I knew Mrs. Cargyle was up to something. The look on her face informed me of this fact. She reminded me of a gray fox that I'd spotted, purely by accident, one night, revealed in the illumination of big full moon in the cloudless, star-dusted black of a Florida night sky. Said animal was crouching behind all that scrub in back of the cocoanut palms sprouting skyward in the neglected courtyard behind our L-shaped hotel. I'd walked over from the shuffleboard courts, then bent down for some childish purpose adult memory does not reveal. On standing up, I saw the panting animal. Revealed, like an escaping prisoner in the moon's relentless spotlight. And he, of course, saw me. Big black eyes, black nose, and an infinity of tiny hairs. (More red than grey, though grey is what they're called.) I disbelieved my eye's intelligence, then reluctantly accepted the vision after a second's thought. Yes. A fox. There he in fact was.
Frozen, but looking, thinking. Eye to eye. I won the staring contest. He ran in a skittering rush. I walked bravely away, then noticed my hand was shaking. More scared of you than you were of him, brother Marion said later. From that observation, do not infer it's a good idea to stick your face up close to the face of a wild animal if you desire to keep your eyes, nose, lips and so forth in their current configuration. To say nothing of rabies, dummy. No arguing with that, so I didn't.
A point lurks within this vivid snapshot of memory, however digressive it may seen. My point here being the vulpine nature of Mrs. Cargyle's expression. The triangularity of her facial physiognomy had reminded me of a fox from my first encounter. But this was not the point of resemblance that struck me on that day.
The fox was cogitating. His foxy brain was occupied with a plan of escape. The brain behind Mrs. Cargyle's face was similarly occupied, although with a plan of attack. The wheels were turning in her pinched little mind. She was biting her lower lip. Her eyes were darting. This put me in mind of a crazed individual throwing darts. Said mental darts were aimed at myself, Susan Underhill, and Billy Bob Beautree. Cunning Mrs. Cargile did her level best not to appear to gaze in our directions. Which made her malign intent all the more obvious.
What in the name of all that was holy was she up to?
Well. I would soon find out.
My anticipation was no longer solitary. The class now awaited with collectively held breath. We had stood to recite the pledge of allegiance and then resumed our seats. At this portion of the hour, interrogations concerning last night's homework assignment would typically begin. But Mrs. Cargile had broken her routine, a rare occurrence, invariably unpleasant. Even those of lesser wits had divined she had a surprise to spring, and would do so, once an interminable and unpredictable interlude had passed to establish sufficient tension. Sounds like Gestapo tactics to me, the way you tell it. What's her name again? Mrs. Carlyle. Pffft! "Mrs. Cargyle" like hell. More like "Frau Carlicht" or some such. A Nazi spy has infiltrated your classroom.
Wise beyond his years, my brother.
Carlyle or Carlicht, whatever her name was, she sat in silence behind the rectangular solid of her impossibly neat oak desk, stacked forms in ranks and files like a tiny city of paper on top, a pencil sharpener clamped to the side. Those eyes of hers narrowed. She grabbed one stack of forms, tapped it twice to establish perfect Cartesian order, set it down, glanced down at the page on top, read whatever it divulged. Her mouth then spoke.
"I have a survey from the State of Florida. I need all the children of divorced parents to please stand up."
I stood up. Susan and Billy Bob stood up. And she just let us stand there. All the other students sat there looking at us like we'd escaped from the freak show. It was total and utter humiliation, the 20th century equivalent of the stocks of the scarlet letter. Just barbaric. I teacher who pulled that stunt today would be crucified. They'd skin you alive. The three of us just stood there. Mrs. Cargyle let this go on for maybe five or ten minutes, but it felt like eternity. She pretended to fill in the form, which was all horseshit. There was no damn survey! She just wanted to rub our faces in merde. In my childish innocence or ignorance I didn't know it at the time. But I told your Uncle Marion what had happened and he informed me of that fact. And then he went ballistic. He punched a hole in our bedroom wall, not the flimsy drywall of today but concrete. His hand was bleeding, I think he broke two knuckles, but he managed to conceal it from Grandmother and Don, then made up a story about a sports injury the next day, I forget the precise details. Aside from the time he threatened to blow a hole in Charlie Wilson, it's the angriest I've ever seen him.
—Survey my ass. You see what she's doing little brother?
—Well, she had this form ...
—You actually see the form?
—She said it's from the State of Florida ...
—That's bullcrap. No. It's a lie.
—She said it's a list of her students. She was checking off names ...
... of the divorced kids. You told me. Why in holy hell would she do that? What possible point would there be?
—She already knew who you three were! She didn't need a damn survey to inform the State of Florida of this information. The State of Florida sure as hell doesn't need it.
—Then ... Well, why'd she do it?
—Goddamn it! Lord forgive me. Ow.
—You punched a hole in the wall.
—Well put a calendar over it, dummy. Hurry ... dammit, I'll do it.
—She wanted to make an example out of you, dummy.
—You and the two other kids of divorced parents.
—Why would she do that?
—So all your snotnosed classmates would stick with their rotten husbands and wives when they grow up in the distant future. So they'd be afraid some teacher would humiliate their little offspring if they ever ...
—You boys OK?
While revenge is considered unChristian or at least unsporting, your Uncle Marion made an exception in her case. He ... I really shouldn't laugh. I ... I really shouldn't, oh lord. He ... I don't know how in the hell he did it, but by fair means or foul he somehow got his hands on the Broward County teacher's directory, got Mrs. Cargyle's first name, got her phone number, and he called her house. He'd waited until Don and Grandmother were downstairs arguing with the fire marshal over some damn thing or another. by the fire escape. It only now occurs to me he may have arranged that to get them out of the way. For good measure, he put a jazz record on your grandmother's scratchy little record player and turned it up as loud as humanly possible. Out of sheer dumb luck or divine providence, he got her husband on the phone, and pretended to be some horndog flyboy. I heard him talking. Is Maggie home? Yeah, we're all down at the Horseshoe Inn -- which was just this utterly depraved dive outside the airbase in Ft. Lauderdale. Be a pal and tell her to get her ass on over here. We can't start the party without Maggie. Mrs. Cargyle ... she ... Lord knows I shouldn't laugh.
She came in the next day with the most beautiful black eye I'd ever seen in my young life.
I'll bet dollars to dog crap it's a list of her students.
You think n_are like gorillas.
Some of 'em. some white people are too.
If they'd invented the steam engine in Africa, we'd be picking cotton in Nairobi.
Why are you so smart.
Her approach to child rearing was to send the children away.