Night School 76: The Rabbit Hole (continued)
By Grady Miller
In summer stock Abby Fenwick always played the ingenue. The light fluffy roles, where she could best use her long-toothed smile and yolky chuckle, suited her —the ditzy girlfriend, the homely sister, the quirky friend. The weightier, more tragic roles eluded her: Lady MacBeth and Blanche DuBois or Martha in “Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf” were beyond her modest range, nor did she venture beyond her comfort zone. She lacked the deeper experience required to believably portray these troubled ladies.
All that changed after the test score scandal. Now prisoner of her Sherman Oaks duplex, albeit in the comfort of familiar surroundings decorated in shell-pink and gold like a glorified powder room, her hair grew wild and stringy. She also neglected to put on her 'face,' a cumbersome process that entailed an hour. Before standing in front of a classroom she wanted every pore and fissure smoothed over by creams and mascara. No more. Not having a class to prepare for, her face mattered not, and she neglected to set her five alarm clocks. All five ticked away till their springs unwound and their batteries ran out.
Untethered now from the paperwork mania and the daily anxieties of class preparation, Abby had the luxury of time—too much time—to know that the handle of the bone chine cup faced north by northwest. Time on her hands to feel the crushing weight of the Jefferson's accreditation visit, its seal of approval from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) jeopardized by her test fraud. She, Abby Fenwick, in zealous pursuit of funding, benchmarks and the proverbial right answer had doctored the Applied English, APEL exam, and dishonored the banner boasting Jefferson Adult School had an average 15 point increase on its yearly APEL score. All acronyms and jargon aside, Abby Fenwick found herself in abundant possession of a commodity now in short supply: shame.
In her state of shame she let the newspapers pile up near the astroturf doormat. It was a shame she stopped digesting the news, with exception of the horoscope, or she might have been absolved of her crushing guilt. Alone, trapped in that duplex by low Proposition 13 taxes, she wrongly believed she alone was to blame for Jefferson Night School's downfall.
Sharks much hungrier than an undercover reporter lusting for his first front-page story, now circled Jefferson Adult School; they threatened its very being. Had Abby opened the newspaper, she might have known that other schools were really closing. And whether Jefferson would get approval to operate for six more years—the maximum and highest approval—was beside the point. The system was doomed by a manly zeal to cut back and even the female school board members were infected by the pecuniary machismo of a ruthless slashing spirit. Abby might even, had she read the latest headlines, have let out a yolky chuckle and shown her long-toothed smile again, now masked by a permanent frown.
The paper still came with a daily thud, unsettling the scandal- and strife-filled paper logs piled up from previous days. The delivery boy, who was really a man, was reassured by the glimmering of light that curled around the curtains she called drapes on insomniac mornings. Seeing that pale lamplight, he knew that Miss. Fenwick was there. Little did Walfredo fathom that even before the test-score scandal, her ties to the news which began as a schoolgirl on a Nebraska farm when she read about faraway meccas, New York and Hollywood, had begun to dissolve. She kept the subscription up partly because she was aware that there was a person with a job and a family to feed who jogged up the jacaranda-lined street the crack of dawn every morning, and she responded annually to the card inserted every holiday season between the paper's folds, asking for some benevolence. Yes, Abby Fenwick was still there, but was she well? Walfredo was watching her, certainly more than the neighbor on the other side of the duplex. Her duplex neighbor was a young man whom she had never met. He went out when she was burning the crack-of-dawn oil, and he was soundly asleep by the time she and Harold (her '72 Dodge Dart) got home from night school. Was it possible to call someone she had never laid eyes on, neighbor, and yet this was her neighbor?
(to be continued)
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