Chapter 11: Mac Attack!
Uploaded June 17,1998
So she did the only thing she could.
She opened her own school.
Miss Daykey was a tall, thin, sharp woman of permanently middle years. She was one of those people who seem to have been 50 years old since they were 18.
Her chin jutted, her nose emulated a needle, her chest was as flat as an ice-rink, if her figure was an hour-glass, the time was 11 o'clock.
She was so thin that when she swallowed you could tell the brand of the cookie as it went down her throat. And to complete the cliche, her lips were always pursed in an expression of dis-approval.
It is possible that in the bosom of her family she was a loving and care-free individual, full of bonhomie and joie de vive. But she hadn't left the valley since the day of her arrival and she had no family with her, so the possibility remains untested.
Education in the early part of the century relied in large part of getting the attention of the recipient by any means possible and then repeating the subject matter in rote fashion until it began to drip out the ears. Pupils spent large parts of their educational careers in reciting multiplication tables endlessly, alphabetizing ad nauseum and copying reams from the blackboard into exercize books.
And it is true that teachers come from a different evolutionary line than normal mortals, in that they really do have eyes in the back of the head.
In the solemn and stentorian tones of Reverend Jeremiah Little as he exhorted the faithful in their beliefs, "GOD HELP! the child that is caught in 'actus idiotus' by his teacher, for great shall be his suffering and gnashing of teeth, YEAH, even unto the third and fourth generations!"
And no teacher in the world had perfected the catching of pupils at the most inopportune moments than Dora Daykey.
She had made an art form of whipping round from the blackboard in mid t-cross or i-dot, fastening her gimlet-like eye on the chosen miscreant, and uttering her dirge, most dread to the ear of the unfortunate individual caught in mid spitball-spit or note-pass "(Insert appropriate name here), you will remain behind after class is dismissed to write 1000 times, 'I will behave like a proper lady/gentleman (delete as necessary)'".
How great the ignonomy of being singled out for punishment by that most rigid disiplinarian!
How deep the shame of arriving late to the home and hearth and having to explain the reason for the writer's cramp!
How galling to have to deliver the letter to the parent from the teacher, written at the same time in perfect Copperplate and also the precise, pursed-lipped bitter reflection of personality that hand-writing is supposed to reflect!
Needless to say, Dora Daykey was viewed with dread by the vast majority of the Selbyville children. Even the primped, prompt and prissy girls disliked the woman. Fancy a teacher who absolutely refused to have favourites or a teacher's pet! In fact who railed against them for trying their feminine wiles on her in an effort to escape her tongue! Certainly a dedicated person is needed to be so feared and disliked by achievers and non-achievers alike.
Now, it may be surmised that given the general trend of these chronicles, a plot would be in the hatching stages to wreak some sort of retaliation or vengeance on the town's educator.
But not so.
As great as the distaste may have been among the habitual revenge seekers against their instiller of wisdom and refinement, greater still was the fear of her reprisal if any venture should happen to point the finger at them! For while the whole might be greater than the sum of its parts, the whole isn't the one being called up to the front of the school-room to face the yardstick and the pointed gaze.
It is a commonly observed phenomenon that the admiration for a teacher by parents is inversely proportional to the dislike for that teacher by the pupils.
A cruel streak is 'a firm disiplinarian'. A nit-picker 'has a fine grasp of the details'. A cutting tongue 'has a fine satirical mind'.
And so any child with the temerity to complain at home about the teacher could rest assured that a lecture would surely follow on the privileges of a good education and the sacrifices the particular parent had made to give the particular child a good education and the regret that the particular parent had not had such a great opportunity to receive such a good education as the particular child and to get a good education the particular child has to apply themselves more to exploit the benefits of a good education.
And then there was the convenience of having the little schoolhouse right in Selbyville.
It really is amazing how many parents lived so far away from school when they were growing up. "Why, when I was your age, we had to walk 15 miles to school each way every day. And if there was snow on the ground we had to leave so early that some days I got out of bed before I'd even retired for the night. You're lucky it's not like it was in my day! You young people don't know how well off you are!"
Even parents who were brought up in New York City seemed to live 15 miles away from school and had to trudge both directions every day.
In hindsight, it's no wonder that the trolley cars didn't make any money.
One of the really surprising things is that New Jersey Jack Lazyacre didn't recognize any of those poor tots who had to attend school in Plainfield, New Jersey, after walking all the way to attend, from Manhattan and Queens.
Miss Daykey was a regular attendee at Reverend Jeremiah Little's church gatherings. She sat primly upright, spine like a surfboard stuck in the sand and played the old pump organ with gusto and fervour, accompanying the hymns of praise and pennance. Her reedy soprano soared above the instrument, beseeching the Lord in His Goodness to cast His eye of favor on the little congregation, its minister and their valley.
She prayed with the Reverend and parishioners for good crops, for rain, for rain to stop, for market prices to rise, for the health and well-being of fellow denizens of the region. Maiden ladies of middle age are probably why the word 'devout' was invented. The teacher lived each day by the precepts of the Good Book, especially those bits that started out 'Thou shalt not....'
Any town that has an industry attracts itinerant workers or just plain drifters.
Selbyville, with the Toenail Ridge Shortline yards and the cheese factory, was no exception.
One of these passers-through was a white-bearded, grizzled old character who had drifted up from the south of California, plying his trade as a painter. His name was Ezekiel MacCallastair, although he never answered to anything but Mac.
He was by trade a painter and decorator and made his living painting whatever needed restoring to pristine condition. He had over the years painted everything from the inside of bathrooms to rolling stock for the Union Pacific.
And he was a stickler for the perfect job.
If Mac had a character flaw it was that he could not stand to see any effects of weather or wear on anything. A job painted by Mac had no evidence of rust, grime, rain or any outside influence. Every job made its target look like it had just exited the factory.
Some people are rivet counters, Mac was the consumate neat-freak.
The main place to live in Selbyville for those who didn't have a house, or who were just there on the short term, was the hotel. It was an imposing wooden two-storied structure on Main St, offering accomodation to the traveller and long-term occupant alike.
Mac took a back room overlooking the cheese factory and made it know around town that he was a skilled craftsman and tradesman available for work.
Now for quite a while, Miss Daykey had been petitioning the school committee to get the drab insides of her school-house decorated. It was still lined with the original faded plaster and lath that had been constructed when Emmett Selby first raised the structure. Any paint that had once graced the walls had faded to a mottled tan, embellished here and there with water stains from the occasional loose shingle, or stains of beer and whiskey and cheap perfume back when the house was used for its original purpose.
School committees are very frugal things, being comprised of individuals who have put aside their own needs and desires for a time to give something to the community in which they reside.
They usually have in their structure the local religious leader, the local doctor, the local merchants, sundry wives of well-to-do men, invariably without children at the school, and of course the token parent.
The common denominator in all of the denizens of a school committee is that they are all well-off. (Perhaps with the exception of the parent)
(And the minister, although God-botherers don't actually need money of their own, they are more than content just to be able to use other peoples.)
Now if you put together a group of financially secure and public spirited people to pursue a common cause, it stands to reason that any reasonable request to improve the school or facilitate the exchange of educational information would be but a formality.
It does stand to reason, doesn't it?
Miss Daykey was a rod of iron in front of her class, but in the presence of her peers she smirked and hinted and allowed them to tell her that money was tight and the cheese factory was having a slow patch and the economy was a little tired and that that lawyer, Lazyacre, hadn't delivered the last interest check yet and...well, you get the picture.
So it came as a great surprise to her one Wednesday, after she had dismissed her class, to receive a formal letter, hand-delivered by no less a personage than Reverend Little himself, to inform her that the school committee had approved the repainting of the school house, having duly considered the proposal and quotation from Mac the painter, and beat him down in price to the point that Mac would just about break even on the job if he watered the paint to the consistency of ..well, water, and sponged meals off the school-marm.
Now Mac, being the perfectionist that he was, wasn't about to just do a slap-dash job purely because the school committee hadn't allocated enough funds for a good job.
In the brief time he had been in town he had made the aquaintance of a number of the railway crew members over in Chuck Parker's saloon, and he found in them a cameraderie, sharing laughter over beer and cigars (except for Ken, who sat by the door so that the tobacco smell didn't make him throw up.)
He mentioned to a few of the yardmen that he was faced with a bit of a dilemma regarding the schoolhouse job, particularly in the quantity and quality of paint.
Well, with the generosity frequently found among workers who didn't have to pay for it in the first place, Mac soon found himself in possession of gallons of paint to pursue his task, the paint formerly the property of the Toenail Ridge Shortline, it being highly likely that it would be months before Grant Alexander, the yard foreman, found that all the cans in the back shelves of the paint store-room were filled to the brim with the pristine water of Lake Wallace.
Now armed with the tools of his trade and copious supplies, Mac set to the school-house with a will.
He stripped old paint, mould, wallpaper, he sanded plaster and woodwork, he patched holes from years of thumbtacks (the painter's nightmare of Scotch tape not having yet been invented..), and then he began to paint.
It is a matter of historical accuracy that a personage as great as His Holiness, the Pope himself, would stop by to watch the genius Michaelangelo paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
No less a drawcard was the mastery of Mac, the schoolhouse painter.
His least brushstroke was a caress of art to the wall or door, and first the school children, then their parents, and finally the whole town, would pause as they passed to watch this Maestro of the paintpot apply his touch.
And every day, according to agreement with the school committee, Miss Dora Daykey would supply Mr. MacCallastair with his lunch.
At first, this took the form of a sandwich.
Then as the days passed, she added an apple.
Then a glass of home squeezed lemonade.
Then she would pause and pass a small comment, with downcast eyes, about his progress.
For Miss Daykey, for the first time in her life, was finding herself in the company of a man who had a skill and an aura and a mastery and....and the word pheremones wouldn't be coined for half a century yet, but Dora was as smitten as a maiden school marm can possibly be. Her hormones woke from a dormancy of decades to cause her flushes and dreams.
Some of these dreams even occured while she was asleep.
She found herself rehearsing conversations with Mac, just on the off chance that he said this, she would say that, and then he would respond with thus and thus and she would say....
We all know it's a cliche, But Dora Daykey wore her hair in the most severe bun in the valley. At the risk of making a bad pun, never did she let her hair down, nay, never! Her dresses were un-ornamented, buttoned high to the neck, brushing the tops of her severe black lace-up boots at the hem.
And yet, over a period of a few weeks of the summer vacation, while Mac progressed on his project, her hair began to fall a little towards her shoulders.
Her garb become a little less formal. Her chest appeared to be not quite so flat. Her pursed lips occasionally turned slightly upwards at the corners as she delivered his lunch, now in a wicker basket with a lace napkin, with legs of roast chicken, and potato salad, and fresh crusty bread.
And Mac painted on.
Now love may be blind, but the denizens of a small town are certainly not.
While Mac painted on in ignorance and Dora Daykey simpered in his presence, the gossips (which in a small town is a synonym for inhabitants) of Selbyville discussed the romance at length, it being obvious to all except the two directly involved exactly what was going on.
And of course, any chance chat that passes between a wife and her husband at the supper table must of course be overheard by the children sharing that table, so in a matter of hours, every victim of the schoolmarm had heard that there may be a crack in the impenitrable armour of their tutor.
In a past and brief episode of Mac's life, he had been a policeman in a small orange grove town in the South of California, call Los Angeles.
There he had learnt skills of observation which, although unused for many years, slowly began to make him take notice of the change of food in his daily luncheon basket, and then the change in the demeanor of the woman who delivered it and then tarried to talk.
As he progressed with his task on the school-house, he found himself more and more anticipating the arrival of the noon hour, and not only because it had been a long time since breakfast.
He had had a lonely life in recent years, he enjoyed the company of the friends in Chuck Parker's saloon, he found the climate of the Toenail Ridge valley salubrious and he began to entertain thoughts of settling down.
He knew he was no oil-painting, except when he spilt enough on him in the course of his work, but the woman who was trying so hard to get his attention would never find her portrait hanging in a gallery either, unless it was signed Picasso.
So Mac allowed himself to be seduced.
Although that is too strong a word for the odd hand-touch and brief smile and quick compliment on the food. Dora Daykey had not entertained thoughts of the other sex since she was six years old and playing with rag dolls. Now she found herself with thoughts and feelings with which she had no experience, and repsonses from her target that left her with no idea of what to do next.
What's more, in all the time that she had made the valley her place of residence, it had never become her home and she had not one soul to whom she could turn for advice or guidance.
However, desperate for some female information and possibly approval, she took it upon herself to call on Florence Golightly, the mother of young Archie Clark.
Now we have seen earlier that Florence was a woman of some experience in matters of the opposite sex, having, for quite a period of time prior to her aquiring a maternal state, been fully occupied in provision of certain services to men willing to pay for her attentions. Along with the rest of the town, Archie's mother had watched with interest and amusement the blossoming romance between MacCallastair and Daykey, and had secretly wished them success.
She quickly took it upon herself to introduce the school-mistress to the intracacies of spooning, opening Dora's eyes to the reality of physical contact, flirting, dress and even (God help her when Reverend Jeramiah Little found out!) makeup.
As Dora advanced from one level of understanding to the next and her contact with Mac increased, Florence provided more and more information to the spinster until, on a sunny day in late August, with the school painting almost completed, and the children due back after summer vacation, Dora learnt the facts of life.
It was, after all, an innocent age.
There was no mass media to vicariously inform and educate, no TV commercials extolling the benefits of this feminine hygiene appliance over that one, no steamy soap-operas and mid-afternoon talk shows to investigate every permutation of physical interactions between the haves and the have-nots, no Discovery channels to take the inquiring camera and audience on a microscopic journey down the Fallopian tubes to note the Vas Deferens between the sexes.
It was true that in a lot of cases a young woman found out about her physical duties to her husband on the day of her wedding, sometimes with barely suppressed anticipation, sometimes with horror.
It's amazing the number of young people who can grow up in a farming area and watch the bull being led to the cows, note with interest the rooster in with his hens, follow the exploits of the ram with the flock at tupping time, and never make the mental connection between animal equipment and their own.
Thus it was with Dora.
Following her revival by Florence Golighty, who had to burn feathers under the schoolmarm's nose to rouse her from her swoon, Dora found her head in a turmoil.
Absolute abhorence became distaste became vague interest became rampant raging horniness in a matter of hours.
Mac found himself the recipient not only of roast chicken and potato salad at lunch-time, but also cole-slaw, biscuits, honey and a cold bottle of beer.
His habitual resting place while he ate he found shared with Dora, his every movement seeming to bring his elbow or knee in touch with various parts of her anatomy. Every word he uttered she hung on, every mouthful he took she watched with intense concentration.
Well, Mac had been around. He knew that gift-horses were few and far between, and when he looked in the mouth of this one, at least it didn't have buck teeth.
So, since a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do, he enfolded her in his burly arms, incidentally transfering a considerable amount of apple-green paint from his working overalls to her dress, he raised her chin with his rough hand, and he smiled into her eyes.
It was the biggest wedding the valley had seen since the area had been founded by Emmett Selby.
Every kid who had ever attended the school had to attend, to see the old girl, legitmately dressed in white (and God knows, not too many can say that!) walk down the aisle on the arm of New Jersey Jack Lazyacre to be married to Ezekiel MacCallastair by the Reverend Jeremiah Little.
Michael Cotton's eldest daughter Janie ffumbled through the Wedding March on the old pump organ, the Ladies Committee of the church put on a slap-up reception dinner, Chuck Parker over in the saloon brought in a case of wine from Portland, and one way or another, the day finished with a bang.
One way or another.
Chapter 12! The Selbyville Hotel!
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