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Precipitating Factors by Salvatore Zoida

Precipitating Factors by Salvatore Zoida

Fiction, Vol. 5.2, June 2011

“The same Georgina Farnsworth who emptied her bladder in class after Mrs. Ogilvey called on her to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.”

“Her expression . . .”

“A face evincing a complex understanding of just how different things would forever be.”

“How can that be forgotten?”

“That and the sound of twenty-nine children crying.” 1

“And one adult.” 2

“Crying without knowing why.”

“Crying because of the crying.”

“An acquiescence is what Mrs. Ogilvey termed it, in her account of the incident.” 3

“That Mrs. Ogilvey did not call on Georgina for the rest of the school year had less to do with her fear of causing another accident than with her attempt to erase Georgina from her consciousness.” 4

“A psychic snuff job.”

“To Mrs. Ogilvey—”

“A petite, thin-lipped woman who wrapped herself in her arms even on sweltering days and had a habit of leaning against the chalkboard in a manner that suggested she was trying to back away from something that frightened her.” 5

“—the desk at which Georgina sat with a perfect attendance record was unoccupied.”

“They were the kind with the lift-lid tops that are no longer used today.”

“Latchkey Moony was the one who figured out what Mrs. Ogilvey was up to.”

“Moony . . .”

“He had dropped his pajama bottoms while at Terence Shaw’s slumber party and pressed his buttocks against the living room’s sliding glass door, right as the milkman was unloading his delivery crate.”

“Background checks were only cursorily done back then, if at all.”

“When the milkman responded with his own mooning, all the boys backed away from the sliding glass door with their hands over their mouths.”

“There had been prior incidents of a singularly perverse nature.”

“All the boys, that is, except for Moony, who could not detach himself from the glass.”

“That was when doctors still made house calls.”

“Things of a deeply unsettling nature later circulated about his backside.”

“The milkman’s.”

“A particularly severe cold spell caused nighttime temperatures to plunge.”

“And Moony had a perspiration problem.”

“Excessive sweating.”

“His real name was Thomas Protsky.” 6

“Right after Moony explained his theory to the other children was when the in-class urinating started for real.”

“It was biblical in scale.” 7

“Which ultimately led to Mrs. Ogilvey’s breakdown and subsequent leave of absence.”

“Two honor roll students later reported seeing her staring out the window of a passing bus.”

“Staring, without emotion or affect.”

“Completely unresponsive to their waving.”

“As if she wasn’t really there.”

“As if they weren’t really there.”

. . .

1 The only one of the classroom’s thirty students not crying, Georgina didn’t even look like she was breathing; in fact, the sole act in which she appeared to be engaged was sitting, completely motionless, above a great big puddle of urine whose shape bore an uncanny resemblance to the cartographical rendering of the continental United States in her geography textbook.

2 None of Mrs. Ogilvey’s first-grade students had ever seen an adult cry before. Some of the children later volunteered that they thought Mrs. Ogilvey was crying because something terrible had happened, e.g., their parent(s), sibling(s), and/or family pet(s) had just been killed (by an earthquake, an explosion, a fire, a bad person and his/her helpers, an eclipse, poison, cancer, etc.). The majority of the students, though, said that they thought Mrs. Ogilvey was crying because she was sad.

3 An acquiescence—though perhaps more accurately a surrender—that Mrs. Ogilvey would later characterize as personally alienating, and wholly insidious, without ever explaining what exactly she meant by that.

4 Whatever the reason, Mrs. Ogilvey’s unwillingness to call on Georgina was perfectly fine with Georgina, who had a stammer which, though slight, caused her terrible psychic and physiological discomfort. While she was somehow able to mask the discomfort, illusorily believing that she was managing her problem when she was doing nothing of the sort—which she was slowly, and painfully, coming to realize—her self-consciousness about the stammer made public speaking a particularly nightmarish activity, for her. In fact, it was her self-consciousness about the stammer that had caused her to urinate in class in the first place. A bright and hard-working student, Georgina knew every word of the Pledge of Allegiance by heart. It was not until a number of weeks had passed following her accident that Georgina realized that Mrs. Ogilvey was not going to call on her, ever; before that, each time Mrs. Ogilvey had looked at, or even near, her, Georgina made a face like she was going to relieve herself again, which both repulsed and excited Mrs. Ogilvey.

5 This caused the back of her clothing (i.e., her blouses, or, in the case of pantsuits, her jackets) to become covered in chalk. Because she tended toward a dark palette, the smudges were visible even from the classroom’s back row, making them impossible to ignore. A number of the students found the situation troubling, though for reasons they were unable to articulate, and would aggressively grip the sides of their desks and gasp whenever Mrs. Ogilvey turned around to write something on the chalkboard.

6 Actually, it was Pitofsky.

7Diluvian was the term that School Principal Margaret Carruthers—newly returned from winter break wearing gauze bandages over her entire face and acting uncharacteristically touchy-feely toward the administrative staff—used.

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