Boarding School Blues: Ch. 54

Boarding School Blues: Ch. 54

By Louise Peloquin

Ch. 54: Airlock

The return to SFA was devoid of fáilte (1). As soon as Blanche crossed the threshold, Sister Gerald ordered “leave your coat and suitcase here; prayer in the chapel now.”

Like an automaton, Blanche set in motion. “It’s as if I’ve never left this place. It took me a while to get used to home and back here, I’m just goin’ with the flow. This is nuts!”

She stepped inside the chapel, reconnoitering for friends or foes. There sat a motley crew of young women in civies. Flashy tops, Spencer jackets and madras shawls weren’t the usual SFA attire nor were hair-dos adorned with strass-studded barrettes, wide headbands and sprigs of silk flowers. Here and there, dangly earrings flashed in the candlelight. She wondered how the headmistress would react to the spectacle. What a relief it was not to see her there.

“I know why Sister Gerald whisked us in here” Blanche reasoned. “The headmistress probably thinks prayers are gonna wipe the real world out of our minds. Are we like a bunch of dirty cars goin’ to the car wash? Is chapel time supposed hose out vacation reflexes – goin’ to bed when you feel like it, eatin’ tons of goodies, wearin’ beat-up clothes, watchin’ movies on TV with guys kissin’ girls and doin’ everything else forbidden around here? Do we have to be in isolation before entering into SFA’s atmosphere, like astronauts coming back from outer space? What’s that thing called again? Oh yeah, an airlock entryway. That’s exactly it! The chapel is our airlock entryway back to planet SFA.”

Walking down the central aisle, she spotted the back of Andy’s and Titi’s heads, as familiar to her as the back of her hands. She slid into their pew like a puzzle piece into its spot.

Chit-chat was forbidden but sign language exchanges had always occurred in the chapel. Not in the mood for gestures and winks, Blanche pretended to clear her throat and asked “you guys had a nice vacation?”

The ruse didn’t succeed. A wooden clapper struck, followed by a bogusly-stern voice. “Concentration and piety required; the chapelet (2) will begin shortly.”

Blanche and her friends turned around to see novice Marieanne standing in the back. An imperceptible grin, a mischievous look and a slight nod graced her face as she acknowledged them. Andy whispered “Marieanne’s still our ally. Good omen for the beginning of the year. But let’s shut up. We don’t want her to get into trouble cuz of us. Let’s belt out the prayers like never before.”

A few more girls trickled into the chapel and the rosary began. Blanche couldn’t focus. She moved her lips like a singer in playback while Andy and Titi pronounced each Hail Mary with conviction, eyes closed and sitting straight in the hard cold pew.

Blanche decided to address the Heavenly Father directly. “Thank you Mon Dieu for my friends Titi and Andy and Marieanne. I’m sorry Mon Dieu. I’m having a hard time praying right now. May I daydream a little? Merci for all the good things in my life and I promise to pray really hard next time.”

Through her monologue with le Bon Dieu, she heard Marieanne chant. “The first glorious mystery, the Resurrection of Jesus. Our Father who art….Hail Mary…. Hail Mary…. Hail Mary….The second glorious mystery, the Ascension of our Lord into heaven. Our Father…. Hail…. “ She missed the third, fourth and fifth mysteries and everything else in between.

The rosary was well under way when the last of the boarders arrived. The crisp click-clack of their steps did not come from school uniform footwear.

“What a dummy” Blanche raged. “I shoulda worn my blue suede shoes. I missed my chance to look cool like those girls with their heels and slingbacks.”

The prayer session did not last very long, only one chapelet instead of the usual three for the rosaire (3). Marieanne escorted the boarders to the dining hall where  a smorgasbord of cold cuts, cheese, bread, cookies, lettuce, apples and bananas were set on three folding tables. Blanche thought the spread looked appetizing enough.

Andy assessed differently. “Welcome back to the nuns’ leftovers. You can bet your bottom dollar they didn’t get this stuff just for us.”

Ever-positive Titi pointed out “it doesn’t look half bad, especially those giant cookies. Might as well dig in.”

The girls filled their plates with more sweets than lettuce and fruit. With Marieanne as sole supervisor that evening, everyone did as they pleased.

Titi continued. “Guys, all that praying created good vibes. Look around. No headmistress or Sister Gerald in sight to tell us what to eat, how to eat, how to hold our forks and all that stuff. We could even talk with our mouths full and lick our fingers if we wanted to. The new year is starting off just fine and dandy.”

Through cookie-crumb-sprinkled lips, Andy and Blanche mumbled “yeah, hope so.”

After dinner, the threesome met up with Madeleine during outside recreation. Somehow, she had changed. Blanche thought she looked older.

“Hey guys, nice to see you” Madeleine chirped. “Bet you had a great time away from this place huh? So, tell me everything. What’s new? Oh boy Titi, I see you painted your nails bright red. Too bad they’re all chipped now though. But keep those last speckles to remind you of the outside world. Just make sure you fold your hands when you meet up with the dreaded dames Gerald and Théophile. So tell me Titi, who did you paint your nails for? How many dudes did your juvenile charms trap this time? Go ahead. Spit it out.”

Titi’s giggle warmed Blanche’s heart. The sound almost made her glad to be back at boarding school. Everyone joined in the mirth and repeated “tell us everything, tell us everything, tell us everything!”

When the laughter subsided, Titi admitted “you know guys, I had a revelation during vacation. And that is – guys like what’s hard to get. It comes from a deep primal instinct – the hunt. So, I decided to drop the ‘here-I-am-and-I’ll-do-anything-for-you’ vibe. You’re lookin’ at a totally new person, the mysterious, unreachable Yvette. The nail polish is just a vestige of the new me. Sure, I went around the neighborhood walkin’ Madame Poirier’s dog. She’s my eighty-year-old neighbor, by the way, and she’s afraid of fallin’ on the ice so I offered to take care of Bijou, her chihuahua. So yeah, I cruised around outside lookin’ super-attractive with my hair up in a French twist and a tortoise shell comb on top like a Spanish dancer. I borrowed my mother’s silk scarf and kid gloves, without tellin’ her of course, then, pink lipstick and a spray of Shalimar. You know that perfume lingers when you’re gone. So my friends, I planted seeds of desire in the dudes who crossed my path. When they sprout, I’ll take it from there.”

Andy didn’t seem impressed. “You sound like Jack planting a beanstalk or something. And I don’t know if any teenage Man of la Mancha (4) is gonna try to conquer Yvette, the unreachable girl. But it’s fun to hear your crazy stories anyway. We love ya Titi!”

Blanche belted out “to reach the unreachable staaaar!” transforming her breath into mist as it hit the frigid evening air.

Madeleine interrupted the flight of song. “To recapitulate, you scored a zero during Christmas vacation Titi. However, yes, I guess seeds are sowed. Story to be continued.”

Not once did Titi abandon her smile. “Absolutely!” She responded.

Blanche shouted “this is my quest” only to be silenced once again.

Madeleine observed “you know Titi, your strategy is not all bad, especially for a pint-sized chick like you. Maybe it’ll change your little girl look. February vacation is in six weeks. We’ll see what happens then. And what about you Andy? Did you meet up with your cousin’s friend? What’s his name again Alfred? Alphonse? Albert? Andrew? Starts with an ‘A’, I remember.”

“His name is Alain but everyone calls him Al” quipped Andy. “Yeah, me and my cousin Norm and Al went to the movies to see ‘Thunderball’.” (5)

“A threesome doesn’t sound very romantic to me” commented Madeleine.

“We had a lotta fun” Andy insisted. “James Bond is cool. After the movie, Norm had to go on his shift at the grocery store so Al and I went to the drug store soda fountain and we couldn’t decide which sundae we wanted so we shared two different ones. Really good, a ton of hot fudge on one of ‘em.”

“Oooh! So you exchanged germs at the soda fountain, did you? And what happened after that? Sweet smooches, huh?” Titi asked.

“That’s it. Al’s nice, I feel comfortable with him and I guess he feels comfortable with me. There was nothin’ hot and heavy, except for the hot fudge of course. Ha! Ha! Guys, I just wanna have a friend who doesn’t care if your hair is scraggly and your rubber boots have holes in ‘em and you’re wearing your father’s old hunting jacket. Al’s laid back and I don’t feel like I have to paint my nails and spray myself with old lady perfume and all of that other stuff. OK, now I’m done talking’ about it. Period.”

Andy turned to Blanche. “PF? So you haven’t said anything yet. Any mysterious stranger light up your vacation?”

Blanche felt a scorching wave rise from her toes to the top of her head. When she opened her mouth to speak, words would’t come. Jonathan in his baggy jeans and wet hair flashed before her eyes like a camera bulb. “Well, um” she uttered “ I did stuff with my family a saw a couple of cousins. My father’s still too sick for parties. Uh, that’s about it, I guess.”

Andy seemed to guess her friend’s discomfort. “Wowza! Somethin’ hit PF big time. It’s as clear as the squished nose on her face. OK, spit it out PF. We can see you blushin’ in the dark. And don’t tell me it’s the reflection of the orange sunset. I won’t buy it for one second.”

Madeleine joined in. “Did you have any interesting experiences during your vacation PF? I don’t wanna bulldoze you like Andy here but I have a little experience and I could give you some good advice, only if you want it, of course. What’s making you blush?”

“Leave her alone already” Titi chided. “Her father almost died a month ago and she probably spent most of her time at home with him. Why don’t we just lay off, OK? If PF wants to tell us something she will. We can’t force her. Friends are supposed to respect each other, right?”

Blanche regained composure. “Thanks Titi. Yup, I was happy to spend time home with Papa.”

Andy insisted “yeah but that doesn’t make a girl blush; you’re fibbing PF.”

Blanche decided to do just that. “Well, yeah, there is somethin’ if you really wanna know. I went skiing and it was fun even though I spent more time on my bum than sliding down the hill. The thought of wipin’ out so many times is makin’ me blush. I was so mad at myself for lookin’ really stupid sittin’ there in the snow. I even lost a ski pole. You understand?”

Titi expressed her curiosity. “Yeah but did some white knight skier help you up or find your pole? That happens too, right? Kinda romantic to have someone lift you outa the snow.”

Blanche continued her spin. “Yeah some guy helped me when I started slidin’ backwards at the rope tow. He grabbed me so the skiers behind wouldn’t run me over. But he cracked up big time when my legs wouldn’t hold me up and I was really embarrassed. Just the thought of it is makin’ me blush. At the end of the afternoon I finally got the hang of it. But this guy laughed at me every time. ‘How’s Raggedy Ann doin’?’ he kept sayin’. What a pain he was.”

Andy cut the rope tow report short. “OK, OK, enough already. We get it. You blew your top cuz your first skiing experience was a flop. We don’t need to know any more. You can’t be good at everything, and you certainly can’t be perfect the very first time you try something. I can imagine the scene. I woulda blushed too but you’ll never get me on a couple of sticks stuck to my feet. No way! I’m glad you had fun PF. But I prefer sittin’ at the movies and fillin’ my face with ice cream any day!”

Blanche was relieved that the grilling had ceased. She smiled to herself thinking “merci Mon Dieu! I hope it wasn’t a sin to make up a story but really Mon Dieu, I don’t want to talk about Jonathan, ever. You understand that, don’t you? Of course you do. You understand everything. I won’t forget to pray extra hard next time I’m in the chapel. I promise.”

Madeleine chuckled and looked at her young friends like a much older and wiser sister. “Well ladies, aren’t you curious to know about my holiday adventures? And haven’t you noticed anything different about me? Maybe you’re still too young to know about more womanly experiences. Ha, ha, ha. Just looking at your faces warms my heart and makes me want to laugh at the same time. You are dear dear little girls.”

Titi commented “well I noticed that you look happier and I also noticed that you’re letting your hair grow a little? It looks good. But you’re always pretty now matter what Mad.”

Madeleine ran her gloved hands through her hair and grinned.

Andy added “yeah well, I think your hair kinda looks like Mick Jagger’s right now, a little feathery around the ears and a little straggly on top. But Titi’s right. You always look nice.”

While Madeleine continued to play with her hair, Blanche noticed something. “Did you hurt yourself Madeleine? Did you hit your head or something? What’s that red spot right behind your right ear?”

“Bingo PF!” Madeleine shouted. “You’re the most observant. Nope, I didn’t bump my head and yup, it did hurt. But it’s worth it!”

At that Madeleine lifted the strands covering the back of her ear to uncover a small crimson heart etched into her skin.

“Admire my tattoo. The heart is a symbol of love and an indelible tattoo is a symbol of  love which will never end. So what does that mean? It means that I’m pre-engaged with Gary, my forever love, my guy, my all.”

Andy didn’t look impressed. “I never heard about bein’ pre-engaged. What does that mean anyway? It sounds kinda stupid.”

Madeleine responded without losing her cool. Well Andy, for your information, it means we’re goin’ more than steady. It means that at the end of junior year, we’re gonna get engaged and as soon as I graduate from this place we’re gonna get married. That’s what it means. You don’t get it cuz you’re definitely not at that point in your relationship with Al. But you’ll learn and I’m here to guide you if you want.”

Blanche asked “But why get a tattoo? I thought the guy gave the girl a pin or a ring or somethin’ like that. Don’t they have to use a burning needle to draw that into your skin? It musta hurt. Ouch!”

Titi expressed approval. “That’s the coolest thing I ever saw Mad! Wow, you’re my new role model, better than any Hollywood actress. And anyway those gals aren’t real people for me and you are a really real person.”

Madeleine’s face glowed in the dusk just as Blanche’s had blushed. “We’re gonna have to get back inside for study hall in a couple minutes ladies so I can’t give you all the details right now and I don’t even think you’re ready to hear what I could have to say. You still need time. But Gary and I thought this was the best way to express our love cuz we’re not allowed to wear rings or pins or any jewellery in this place. And since I cut all my hair off last year, no one inspects my head for cooties any more so this tiny heart is the best label of love.”

The bell began to ring and the girls headed back to the school building. Each had a specific question.

“Are you gonna have a tattoo on the left now, for balance?” asked Andy.

“Where did Gary get his tattoo?” Titi inquired.

“What did your mother say about the tattoo?” wondered Blanche.

“My dear SFA companions, that’s enough info for now. Just keep it to yourselves please. We’re a girl squad. We stick together and we keep secrets, right?”

Titi roared “For sure Mad! One for all; all for one!”


1) Fáilte, Irish, an act or instance of welcoming someone.

2) Chapelet, French, rosary.

3) French, rosaire corresponds to three chapelets.

4) “Man of la Mancha” is a 1965 musical with a book by Dale Wasserman, music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion. “The Impossible Dream”, the principal song in the show, became a standard.

5) “Thunderball” is a 1965 spy film, the fourth in the James Bond series. It is an adaptation of the 1961 novel of the same name by Ian Fleming. Sean Connery starred as fictional M16 agent 007.


Read Chapter 1: The Announcement

Read Chapter 2: Facing the Inevitable

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”

Read Chapter 42: “If you really want to hear about it

Read Chapter 43: “Why don’t they go and create something”

Read Chapter 44: Squiggles, snowmen and angels

Read Chapter 45: A Measure of Mirth

Read Chapter 46: Advienne que pourra

Read Chapter 47: Smile upon our joys

Read Chapter 48: “Venez, venez, venez!”

Read Chapter 49: “C’est si bon”

Read Chapter 50: Naughty or nice

Read Chapter 51: We all fall down

Read Chapter 52: The Eve of Destruction

Read Chapter 53: A turtle’s heart