Past episodes Reader's Guide to the Nostrum Universe Nostrum Correspondence Corner
Subscribe to Nostrum Home
(New to Nostrum? We recommend starting at the beginning.
Totally lost? Find out who's who in the Reader's Guide or track the "Ref #" links to the previous scene with those characters.)
Have you read this week's epistle from Jules?
Sister Levi al-Chaim sits in the heavy wooden chair behind her desk in classroom 117. She is as tired as she can remember being in her life, and she does not know why. She looks up at the clock on the wall to her right. Ten twenty-three. The minute hand sits poised at its marker, steady, patient, waiting to jump to the next marker. Therrrrr-whack and another minute passes. Time is like that in some schools; it is not a continuous process, but instead a series of jumps from one inflexible moment to the next, until finally the bell rings and time has reached an end.
Till time has reached an end... This particular bell will ring in eleven minutes.
Sister Levi does her best to keep her eyes from closing. The students have their heads bent, their eyes glued on the surprise quiz she has given them this morning concerning the poetry of John Keats. It is the same quiz she has given her classes since the very beginning, that intersection point when she and Keats were both alive. She smiles at the thought. Sometimes it feels as if she has been teaching since Keats was still alive. She knows she's been teaching since Pound and Eliot died, to mention only a few. Tom Eliot, she muses... such a nice Catholic boy...
She forces her eyes to open. There are thirty students in the room, a large group, but most of the classes at Hebrides are on the largish size. Parents pay a premium to send their children here, to get a superior education infused with moral values. Sister Levi has no doubt that the moral values are being transmitted, but she wonders sometimes about the superior education. She does not know of any public school in the district with classes this large. But then again, she does not know of any public school in the district that instills an understanding of Keats in its juniors, either.
Which is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know, as the man himself might say.
What? Wait a minute!
She narrows her eyes.
Her right foot is asleep. "Godfrey Daniel," she mutters under her breath, the closest she allows herself to come to a oath. First her brain wants to fall asleep, then her foot actually goes so far as to do the job. It feels like someone has stapled an overgrown salami to the end of her calf.
What is going on today?
It is the bell. And not a moment too soon.
"Put your blue books on my desk on the way out," she announces loudly.
The students obey her command, except for Merkel in the back right hand corner. As everyone else is collecting their books and filing out, dropping their tests on her desk, he is still sitting at his place, working on his answers.
He looks up. "Sister?"
"Do you have a fourth period class, Mr. Merkel?"
"Then I suggest that you get yourself hence."
He fumbles up from his seat, dropping his blue book to the ground, bumping his head on the desk as he picks it up, barely managing to get his textbooks under his arm without sending them flying in a dozen different directions.
"Yes, Sister," he repeats as he drops his test paper on her desk.
No doubt another C minus, she thinks as she watches his back exit the doorway. The Merkels of the world almost always get C minuses. He's a sweet child, she thinks, but, well, he is dumber than a meatloaf bone.
That is an unkindly thought, she muses. Not nice. No.
She will remember it for confession with Father McDermott this weekend.
She looks over to the door. It is Hannah Brown. Ted Hughes is standing beside her.
"Come in," she tells them. "Close the door."
Her foot is still asleep. If anything, it is now worse, creeping up all the way to her knee. And if that isn't bad enough, her other leg is starting to get tingly too.
"We have our passes," Hannah says. She and Ted both place slips of paper on Sister Levi's desk, signed permissions to spend the next period with Sister Levi al-Chaim.
"We need to practice your piece," the nun says. She smiles. "I expect you will do very well at the Moly this weekend. If you are ready."
"We're ready, Sister," Ted says. He is a thin, big-eared kid, slightly dapper in his red tie and white shirt. All the boys must wear ties at Hebrides. In contrast, Hannah is dark and on the short tending-to-chubby side. She is wearing a tartan skirt complete with large safety pin, the sort of Hebrides girl outfit Sister Levi has been seeing for half a century.
"Let us pray," Sister al-Chaim says, bowing her head. She always begins a practice session with a short prayer, a matter of habit as much as homage.
Hannah and Hughes also bow their heads. They know the drill.
"Oh, Lord, we are here to exercise the talents You have so graciously granted us in Your divine glory. Give us the wisdom to use them well, the will to use them wisely, and the grace to share them charitably."
"Amen," Hannah and Hughes say in unison.
"So let's begin," Sister al-Chaim says, raising her head. "Because we are definitely taking some serious tin this weekend."
"Amen, Sister," Hannah and Hughes say in unison one more time.
"'What a putz'?"
"Exactly," Alida Devans says.
"It doesn't seem like much," the student says. She is sitting with her partner in the seats of Behemoth's private speech auditorium. Alida Devans is standing on the stage.
"But that's all it takes. One small phrase borrowed from a different character, and they've broken the rules."
"I can't believe Hannah and Hughes would break the rules," the other student says.
"They probably wouldn't, if they knew what the rules were," her partner says. "But they seem to change from tournament to tournament."
"The CFL has its rules, the NFL has its rules, a lot of tournaments have other variations," Alida Devans tells them. "It can be hard to keep track. But Sister Levi has been in this business since the Diet of Worms, and she ought to know better."
"She eats worms?" Mollie asks. She is the taller of the two girls, a noticeable trait in a team where one member hits the height bar at six feet and the other barely scrapes it at five feet, and they both weigh exactly one hundred and thirty-two pounds.
"All Catholics have to eat worms," Maria tells her.
"I've never heard of that before."
"I take it you're not a Catholic, Mollie," Alida says.
"No, Miss Devans."
"Then let it ride. The point is, Sister should know, Sister is breaking the rules, and you are going to win as a result."
"How can you be sure we're going to win?"
"With Hannah and Hughes out, and God knows whatever happened to William Hand and David Brillig, who else is there? You're shoo-ins."
"Whatever did happen to William and David?" Mollie asks.
"David found out William was gay, is what I heard," Maria tells her.
"William is gay?"
"Are you kidding? You didn't know that?"
"Well, David didn't know it either, and he's William's partner."
Maria shrugs. "Sometimes I wonder about you," she says.
"I still don't understand why we're out to get Sister Levi," Mollie says. "Do you have a vendetta against her, Miss Devans?"
Alida Devans sits down on the edge of the stage. "Girls, that nun has been out to get us from day one."
"The dinner of worms," Mollie offers.
"Diet. Anyhow, she's given us more sixes than there are in the Book of Revelations, and frankly, I'm getting tired of it. Look at the piece she has Hannah and Hughes doing. The language is questionable, and the content is all adultery and promiscuous sex. None of us would have the nerve to run that material in the CFL, but since she's the Sister Levi, she can get away with it."
"That doesn't sound right," Mollie says.
"It isn't, my dear. So for the two of you to get the credit you deserve, you have to uncover to the world the evils of Sister Levi."
"Doesn't she have a direct connection to God or something?"
Alida Devans sighs. "Are you keeping your grades up this year, Mollie."
The girl smiles. "I've got straight A's this semester."
"You do a lot of homework?"
"Do I? Like twenty hours a day."
"That's what I thought. Why don't you two practice your piece? That's why you're here, after all."
Alida Devans climbs down from the stage and the girls climb up. For a moment they stand there like mismatched bric-a-brac, but when they begin, their performance is nothing less than magical.
And once again Alida Devans remarks to herself that you don't have to be a genius to be a great actor. It was Alfred Hitchcock who famously referred to actors as sheep. Looking at Mollie -- all six feet and wide-eyed naif of her -- Alida Devans can only agree with his evaluation.
And still, she does get straight A's... if she works twice as hard as the next person, that is.
It just shows to go you about book learnin'...
I am not doing this, Lisa Torte thinks as she sinks down behind the steering wheel of her purple Dodge Neon.
The door to the O'Connor house is opening. Someone comes out, a woman in her forties, probably Invoice's mother. She is a bit on the puddingesque side, round and gelatinous, wearing a tan trench coat that does nothing to mask the fact that she has not been to the gym since the Carter administration.
That's a rotten thing to think, Lisa chides herself. That's Invoice's mother. The mother of the teenager that you happen to be stalking.
I am not stalking him! I'm...I'm...
I'm taking a very strong interest in his academic career. I am, after all, his debate coach.
The woman Lisa assumes is Invoice's mother walks around to the garage, out of Lisa's sight. A moment later a station wagon appears, backing down the driveway. It pulls out into the road and off into the sunset.
Lisa pulls herself up. I've got to go home, she thinks. This is ridiculous.
She has come here on the off chance that she might "accidentally" run into Invoice on the street where he lives. The last few nights have been horrible. She is becoming obsessed with him, and she cannot understand why. Nothing in her past has ever been like this. She's a normal young woman, or at least as normal as a young woman can be when she's constricted by the debate universe, when her team hates her except for the one lone, lorn LDer.
Maybe that's it, she thinks. Maybe it's because Invoice is one her side, and the others aren't.
She starts the engine of the Neon. Sitting here forever is not accomplishing anything. She pulls out into the road in the direction taken by Invoice's mother.
Maybe this is not crazy, Lisa thinks. Maybe what she has is a normal chemical attraction to Invoice, and the only problem is that he's a couple of years younger than she is.
Five, to be exact. A lot, maybe, when one of the two of you is eighteen. And it wouldn't be noticeable if one of you was twenty-eight.
"Talk about rationalization," Lisa says aloud.
She sighs and flips on the cassette player. The music that emanates out of the speakers is atonal, slightly mournful, and far from easy listening. Classics for the po-mo set.
She turns the car in the direction of home.
Will Mr. Merkel ever understand Keats?
Will Hannah and Hughes resort to covert praying to win the Blessed Moly?
Will Alida Devans play the putz card?
Will Lisa Torte buy an extra vial of Obsession at the mall this weekend?
If Governor Whitman loses the Jersey senate race, does that mean she'll do a D'Amato and go away?
Did D'Amato really go away?
You can only wonder if we even remember ever asking any questions in our next episode: "Thus Spake Zarathustra, or, Elvis Has Left the Building."
Go to the next episode due Apr 21, 1999.