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Aberhart stories

I still have a bunch of stuff from my writing classes to post. And, since I'm dropping the minor, there won't be more coming. Once I get the last set posted, that's it. But there's still a lot to post. I have the rest of the Aberhart series and then everything from my last course. Oh, and for those of you who actually went to Abe, please remember that I took creative license with these.

Outhouses in the Office

I walk in the main doors of William Aberhart High School at 8:30 in the morning, the slam of the door echoing in the empty foyer. Fumbling through my bag for my keys I skip up the stairs to the second floor. As I come up from the landing that divides the stairs into two sets I see a light seeping out from under the door of the Advocate office. Smiling, I stop looking for my keys and reach to push open the door. My hand hit the door and I feel the catching of the lock, just a second too late to react. My face slams into the wood and I fall back to the floor, dazed.

The lock clicks open and Jesse pokes her head out the door. She sees me lying on the floor and grimaces. “Ouch. You okay Al?”

“Yeah.” I say, taking her hand. She pulls me up and I follow her into the office. I drop my bag onto the table against the wall and pull out last night’s homework. I sit down at the other table, the one in the middle of the room, and try to get at least some of it done.

“Hey, we still meeting at lunch?” Jesse asks around a mouthful of eggs and toast.

I tilt my chair back on two legs, resting the back of it against the propped up cubical wall behind me. “As far as I know.” Every Wednesday the entire editorial staff met at lunch to discuss the next issue.

******

The Advocate is Aberhart’s school newspaper. Started in 1994, it began as a four page, quarterly publication. By 2002, the average copy had twelve to sixteen pages and came out biweekly. It is written and put together entirely by students and gives them a medium to share their thoughts and opinions through.

I was the Photo Editor for The Advocate from 2002 until 2005. In my first year I was the only one on the editorial staff in grade 10. Jesse, the grade 12 Art Editor, always hung out with me in the mornings before class.

******

Jesse gets up to throw her away garbage. On the way back she makes a detour to the white board that takes up half of one wall and puts a red checkmark next to her name. The editorial comic is done then. Looking down the list of names I can see that, for the first time ever, almost all the articles are already in. Excellent! Usually we end up phoning writers on Thursday layout nights to beg, or threaten, them for submissions. Having to track down articles usually stretches layout night until 11 o’clock or midnight, but it looks like this week we might finish early. There’s only one article, the new French teacher, Mme. Daigle, not submitted yet.

“Hey, can you check off soccer photos for me?” I ask.

Jesse makes the mark and sits down on the table, scooting back to lean against the wall. “They on the camera?”

“Yeah. I’ll take them off at lunch.” I hear a rush of water above me and quickly leaned the chair forward. The water comes down behind me and runs through the urinal to my left.

“You know,” Jesse says. “There is something very wrong about having our office in a guys’ bathroom. Especially when there’re only two guys on staff.”

“But if we didn’t have the urinals, where would we put our flowers?” I wave to the three bunches of plastic daisies stuck in the top of the urinal tanks. “Besides, the sinks are useful.”

Jesse wrinkles her nose. “It’s still weird. At least this thing’s covered up though.” She kicks at the toilet under the table.

“Well, just think; next year the office’ll be moved upstairs.”

“And after all the work we put into painting this place.” Jesse shakes her head. “It’s nice you’re finally getting out of here, but they won’t let you paint the new office.”

I nod. It had been nice to be able to paint. The original hospital-green colour had been on the walls for as long as the school had existed. At the beginning of the 2002 school year the principal finally gave us permission to paint the room any colour we wanted, which ended up being a light steel blue. There are still some spots of the paint on the carpet and drips left on the tile covering the lower half of the wall. The table I sit at has a circle of dried blue paint from where the lid of the paint can had rested upside down. A year of picking at the paint has left clean patches along the ring.

“We’ll have to take photos of the tiles too.” I say. “Speaking of, do you know what you’re going to put on yours?”

Jesse shakes her head. “Not a clue.”

“Better figure it out. You only have a few weeks now.”

Signatures of the graduating editorial staff from previous years decorate random tiles around the room. It is tradition that the graduating staff leave messages behind at the end of every year. ‘98 staff forever. Maybe now the Trojan’s will win. May my reign never be forgot. There are even a few comics drawn alongside the signatures. A cartoon of Jesus, a dancing condom, the letter ‘A’ dressed up as a superhero.

“I’m thinking I’ll do something with Batman.” Jesse smiles at me. “You can never go wrong with the Bat.”

“Well, good luck with that.” I put my homework, still not finished, back in my bag. “I gotta get Mme. Daigle’s photo before class starts.” I grab the camera bag from its filing cabinet and toss it in my backpack.

“See you at lunch.” Jesse hops off the table and walks me to the door. I’m halfway down the hall, already lost in the crowd, when she yells after me, “Don’t walk into anymore doors!”




Beasts in the Bio Room

Walking into Ms Everett’s classroom is like walking into a terrarium. Actually, it is more like jumping into a terrarium, due to the gate blocking the doorway. It’s just a short gate, only coming up to knee height on most students. Usually Ms Everett takes it down during the day, but in the mornings and lunch hour it is often left up. It has to be. Otherwise the animals would escape.

Ms Everett runs the most orderly classroom in the school. Everyone remains silent when she speaks and no one dares to let their phone ring in class. She only ever teaches the grade twelve biology class and by the time students get that far, they know her reputation as a hardass. No one wants to make Ms Everett angry. If you get on her good side, Ms Everett is one of the greatest teachers in the school. If you managed to get on her bad side, she can make your life hell. She runs her classroom on her rules and hers alone and God save anyone who tries to tell her to change.

The first time I walk into Ms Everett’s room is in grade eleven, for Bio30. There are only five grade elevens in the class, since it’s grade twelve biology. The five of us, Christina, Bianca, Heather, Perrin and myself, all tookBio20 together the year before where, again, we had been alone. That first day in class, the five of us clump together at the back corner of the room, trying to stay unnoticed. Our plan fails spectacularly when Bianca announces with a shriek that she found the tarantula tank. At that point Ms Everett felt that she had to point out the five little grade elevens to the rest of the class.

The tarantula tank isn’t the only animal habitat in Ms Everett’s room. Tanks of all sorts fill the window ledge and the lab benches at the back of the room. Closest to the students are the insects and arachnids. The spider tank that Bianca found sits right behind her desk. For the first month Bianca begs the four of us to switch places with her, but no one relents. Halfway through the second month, she names the spiders (Cloud, Vincent and Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII), and starts constructing their life stories.

One lab bench over from the spiders rests the crickets’ tank. During class their chirps echo around the room. The very first class, Ms Everett tells everyone that there should only be two sounds during a lecture, her voice and those crickets. During that same class two boys decide to test that rule. After a week of detentions spent cleaning out the tanks they decide that Ms Everett was right.

The ant farm sits on the lab bench on the other side of the room. We don’t go over to that side of the room very often. Bianca may have bonded with the spiders, but ants are still too creepy for the rest of us. Besides, going over there means walking across the room of grade twelves, which scares us away even more.

 The lab bench directly behind my desk, the one against the left wall, holds the fruit flies. The semester begins with 80 vials of flies, separated into wild and mutant in preparation for the major project all bio students have to do. Midway through the semester, after the vials have been handed out and the project started, the 80 vials manage to turn into 50. The missing 30 vials were inevitably dropped and broken, the flies escaping into the school. By Christmas it is impossible to go anywhere in the school without having a fruit fly buzz in your face. 

At the back of the room are tanks of plants. Polyscias, China dolls, Calatheas. The Spider Lilies and African Violets add splashes of colour amongst the green leaves. There are other plants too, hidden beneath the larger ones. The leaves all blend together, resulting in just a long, green mass with random patches of purple and pink. All of the plants require hot, humid conditions. The dry Calgary air, forces Ms Everett to keep a fleet of humidifiers on constantly. During in-class labs students are forced to use the front of the lab benches or risk getting soaked. In winter Ms Everett places heat lamps along the back table to keep the plants warm. Even without the heat lamps, Ms Everett always cranks the thermostat. When Chinooks roll in, the combination of the heat lamps and humidifiers gives the room, which isn’t large to start with, a sauna-like feeling.

Nearly hidden among the plants is a tank that provides a home for a fire toad and another tank that houses bright green tree frogs. The toad spends most of his time sitting on a rock, basking in the light from the heat lamps. The frogs have a bit more energy and like to hop around and climb the bamboo trees in their tank. At lunch students often come in and race the frogs from one end of the lab benches to the other. The toad only ever raced once. He just sat on the bench and let the frogs hurry past. One student supposedly lost $30 on that bet.

Right next to the frogs and toad sits a fish tank. Some of the grade twelves swear that the fish and the toad have staring contests. The two goldfish just float in one spot for hours, staring at the toad. Every now and then the fish flit away to explore their castle and dragon figurine. Christina names the fish Arthur and Guinevere because of that castle. Unfortunately, she can never keep track of which one is Arthur and which is Guinevere. She claimed she can tell them apart, but no one really believes her. Especially since she doesn’t even notice when another fish is added (eventually named Lancelot) until Heather points out that neither Arthur nor Guinevere have stripes.

When the other grade elevens and I choose our desks, we pick them because they are in the back where no one will notice us. We don’t realize that there is a reason those desks have been left open. Halfway through the first class I feel something settle on my foot. I figure my backpack has fallen and kick it away. A few minutes later the weight comes back. I kick it away again. Again, it comes back. I finally reach and grab my bag, pulling it away from my feet. The weight stays on my foot. Looking down I catch a glimpse of grey fur and a long tail. Sitting on my foot is a small, grey chinchilla. Enrique, Ms Everett’s pet chinchilla, has free run of the room in the mornings before class. Sometimes he stays out during class as well. The first day of class, his cage, which is on the floor beside the desk in front of mine, is left open so he can come and go as he pleases. I manage to tell Ms Everett that Enrique has settled on my foot. She tells me to let him stay there. Apparently he likes me. He latches onto my foot and no matter what I do, he keeps coming back. At Christmas Ms Everett buys him a new female to keep him company. She raises the money by charging students who come in late or who want extensions on assignments. By the next year there are baby chinchillas hidden in the sawdust of the cage for students to coo over.

Besides Enrique, there is the one other animal that takes a liking to me. Oscar the Iguana likes to claw at the mesh that separates him from me and stare up at me all class. Occasionally he gets his long, hooked claws caught in the mesh of his cage and struggles to get them free. His claws and general ornery temper mean that he stays locked up when students are around. One day, during a test, I feel little pricks on my knee and my jeans start pulling down. I look under my desk and see Oscar the Iguana trying to climb into my lap. It takes Ms Everett ten minutes to get him off of me without hurt either of us. Once Oscar the Iguana has been locked up again he apparently decides that I had rejected him and broken his heart. He spends the rest of the week sitting under his heat lamp and ignoring me. He does get his revenge though. Since most of the room is taken up by lab benches and the animals and plants, the desks have to be crammed into the front. They barely leave any room to walk between them. The desks that are closest to the walls can only be approached from one side. This cramming in leaves the heat lamp at the perfect height to hit my hip. I manage to lean into it at least once a class and come away with many small scorch marks in my jeans.

******

Ms Everett’s classroom was unique in Aberhart. At the end of the 2006/2007 school year she retired and the entire menagerie had to be packed up. Notices were sent out to students, current and past, and teachers. Anyone who wanted plants or animals could take them. Bianca flew all the way back from Boston to pick up the tarantulas. The rest of the bugs were taken by a former student to feed his pet snake. The English and French departments took most of the plants to decorate their offices and classrooms. The toad went with a current grade twelve student and the frogs went with his friend. Christina asked her parents to look after the fish while she was away, since her dorm didn’t allow pets. The baby chinchillas found homes with various students while Ms Everett kept Enrique and his mate. No one claimed Oscar the Iguana, so Ms Everett gave him to her daughter, who had just finished her second year of teaching high school biology. While Aberhart lost its Ms Everett and her terrarium room, another high school gained their own Ms Everett, complete with the first member of what will hopefully become their own terrarium, complete with crotchety Oscar the Iguana.