©2021 Maurice Barry. Performance rights waived.
Martin stood alone, outside the big school doors and almost cried.
How could he make a difference in this isolated island place?
But this two-room school was his last chance, even though it was happenstance
that created this new circumstance he was trying to embrace.
The year was nineteen thirty three, a time historians do agree
Education in this province had finally reached its poor nadir.
While Martin knew within his heart he really needed a new start,
he wondered what fates had played a part to finally bring him here.
He pulled one door open with a creak and inside he took a furtive peek.
A porch with open classroom doors at left and right.
The dark, cold room with desks in rows “That one’s mine” he did suppose.
Still he wished his was the other one that looked so warm and bright.
“Here. You can have this box of splits!” Martin jumped; almost lost his wits.
Turned to see the other teacher’s smiling face, and a box of birch in outstretched hands.
“I’m Anna and if I can bring more wood or help with anything?”
“I’m fine,” he muttered, to himself wincing, knowing he really had no plan.
A short while later he heard the bell and childrens’ voices arriving as well.
Looking up he saw about thirty standing by their wooden desks and chairs
“You’ve work to do, so grab your books.” The students shuffled about, exchanging looks.
“You heard me. Get to your studies. Why else would you be here?”
One tall slim lad with short dark hair said, “Sir we haven’t said the prayer.”
Martin muddled to his feet, aware of how his own cheeks did burn.
Without thinking he then said the Grace, then sat back down red in the face.
But the students still remained in place, their heads slightly upturned.
“We don’t have our books,” said the same slim lad. “Will I give them out?” he then did add.
“No, I’ll do it,” answered Martin. “And, boy, what is your name?”
“It’s Pat, Sir,” he said, his cheeks now aglow. Martin wondered why the others chuckled so
as he rummaged through the books, so slow, with no one but himself to blame.
The books finally doled out, Martin looked around and to no great surprise he found
most quietly staring at their texts except for, well guess who.
Yup. Pat again, my oh my, going from seat to seat like some gadfly.
Martin thought, “Something’s wrong with that poor boy; he hasn’t got a clue!”
After what felt like years the morning passed and when the dinner bell rang at last.
Martin chose to remain behind. “Should I make a swim for it?”
“Could you use some help, by any chance?” He jumped, almost soiled his pants,
then stood up straight, hoping his brave stance masked his non-existent grit.
“No one makes it on their own and, Martin, you are not alone.”
Anna’s soft insistent tone almost broke through Martin’s funk.
Still Martin could not his past eschew and so he responded with great ado,
“No I’ll be fine. I’ll make it through,” but his spirits further sunk.
And so it went, day after day, Martin fighting to get his way
with his reluctant charges making it increasingly tough.
And Pat, the worst one of the lot, going from seat to seat ‘til Martin’s nerves were shot.
Until one day when he decided he’d finally had enough.
“Pat, sit down!” he roared through anger pent. “And stay after school for punishment!”
Pat complied, though red eyes couldn’t hide behind a soggy sleeve.
When the bell rang Pat got up to go. Martin refrained from shouting “No.”
“Who needs this?” he thought, although he was galled to see him leave.
For the next few days there was one empty chair. Wherever Pat was he wasn’t there.
And there surely was a difference felt throughout the whole classroom.
Nobody spoke, no not the one. The students like mopes. Not much got done.
“My goodness,” Martin remarked at length, “This place is like a tomb.”
Next Monday Pat returned at last, head hung down, arm in a cast.
“What happened,” inquired Martin but Pat offered no reply.
“Please tell me?” “No it’s nothing Sir.” With a twinge of shame Martin inferred.
Pat’s parents crossed a line for sure, so there could be no turned turned blind eye.
“Anna, where does Pat live to?” “Next door to you. I would have thought you knew.”
He grabbed his hat and coat and soon was pounding on the door.
“I’m Ellen and this is Richard,” though he hadn’t asked. “Lovely to meet our neighbour at last.”
“That so? Well, I’m there, aghast, because of your actions which I abhor.”
“Pat’s bad in school, that’s true enough. But there’s still no need to treat him that rough.”
“What do you mean?” asked Ellen. He replied simply, “the cast.”
“On blaming us you seem hell bent. But it was a boating accident.”
Shocked, Martin turned to make himself absent, but Ellen continued, “Not so fast.”
“Pat loves to fish and most every day takes the punt out jigging on the bay.
But a few days ago the starter pin let go, and the flywheel broke Pat’s arm.
But how would you know that locked away, in that lonely house day after day?
Instead of thinking we had hell to pay you should know we do not harm.”
“Dreadfully sorry. My mistake.” Martin turned away; his whole self ached.
“One more thing.” an edge in Ellen’s voice turned him back around.
“We don’t hold grudges neither Richard nor I and if at some later time you’d like to try
finding some on whom you can rely, you know where we can be found.”
Hurt feelings he could not assuage he wandered down by someone’s stage,
sat himself down, his legs hung over the side.
Clearly, even through his disgrace he had no business in this outport place.
Next steamer and he was gone he did then and there decide.
“Want a penney for your thoughts?” he turned around, guts tied in knots,
Anna was right beside him sot there on a pile of buoys.
“I realized I do not belong.” “No, Martin, I do believe you are wrong.
You just need to stop being so headstrong and open up your eyes.”
Martin stood to go and then with that, through the door of the stage, who emerged, but Pat
clad in rubber boots and weathered old oil clothes.
Offered “I’m heading out to jig a few.” Anna asked, “Mind if we come too?”
Pat answered a bit shyly, “It’d be fine I suppose.”
Martin started, “I should go home for sup…” But a look from Anna shut him right up.
Soon they were all aboard with Pat trying to start the make and break
“Patricia, kindly step aside.” Anna started the engine with just one try.
“Pat’s a girl,” Martin himself did chide. “How stunned am I for goodness sake!”
Pat stopped the engine by and by. Passed him a thing, “Give the Jigger a try?”
Martin answered, “No, I think I’m fine for now.”
“Wrong answer!” Anna, to him demured. Something buried within him stirred.
“I will,” he reconsidered. “But Pat, please show me how.”
Pat’s face lit up and she beamed with pride. Coaching Martin as to fish he tried.
All the while, he thought of how she acted just like she did at school.
If I could take it back, he wished as the bottom of the boat filled up with fish.
“Oh my! She was only trying to assist and I am such a fool.”
“I think we’ve caught enough for now. We’ll be ‘til dark cleaning ‘em I allow.”
Anna started up the engine and Pat steered back for the shore.
All the while Martin’s spirit grew. He looked all around, and it all seemed new.
The place–so much more inviting and warm than it had seemed before.
“Want to learn how to clean and split a cod?” “I do!” Martin’s return smile was broad.
“See you in school?” Anna’s question was tinged with a little dread.
“You will,” he answered. “And after today I could use some help in finding my way.”
She nodded, “You will be okay,” leaving Martin hopeful for what lay ahead.
(Note–there are ten ‘things’. This is but one.