Past episodes Reader's Guide to the Nostrum Universe Nostrum Correspondence Corner
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Have you read this week's epistle from Jules?
She could, and probably should, spend the day watching break rounds, but her heart isn't in it, especially since every break round seems to have either Tom Abelard or Bob Cratch in it. Not that she has anything against the amiable Bob Cratch, it should be pointed out, but where one Quiltian goes, so go many of the others, and the last thing Camelia wants is to be locked in a room with a quorum of them. She has spent a lot of time today talking to Jon Marcellus, telling him everything about her weekend, from sneaking away from Nighten Day School to Melvish giving her the gold bracelet.
"You've got to give it back," Binko tells her. They are sitting in a corner of a McDonald's nursing chocolate milkshakes.
"I know," she replies. "But what do I tell him?"
"Tell him you're flattered, but you can't accept the present because it would be saying something that isn't true. He'll get the message."
"That's not very clear."
Binko shakes his head. "It is very clear to a guy. Trust me on that."
"I can't believe he actually gave me that bracelet. What was he thinking?"
Binko shrugs. "He just wanted you to know he likes you, and this seemed like a good way."
"Why didn't he just say it?"
"He's probably a shy guy. A lot of guys are shy. We don't all carry guns and shoot to kill, we're not all macho and the king of the jungle, and we don't all even think that we're God's gift to women."
"He's not an ugly guy or anything."
"Yeah, but, well, in his case, he really isn't God's gift to women. And he's young. A few years from now he'll be smooth as leather underpants, but at the moment he's still just starting out, getting his sea legs, if you know what I mean."
"Leather underpants. Velcro elevator shoes. Whatever."
Camelia takes a sip of her milk shake. The drink is starting to get warm, and the consistency is now chemical foam floating on something loosely resembling cardboard. "Do you think I should go back with them tonight?"
"With the Quilty team?"
"That was the plan. A long and complicated plan, but the plan nonetheless."
"You might as well come back with us, at this point. Jutmoll knows that you're here, and he can drop you off a lot closer to home than the Quiltians will."
"What do you think Jutmoll will do?" Camelia asks.
"I have no idea. But it can't be too horrible. It's not like you killed anybody or anything, you just went to a debate tournament with another school. I don't even know if that's wrong, much less what anyone might do about it if they caught you."
"My parents don't know I did it. He could tell them, and if they find out, they'll go ballistic. And they'll probably take it out on my sister, too."
"Did Jasmine help you get here?"
"Not really. She didn't want me to go. But she didn't stop me, and my parents will accuse her of being a part of it because she didn't tell them about it."
"That doesn't sound fair."
"Parents aren't fair, Binko. And the rest of life isn't fair either," she adds, looking up. Tom Abelard. Bob Cratch and John Melvish are entering the restaurant, and the three of them seem to spot her at exactly the same moment.
"What is it?" Binko asks as he turns to look over his shoulder. "Oh."
"Very much oh," Camelia agrees.
"You've got to talk to them, if for nothing else than you have to get your luggage if you're going to come back with the Bisonette team. And you do have to face Melvish at some point too."
"What about Tom?"
Binko is still turned around in his seat. "It looks like you're going to have to face him right now. He's coming over here."
"Hello, Camelia," Tom Abelard says as he arrives at their table.
"Hi," she responds.
"Having a great day?"
Camelia says nothing.
"Who's your friend?"
"I'm Jon Marcellus," Binko says. "From Bisonette."
"Hello, Jon Marcellus from Bisonette. You a debater?"
"A novice, like Cammy here?"
"It's my first year."
Abelard looks at his watch. "I have about fifteen minutes before semis begins. I'm going to have to debate again. So I guess I can't stand around here and socialize, as much as I'd like to." He looks at Camelia. "You want to come and watch the round?"
She shakes her head. "No, thank you."
"I didn't think so. You're never going to be a great debater, sweetheart, if you don't watch break rounds. That goes for you too, John Marcellus from Bisonette."
He turns and walks over to the counter, where Melvish and Bob Cratch are ordering something at the register.
"You're definitely coming with us on the Bisonette bus," Binko says after Abelard has joined the other Quiltians.
"What about Melvish?"
"I'll get him. And your luggage. You stay here."
Binko slides out of his seat and goes up to the Quilty debaters.
"Camelia wants to talk to you," he says to Melvish.
"Why does she want to talk to him?" Abelard asks.
"That's between him and Camelia," Binko responds.
"Gentle, gentle, now, little novice," Abelard says as Melvish quickly limps off in Camelia's direction. "Let's not get all Rocky Five about it. You look like you're ready to pop a gut."
"I wouldn't mind it," Binko replies, edging closer to the Quiltian senior.
Abelard sighs. "I've got une Big Mac to eat, as the French like to say, and then I've got a round to go to." He pushes past Binko. "If you're still out here rippling your chest when I'm done, maybe I can oblige you then."
"You're a real bastard, Abelard."
Abelard turns around. "And you're all upset. Tomorrow morning you won't be so upset anymore, and I'll still be a bastard. Ain't that a kick in a the pants?"
"I want to get Camelia's luggage. She's going to come back with us."
"Oh ho. Another kick in the pants."
"The luggage. What about it?"
"It's on our bus. The bus is with all the other buses. Help yourself. Like I really care."
Abelard sits down next to Bob Cratch, leaving Binko standing in front of the counter with nothing to do but fume. A minute later Melvish walks past him to sit down with the other Quiltians. Binko returns to Camelia, sitting down across from her once again.
"How did it go?" he asks her.
She shakes her head. "I said I was flattered but I couldn't accept his present, and I handed it to him, and he walked away without saying a word."
"You've probably destroyed him for life," Binko says. "Or at least a couple of weeks."
"What did Tom say to you?" Camelia asks. "You two didn't look too happy standing there."
"I don't think he and I are going to be bosom buddies any time soon. Your luggage is on his bus, and we can just get it whenever."
"For now, I think we'd better find Jutmoll and square it away with him."
"I don't know what he's going to do."
"Don't worry about it. He's not a terrible person, I'm sure of it. And he and Nutmilk are like the homecoming couple, all lovey-dovey and everything. All the world loves lovers, and lovers love all the world. He'll be inclined to be lenient."
"I hope so."
"Trust me on this."
They stand up and start walking through the restaurant. The Quiltians are halfway between them and the entrance.
"Let's go out the side door," Camelia says, taking Binko's hand.
"I wouldn't give them the satisfaction."
Hand in hand, Camelia and Binko walk past the counter, then past the three Quiltians. No one says a word in recognition.
Forensics is such a sweet and loving activity…
As is the tradition, most of the teams are seated together as groups. In the rear right, Mr. Lo Pat's wheelchair is parked behind the large Manhattan Lodestone group, consisting mostly of Speechies. A few of his LDers like to come to the Bede because the competition is good, but the team leaders take the weekend off in deference to participating the following weekend at Gladecreek. Almost directly opposite the Lodestone team is Alida Devans' Brooklyn Behemoth group. The prepossessing Speech Coach is sitting on an aisle seat paying no attention to any of her students, her loose hand absently tapping fingers on the plaster of the cast around her arm. Sister Levi al-Chaim, the other New York powerhouse Speech coach, is, needless to say, not in the seats with her team.
The Bisonette team is up front on the left. Tarnish Jutmoll is sitting next to Amnea Nutmilk with arms crossed, wondering what to do about Camelia Maru. Camelia is sitting a few seats away in the row in front of them.
"The thing is," Amnea says, "what she did was wrong in the specific sense, but not terribly wrong on the scale of wrong things that teenagers can do, given half a chance."
"I know," Tarnish agrees.
"She could have been selling drugs to the Duo teams, or smuggling liquor in to OOers, or stealing cases or starting fires or God knows what, and what she was actually doing was simply debating under false pretenses."
"I know," Tarnish agrees.
"That's like trying to sneak into extra classes.
"I know," Tarnish agrees.
"You can't expel her for that."
"If I had my team back, I wouldn't even be thinking about this."
"So get your team back then."
"I have no idea. But there must be some way."
"When pigs fly," Tarnish Jutmoll responds.
"Then give some porkers a few wings," Amnea says with a sharp nod of her head.
The only member of the Bisonette team not sitting with the group is Gloria Fudless. She and Disney have been spotted off and on throughout the day, growing on each other like lichen. It is presumed that they will turn up shortly, and slightly out of breath. The Quilty team, on the other hand, is fully assembled, and in their midst Tom Abelard and Bob Cratch are playing a boisterous game of Twenty-One. If their comments are to be believed, Bob Cratch now owes Abelard about fifty dollars. The two LDers were the last left standing today. They won each of their break rounds until finals, which, because they are from the same team, they have closed out, a dual victory.
While as a result of the Quiltians hitting each other, everyone knows who has won LD, the rankings of the Speech events have yet to be announced, so there is more than a little tension in aisles as the time arrives for the ceremony to begin. But perhaps the most tension is behind the curtain, in the pacing form of Father Fogarty Finnegan.
"It seemed like a good idea at the time," Father Finnegan mutters to himself as he looks at his watch. And there's no turning back now, he adds mentally.
The ceremony is about to begin.
At the Venerable Bede, there is a justifiable pride in the presentation of the trophies. The trophies themselves are a fine collection of large and shiny tin, a suitable honoring of the hard work and dedication that has gone into the efforts of those striving for them. It is a tradition that the awards ceremony begin by the Bede Debate captain coming to the podium in front of the closed curtain and saying a sentence or two of welcome, followed by the slow opening of the curtain, a dazzling moment as veritable acre upon acre of trophy tin is revealed to the assembled multitudes. And that is exactly what will happen again today, with one difference.
Father Fogarty Finnegan wonders if he has made a terrible, terrible mistake. But as he stands center stage and sees what he has done, he realizes that this, more than anything, is what Sister Levi would have wanted. What better tribute to a woman who has given her life to her children, than to share this final moment?
Out front, and with grave misgivings, the captain of the Bede team, dressed to the nines in a serious black suit that would get Monica Lewinsky a seat on the Supreme Court, walks slowly out in front of the curtain to the podium. All eyes are on her, and the room breaks out in spontaneous applause. She holds up her hands and speaks into the microphone.
"Thank you, everyone."
The applause subsides.
"Thank you. I want to welcome you to final moments of the Venerable Bede Forensics Tournament."
At this point the curtain would normally open. Nothing happens.
"I would like now to introduce Father Fogarty Finnegan, our team adviser."
There is a low smattering of applause as Father Finnegan comes out from backstage. The audience begins girding itself for another prayer. He will not disappoint them.
"Good afternoon, everyone." The priest pauses. "High school forensics is a lot of work," he begins. "It is a lot of work for you, who go week after week to tournaments and meetings and practices, doing your best to succeed and to learn. But it is even harder work for your teachers and coaches, who not only go to tournaments and meetings and practices, but who also fight for you with administrations who want to limit your funds, and make reservations for you at hotels, and rent buses for you and make sure that you have food and Rolaids and sewing kits and everything else you need to get through forensics day. At most, you last four years, and then you go on to other things, but your teachers last their lifetimes, giving and giving and then giving again, giving everything for you." He takes a deep breath. "Sister Levi al-Chaim was a woman like that, a nun who had dedicated her career not only to education in the classroom but education outside of the classroom. Every waking minute of her day that wasn't given to the worship of God was given to the furthering of her students, and of all students, in the activity of forensics."
The audience is looking up at him with avid attention. He knows that he is giving a good sermon, and that his listeners are actually hearing what he is saying.
"This weekend Sister Levi passed away from us. Not surprisingly, she passed away from us doing what it was that defined her to us. She was in the Extemp Prep Room, the place you almost always would find her at almost any tournament she attended."
There is a moment in public speaking when you have your listeners in the palm of your hand, but you realize that you only have about one more minute before they turn on you completely, and you have lost them to anything that you are saying. Father Finnegan recognizes this moment now. The time has come to do it.
"We will all remember Sister Levi al-Chaim. I know that. But I know that, having come to this tournament as a presence, and as a leader, she would want to leave it not in the night, unnoticed, uncared-for. If Sister Levi was at an opening ceremony of a tournament, she would also be at the closing ceremony."
Father Finnegan looks over to the side of the stage, where a student is standing, waiting for his signal. Father Finnegan nods, and the curtain begins to open.
"Let us pray," the priest says, bowing his head.
The curtain opens slowly. Those who have been at the Bede before know what to expect, while those who are here for the first time are undergoing the predictable response to all the gleaming tin slowing presenting itself to them before their eyes. The curtain continues moving. Slowly, slowly. More tin, more glinting and gleaming, more lights bouncing off cups and plates, brightly bouncing into the auditorium, up to the ceiling, like a pirate treasure chamber being revealed to the world. It is the magical moment that defines the Venerable Bede year after year.
Except this time, there's a difference.
Father Fogarty Finnegan has said that if she was at an opening ceremony, Sister Levi would be at the closing ceremony. Sister Levi never once in her life left a tournament before it was over. Sister Levi never once tried to cajole the tournament staff into giving her the team ballots early. Sister Levi never once tried to skip out before honoring the winners, even if her team wasn't among them. Sister Levi never once even came close to slighting a tournament.
And she is honoring the Venerable Bede in the same way. In the center of the stage, surrounded by enough flashing tin to convince Ali Baba to join the forty thieves, is an open mahogany coffin. The top lid is lined with the plushest purple velvet. It is flanked top and bottom by bursting bouquets of white and red flowers. And, because the whole thing is titled slightly sideways, the mortal remains of Sister Levi al-Chaim are visible to everyone in the auditorium. She is dressed in her full habit, up to and including the wimple, with a white rosary entwined around her fingers.
Father Fogarty Finnegan is praying softly. Many of the students have bowed their heads to join him, sharing the moment. Another few of the students are staring agog, never having seen a dead person before in their lives, much less a dead nun, much less at a debate tournament. The Quiltians have even stopped their Twenty-One game.
"Who's going to win that?" a rather unholy voice calls out from somewhere in the back of the auditorium, disturbing the otherwise pious demeanor of the moment.
In a forgotten corner of either New York or Pennsylvania, or perhaps New Jersey, the Venerable Bede has, for all intents and purposes, come to an end.
Welcome to the Bahamas.
Will Sister Levi al-Chaim rest in peace?
Will Mr. Lo Pat be able to do something about the Quiltians?
Will Camelia and Jasmine be disowned by their parents?
Will Tarnish Jutmoll ever get his team back?
Will Gladecreek, a half hour north of Chicago, bear any resemblance to any
real tournament in that neck of the woods?
We'd be defecting from the Republican party if our next episode didn't reveal all, so come back in September 2001 for our triumphant return to infantilism: "Women Are From Venus, Men Are From Nepal, or, George W. Bush is the President of What?????
Go to the next episode due September, 2001.