Authors: Tricia Bennett
Mrs. McGillicuddy stood frozen to the spot, her eyeballs exploding from their sockets, her face utterly distorted with rage as she let out one of her infamously death-defying screeches, which unbelievably could set off a major landslide in the farthest regions of Nepal or Bangladesh. It never failed to send all pupils instantly rigid with fear.
“Gâgâget out of here right now, you miserable bunch of misfits!” she screamed as she grabbed her waste paper basket to mindlessly throw it at the rebel pupils. All the rubbish emptied out as it flew through the air before crash landing just inches away from where Polly stood, though at Mrs. McGillicuddy's entrance she had smartly turned back to face the wall. Their teacher, still engulfed by pure rage, then grabbed a potted plant that stood innocently on her desk, and this too made its merry way through the air as she contemptuously took aim. Dirt and petals floated through the air long before the pot hit the floor, making a terrible noise as it was smashed to smithereens.
While all this further destruction took place, Polly turned again to face her teacher, if only to see what else might happen, and as she turned 'round, she noticed that the other eyeball that previously had been clinging for life to the lampshade had now finally released itself and was now jubilantly making a beeline for the bun on top of her teacher's head.
Polly swung back 'round to once again face the wall, her eyes shut tight and not daring to breathe as she feared what might happen next. Luckily for everyone concerned, Mrs. McGillicuddy remained entirely oblivious to the latest happening as she angrily raged on and ordered all pupils to leave the classroomâand pronto! “I cannot believe it! I just leave the room for five minutes due to a crisis, and this is what you do to pay me back, you miserable wretches,” she screeched in such high-pitched tones that they threatened to shatter the large windows of the laboratory. “Now get out of my sight, the lot of you!”
None of the pupils wasted any time in obeying their emotionally erratic teacher's distressed request. They all raced over to their desks, and in record time gathered up their belongings before heading out of the classroom at top speed, feeling very relieved to have escaped without some form of serious punishment.
Polly, believing the word
to mean just that, said her quick good-byes to the wall and then made her way back to her desk to pick up her schoolbag to leave with the rest of the class and head to the next lesson. But as she began to make her way toward the exit, she heard the fear-invoking voice of her teacher from behind her. “And where, precisely, do you think you are going?” she boomed. “I'm talking to you. Yes, you, Polly Brown! So unless there are angelic beings in this room that cannot be seen with the naked eye, do me the courtesy of facing me when I'm talking to you.”
Polly swung around on her heels to face her accuser. “I'm awfully sorry, Mrs. McGillicuddy, but I thought you said we should all leave and go to our next class,” a very confused Polly blurted out.
“Yes, but this command in no way applies to you, girl. I'm sorry, Brown, but I am holding you entirely responsible for clearing up this disgraceful mess. So you can start right now by getting down on all fours to begin picking up all the broken pieces of the flower pot. When this is done, please go and fill up one of the buckets, grab a mop, and start cleaning. And when you're finally finished, allow me to tell you that the headmaster is expecting you to report to his office before lunchtime.”
“Yes, miss,” Polly miserably muttered.
“Goodness gracious me! I hadn't noticed the terrible state the walls are now in,” she announced, reeling back in shock. “Brown, I order you to climb up on a chair and immediately begin the task of cleaning off all the ghastly muck that is now dripping down off the walls.”
“Yes, miss,” Polly once more responded as she despairingly dropped her bag to the floor by her teacher's desk before making her way toward the store cupboard in search of suitably abrasive cleaning materials. As her eyes scrutinized the mess on the walls, she was left with little doubt that this cleanup session would be a long and arduous task, for the biology room more resembled a violent crime scene than a classroom, with all the walls smothered with blood, ghoulish tissue, and membrane that still continued to drip down the walls. So, with oversized yellow rubber gloves on both hands and mop under one arm, she picked up the bucket of soapy water and headed toward the worst-affected area of the classroom.
After a long time cleaning and scrubbing, Polly poured the dirty water down the sink and then pealed off the sweaty oversized yellow gloves. She felt pleased with herself as she surveyed the cleaned-up room. “There. This room looks so much cleaner, even though it now smells high of bleach.”
Satisfied with her work, Polly put both mop and bucket back into the store cupboard and then proceeded to make her way toward her teacher's desk. She stupidly hoped for a bit of praiseâafter all, she had done a very thorough job of cleaning down the wallsâbut she also thought that to be dismissed without any further recriminations, much less further exclusive servings of her teacher's frothy spittle, well, that would be considered a good thing for which she would be truly grateful.
As she stood on the other side of the desk from her teacher, believing herself to be well out of harms way, Polly began to seriously weigh whether it was right to leave for the next lesson without making mention of that little something that had earlier caught her eye. Was it kind or fair to leave without saying a measly word? It might after all mean further humiliation for her teacher if she were to enter the tutors' private recreation room still blissfully unaware of this unusual item that was still garnishing her hair.
“You are dismissed to leave, and may I remind you yet again that this lunchtime, you, Polly Brown, have an appointment with the headmaster. So be sure to turn up; otherwise, you will have me to answer to, and as surely as I live, I promise to make it my personal mission to make your school life a living hell.”
“It already is,” Polly quietly mumbled under her breath.
“So do I make myself clear? ” her teacher said through gritted teeth as she rather condescendingly dismissed Polly with a mere flick of the wrist, her eyes never leaving the papers in front of her as she continued on with her marking.
“Thank you, Mrs. McGillicuddy,” Polly muttered under her breath as she stooped down to pick up her schoolbag and exit the classroom.
That should have been the end of it, but then Pollyâbeing Pollyârather stupidly and unwisely allowed her conscience to dictate that this was the opportune moment for open and honest dialogue to take over. And so, in her bid to be her usual helpful self, she opened her mouth and nervously began. “Oh, by the way, Mrs. McGillicuddy, I beg you not to take offense, but you still have some, um, leftover spittle on your mustache, I mean, upper lip, and well, ummâ” she lowered her eyelids as she then pointed toward her teacher's headâ“and umm, you also have a stray sheep's, umâ¦. eyeball attached to the top of your haystack. I mean adorning your, um, hair.”
Mrs. McGillicuddy shot up from her desk, her thinly framed torso rigid, as though it had just been plugged into an electric socket, causing a thousand live volts to shoot through each and every wiry vein. Polly took a nervous step backward as she beheld her teacher's quivering lips once more begin to foam. Polly believed she was well on the way to becoming something of an expert when it came to correctly evaluating as to whether an eruption was imminent. Frightened, she wondered who would take the next step. If it was up to Polly, she would have turned on her heels and raced out of the room without as much as a glance backward. But for now she was trapped, as her trembling teacher made the first move, raising both shaky hands up to her head as she attempted to remove the offensive, slippery item along with the usual bits of flora that were sticking to her haphazardly held together bun.
“Girl, get out of here now!” Mrs. McGillicuddy ordered in little more than a hoarse whisper, the blood draining from her taut face as her eyes then began their weird, pulsating movements that scared the life out of most people.
In that instant Polly recognized the familiar rumblings and so knew for sure that the much-promised volcanic eruption was now very imminent! Wisely, she turned on her heels, and after closing the door behind her, she ran down the long corridor as fast as her legs could carry her, all the time wondering why things had, as usual, taken such a terrible turn for the worse. Would she ever get things right and so begin to make any sort of promising progress? As things stood, she very much doubted it.
S SHE MADE
her way down the steep concrete staircase heading for the next lesson, she could not help but wonder why she alone was being sent for punishment, especially as she had not managed to get her hands on even one greasy, slimy ball, that is, until it came time to clean up the disgraceful mess. Not only did this feel grossly unfair to Polly, but it also served to confirm her strong conviction that because she was a child in care, she was a little miss nothing nobody from the castle, yes, a hideous, ugly blob that deserved to be cruelly laughed and sneered at. Would there ever be anyone who would willingly choose to stand up for her? Sadly, she thought not.
As she made her way toward the classroom, her mind went back in time to one of her earliest days at infant school, and it was sorely evident that her struggle with self-doubt and self-loathing had been there right from the start, only back then it had no nameâjust pain. She was only five at the time, and she distinctly remembered a playtime where a fight broke out with another girl the same age named Sally Smith. The fight was over a doll that they both wanted to play with, and so it was really a silly argument. It was only a stupid doll after all, but when Sally pulled Polly's hair and told her that everybody in the class called her “Smelly Welly,” Polly instantly felt as though a knife had just been plunged into her stomach and then viciously twisted. She remembered her stomach felt knotted and mashed up as it immediately went into a spasm, causing her to feel physically sick and dizzy.
Polly had felt utterly incapable of retaliating or giving her accuser as good as she got. She just stood dazed and in a state of temporary paralysis as those ugly words churned around in her head while repetitiously stabbing at her heart. It had left her questioning, What exactly was wrong with her? Why couldn't she stand up for herself? Now that she was a lot older, she felt she knew the answer, for while all the other children had an abundance of relativesâmums, dads, aunts, uncles, and cousinsâwho repeatedly impressed on them just how special and how proud of them they were, she had nobody to give her such choice and affectionate accolades.
She had watched on as proud mums and dads came to watch their rising star perform in school plays or to parent evenings where their faces lit up as they helplessly gloried in their child's academic achievements while teachers heaped praise upon praise concerning their little Johnny or Sally. But she had never had anyone to turn up at a school concert and sing her praises or feel proud of her. She had no father to call her “little princess” or even just tell her she was good at something. She also had no sweet-smelling mother to gently kiss her forehead or put a plaster on her scraped knee or read her an uplifting bedtime story; therefore, she was left struggling her way through life with no inner stuffing or outer protective armor when it came to the cruel taunts of others. If they said she was smelly, then she was smelly. If they said she was a freak, then that was what she was, for sadly the words tore into her already mangled heart like a serrated knife, leaving her incapable of shrugging off or using any other alternative methods to fend off the cruel and ugly words and jibes of others.
Sadly, she had discovered at a very early age that children can be so terribly cruel. As an infant she had not been supplied with the ability to dismissively toss aside all insults to give way to reason. She never once considered being outraged enough to think, “Who on earth do they think they are? And why are they talking such rubbish, for my mum and dad think I'm great, and my Aunt Betsy thinks I'm the bees knees.” Instead, like a sponge, she just absorbed every cruel and painful taunt that arose daily from childish playground skirmishes and grievances, and she could only think to run away and hide as, banging her head against a wall, she gave vent to pitiful cries of utter desperation and loneliness that would, if left unchecked, quickly turn to self-loathing as she learned to despise herself.
She was left feeling angry and frustrated, as well as believing that she might well have fared better if she had lived out her life in a wheelchair, for at least then she might be treated more fairly. However, her wheelchair was invisible to the naked eye, but all the same, it was a restrictive wheelchair. To her way of thinking, to be born into this world without the solace and protection of a proud and loving family was to come into this life seriously disabled. So, the question resounding through her thoughts that day was, Would things ever get any better or easier for her? Somehow she didn't think so.