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The Sarah Palin Elementary School (Redux)

August 25, 2009

The Sarah Palin Elementary School (Redux)

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This is my modest contribution to Blog Against Theocracy weekend.  It’s an extended version of a short story I wrote back in October.  In the future, Christian fundamentalists have taken control of all aspects of American life, including public education…

Monday at 6am Miss Bridle is standing in the shower smoking a cigarette.  She has to huddle against the dewy tile to keep the cigarette dry, and the water is so hot it scalds her backside.  But the steam swirling around her wiry frame intermingles with the smoke, and that prevents Morning Flyover from detecting her disgraceful habit.  Cigarettes are such a rarity, really.  Miss Bridle bought this contraband package from her Guatemalan hairdresser, and it cost her almost a week’s wages.  It’s a shocking price, and a shocking chance she’s taking.  Miss Bridle knows that if she’s caught with tobacco products – or hard liquor, or one of the hundreds of thousands of books and magazines that have been banned, or the four ancient Arnold Schwarzenegger DVDs she keeps hidden under her mattress – she will be ruined.  Her teaching career will be over.  But perhaps it’s all worth it.  There’s so little joy in life these day.  Can a few puffs of Compañeros Afortunados really endanger her immortal soul?

After dressing for work, Miss Bridle sits for half an hour at the kitchen table and watches Christ Is Risen Morning News from a display screen on her refrigerator.  She does this every morning.  She has to log onto the school district’s computer so Principal White will know that CIRMN is being played inside her tiny apartment.  An informed school teacher, like a virtuous woman, is priced far above rubies – or so states Miss Bridle’s employment contract.  There are mornings when Miss Bridle would gladly take the rubies over the information.  She stares at the screen.

President Bobby Jindal is being interviewed from the Oval Office by Fox anchor Kirk Cameron.  Both men are very old and very grave.  Both men wear dark suits with flag lapel pins and gold cross lapel pins.  President Jindal is talking about America’s ongoing conflicts with Iran, Iraq, Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea, Syria and Afghanistan.  He assures Kirk Cameron that the U.S. military will soon subdue these rogue nations and that terrorism will be forever stricken from the face of the earth.  Cameron compliments the President and thanks him for the many personal sacrifices he’s made for the country.  Jindal almost cracks a smile.  They join hands to pray for the nation’s sins.  Miss Bridle spreads some Holy Plum Jam on her toast and takes a bite.  Next up on CIRMN is God’s Weather Forecast:  Cloudy skies, easterly winds, high today 112 degrees, deadly UV rays across the Southwest.

When the program is over Miss Bridle enters her educator ID code into a Psalm Pilot, signaling administrators that she’ll be leaving her apartment by 7am.  Teachers are allotted half an hour to get from the employee compound to the school.  Moving at a brisk pace the trip can usually be made in under 20 minutes, but those who arrive early must assemble in the Bible Lounge where they’re expected to partake in morning prayers, hot coffee, and warmed-over gossip.  Miss Bridle prefers to bypass that particular bit of fellowship, so she walks to work at a leisurely pace.

*****

The second grade classroom is filled with inquisitive faces and raised hands.  Miss Bridle smiles and says, “That’s it for today.  No more questions.”  She gathers her personal belongings – Bible, laptop, fingernail file, breath mints – and prepares to leave for PS 41’s mid-afternoon faculty prayer meeting.  Attendance at prayer meeting is mandatory, and Miss Bridle already has two demerits in her personnel file.  She dare not risk a third.

As she hurries toward the door, an annoying girl in the front row of the class says, “If Adam and Eve were the first people on Earth, and Cain was their oldest son, who did he marry?  Where did those people from the land of Nod originate?”

“Originate?”  Miss Bridle grinds her teeth.  Her hand is poised on the doorknob, the sunny smile on her face becomes rigid.  “Where did you learn such an impressive word, Purity?”

“My mother used it.  She told me what it means.”

Miss Bridle almost snaps, “Your mother is a harlot.”  But better judgment prevails and she utters a macro prayer asking forgiveness for uncharitable thoughts.  Miss Bridle replies, sweetly,  “Your mother shouldn’t be teaching you things, dear.  That’s my job.”   (continued, after the jump…)

A boy in the middle of the room boldly asks, “What is evolution?”

Miss Bridle whirls around.  “Where did you hear that obscenity?  Some rowdy street children, no doubt.  Matthew, you can spend the rest of the afternoon in the principal’s office!  The rest of you, class is dismissed.”

On her way to the faculty prayer meeting Miss Bridle passes Willie Baker, a sixth grader, who is crouching beside the Truants Wall.  Surprisingly, he’s the only student being scorned today.  Willie is wearing a pink cap with “Chromosome 8” stenciled on the bill.  This identifies him as a potential homosexual.  Willie holds a hand-painted sign that reads, “With God’s Help, I Can Change.”  A group of younger boys have gathered around Willie, and they’re pretending to urinate on him.  A short red-haired girl is throwing peanuts at his face.  “You children stop doing that,” Miss Bridle says.  “It’s vulgar, and it’s not Christ’s way.  Every sinner deserves the chance to repent.”  As she speaks she glances nervously at a nearby surveillance camera, hoping that her response meets with administrative approval.

The faculty chapel is already full when Miss Bridle slips quietly into a pew at the back.  Seated next to her is Mr. Ruse, who teaches third grade.  He responds to Miss Bridle’s greeting with an impatient sniff.

“You’re always late,” he hisses.  “Principal White notices these things.”

“I was delayed,” Miss Bridle says.  “Some boys in the hall were teasing Willie.”

“Willie needs teasing – and a great deal more.  If I were principal…”  Mr. Ruse launches into a whispered monologue describing how things would be different if he were in charge of the school.  Miss Bridle sighs.  She’s heard all of this before.  Ruse stops his incessant murmurings only when Principal White ascends to the podium and begins the Invocation:  “We are all sinners, Lord, none more so than these children who have been placed in our care.  We pray for their salvation, and for our own.  And we pray for Thy Guidance to teach Only Those Things that find favor with The Lord, Our Heavenly Father.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.”

The faculty and several custodians shout “Hallelujah.”  Mrs. Goode, the school secretary, weeps.  But of course, Miss Bridle notes with amusement, Mrs. Goode weeps at just about anything.  Only yesterday she saw her in the cafeteria, bawling over her shrimp salad.  Mr. Ruse insists that Mrs. Goode’s love of God is manifested by those “blessed tears.”  Are they tears of joy?  Miss Bridle doesn’t think so.  The woman hardly ever smiles.

Hymns are sung, a-cappella.  Professions of faith are made.  Humorous anecdotes are exchanged at the conclusion of the meeting.  (Mr. Ruse:  “When I stepped on that cat’s tail it yelled louder than my mother-in-law.”  Miss Dobbins:  “Those two liberals ran like the Devil was chasing them.  And he probably was!”)

After the closing prayers Miss Bridle walks despondently to Room 666 to perform her least favorite task of the day – overseeing afternoon detention.  She barely glances at the illustration of The Beast of Revelations on the door, or at the four students waiting solemnly inside.  But as she walks to the desk she acknowledges their presence with a curt nod.

There’s Willie, released from his hallway hell to attend a more purgatory-like environment.  There’s Matthew the “evolution” boy, redirected to her tender mercies from the principal’s office.  There’s Mary Wilcox, who cries even more than Mrs. Goode.  (Are those new bruises on her face?  That girl is so clumsy.)  And sitting apart from the others is little Jimmy Dobson-Smith, named after the great man himself.  This year there are six James Dobson “somethings” registered at PS 41, and four Sarah Palin “somethings.”  Ever since divorce was outlawed, hyphenated surnames have taken on a more satisfying significance.  (Miss Bridle has on her class roll a George Bush-Fishburn, a Sally Kern-Cox and a Bill O’Reilly-O’Malley.)

“I don’t want any talking,”  Miss Bridle announces, not unkindly.  “Keep the laptops closed and read your Bibles.  Think about everything you’ve ever done wrong.  Consider the love of Jesus.  Then think about burning in hellfire for eternity.”  (Miss Bridle wonders why she’s carrying on like this.  Room 666 is one of the few classrooms in the building that doesn’t have a surveillance camera.  At least she thinks it doesn’t.)  “Remember that Satan never sleeps and he’s ready to snatch your soul at a moment’s notice.”

Willie raises his hand and says, “I’m sorry I’m bad.”

Miss Bridle looks at him and pops a breath mint into her mouth.  “I have a headache and I’m not in the mood for drama.”

The students silently open their Bibles.

written by Max Pearson

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