Night School 69: The Rabbit Hole
Posted by Grady Miller on Apr 22, 2012 - 8:45:20 AM
HOLLYWOOD—Abby Fenwick chuckled her yolky chuckle, seeing her colleague's name in print, but the laughter stopped as soon she read her own name. There it was, Abigail Fenwick, described as “energetic, devoted, one-time Teacher of the Year.” This triggered a flush of pleasure. Then the trouble started. The undercover reporter, Fermin Acosta, thanks to his sophisticated knowledge of English had picked up on Miss Fenwick's paper shenanigans, which were an extension of her zeal for students to do well and look good. Uff, appearances.
Fermin Acosta reported getting a test score much higher than he was supposed to get, for he had deliberately chosen wrong answers on the APEL standardized test. Adjusting for errors, his score should have hovered around zero and yet he came out with a diamond score, the maximum. So did a suspicious number of Miss Fenwick's students.
“The APEL is applied twice yearly and the increase in points between the first exam and the second yields benchmarks,” wrote Fermin Acosta. “Miss Fenwick's students earned had a suspiciously large number of benchmarks, signifying a windfall of public dollars for the school. How many unscrupulous immoral and unethical teachers like Abigail Fenwick are embedded in the system? My leap in score earned the school two benchmarks. Ka-ching. A cool five hundred dollars swiped from the taxpayer.”
Abby sighed, she clutched her skinny neck and gasped like a trout out of water. Her mouth was dry. It was staggering to be naked and exposed in the news. It shattered the fragile nirvana granted when all the boxes are checked, the bubbles bubbled, documents separated and alphabetized, and a harried instructor is able for one brief moment breath to rest, untethered from the madness. “My god, my god,” she cried out as her world, her reputation crumbled. Her journey into fear was nearly complete, here in Sherman Oaks in the pink duplex where Abby was kept prisoner so many decades by low Prop 13 taxes.
She was on her way to the travertine floor when the phone rang. Abby caught herself. The phone, a push-button model from the Gerald Ford era burst in an old-style grating ring. She picked up the pink receiver. Her anemic “hullo,” was met by a school secretary's drowsy voice:
“Principal Cloud on the line.” In her daze, she heard, “Cloud nine.”
Abby tensed. She faltered. Propped herself on the table ornamented like a wedding cake, marble topped, that supported her vintage phone.
“Abby, this is Principal Cloud.”
Before the principal had always been Roxie and her voice soothing, now it was taut and humorless. The silence gaped. “Are you there?” Principal Cloud asked. The silence gaped on. At the Flamingo Club, back in the day, her head had managed to gracefully support a plumed headdress that weighed two tons; now a single ostrich feather on a shoulder would have crushed her. “Abby, are you there?”
“Ye-es,” she replied to Principal Cloud, she lied. She wasn't there: but a poppy seed, her consciousness shrunk, her neck, throat and limbs numb, her soul evicted. Pure hurt housed in that poppy-seed of paperwork-loving, perfection-craving, worry-mongering reason.
“How soon can you come into the office?” said Principal Cloud. “We've got a very sticky situation on our hands.”
Abby powdered her nose and got out the key to Harold. The '72 powder-blue Dodge Dart crept down the Hollywood Freeway and to the bungalow office of Jefferson Polytechnic. Soon as she walked in, the door closed behind Abby, and she was staring at Roxie's gallery of canines and the dying orchid on her desk.
When she emerged fifteen minutes later, she had aged fifteen years. Jason Finch greeted her. In her state, Abby construed this as a mockery of her ethically-challenged self portrayed in the newspaper expose. She could not and did not know that Jason never read the newspaper. His effusive “how are you?” was sincere, but to her, now, it was a dagger in her heart.
“How are you?” he repeated, now distressed by her haggard appearance.
After some thought, all she was capable of in that unalloyed ego, hurt magnet, poppy-seed of consciousness, she replied with a smirking sigh, “Pretty good,” and stared blankly ahead to the end of the hallway in the Boise Cascade pre-fab office, a stony 1000-mile stare of someone just placed on administrative leave.
(to be continued)
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