In Part One, Mrs. Davids happily starts her teaching job and marries a doctor. Three years later, she is no longer happy; her husband has left home one day and never come back. She begins taking out her frustrations on her students, including Grace, the writer, Peter, the math whiz, and Danny, the class clown. Only Flora Pinecrust, the straggly but imaginative new girl in her class, seems to understand her.
The next day I told Flora I wanted to speak with her about her paper at lunch time. She came and sat very quietly while I praised her imagination. All this time she was supposed to be eating her lunch, but I saw out of the corner of my eye that she had nothing.
“Flora,” I said, “are you hungry?”
“So hungry I could eat the school,” she cried with passion.
I was startled by her outburst. “Did your mother forget to pack you a lunch?”
“My mother never packs me lunches. I do it myself.”
I nodded and thought that Flora must be a disorganized, forgetful girl. That couldn’t be helped. I decided to share my own lunch with her before the rest of the pupils returned from the cafeteria. I didn’t eat very much. I gave her half of my cheese sandwich, which she gobbled immediately. She ate my peach and most of my celery sticks, but I figured since she was a growing girl she was allowed to eat more. She didn’t even thank me.
The next day as I walked past the cafeteria I heard shouts and laughter. Glancing in I saw practically all the children dancing around throwing food. Their target was the corner and cowering in that corner was Flora Pinecrust.
“She says she’s hungry!” cried Danny. “Here, take my pie!”
The flaky hunk of pie went whirling through the air and landed on Flora’s soft brown hair. She pulled it off and stuffed it in her mouth. She seemed to be enjoying the game.
I was appalled that Danny, someone in seventh grade, would act so childish. Just then I saw my well-behaved Grace Matthews trying to scrub the mess off Flora, but at the same time she was saying,
“You can’t spell. You must be really stupid. You can’t spell.”
Peter Tyner was the only person who didn’t do a thing to injure Flora. He stood there looking distressed and bewildered.
“Oh, Ms. Cunningham,” he said once he saw me. “Look what they’re doing to Flora.”
“I see.” I grabbed his arm. “Come with me to Mr. Hammil’s office, quick!”
Both of us walked speedily toward the principal’s throne room. All the while Peter told me how the other children had even taken his lunch and thrown it at Flora. Therefore he had nothing to eat. I told him he could survive but Flora’s only chance of eating was getting food from other people at lunch time.
“You mean she doesn’t have any breakfast or dinner?”
“That’s right, Peter,” I said, although I didn’t know that for a fact.
Mr. Hammil was very cold to me since I had refused to be matron-of-honor at his wedding. He told me it had nothing to do with me or the school how hungry Flora was, and, as for the food fight, whoever was monitor in the lunchroom could take care of that. I had forgotten we had monitors.
That afternoon as I walked home I heard the soft patter of feet behind me. I turned to see Flora walking home, too. I smiled at her and asked if we could walk together.
“Come raspberry picking with me,” I said, “In the park, and take some home to your family. They don’t cost any money. They’re free.”
I tried to impress this on her, but she seemed to be daydreaming. I told her how I made raspberry jam at home, and how I sometimes put them in pies, and how good a glass of cold raspberry juice was on a hot day.
* * * *
“My friends, we are all going to write a story using imagination. It doesn’t have to make sense. It can be the most ridiculous thing in the world. Do you understand?”
“No!” cried Grace. “How ridiculous can it be?”
“Oh, you can become smaller or larger, like in Alice in Wonderland. You can have a character marry one hundred times. There can be magicians. It’s just a fantasy all your own. Your Imaginative Fantasy. Now you may all go to lunch and think about it because when you get back we’ll begin writing. Flora, stay here.”
The boys and girls dispersed, and Flora stood before me. Looking questioningly she said, “Yes, Ms. Cunningham?”
“I have something for you,” I smiled, bringing out a large brown bag from underneath my desk.
“But, Ms. Cunningham, I brought raspberries.”
She showed me a huge plastic bag full of the raspberries we had picked the day before.
“Well, just raspberries isn’t enough. I insist you eat some of the good food I packed for you.”
Feeding Flora became a regular ritual of the day, and I found myself telling her a lot about my life. I couldn’t figure out why I did it, but she seemed a very understanding person. I hadn’t yet told anyone how it hurt me when my husband deserted me. But I told Flora! Of course she was just a child, and I was burdening her with my problems. In some ways I felt guilty. But she became my little friend. The rest of the class knew it well, and snubbed both me and Flora. Flora told me to ignore them, as I was prone to worry.
“As long as we’re happy, let it be,” she said.
And I think she was right.
* * * *
Among the stories my class had written, I sought out Flora’s first. Her papers were always the most enjoyable. However, she had not followed the assignment correctly again. Instead of a story she had written a personal letter to me.
Deer Ms. Cunningham,
You hay told a lot about yourself. I feal like I’m keeping a secret frum you. I hay no home. I sleep in the hotel lobbi all night. Before I came heere I lived in another state. I lived in the cuntry and my parents were nice, but I had to leev, becuz one day they left and they didn’t cum bak. I never went to scol before, but my muther red me many good books. I am trying to find a home, someone who won’t shun me.
* * * *
“Very good stories we have here,” I said about a week later. “Some of them we will read aloud and discuss. Grace’s is wonderful as usual.”
“However, Grace, I have a surprise for you. That novel you wrote is very bad,” I said harshly.
“We are not going to try to have it published.”
“I finished typing last night, and do you know what I noticed?”
“What?” she cried hysterically.
Everyone was wide-eyed.
“I noticed something horrible! Personal prejudice!“
The anticipation of what I was going to say was released in a sigh from all the students. Then everyone stared at Grace as if they couldn’t believe the future novelist could do something so horrible, as if she was an imposter.
“You aren’t supposed to write your own prejudices in a novel unless you are acting as someone else, or unless you have a character say it. You dared to write in this book that country people are stupid. Is that what you think? You may offend a reader. The case may be brought to court by that person. A writer never ever puts personal prejudice in a novel!” I bellowed.
Grace was crying.
“And you have offended me! You have stereotyped a group of people. Yes, some country people may be stupid, but not all of them are. Just as some middle class children, like you yourself, are stupid.”
“I’m stupid?!” she cried. “I’ll tell Mr. Hammil you said that, Mrs. Davids.”
“My name is Ms. Cunningham! And you had better just stop putting people into classes of intelligence depending on where they come from!” I screamed.
I saw Mr. Hammil in the doorway. The heat inside me wore off. I said, “Of course you’re not stupid, Grace. But I’m sure you wouldn’t like someone to say all middle class children are, now would you?”
“No, I wouldn’t,” she said, staring at the floor.
“Hello, Mr. Hammil. Have you come to observe our class? We were just going to discuss some stories,” I said calmly.
“I want to talk to you,” he said.
* * * *
It’s a free country and a person speaks her mind and she gets fired. I was miserable. Flora hadn’t been in school that day. I went to the local hotel to find her. She was lying on the couch, and the clerk was bending over her, feeling her head.
“Flora,” I said.
She looked at me.
“You know this girl?” said the clerk who was an Italian woman. “She been living here all the time. Now she says she sick. I gave her aspirin, but she still has fever.”
“I know her. I’m her mother. Come home, Flora.”
“Oh, praise be to God, the girl has found her mother! I was worried to death about her!”
The Italian woman helped me to get Flora up and smiled with joy as she saw the two of us walk out together.
“Mother and daughter united in one!” she sang out.
I got Flora to my house, let her take a hot bath, gave her a good meal, and put her to bed. The next day she was fine.
“I could have taken you in long ago,” I said. “Why didn’t you tell me you needed a home?”
“You don’t have to feel so bad, Ms. Cunningham,”
Flora smiled, patting my arm. “Gloria took good care of me.”
Gloria was the hotel clerk, and I knew she didn’t take good care of Flora. Perhaps she was kind, but did she feed her? Did she buy her new clothes or wash the dirty ones on Flora’s back? Of course not. She did none of those things.
“Well, how were you going about finding someone who wouldn’t shun you?” I asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I could tell by the clothes on the lines what kinds of people lived everywhere. If there were men’s elegant suits that means they wouldn’t want a little girl bothering them. But if there were worn house dresses it might mean a sweet woman might welcome me.”
“Flora, that’s ridiculous!”
“I’m a ridiculous person, aren’t I?”
“Of course not.” I loved her.
Flora didn’t go back to school. I taught her at home. When summer came we both got a job picking strawberries for a farm on the outskirts of town. Of course the money wasn’t much, but the two of us survived on it.
* * * *
One late Saturday morning we were drinking raspberry juice in the back yard. I heard a car door slam in front.
“Oh, no,” I said. “Here comes the man from the electric company. I knew he’d come sooner or later if I didn’t pay my bill.”
“I’ll talk to him,” said Flora. She got up and left me to worry about talking to him myself, which I knew I would do eventually. When she came back I was wringing my hands.
“He’s leaving,” said Flora. “He saw me and said somebody else used to live here who he knew and he didn’t know they had moved.
“Then he’s not the man from the electric company.”
“Of course not.”
“Thank goodness!” I cried, getting up. “But maybe I can help him track down who he’s looking for.”
I ran around the house because I heard his motor start up. The car was a small convertible. The blue had once been dark, but now it was faded. I leaped wildly toward the vehicle.
“Doctor Davids!” I screamed.
My husband saw me and flung open the door. “Mrs. Davids!” he shouted, sliding over the seats and out onto the sidewalk. He caught me in his arms and said, “I’m sorry, sweetest. I never meant to leave you. I was supposed to go on that bus to the back country and see how sanitary the living conditions were, just for a day. But they put me on the wrong bus, the one that gives a tour of all the major hospitals in the United States. It’s the tour that takes a year,” he laughed. “I tried to phone you.”
“Oh, darling,” I said, “the phone broke down and I never even bothered to get it fixed.”
“What about the mail I sent you?”
“I never got any mail.”
“Well, never mind all that now,” he said. “How about a little ride in the old car, hey?”
I sat down beside him on the soft leather seat and remembered old times. How heavenly I felt next to my husband again. No one could be so understanding as my husband . . . except . . . except Flora Pinecrust, of course. That brought me back to reality, and I turned to see Flora watching us from the front steps.
“Oh, dear,” I said to my husband. “I almost forgot. This is our new daughter, Flora. Flora, run along and get the jug of raspberry juice from the backyard so that we can enjoy some while we race around town. Then jump in between us here, and we’ll be off.”
* * * *
I felt so happy that day, sitting next to the two people I loved most in the whole wide world. I don’t know if Flora’s parents left her on purpose or if they were killed. I don’t know if my husband and I had the right to keep her. But now she is grown up and starting a life of her own as a psychiatrist. Our class clown, Danny, did not become a construction worker. He’s now a very serious doctor and sometimes goes to meetings my husband attends. Peter Tyner never advanced so far as to write math books, but he teaches math at the high school. As for Grace Matthews, I never heard of her again. If she’s a writer she isn’t very famous because I know a lot about books, or perhaps she writes trashy books I refuse to read. Then there’s the chance she married and changed her name. Of course, she said she wouldn’t, but that was long ago. In fact, there is a very good writer, named G.M. Philips, whose books I highly admire. The only problem is that this author always includes a little personal prejudice in his or her books.
Anyway, that summer morning as we drove past the school yard I saw Grace Matthews sitting under a tree writing. We went past the hotel and Flora waved to Gloria. We went past the strawberry farm and right by the little church. A wedding was taking place in the church that day. A bride was outside waiting to proceed down the aisle when the music started. It was a beautiful day for a wedding. The bride wore a beautiful white lace gown. I told my husband to honk the horn while I screamed at the top of my lungs, “Congratulations, Gladys! I’m sorry I couldn’t be your matron-of-honor!”
She looked at me disdainfully as I blew kisses. But I didn’t let it bother me. As Flora Pinecrust would say, “As long as we’re happy, let it be.”
by Cleo Rivera, 14, Hightstown, New Jersey