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MADNESS


A story of Quillifarkeag, Maine

MADNESS

by G.K. Wuori

 

The fourth grade teacher in Quilli, Mrs. Johnson, went to her principal one day and said: "Dornan pulled on me."
      Her principal, Mr. Factsampler, a youngish man of thirty-five, said, "He what?"
      "He reached up under my dress and grabbed my intimates."
      "He did?"
      "Yes, sir."
      "He'll deny it."
      "I know."
      "Has he set anyone's hair on fire lately?"
      "Not that I'm aware."
      "Then live with it."
      "Mr. Factsampler?"
      "I know."
      "Just a note on his sheet."
      "Fantasia - we change his sheet, a copy goes to the lawyer. You know that."
      "But he did it!"
      "Did you encourage him?"
      "What?"
      "You know how it goes, Fantasia."
       
      WHEN DORNAN CZYCZK STAPLED Honey Tuppercup's eyelid to the high cheekbone under her eye, the first thing Mr. Factsampler said to Fantasia Johnson was: "Honey's new in school, isn't she?"
      "She's new," Fantasia said.
      "Talk to her."
       
      ON ANOTHER DAY, MR. FactSampler asked Fantasia Johnson if she wanted him to get her an aide for Dornan Czyczk.
      "The last thing he needs is help," she said.
      "You know what I mean;' he said. "What happened to your finger?"
      "Dornan bit it. He bit my fingernail off."
      "Is it okay?"
      "It is now."
     . . .

      FANTASIA JOHNSON WAS WELL liked at Quilli Elementary. The first, second, and third grade teachers all knew what she was going through. The third grade teacher, her hair, after the fire, having grown back over the summer break, counseled her, off the record, to keep a record.
      "A separate record?" Fantasia asked. "Isn't that against federal law?"
      "Do it, honey," she said. Fantasia was still very young.
      The upper grade teachers tended to believe they wouldn't have to face Dornan and his disabilities, that something would happen. Fantasia Johnson said she had felt the same way.
       
      AT HER FIRST PARENT-TEACHER conference with Dornan's parents (and their lawyer), Dornan's father was blunt, reciting a speech he'd made before: "So we screwed up the boy. So what? Unscrew him. That's your job."
      Mr. Factsampler, as he always did, tried mediation. "It's not a singular thing, Mr. Czyczk. We're all in this and we need your help. We need the family. We need the community."
      "He needs a good school," Mr. Czyczk replied.
      "I think he has that," Mr. Factsampler said.
      "He needs good teachers."
      "He has those, too."
      "Then do your damn job."
      Fantasia Johnson wanted to tell them- off the record- how Dornan had put a pencil all the way through her foot, pinning it to her sandal. (She'd healed.) She'd been going to tell them she felt like Christ without the perks. Ogden Factsampler complimented her on her reticence.
      "I just didn't get the chance, Mr. F," she said.
       
      DORNAN WAS AT HIS most unrestrained after the conferences. The next day, during reading, he walked up and down the rows in Mrs. Johnson's classroom squirting Super Glue on the other students. As hands and fingers shot up to cheek or ear or hair to feel out what was happening, they stuck in all those places.
      "Dornan," Fantasia Johnson said when she noticed him and saw what was going on, "come up here."
      Like some small gunslinger from another time, Dornan approached her, a tube of glue in each hand. Dornan, however, had thought of everything.
      Beyond protocol, Fantasia Johnson slapped the young child. Her hand stuck immediately to his cheek-a fact that would later become part of the record: her record.
       
      FANTASIA JOHNSON, NO DUMMY either (and still in her late twenties), was offered therapy and accepted the offer. She became nervous and had a note on that put in her file. There were absences, too, sick days, all supported by medical documentation.
      The Czycks, who loved their boy, expressed a certain smugness over that. He'd had to leave the hospital with a red cheek from the glue remover. They thought it fine that his teacher was now on notice. Parents had to protect their young.
       
      PROTECTION, HOWEVER, CAN BE a salty spray. Upon her return to the classroom, Fantasia Johnson had an incident with Dornan. Her medication kept her smooth, however, smooth enough that when Dornan thought she was going to send him to the office she took him aside and said, "No. I'm not sending you to the office."
      "But you said-"
      "I'm sending you to the cafeteria."
      "Huh?"
      "So they can cut you up and serve you as hamburger."
       
      FACTSAMPLER WAS APOLOGETIC TO the Czyczks, but when Mr. Czyczk said, "Fire her;' Mr. Factsampler said, "I can't."
      "You can't?"
      "She's been under stress, under medical treatment. It's the same law protecting Dornan. She'll be all right, though."
      "Protecting Dornan?" Mr. Czyczk said.
       
      DORNAN, AS EVEN THE students noticed, seemed to be losing weight. He talked less and the nasty sparkle in his eye of impending horror was less frequent. Not gone, however. When he ripped the earrings from Honey Tuppercup's ears she turned on him and shoved a calculator in his mouth that knocked out two teeth.
      Honey Tuppercup was expelled for that and had to go to the Christian school in Quilli for the rest of the year. On another day, though, when Dornan had spent a good ten minutes during science standing at the blackboard and scraping his nails across it, Fantasia Johnson turned on him and bit every one of his nails down to the quick.
       
      "WE'RE WORKING WITH HER," Mr. Factsampler told the Czyczks. The Czyczks were worried. Dornan no longer seemed himself. Factsampler didn't feel comfortable enough with the Czyczks to tell them how refreshing that was for all concerned.
       
      COMFORT WAS LESS AVAILABLE to the Czyczks, who entered divorce proceedings in the middle of all of this. They filed several formal complaints against Fantasia Johnson but Ogden Factsampler (and eventually the school attorney) said these were health matters and there was nothing they could do. Fantasia Johnson was a nervous woman, but she was young and they were confident she would move out of it.
      "Properly speaking;' he told them, "I'm not even supposed to talk about her health problems. I just wanted you to know she's not a mean person."
      . . .
       
      IN THE FOURTH GRADE, however, the gossip was that Dornan had moved.
      "He's living with his mom," someone said, a fact hotly denied by a child who said Mrs. Czyck lived next door to her and she lived alone. Another said he was with his dad, but that was countered by another child who'd had the tip of her tongue pinched off by Dornan. She said his dad was driving a truck now and was gone for weeks at a time.
       
      SMALL TOWNS BREED MORE hope than truth. The truth was that Dornan Czyczk never was seen again and Fantasia Johnson got her nerves back before the school year ended. Ogden Factsampler was happy about that. Good teachers are hard to find in cold northern places.

1999 G.K Wuori                                            

"Madness" appears in Nude in Tub, published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. This electronic version of "Madness" is published by The Barcelona Review by arrangement with Algonquin Books. Book ordering available through  Amazon.com or Larry Kolarik at World Wide Media Services.


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Author bio:

G.K Wuori grew up in De Kalb, Illinois, where he has returned after living all over the U.S., most recently Presgue Isle, Maine. He received his undergraduate degree from Northern Illinois University and his doctorate in philosophy from Purdue. He has published stories in a large range of literary magazines and is a Pushcart Prize winner.
navigation:                                          barcelona review #13   mid-june to mid-august 1999
-Fiction Murder by G.K. Wuori
Madness by G.K. Wuori
Slide Show by Matt Marinovich
Here Swims a Most Majestic Vision by Jason DeBoer
My Father...The Train by Donna Lee
When Interviewing Characters by Roger Aplon
-Poetry Steve Aylett
-Essay

Grooves, Camouflage, and the Conspiracy of Whiteness
by Barbara F. Lefcowitz

-Interview Magnus Mills
-Regular Features Book Reviews
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