April FoolsBy M.J. Fievre
November 30, 2010
In front of the school, I kiss Papa and he waits until I’ve bought a humongous gummy rat from the old woman with a straw hat. Then, my father’s gone and Sister Therese is at the entrance, rushing the students inside. She wears a long navy blue habit and a perpetual scowl on her face.
Sister Therese used to be my teacher. In her first grade class, we fingered an abacus to prove our arithmetic skills. We learned phonics by going to the blackboard and framing the sounds with our fingers. We memorized spelling words like Dieu and enfer and whole passages from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The nuns wear stiff white collars and I often wonder if they really have hair under their pleated veils, or if they are completely bald. The sisters can be stern and fearsome, but they also teach with humor and enthusiasm. I am notorious for asking questions the nuns can’t give good answers for and the other students marvel at that.
When the bell rings for recess around eleven, my friend Fanny and I hide behind the bushes near the chapel. Fanny is very short. Her face is round and she’s always smiling. We’re both ten years old and we’ve been best friends since first grade.
Fanny pours some red coloring on her hands and rubs the cool liquid on her arms before we join the other students on the playground. Suddenly, Fanny staggers and collapses on the dirt. Students surround us, two of them shrieking at the sight of the “blood” on Fanny’s body.
Fanny cannot hold it for long. She starts laughing. “April Fools!” she cries.
Cynthia and Nathalie do not appreciate our dark humor, but Anne-Caroline and some others join the fun by splattering the red liquid on their skin. Soon, Fanny is lying on the ground again. “Look, I’m dead.”And she does look dead, lying motionless, her neck stretched back, her hands and face and hair all covered with the thick, drying substance. Her brown eyes are wide, staring ahead in shock and pain.
I am the doctor. “We’ve done all we can for her,” I say in a dramatic voice, “but she lost too much blood.” I pause for a moment, as if to let the other girls before me process this information. “Normally we only allow family members to see the dying patient,” I continue, “but since Father Aristide had all her relatives burned alive, you may each see her, one at a time.”
“I’m sorry, I should have been there like a true friend,” Anne-Caroline whispers. She sits next to Fanny and picks up the girl’s hand. “You’ve lived a tough life, and never really been happy. I should have been there for you. May you rest in peace, my friend.”
We do not hear Sister Therese approach. “Whose idea was this mess?” she asks, looking in dismay at the stained school blouses.
Everybody shamelessly points at me.
“April Fools?” I suggest.
Sister Therese frowns from under her grey and shaggy eyebrows. She drags me to the classroom by my ear and I’m afraid that she’s about to spank me with a wooden ruler on the palm of the hand.
That’s when we hear the first shot—and people screaming in the street.
Students come running inside the classroom, and I help Sister Therese close the thick wooden doors that we chain from the inside.We all hide under the desks. The walls muffle the fusillade of shots, the babble of shouts and counter-shouts.
“Stay down,” Sister Therese says in a calm voice.
She lies next to me on the wooden floor. She has lost her veil in the commotion and her snow-white hair as soft as down brushes against my face. In her presence, I feel safe from the blood and gore and stink and whatever destruction in the town. She is praying.
As the shots continue, I close my eyes and pretend to be in the year 1804, battling the independence war. I am a woman version of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, and those are my men outside, killing the slave owners. “Koupe tèt, boule kay” – “Cut off the heads, burn down the houses.”
But the cries outside, the children yelling, all is too real for me to keep the illusion for long. April Fools.
“I am notorious for asking questions the nuns can’t give good answers for and the other students marvel at that.”
That made me smile with my own memories. Speaking of memories, I marveled at the vividness of your light upon this vignette, and then I arrived at the shots. What a way to have such a moment cemented on a young mind. Out of a brutally foggy darkness, a photographic light.
Another memory you strongly brought back to my mind. I had a girlfriend once in Nigeria who loved to play dead. A couple of times I arrived in her room, and she was sprawled on the floor, with whatever she could use to fake blood strategically placed. There was always a powerful sensual component to the arrangement, but also disturbing in its way. She was always the one with an exaggerated morbid outlook, and I was always the chirpy one with a kindergartener’s ebullience. Strange pair we made in many ways.
It always amazes me, Uche, how stories inspire other stories by bringing back powerful memories. It’s fun to play dead. It’s also fun to play asleep 😉
Wow. This was
well-crafted and sharp.
I love it when people
give the words
their due, their time
and their gravity.
That’s when words have power.
Thank you, J.M. I’ve been working on this piece for a long time. I have many memories from the early 90’s and I can’t help going back to my childhood quite often.
This is such a rich scene and so perfectly paced out. That moment when the friend says “I should have been there” is so effective in capturing the sincerity that only a child can playact and then unknowingly carry out into the wider tragic world. This was a pure pleasure to read.
Yes, my world–Haiti–can be quite tragic. Last Sunday, from my apartment in Florida, I followed the presidential elections via Facebook and Internet radios, and realized that Haitian politics are still sadly entertaining.
Another wonderfully written story, MJ. It was vivid (to steal a phrase already used by Uche) and striking. I starting to become a big fan of yours.
I appreciate your input, David. As a writer, you surely know how satisfying getting comments can be.
This was well written.
At first it was a story of children playing, being a touch naughty, and then
it was terror.
Damn, you are good.
Always a pleasure to read your comments, Irene! I think I’m still pretty naughty 😉
Always a pleasure to read you comments, Irene! I think I’m still pretty naughty 🙂
Dynamite. Ah, maybe not the best word for a piece that ends amidst violence. But you know what I mean.
The death tableau was truly wonderful. I can hear the girls saying those things. And now that we know you through your writing, what you said seems entirely M.J-like. “One at a time” — perfect.
I never went to parochial school, but I was around missionary nuns out in the bush. Nuns are easy and inviting targets, and usually what’s written about them is coarse and often mean. You do nuns with wit and grace.
I like the new gravatar, too.
I loved the nuns, Don. They always had my best interest in mind, and I’ve stayed in touch with many of the teachers from my school days. I considered becoming a nun at some point, but a weekend at the convent bored me to death…
Great piece, MJ, as usual. The red in the new Gravatar is eerily appropriate, too.
I think I’ll keep the new gravatar for a little while 😉 Thanks for reading, Greg!
Wow. Talk about the ending I didn’t see coming.
It makes me wonder, what was going through the sister’s head, when she saw the blood everywhere. Was the violence in the street a common occurence at the time?
I was known for my pranks, so I always assumed that Sister Therese knew from the start that my friends and I were just fooling around. Now, you make me wonder–maybe she did panic when she saw our stained blouses. I don’t know.
Shooting wasn’t a rare occurrence but it had never happened so close to the school before. Usually we simply heard a distant rumor, to which we’d grown accustomed to. By the time school let out in the afternoon, all was back to “normal”…
Let me add my voice to the chorus of approval, M.J
Your work is always sharp and surprising and alive. I love it.
Thank you, Zara! The TNB community is so supportive! I appreciate the comments and encouragements.
Vivid and crisp like an HD clip. I like this style!
I felt the freedom to fully contemplate and experience every detail of the story, as though it was being read to me, or better, directly fed to my senses.
Glad you liked it, Giscard 🙂 I’m sure glad to have fed your senses!
M.J. This brief snapshot left me wanting more. More, please. I’m sorry you had these experiences, but you tell them so amazingly well. You write about ugliness with a keen eye for hope. I enjoy it very much.
I’m sure glad you enjoyed it, Gloria. And I do promise more 😉
I’m sure glad you enjoyed it, Gloria. And I do promise more 😉
Gloria has so well said what I feel about many of your wonderful writings, MJ:
“You write about ugliness with a keen eye for hope.”
I want to hear more about the nun—-p’raps in another story? Your description of her hair as she lay protectively beside you was a keeper, a focal point, a symbol for her character.
(Beautiful new gravatar, too, MJ!)