Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Assignment

Today's muse: Three Word Wednesday

Today's Words: dare, essence, practical.

Some stories need to be told. Miranda's begins here.
And now, it continues...

* * *

The Assignment

At the front of the classroom, wearing his practical Mr.-Rogers-cardigan-with-the-corduroy-elbow-patches, Deacon Phillips lectured the class.

“Senior year,” he promised, “will be different.”

Miranda rolled her eyes and folded her arms across her chest. Notorious for questioning just about everything her religion teacher preached, she was already convinced that the Catholic curriculum in this final year of high school would be the same as the last four: propaganda meant to put the fear of God in the hearts and loins of young adults.

Thing was, once the devil took you, your loins never quivered again—in fear, or otherwise.

Deacon Phillips turned to the chalk board and scrawled one word in his looping penmanship.


A hum rippled through the classroom. A few heads turned, eyebrows raised in silent question. No one spoke.

“Explore.” Deacon Phillips waved his hand at the board. “Explore what?"

He walked to the front of his desk and leaned back, tucked his hands in his trouser pockets.

“What do you want to explore, Angela?”

In the front row, Angela Giovanni twitched in her seat, blushed a deep crimson. “Sir?”

“What do you want to know? What do you need to know to make it in the real world?”

In the back row, in the farthest corner, Miranda uncrossed her arms and leaned forward on her desk. This was getting interesting.

“You’re all of age now,” said Deacon Phillips. “You’re adults. You need to be treated like adults, not kids. Adults have grown-up conversations about grown-up things. In-depth discussions that explore opinions and feelings. So this year, in this class, we’re going to explore.” He underlined the word on the board with three violent slashes. “In essence, we’re going to talk about whatever you want.”

A few students snickered. Dean Phillips stared them down, then pointed at John Walsh.

“What do you want to talk about, John?”

John had the good grace to hang his head and stare at his desk in silence.

“Come on, people. I know you talk. You talk all the time. I hear what you say. You may not think I do, but I hear everything. I don’t judge. You’re entitled to think and feel what you want.”

He paced across the front of the class, met each and every pair of eyes. He seemed to hold Miranda’s for an eternity, daring her to speak. It was as though he could read her thoughts. No one wanted to talk about the same thing as her, she was pretty damn sure about that.

Walking back towards his desk, the Deacon stopped in the centre of the front row.

“What about you, Angela? What do you want to talk about?”

Angela was dumbstruck and only shook her head.

“What about sex? Do you want to talk about sex?” He waved his arms to encompass the group. “Does anyone in the class want to talk about sex?”

It didn’t seem possible, but Angela’s blush deepened three shades and she let out a high-pitched squeak. At the back of the class, Miranda dug her nails into her clenched hands with such force, it wouldn’t have surprised her to see blood ooze between her fingers.

Despite Deacon Phillip’s astounding question, the classroom was silent; except for the quiet humming of the fluorescent lights.

“How many of you use condoms?”

Not surprising, no one moved. Who the hell was going to admit that in a Catholic high school, and to a deacon, no less?

The Deacon sighed, scrubbed his hands over his face. “Alright. Let me start over.” He sat back against his desk, crossed his ankles. “We’re going to be talking about really personal things this year. Important stuff. You have to trust each other to keep it confidential. You’ll also be learning a lot. You can share what you learn with others, but no one repeats information using names.” He paused a moment. “We agree—every single one of us, including me—that we don’t repeat anything personal.”

A few heads nodded.

“When we talk about how to use condoms, how to put them on, you don’t go and laugh about how so-and-so didn’t know how to. You didn’t always know how to either.”

There was absolute silence in the classroom. Even the lights seemed to stop humming.

“There is no grade given for religion in your final year, but you’re required to take it and we’re required to teach it. So we try to make it interesting.” Deacon Phillips glanced at the black and white wall clock. “This class will have but one assignment this year. Over the next two weeks, I want you to pick a topic you want to explore. You will have all year to work on this. If you want to present it to the class, you will be given that opportunity. If you want to hand it in to me to review, I’m happy to look at it. In theory, you don’t even need to complete this assignment.” He shrugged. “I won’t know if you’ve done it. But you will.”

He paused, allowed everyone to digest that.

“Explore who you are, ladies and gentlemen. Explore who you once were, who you are now and who you want to be. Hopefully, you’ll figure out a way to get there.”

The bell rang then. There was a moment’s pause before everyone gathered their books and filed out of the room. There wasn’t the usual cacophony of voices or the mad exodus. It was a sombre group leaving church after a funeral service, everyone absorbed in their private thoughts.

Deacon Phillips scribbled a few notes in his ledger, tucked folders into his briefcase. When he glanced up, he saw Miranda sitting at her desk, in the far corner of the room.

“Miranda? Did you want to speak with me?”

Nodding, she threw her bag over her shoulder, and wound her way through the desks to the front of the class.

“I know what I want to explore.” As soon as he announced the assignment, she knew. Somehow she knew it would help with the nightmares.

“You don’t have to decide for another two weeks.”

Miranda nodded again. “But I already know. I need…I want to explore this.”

Deacon Phillips sat back and waited. Miranda hugged her bag against her like a life preserver, took a deep breath.


He didn’t flinch. Didn’t blink. Didn’t move a muscle. His pupils didn’t even dilate.

“Good choice. Let me know if you need any help.”

His tone was dismissive, almost indifferent. Perhaps that’s what Miranda needed. Not the pitying look or the empty platitudes, but acceptance, plain and simple. She turned to leave the classroom, her mind already pondering French class.


She stopped at the door, her hand on the chrome handle. She didn’t turn, but waited for him to speak.

“I hope it helps.”

Yeah, she thought, me too.

* * *

Miranda's story continues...


Heather said...

Quite a shocking piece! I've never attended a Catholic school, but I know the stereotype quite well. I found myself being jut as awestruck by the Dean as many of the students were.

I hope this is a good exercise for Miranda.

oldegg said...

This is a wonderful piece of writing. You baited the reader with sexual innuendo then smacked them around the face with what the reality might be for some. Full marks.

Deborah said...

You write this brilliantly! It would make a compelling book, it reads effortlessy and is so brilliantly understated, so well done!

Old Altonian said...

I checked back for the start of this story so I have the whole picture so far. Gripping and stylish, I look forward to the continuation pieces.

jaerose said...

Yes, like OddEgg, I was feeling a bit nervous - not another sexual predator in Miranda's life - but you led us skilfully away from the stereotype that all men are bastards..(and did with Jason too)I hope the classes are a place for Miranda to 'explore'..great word by the way..perfectly chosen not to make her a victim..Hats off to you for another great write..Jae

Spook The Scribbler said...

Gneek, what a shocker!

This is going to be good ... :D

Anonymous said...

WOW parochial school has changed, especially so the senior year.. good story in a world of writing where one can receive help anywhere, even in the midst of a church

glnroz said...

I had decided Ms. Manning, that I was getting accustomed to your style, which is always top shelf. In my opinion now, i feel you have no boundaries.