Nora presents her gift to the class.
Find Your Voice - Part Two
She looked down the long corridor to the eighth grade rooms at the opposite end of the school. The hallway was like the golden spine of some unwritten book awaiting all wonders and possibilities. On this morning, it appeared to stretch out forever. Nora dreaded seeing Sister Domatilla almost as much as presenting the pen. Halfway down the corridor, the principal's office awaited with its open door. The door was always open but students did what they could to never enter. A statue of St. Anne greeted those who did. As on every weekday morning, Sister Domatilla, wearing rimless glasses with half-inch thick lenses, sat behind her dark oak desk and prepared for the day.
Nora passed her classroom and continued toward the office. The nearer she approached, the more her pace slowed down. She could not decide the lesser of two evils: to present the pen or ask Sister Domatilla if she could be excused from presenting it. Despite being a servant of both Lord and Roman Catholic Church, Sister Domatilla's temper was legendary at the school. Everyone knew about the Andy Barber incident.
One morning, this announcement came over the classroom speakers: The school staff is aware that during second recess an ice-cream truck passes at the top of the hill. Students are not allowed to leave our property, and any student found near the ice-cream truck will run the risk of being expelled.
Later that same day, during second recess, Andy and Bobby Dale stood beside the cafeteria. When the ice-cream truck's sweet melody descended from the top of the hill Andy said, “Hey, let's get some fudgesicles!” He then felt the sharp sting of the two hands that smacked his face from behind. Andy spun around with his right fist clinched and when he saw Sister Domatilla, unclinched it.
“Pay attention to morning announcements,” she said, a twinkle in the eyes behind the half-inch lenses, and walked off.
Andy's ears rang and his eyes watered as he turned back around. Bobby Dale said, “Bad timing, man. I couldn't warn you, it happened so fast.”
“What a witch!” stuttered Andy.
For the next few days, word of the incident spread throughout the school.
Nora stopped short of turning the corner to the office. Leaning up against the corridor wall, as if trapped in a web, she could not move or decide what to do. Mike Kerker passed by with his Mousetrap game. “What are you doin' down here?” he said, his voice trailing off.
Nora turned and followed him down the hallway.
“Good morning, Mrs. Finn,” the class said out of unison as she entered the room.
After the Pledge of Allegiance, the teacher looked out over the class and noted all students present. “Did everyone bring their gift?”
“Yes, Mrs. Finn,” the class responded.
“Nora, do you have yours?”
“Yes, Mrs. Finn. Could I go first?” The strategy crossed her mind the night before. If a circumstance arose for her to go first — to be done with it and not follow everyone else and avoid the torturous minutes of waiting — then take it. Mrs. Finn singling her out felt like that circumstance.
“No, you can wait your turn like the rest of the class. Mike, please begin.”
Nora, third from the end in the desks alongside the windows, fumed inside. Why did Mrs. Finn single her out? Why did she have to be so mean? Others in the room wondered what the exchange was all about.
Mike Kerker, in the front left desk of the room, stepped to the side of Mrs. Finn with his Mousetrap Game. Holding up the bright yellow, red, and green box, he explained how to play the new board-game just on the market. Students were extremely attentive. At the end of his presentation Mike asked Mrs. Finn if they could put it together during recess.
“I don't see why not.”
Nora fumed some more. Then she looked out the window at the grove of trees and the playground beside the trees and tried to tune everything else out. As presentations went by, she wondered what kind of bird was that in the oak tree? Or if you pushed the swing real hard how long would it take to stop? Or a little further out on the busy road, when would she spot the next Volkswagen Beetle?
She could hear though. Nothing could be done about that. Yes, the locomotive sounded like a real locomotive. Timmy sat in the middle seat of the middle row. Halfway through the class, Nora's anxiety increased as the presentations approached her row.
When the class reached the second seat in the second column from the windows, Andy rose with his tank. He swaggered to the front of the room and relished being the center of attention. Once again, classmates paid close attention as Andy explained how to operate the tank. Mrs. Finn, fascinated by it, asked how many instructions could one enter. “As many as you want,” answered Andy, “but the batteries may die.” The class giggled. Then he asked, “May I demonstrate it, Mrs. Finn?”
“Yes.” It would be the only time she let someone do more than talk about their gift.
Before class, Andy figured out directions and distances for a desired route. After keying in the instructions, he set the tank by the corner of Mrs. Finn's desk and pressed the green Go button. The tank rolled toward the hallway wall in line with the front desks. After passing Mike Kerker, it turned ninety degrees toward the back wall and students either gasped or giggled.
“Is that a bluebird on the oak tree?” wondered Nora.
The tank rolled toward the back wall and after passing the last desk, it turned right out into the hallway. The room exploded in applause as Andy hurried to retrieve the tank before it entered Mrs. Woellert's class. The rest of Andy's row made their presentations.
“Yvonne,” said Mrs. Finn.
Yvonne sat in the front desk near the windows. Reality was closing in fast. Nora rubbed her clammy palms together. The room became a blur as the students just ahead of her presented their gifts. Then she heard the word she had been dreading.
Rising slowly, she moved to the front of the room clutching the pen in her left hand. Looking out into the sea of people, she saw no one.
“You can go ahead, Nora,” said Mrs. Finn.
“Oh, yes ma'am.”
She held up the pen for all to see. “My gift is a pen.” The silence was shattering. “Um … I like it because it is pink ... and it glitters … and I can use it for school.”
“Maybe you'll get paper next Christmas,” said Andy Barber.
Students around Andy snickered. Others in the room gasped or made no sound with their mouths opened. To be fair, Andy was the only classmate who made fun of Nora's home situation after losing her mother. Those who snickered though were just as guilty.
Mrs. Finn said, “Stay after class, Andy.”
Nora's face turned almost as pink as the pen and in a shaky voice added, “I like how it says find your voice.” She pointed a trembling finger to the words on the pen. “That's all.”
As she returned to her desk, Mrs. Finn said, “That's a pretty pen, Nora.”
“Thank you, Mrs Finn.”
“All right class, down to two.”
After Nora sat down, she was all alone in the room. Her eyes welled up with tears but somehow she managed to control it. Not since her mother's death had she felt so lonely. Perched atop a live oak tree below on the playground, a mockingbird looked up at her.