie said, and jumped up on the
wall to sit for a while.
One night Eddie and Janie were asleep in their bed, and they heard a knocking
at the window. Janie woke up, and turning sleepily in her bed, opened
"Peter, what are you doing here?" asked Janie.
Peter Pan stepped in and across the bed, agile as a shadow.
"Hey kids," he said. "I'm gonna teach you to fly."
He threw some dust at them that glimmered faintly in the dark room. Eddie
awoke at that point. They both sneezed.
"Make a wish and make it good," he said, stepping around and
leaving dents in the patchwork quilt where his feet used to be.
"We don't know how," they said.
"No, see, I'm teaching you," he said. "I'm going to teach
you to fly, and then you'll know how."
"Why?" Janie said.
"You're going to need to know," he said. "Its a secret
now, so I can't tell you, but you will need it."
"Okay," they said. And they wished, slipped out the window,
and flew around under the stars slipping in again just before dawn.
A Good Idea
Janie went out into the back yard to play a few days later, and she saw
Mighty Mouse sitting on a rock. On first reaction, some of the old joy
and admiration surged through her to see him, bright yellow and red, just
the way that he always looked. However, she felt as though
she should be embarrassed, and then she felt quiet, and then approached
"Where have you been?" she said.
He turned around to face her. "Oh, hello Janie," he said. "I
have just come back from saving someone's life. She was pretty; you would
have liked her. But she's safe now."
"Good," she said, and the sight of his face made her think of
plastic dolls, and costumes, and painted cups. Then, she felt cowardly,
for having started off making small talk.
"I hate you," she said.
"Excuse me?" he said.
"Fuck you. I hate you."
"Peter Pan came, and taught me and Eddie how to fly, when you told
me that little girls couldn't fly, only you."
He was silent, words failing him again and again, insubstantial, never
gaining the momentum to escape his throat, where she could almost feel
the lump forming.
"Whose side are you on? Why did you lie, you selfish bastard."
"You're not my favorite cartoon anymore," she said.
"Please let me still be your favorite cartoon," he said.
"What will you give me?" she said.
Mighty Mouse was really sorry, and after a long, drawn-out, tiring making
up process, Mighty and Janie were friends again.
"Whew," said Mighty. "That was close. Let's not fight like
that again, ok?"
"I have a good idea," said Janie.
"I have a good idea too," said Mighty. "Maybe we have the
same good idea."
Flight In Which Eddie Appears As a Minor Character
Janie and Eddie and Mighty Mouse flew through the air, Mighty's red cape
snapped out in back of him like it wanted to lick the clouds, or gobble
up the whole sky.
"Hey Eddie," Janie said. "Look at all the cars down there.
They look like ants. All the houses look like other kinds of bugs, and
the roads look like lines on paper. Aren't you glad we let you come with
"Yeah," said Eddie.
"I sure hope we don't get lost," said Janie.
By the time they got to the school, the clouds had started to gather and
the kids were complaining of cold. "Here we go," said Mighty
Mouse, and they all dropped silently from the sky.
On a day in Saint Joseph's Kindergarten when pencils and paper and other
supplies were already being passed out, Sister Lucille looked at the clock
above the classroom door and noted that Janie was late for school.
All three of them swooped into the room, wearing capes and causing the
artwork on the walls to flutter violently. They were all in high spirits
Here I come to save the day! Mighty Mouse is on his way!
When they landed, Mighty Mouse broke into a new part of the song on his
What is real
What is real
Sister Lucille over and over again.
"Now you tell me what's real, bitch," he said, and advanced
on her a few steps. All the kids were kneeling on their chairs, craning
their necks and climbing over each other to try and see.
"My brave sidekicks," he said to Eddie and Janie, "you
hold her, okay, one of you grab each arm."
Janie went and grabbed a hold of one of her arms. She was stronger than
a lady her age looked, but she succumbed. Already Janie was starting to
feel the guilt of a too hasty wish come true. Mighty Mouse advanced on
the nun, his puffy shoes hardly even making a
sound on the tile floor. Suddenly, he stopped and turned.
"This is all you, kid," he said, looking at Janie with a smile.
"Shut up," she said. "You're embarrassing me."
Mighty put on his "crime-fighting face", brow furrowed and with
a slight snarl playing around his mouth, and closed in.