Posted by: patti | September 9, 2009

Starting School, Part 2 (Fiction Friday (Now with more Wednesday))

Part One here.

“Is anyone sitting there?”

I open my eyes and see a girl in black jeans and a Bon Jovi T-shirt standing over me, pointing at Tara’s empty seat.  I shift over so she can sit on the aisle, so she doesn’t have to climb over me.

“I’m Maggie,” says the girl.

Brown hair frames her round face and curls up into the temples of her purple eyeglasses.  My own glasses feel very heavy now, and for the life of me, I can’t remember what color they are.  I push them up my nose.  “I’m Sarah.  Well, Sally.  Call me Sally.”

Oh God.  Not again.

Oh!  She’s laughing.  I try to laugh too.  “Sorry.  My name’s Sarah, but—call me Sally.  Is Maggie short for anything?”

“Nope.  Just Maggie.”

My brain starts moving over her name, but for once, my mouth stays shut.  There’s no Saint Maggie—does that mean she’s not Catholic?  Can non-Catholics go to a Catholic school?  Aunt Sam told me that Gramma had a fit when Mom named me Sarah because Sarah’s not a real saint.  Maybe Maggie’s like me.  But then again, maybe Maggie’s like Tara, and I’m glad I kept my mouth shut.

She pulls a pen out of her pocket, a chewed, mangled, disposable pen.  She shakes it a few times and tries unsuccessfully to make it draw circles on her folder.

“Do you have a pen I can borrow?” she asks, giving up.

“Sure,” I laugh, handing her Mom’s silver pen.

I push my glasses up again.  “Um, so.”  Just be myself, Mom says.  One of these days, I should ask her who that is, exactly.

“I’m going to be a vet,” says Maggie.  “Or a nurse, I don’t know.  I’m taking Honors Bio, what about you?”

“Me too!  Honors Bio, I mean.  I—I don’t know what I’m—”

Maggie spreads a paper in her lap, a blue and gray class schedule.  Mine’s folded in my notebook, much less wrinkled than hers.

“I can’t pronounce this name, can you?”  She holds the paper so I can see.

Haenraets, it says.  “I have the same name on my schedule!  We’re in the same Bio class.”

Maggie and I grin at each other but quickly look away.  I don’t know why she’s as embarrassed as I am to be happy about having a class together, but it makes me a lot less nervous somehow.

“No idea how to pronounce that.”

Maggie giggles and makes a few attempts, none of which sound right.

“I like science—a lot—but I don’t want to be a nurse but I just told my grandmother that I did.  I don’t know what I did that.”

What I really don’t know is why I just told that to a complete stranger.

“You probably had a good reason.”

Does wanting to be like your favorite aunt count?  “No, not really.”

Maggie shrugs.  “Well, what do you want to be?”

“I don’t know.”

Maggie nods and looks around the auditorium.

I am the most boring person alive.

The nun reappears on the stage and taps the microphone.  “Hello, Ladies!  Welcome to The Holy Name Academy!”

She says the “The” like “Thee.”  And I’ve never heard anyone actually pronounce capital letters before.

She comes to the edge of the stage and holds out her arms like she wants to hug all of us at once.  She rises to the toes of her Birkenstocks and dashes to the other end of the stage.

“I am so happy to meet all of you!  My name is Sister Geraldine, and for the next four years, I’ll be your Dean.  So that means you’ll come to me when you have questions, or when you need forms signed, or when you just want to chat!”

She slaps her thighs and beams down on us.  “I don’t know about you, but I’m excited!”

There’s some groaning, some giggling.  I look at Maggie, who rolls her eyes.  She’s got a lot of purple powder on her eyelids.  It looks funny with her freckles.

“I can’t hear you!  Aren’t you excited?”  Sister nods her head, rolls her hand and arm to prompt us to answer.

“Yes, Sister Geraldine,” some of us singsong.

“All she needs is a guitar,” I whisper.  Maggie ducks her head and laughs behind her hair.  I feel my face get red.  I’ve never made anyone but Matt laugh before.

“Of course, it also means that you’ll see me when you get in trouble!”  She booms out the last word, making some of us jump.  “But none of you will get in trouble, now, will you?”  She claps her hands, treating us all to feedback from the microphone.

“Oops!  Sorry!”  She laughs, a high-pitched nervous giggle, a giggle that sounds an awful lot like that microphone squeal.  “Okay, now, you should have a gray and blue striped printout, let’s get those out.  That’s your schedule.”  There’s rustling of papers as we look.  “Everyone have it?  Great!  Now, who can tell me what’s weird about this schedule?  Yes, that’s right!  This schedule has six days on it!”

Oh, yeah.  It does.

“Now, don’t worry!  This doesn’t mean you’ll be going to school on Saturdays!”  She wags her finger at us.  “We have a six-day cycle, A-Day through F-Day, and the days rotate, so you might miss a Monday, but you’ll never miss an A-Day!”
As Sister Geraldine explains that a Monday could be an A-Day, but it won’t always be, I glance over my shoulder at Tara and Kathy.  Tara sees me looking and blows a kiss at me.  She nudges Kathy and whispers to her.  I turn around quickly.
“So if tomorrow is A-Day, what will next Monday be?”  She cups her ear with her hand.

“E-Day,” a few girls mumble.

“Yes!  E-Day!  And now we’re back to Tuesday, which will be F-Day!  So, then we start all over again, and Wednesday will be A-Day.  See?”

A bell rings, and Maggie and I jump.

“Perfect timing—now we’ll talk about mods!  Now!  ‘Sister Geraldine,’ you must be asking, ‘what are all those numbers doing on the side of my schedule?’  Well, I’ll tell you!  Every day is broken into fifteen-minute mods.  That bell you just heard will ring every fifteen minutes.”

She can’t be serious.  Every fifteen minutes?

“The first bell of the day rings at 8:03.”

Wow, that’s precise.

“That bell means, get your books together and get to your Homeroom!  The next bell will ring at 8:07, and that means you better be in your Homeroom already, because you are late, Missy!  And being late means you have to see me!”  She rises up to her toes again.

“Imagine this voice first thing in the morning,” I whisper to Maggie.  She laughs, and my face gets hot again.

“At 8:15, the bell rings to tell you that Mod 1 is starting.  Which means you head to your first class.  So then the bell will ring again at 8:30, the start of Mod 2, and so on, for the rest of the day.”

Oh. My. God.

“Now, see that some boxes are empty?  These are unscheduled mods!  This is when you meet with teachers, use the library, meet your guidance counselor, that kind of thing.  This is not free time!  Do not ever let me hear you calling these ‘free’ mods!  Unscheduled!  Get this word into your little heads!”  Tap tap tap, goes the microphone against her curls.

“Unscheduled time is not for calling your boyfriend on the pay phone.  It is not for wandering the halls, contemplating the meaning of life.  It is not for sitting here in the auditorium, listening to your, what do you call it, your ‘walk man’.  It is not for hanging out in the cafeteria—oh!  that reminds me!  Lunch!”

Oh, good.  We are allowed to eat.

“Each class has its own lunch time, three mods.  Freshmen go first—your lunch starts at Mod 10.”

I can’t be reading this right.  Lunch is at 10:30?  And on three days, I only have two mods for lunch?

I lean over toward Maggie.  “My head hurts.”

She giggles.  “Yeah, something tells me we’re not even into the real rules yet.”

Maggie’s right.  We hear about uniform rules, rules for being out sick, rules for Gym clothes, textbook rules, early dismissal rules, late dismissal rules.  There are rules for extracurricular activities, rules for hanging posters, rules for the Library, rules for the elevator, rules for the Locker Room, more rules about uniforms.  Rules about the days we have 12-minute-mods (C-Day, every four cycles, for faculty meetings), rules about parking (we’re too young to drive), rules about smoking (don’t), rules about boyfriends (don’t bring him around here), rules about earrings (buttons only).

After a lengthy description of the system they have for room numbers, Sister Geraldine moves to the edge of the stage.  She lowers her head, rocks back on her heels.

“Ladies, there’s just one thing I need you to remember from today.  You are a representative of The Holy Name Academy, even when you are not wearing your uniform.”  Her voice is lower, more urgent.  She pauses, tugs on her bottom lip.  “We expect you to conduct yourselves in a way that would not embarrass yourself or this school.  Respect yourselves.  Respect others.  Respect this school.”

She throws her arms out.  “Because I will have to yell at you if you don’t!  And I don’t like yelling!”

But boy, does she like shouting with excitement.

“All right! We have a full day planned for you, but first we need to get you arranged into your Homerooms.  Are all our Homeroom teachers here?”  Sister Geraldine holds her hand over her eyes like she’s a sailor looking for land.
There’s a shuffling as ten women move toward the stage.  They seem as happy as we are to be here.

The rest of Orientation passes in a blur of new faces and new rules and new classrooms.  By the time Mom picks me up, I am half convinced the building is a magic castle, with hidden rooms and secret passages, a castle that is bigger on the inside than on the outside.



  1. Oh i was confused as to what day it is and am thankful i dont have to worry about mods. I dont yell, im shouting with excitement is what im going to tell my family.

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