"If we had to sum up Romeo
and Juliet in one sentence," Miss Hellstrom asked the class that May morning
after Jets first crime, "what would it be?"
The class looked at her as one big blank. Jose stared down at
his desk as if divining the answer from the initials, impaled hearts, and curse
words carved in the wood top. Hanner bowed her head and swung it slightly from
side to side, causing her hair to form what she thought to be an impenetrable
moving hair screen. Neckless pulled his turtleneck-of-the-day, which was a jaunty
navy blue, up above his nose until it rested just below his eyes in the hope that the
less his teacher saw of him the less likely she would be to call on him.
Johnny slouched down farther in his seat than usual, which not only would
have impressed a sideshow contortionist, but also put him perilously close
to sitting on the floor. Jet sat just as he was, since Jose's massive
head couldn't have blocked him from his teacher's view any better had it been a
three-inch thick steel door.
"Now I know you've all read the play," the teacher
said wishfully, knowing full well that it was a blatant lie, "and we've
discussed it at length. So who can tell the class in one sentence what Shakespeare was
trying to tell us?"
The noise level went up two notches as a droning undercurrent
filled the room: Don't call on me please don't call on me call on anyone else but
please God don't let her call on me. Her eyes scanned the room, searching for
an innocent target.
"Mr. Rosenbloom?" It was more an announcement than a
Jose stared down at his desk, hoping that whoever had carved
"school suks" in the top of his desk had improved his spelling.
Jet leaned forward slightly and whispered to Jose, who lifted
his eyes and tentatively told Miss Hellstrom, "You can either live and learn, or
die and forget."
"Well," she began, "there may be some truth to
that, but I don't think that's what Shakespeare had in mind when he wrote this
play." Her eyes bounced over to Neckless. "Do you agree, Mr. Francis?"
"Yeah," he said.
"The word is 'yes'," she said for what must have
been the four hundredth time that week. "Now would you tell the class why
you agree with Mr. Rosenbloom?"
"Yes, why. You must have a reason, don't you?"
Neckless glanced at Jet, then looked back at the teacher.
"Do I have to?" he asked.
"Of course you do. Now what do you base your opinion
Neckless' eyes opened wide above the top of his turtleneck as
he looked at Jet, pleading for help. Jet shielded his mouth with his hand
"That you shouldn't end a sentence with a
proposition?" Neckless asked the teacher.
Miss Hellstrom tried to look behind Jose's head. "That's
a preposition," she said.
"But I thought you told us that was a
"That is a pronoun," she said patiently,
"but you shouldn't end a sentence with a preposition."
"I know you didn't."
"Then I was right?"
"About what?" she asked.
"About the play," he said.
Miss Hellstrom's eyes tightened as she started rubbing her
temples with her fingers. This wasnt the way they said it would be at State
She was about to steer Neckless away from grammar and back to
Shakespeare when the sound of loud wheezing caused her to freeze. Hanner was
hunched forward with both hands clasped over her mouth, her shoulders rhythmically
convulsing, her hair bouncing in front of her eyes.
"H. Jandolyn," the teacher said, trying not to act
alarmed, "are you all right?"
"I'm...hweh hweh...fine," Hanner managed to
squeeze out between wheezes.
"Do you need to go see the nurse?"
"No," Hanner said, the wheezes beginning to subside,
"I didn't mean to laugh."
Everyone in the class looked at each other in stunned
amazement, for while it was rare enough to hear Hanner talk, they realized this
was the first time any of them had ever heard her laugh. As if on cue,
everyone began wheezing.
"Okay class," the teacher said, "that will be
quite enough of that. H. Jandolyn, perhaps you would care to tell us what the main
thrust of Romeo and Juliet is?"
Hanner's eyes darted from side to side. While her
hair did a good job of hiding her panic-stricken eyes from Miss Hellstrom, it
also stopped her from being able to make eye contact with a friendly savior
who might supply her with the desperately needed answer. Jet, being intuitively
chivalrous, put his hand in front of his mouth and softly whispered to Hanner.
"Maybe lemons know something we don't," Hanner
announced. The teacher cocked her head and looked at Hanner questioningly. Jet
"I mean, maybe lemmings know something we
don't," Hanner corrected.
The teacher took a step to the right, trying to see past
Jose's head. She knew the culprit was back there, but thanks to Jose's grandiose
skull, he was still hidden from view. Miss Hellstrom's eyes landed on Johnny, who
was slouched down so far in his seat that he looked like he'd melted. He
was grinning as only someone who knew he'd heard a joke but didn't understand the
"And exactly what is so funny, Mr. Kasouska?" Miss
"Nuttin'," he said, rubbing his stubbly cheek with
his hand. Johnny was proud to be the only boy in the seventh grade who needed to
shave every day, even if it was because he was four years older than the rest of
"Would you care to share your joke with the rest of the
"Nope," he said, still grinning.
"Well since you seem to be the one giving everyone else
the answers, why don't you give us your opinion?"
"What have we been talking about?" she asked.
"Ya got me."
"We've been talking about Romeo and Juliet,"
she said. "The same thing we've been talking about for the three days. All I'm
trying to do is to get someone in this classanyoneto tell me what they
think Shakespeare was saying. He obviously didn't write this play because he was
bored, he wrote it for a purpose. And that purpose was to get a point across, a point
which I'm sure couldn't have escaped every one of you. Now, Mr. Kasouska, what I want
to know isin your own wordswhat do you think this play is about."
Johnny's grin faded during the teacher's speech. He didn't
like being put on the spot. And he didn't like being challenged. Actually, Johnny
didn't like much of anything lately except when Deanna Goode hiked up her skirt
and pulled down her panties, and the fact that she hadn't done that in almost
two weeks most assuredly exacerbated his usual foul humor.
"I'm waiting," the teacher said.
Jet leaned back to whisper. Johnny, having seen the earlier
results of Jet's prompting, kicked the underside of Jet's seat.
"Mr. Kasouska," his teacher asked, "did you
read the material?"
"That's 'yes, certainly'," she corrected.
"Did you understand what you read?"
"Have you been listening to our classroom
"Then certainly, Mr. Kasouska, you must have an
opinion." She waited for him to answer, and when he didn't, she continued,
"Didn't you get anything out of this play?"
Johnny was silent.
"What, praytell, was Romeo and Juliet about?"
Johnny slowly pulled himself upright in the chair. He gathered
his books, stood up next to his desk, and looked Miss Hellstrom straight in the eyes.
"Fuck this shit," he said, "I'm goin'
Then he walked out of the room.
This pearl from a swine made quite an impression on Jet. So
much so that many years later it would appear on his headstone, much to the dismay of the
cemetery and his family. There, carved in simple letters on a plain white granite
headstone, was his one-line epitaph:
"That'll be enough!" Miss Hellstrom barked, causing
the clapping to stop as if someone had flipped an applause switch to "off".
"That certainly was not a display to be appreciated. I can guarantee Mr.
Kasouska will be receiving a suspension for that little performance."
"There's no justice in life," Jet said.
Miss Hellstrom craned her neck to see who had spoken. Still
not being able to see the culprit, she walked up the aisle until she could see around
"Did you say something, Mr. Banker?" she asked.
"I said 'there's no justice in life'," he repeated.
"Unless you want to join Mr. Kasouska in being suspended,
I suggest you..."
Miss Hellstrom stopped, switched mental gears and smiled at
Jet.. "That was very well said," she announced to the class.
This was the first and only time that year that Jet was
praised for espousing one of his philosophies. It certainly was a pleasant change
from being exiled to the principal's office.