Boarding School Blues: Chapter 42
By Louse Peloquin
Ch. 42 “If you really want to hear about it”
After a fitful night haunted by visions of rectangular-shaped birds flapping their ivory wings and swooping into the hands of ponytailed teenagers in navy blue uniforms, squinty-eyed Blanche stoically executed her morning duties like a soldier at boot camp. On the outside she looked weary but inside a volcano was about to erupt.
Morning recreation came after three hours of class time where she squirmed in her seat, jiggled her legs and ceaselessly clicked her ballpoint pen. The fidgeting got so bad that Sister Amelia interrupted her explanation of linear equations. “Blanche, the past week has been challenging and you are finding it difficult to concentrate. Do not fret about this lesson. It is based on previously-covered material. You will grasp it in no time. However, and the rest of my observation is for the entire class, detailed note-taking is key. Remember what I have been telling you. Writing is the first step towards properly assimilating new concepts. There’s the bell. Off to recreation girls. And Blanche, I think this is your last library duty session? You will soon be able to enjoy the great outdoors again with your classmates. Today’s assignment is to read textbook chapter seven. If everything is clear, we shall solve linear equations during our next class.”
Blanche loathed being the center of attention in class but Sister Amelia’s comments didn’t faze her because all she could think of was the last leg of her “punishment.”
Sister Claudette was waiting in the far-off corner of the library where the shiny black trunk lay open. Sitting on a folding chair, Sister was contemplating the contents, her face haloed by the sun’s morning rays.
“You haven’t forgotten to lock the door, have you Blanche? We must not be disturbed. Take my stool and empty this coffer. Opening it triggered my back pain.”
Blanche grabbed the milk maid’s stool and placed it next to the chest. Exhilaration travelled like a wave from her belly to the top of her head, an intensely pleasurable sensation experienced during her first front-seat roller coaster ride at Canobie Lake Park with her blasé older cousin Pierre. This time she was sitting in an empty library. Screeching with pure unadulterated joy was out of the question. She breathed deeply through her mouth, swallowing a great deal of dust in the process, then took a look inside the trunk.
Sister Claudette commented. “Monsieur Dubé especially cherished what we are about to discover. See how he protected the books with a purple velvet drape as plush as a royal’s cape.”
Blanche felt comfortable with the nun and dared ask “you didn’t take a peek yesterday when the seniors left? I’m sorry Sister. That’s not my business. Curiousity is not good.”
Behind her round spectacles, Sister’s eyes were both warm and mischievous. “It is not good to be overly inquisitive but remember that intellectual pursuits require a good dose of curiosity and boldness. If we were not curious, we would be indifferent to pursuing knowledge. And today, it is indeed your business because you are the one who will clean out the chest. And to answer your question, no, I had no leisure to take a peek yesterday. Now let us discover this ancient tomb together.”
Removing the heavy purple blanket lifted enough tiny particles to make both explorers sneeze. The fine cloud settled but the sneezing, along with a few chuckles, continued for a bit.
“Further cleaning will be necessary” the librarian stated while rubbing her nose with the sleeve of her dust-sprinkled black habit.
“Oh yes Sister. I’ll do the whole library!” Blanche exclaimed. “Yesterday’s box was really dirty and greyish stuff flew all over the place. I’ll ask Sister François if I can come here after morning employment. There’s never a ton of cleaning in her classroom anyway and I always end up finishing early.”
“One thing at a time Blanche” responded the librarian. “Let us see what we have here.”
Under the violet fabric were a baker’s dozen of packages in various sizes wrapped in what had once been white tissue paper. Wide satin bows, in multiple shades, adorned them. The explorers were spellbound.
Sister left her daze to regain her usual composure. Matter-of-factly she stated “The trunk will not be emptied and properly cleaned this morning. I shall request that your library duty be extended. I cannot put my back out of whack for Monsieur Dubé’s books.” At that, the she attempted to straighten her dowager’s hump and shot Blanche a puckish glance.
“Yes Sister” Blanche blurted, grateful for her continued good fortune.
“Très bien ma fille” Sister replied. “The paper has yellowed and cannot be used again so I shall ask you to dispose of it. The ribbons however, have nicely survived the passage of time and will serve again. Place them in a brown paper bag. When you have finished, go outside and shake off the dust. Each book has a different color of ribbon. Monsieur Dubé was a rather eccentric individual I must say.”
Sister reached down and squealed. “Ay, ay ay. Ça fait mal! It hurts! I can’t do this Blanche. Would you please move the books so I can see?”
Blanche pushed the first row of packages to one side to expose a five by eight inch parchment. “Look Sister, a list of thirteen books.” Although she had the urge to read it, she handed it to her superior.
“Merci Blanche. It seems each ribbon corresponds to a title. How ingenious! Number one is red, white and blue.Take it out please. Jack Kerouac’s ‘The Town and the City’ (1). C’est un gars de chez nous, ‘Ti-Jean’ de Lowell. (He’s a guy from home, ‘Little Jean’ from Lowell.) Well that story is certainly not to be censored. Unwrap it.”
Blanche removed the tissue gently as if changing a baby’s diaper, then handed it to the librarian.
“This is a signed first edition. ‘Pour mon ami Norm, un monsieur qui aime toutes les histoires de chez nous, les belles et les pas belles’ (for my friend Norm, a monsieur qui loves stories from home, the beautiful ones and the not beautiful ones). You’ve got to read this local writer’s first novel Blanche. From page one you’ll feel ‘chez nous’. Second on the list is the notorious Salinger opus. Give me the package with the yellow ribbon please.”
Blanche did as bid.
“It appeared at the beginning of the fifties and caused a scandal. I was already librarian at the time and received a copy from the publisher. I remember very well the manilla envelope from Little, Brown and Company. I opened it, sat down in my armchair and read the book from cover to cover. I wanted to discover the reason for all of the fuss. Reading books is my prerogative after all and I am supposed to determine suitability for study in our academic institution. I admit to thoroughly enjoying the text and do not understand why it was put on SFA’s prohibited list per the headmistress’s request regardless of my personal evaluation of its literary value.”
Sister turned to the first page and read:
“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.” (2)
“Yes, I shall definitely reread it” the librarian added. “Albeit disrespectful at times, it bursts with raw energy, a blessing we inexorably lose as the years pass. This text is not a recipe for flawless young adult behavior. However, it is a fine sample of how words can conjure up the brashness of youth. You will not speak of this with anyone ma fille. You love words as well and do. I therefore feel quite at ease sharing my recollections. I’ve got work to do now Blanche so I shall leave you to it. You may skim through the remaining books. The headmistress will be informed that your services are required for one more session. Please slide the chest under the card table when you have finished. Here’s an extra key to the library. Do not forget to lock up when you leave.”
At that, Sister Claudette stepped sprightly out the library. Apparently, reading the first five lines of “The Catcher in the Rye” had been a transfusion of by-gone impetuousness.
- “The Town and the City”, Jack Kerouac. Harcourt Brace, New York, 1950.
- “The Catcher in the Rye”, J. D. Salinger. Partially published in serial form in 1945-1946 and as a novel in 1951. Little, Brown and Company, New York.
Read Chapter 3: Readying
Read Chapter 4: Au revoir!
Read Chapter 5: Arrival
Read Chapter 6: Settling In
Read Chapter 7: Beginning to Belong
Read Chapter 8: Quick Showers
Read Chapter 9: Inside & Outside Study Hall
Read Chapter 10: Math Manoeuvres
Read Chapter 11: Cinephiles
Read Chapter 12: Camera, Action, Lights
Read Chapter 13: Reconnecting
Read Chapter 14: Back to the Fold
Read Chapter 15: In the Night
Read Chapter 16: Parlez-vous?
Read Chapter 17: On the Agenda
Read Chapter 18: Dress up, sit up, chin up
Read Chapter 19: Post Conference Assessment
Read Chapter 20: Orderliness
Read Chapter 21: Inspection
Read Chapter 22: The Inner Sanctum
Read Chapter 23: Going Home
Read Chapter 24: Merci Mon Oncle
Read Chapter 25: The Food Fairy
Read Chapter 26: Bon appetit!
Read Chapter 27: Friends
Read Chapter 28: A Grocery Stop
Read Chapter 29: Tempus Fugit
Read Chapter 30: The Chapel
Read Chapter 31: A Nice Kind of Weird
Read Chapter 32: Mnemonic Device
Read Chapter 33: Cuisses de grenouille
Read Chapter 34: Run along now
Read Chapter 35: Consequences of playing hooky
Read Chapter 36: Good Vibes
Read Chapter 37: Never too many, never too much
Read chapter 38: Dust Bunnies
Read Chapter 39: I’m into something good
Read Chapter 40: Wistful and Admiring
Read Chapter 41: “Anywhere Out of the World”