Miller Time
Night School 67: The Rabbit Hole
By Grady Miller
Apr 7, 2012 - 7:37:44 AM

HOLLYWOOD—The paper monster was getting the better of Abby Fenwick. Always cumbersome and yet miraculously manageable, the paperwork in the weeks of that reluctant spring, chilled by wintry threats of deep-sixing the whole night school program, became overwhelming.


There were additional circles to bubble in with the inevitable number 2 lead pencil, and the declining quality of pencils made it a pesky chore as the poor-grade graphite crumbled and the electric pencil sharpener (why indeed does a perfect device like the hand-cranked pencil sharpener get electrified despite obvious superfluousness?) rendered the Platonic ideal of a nice sharp point unattainably remote.

The paperwork would reveal maddening new facets. Layer upon layer of dimensions remained completely unexplored by human awareness for months, and then could plunge the paper pusher into whole new grottoes of anxiety, aggravated by a painful knowledge of monies lost, erasures to be made, and new papers to be generated. Poor teachers, control freaks by nature, were trained into feeling responsible for so many things beyond their control, when someone else was to blame and people in the office faltered, due to human error or distraction bred by the growing awareness of the system's death rattle. Now there lingered an item perpetually unsigned, a box unchecked off, some devious and overlooked aspect that lay in wait to sabotage the process. It all left Abby Fenwick with the nagging conviction that although nothing was wrong, it could go terribly wrong without a moment's notice and spoil her whole weekend.

Abby Fenwick's once-radiant smile turned into a slash across a scarecrow face. She slouched, her shoulders hunched. She forgot to brush her teeth. Her facelift, so subtly done in Beverly Hills, went into reverse: her cheeks became blotchy, her eyes puffy, her forehead pinched, and an ugly web of hairline scars became visible. She went postal on her students (“Why did you write your first name first?! Can't you read what the form says!”), forsaking the teacher's stock-in-trade, the laissez-faire tolerance, often mistaken for patience, that generously allows for a thousand variations in carrying out the same simple task. Once among the best of teachers, Abby metamorphosed into the worst: a scowling bureaucratic hag, her nose buried in minute meaningless details. She left her students stranded, hearing only themselves ask their own questions and nobody to answer them.

As the paper god captained Abby's senses her brain became poppy-sized, a pinprick, the body grew numb to sunsets and mountains and miracles. Laughter would surprise her as a noise from far away. Miss Abby Fenwick become a walking time bomb, thanks to all the mesmerizing ink and white sheets that were once trees. At the end of the day all the paperwork held a mirror only to her own flaws. And yet at rare moments, this madness yielded a dry righteous pleasure, a zen satisfaction of doing it perfectly, a sensation addictive as cocaine for the control freak that lurked in every teacher. Abby was a sucker for that alluring, unreachable high of perfection, glimpsed but never overtaken by the gateway opiates of alphabetization and accurate dating. It's what made it possible to pore for days and hours over the myriad forms and papers that faithfully accompanied students through the night school chamber. It's what made Abby Fenwick plan her next holiday—Memorial Day—not with travel but with sorting papers: both a way of expressing resentment toward the mountains of papers and trying to make them vanish. Poof! How Abby wanted to make things look right and beautifully perfect, the more so as the school inspectors' visit hastened, having been moved up on the calendar. (Perhaps, the staff hypothesized, it was to finish their inspection before the school ceased to be.)

Abby Fenwick was too far gone to heed the whisperings. True, the school district had cried wolf many times over, but this time there was a difference—the wolf was real, the wolf was in the door and ravenous. What's more, Abby's paper obsession estranged her from her companions in “Night School Musical.” At San Anselmo Church the show entered the final stages of rehearsal. People asked, “Whatever happened to Abby Fenwick?”

To be continued...

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