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Filippo was pleased by my talent of logically deducing the obvious fact that because old Mrs. Crouse was old, she must be retiring. He passed the news to the rest of the students. After recess we all returned to class with smiles from ear to ear. Unfortunately Mrs. Crouse, observing that we were in a cheerful demeanor, decided to put an end to it by revealing the surprise.
“Starting tomorrow,” she bellowed, “you will learn how to write.”
A blanket of confusion, followed by a blanket of fear, fell over us. Everyone turned to Charles Hampton, the straight-A student and admitted keener, to clear things up. Charles felt his cue and raised his hand. Old Mrs. Crouse acknowledged it with a slight nod that would have been detected by only the sharpest of silent auctioneers.
“But ol—” Charles stopped himself in time, then began again. “But Mrs. Crouse, we know how to write.”
“You know how to print, not write!” She looked at us ruefully. She lowered her voice to an ominous pitch. “I will teach you to write.”
The class buzzed for the rest of the day, convinced that the end of the world had arrived, courtesy of old Mrs. Crouse and her fountain pen.
“But it is the end of the world,” Filippo confided to me later. He was sporting the new gloves given to him by Jimmy Parker who wanted protection from Nat who wanted his new gloves. “Can’t you see,” Filippo continued, “I’ve spent my entire life developing my own style of printing. My printing has Filippo Matheson written all over it.”
He was right. Filippo’s unintelligible printing was his trademark, and he had a long list of former exasperated school teachers to vouch for it. I sympathized with Filippo out of respect for his principles, but more so out of fear for my life. So every night when I did my homework and wrote out the alphabet slowly and meticulously, I wrote a separate set of letters for Filippo to show Mrs. Crouse as his homework. Although I tried to convince him that he one day would have to learn how to write, he simply replied, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” And he was right again. After all, he was already eight and a half years old.
Anyway, I felt I was helping a friend out, and in fact Filippo won the “Busy Bee” award at the end of the school year because Mrs. Crouse said he had the best penmanship in the class. I sat back and smiled as she strapped the big ugly yellow and black wings on Filippo’s back, thankful that it was not me up there. A feeling of both pride and uneasiness crept over me as I watched.
Filippo forced a smile in my direction. I smiled back. Then I remembered the headless snowman. I knew exactly what Filippo was thinking. I panicked. I quickly planned the escape route I would use as soon as we were outside for recess. I could picture how Filippo would be chasing after me with his wings flapping in the air, yelling—
“Hello — Angus? Angus, are you all right?” Terrance waved his hands in front of my face. I was still staring at his hair.
“Oh, uh, yes, fine, I’m fine,” I said.
“You didn’t hear a word I said, did you?”
I looked down at the postcard that I had mercilessly disfigured in my imaginary state of panic and made one last attempt to read what was written there. In my newly-forged state of rapture, I was able to decipher Filippo’s scribbled message clearly now. It said: “I finally made it.”
I laughed out loud.
Terrance, confused and frustrated, marched to the door.
“Terrance,” I called, “I really like your hair today.” Terrance waved a hand in the air in defeat as he exited the room.
Leaning back, I closed my eyes and waited for the bell to ring for recess.