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The One-Room Schoolhouse

Jim Heynen
Knopf,




refered to by:
The Canterbury Tales
Geoffrey Chaucer


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the ledge - flash version*

*
English

 
 
What Happened During the Ice Storm

One winter there was a freezing rain. How
beautiful! people said when things outside
started to shine with ice. But the freezing
rain kept coming. Tree branches glistened
like glass. Then broke like glass. Ice thickened
on the windows until everything outside blurred.
Farmers moved their livestock into the barns,
and most animals were safe. But not the pheasants.
Their eyes froze shut.
Some farmers went ice-skating down the
gravel roads with clubs to harvest pheasants
that sat helplessly in roadside ditches.
The boys went out into the freezing rain
to find pheasants too. They saw dark spots
along a fence. Pheasants, all right. Five
or six of them. The boys slid their feet
along slowly, trying not to break the ice
that covered the snow. They slid up close
to the pheasants. The pheasants pulled their
heads down between their wings. The couldn’t
tell how easy it was to see them huddled
there.
The boys stood still in the icy rain. Their
breath came out in slow puffs of steam. The
pheasants’ breath came out in quick little
puffs. One lifted its head and turned it
from side to side, but the pheasant was blindfolded
with ice and didn’t flush.
The boys had not brought clubs, or sacks,
or anything but themselves. They stood over
the pheasants, turning their own heads, looking
at each other, each expecting the other to
do something. To pounce on a pheasant, or
to yell Bang! Things around them were shining
and dripping with icy rain. The barbed-wire
fence. The fence posts. Even the grass seeds.
The grass seeds looked like yolks inside
gelatin whites. And the pheasants looked
like unborn birds glazed in egg white. Ice
was hardening on the boys’ caps and coats.
Soon they would be covered with ice too.
Then one of the boys said, Shh. He was
taking off his coat, the thin layer of ice
splintering in flakes as he pulled his arms
from the sleeves. But the inside of the coat
was dry and warm. He covered two of the crouching
pheasants with hiscoat, rounding the back
of it over them like a shell. The other boys
did the same. They covered all the helpless
pheasants. The small gray hens and the larger
brown cocks. Now the boys felt the rain soaking
through their shirts and freezing. They ran
across the slippery fields, unsure of their
footing, the ice clinging to their skin as
they made their way toward the blurry lights
of the house.

 
 
The Youngest Boy

It was not easy being the youngest boy.
Being the last one in the race to the house
for supper. Being the one who held the wrenches
while the others fixed the bicycle. Being
the one no one would believe when everybody
else was lying. And the one who could not
back his anger with muscle.
But there was an advantage to being small.
Some nights, very late, when he wanted the
world to himself, he slipped out of bed with
such small noises that no one heard. And
he moved through the house making sounds
that the rats or wind might make. Then he
waited until the wind changed enough to move
the metal fan on the windmill so it squeaked.
At the same time, he opened the screen door
and the two squeaks went together and he
was outside. Here there were always some
animal sounds, and it was easy to fit them
in with the sounds of his walking and overall
legs rubbing together. Steers rubbing against
wooden fences because the grubs in their
backs did not sleep at night. Or sick pigs
that had swallowed wire plodding to the drinking
trough to quench the burning in their stomachs.
Even birds and chickens with their little
fluttering pains. With his flashlight still
turned off, he went down to the barn and
the door with new hinges that didn’t squeak.
Inside, he turned on the flashlight and shone
it in the faces of calves who got up to see
what there was to eat, then lay down again.
He made up little songs and sang to them.
Sometimes the songs were silly, sometimes
they were mean. The calves hardly listened,
but they learned not to complain, and not
to expect anything either.

 
 
The Minister’s Wife

There were two reasons everyone noticed
the minister’s wife when she walked into
church with her children – she had more children
than anyone else and she was the most beautiful
woman there.
During the worship service, the boys often
stared at her and wished that she were one
of those women who nursed their babies in
church. But this beautiful woman was so shy
it was not likely she would show herself
like that in church. Or any place else the
boys might see her.
One Communion Sunday the minister invited
some of the congregation over to the parsonage
for coffee after church. Services were always
long on Communion Sundays, because it took
the minister a long time to pour the wine
from the big silver pitcher into all the
Communion cups. The congregation drank the
wine very quickly that Sunday, so the minister
must have known they were ready to get off
those hard church benches. He was being nice
by inviting them over to the soft chairs
in the parsonage for coffee. Of course, it
would be the minister’s beautiful wife who
would have to make coffee for all those people.

The boys were standing in the porch watching
all the grown-ups find chairs in the parlor
when they saw the minister’s wife go into
the kitchen with her newest baby. Maybe she
was going to nurse it! The boys peeked through
the kitchen door. She was nursing all right,
but she was so shy that even in her own kitchen
she had covered her breast and the baby’s
face with a dish towel.
Later the boys came back for a second try.
They smelled freshly brewed coffee as they
sneaked up and didn’t expect to see anything
unusual. With one hand the minister’s wife
was lifting one cup after another, and with
the other hand she was holding one of her
breasts. She squeezed some of her milk into
each of the cups.
Pretty soon she served the coffee to her
guests. Everyone held the cups on their laps
until all the guests were served. Then they
raised their cups to their lips together,
the same way they did in church with the
wine cups, but now no one was saying it was
in remembrance of anything.
Everyone was nodding and saying nice things
about the coffee. The minister’s wife blushed,
as she always did when the congregation showed
that they appreciated her.
That night, back home as the boys were
getting ready for bed, they started talking
about the minister’s wife and what they had
seen. Then one boy said, Say, do you remember
what it looked like?
None of them did.
I remember one thing, said the youngest
boy. There were twenty-eight cups and nobody
had to ask for more milk.


     
The Ledge
editor-in-chief: Stacey Knecht, info@the-ledge.com
Thanks to: De digitale pioniers and
Het Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds
Design: Maurits de Bruijn

Copyright: Pieter Steinz, Stacey Knecht
All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author.