The Dungeon Copyright 2011 by Peter A. Teeuwissen. All rights reserved.
In my elementary school there was a basement. Part of it was taken up by an auditorium with a stage. That part was dug deeper than the rest, by about ten feet, and had a broad concrete stairway leading down to it from the parking lot on the south side of the building. Over on the west side of the auditorium (to the left when you entered from the outside), you could go up a few steps into the more serious part of the basement, which began with a narrow passageway full of boilers, sinks, janitors’ closets, and low-hung steam pipes. This part was always hot in the winter and cool in the warm weather. Sometimes we’d have to go to this area when we had what they called “air raid drills.” (In spite of their quaint name evoking blackouts and the London blitz, these were in reality preparations for a nuclear missile attack, since the possibility of enemy planes flying all the way to Michigan to drop regular bombs was so remote as to be not worth planning for. In the 50s nobody wanted to acknowledge that a nuclear attack wasn’t worth planning for, either.) At the other end of the passageway leading out of the auditorium, at the far west end of the basement, was a room perhaps twenty-five feet square, which was used as a classroom. It had a separate concrete stairway down from the outside, also on the south side of the school, much narrower and steeper than the one that led to the auditorium. This basement classroom was where I spent the fifth grade.
Our teacher was Mr. Fernandez. For most of us, he was our first man teacher, and for all of us, he was a mean son of a bitch. The other teachers referred to his basement classroom as Fernandez’s Hideaway, a clever reference to “Hernando’s Hideaway,” a show tune that came out in 1954. We called it the Dungeon.
I spent seven years of my life in that elementary school, from kindergarten through sixth grade. That was more than twice as long as I spent at any other school I attended. I suppose they were the most important and formative years of my life. Things I learned there, like arithmetic and reading and state capitals, have stayed with me ever since, but for the most part I don’t remember learning any of them. What I remember best about elementary school instead are lots of little random details about the building and the adults and children who inhabited it with me. I remember, for instance, when my second grade teacher Mrs. Frizzle pinched my left cheek with the thumb and forefinger of her right hand and shook it, by way of punishment for some misdeed or backtalk. I remember endlessly pledging allegiance to the flag first thing in the morning, and the giant cursive letters of the alphabet, upper case and lower, taped across the room over the blackboard.
Most of all I remember the desks we had in the classrooms. They were one-piece models, where the chair and the desk were both bolted to a metal frame so they wouldn’t get separated. Some of the frames were of cast iron and some of tubular steel, painted institutional brown or green. The desks tops and the seats of the chairs were made of hardwood worn smooth from years of use. Our school had been built in 1925; the date was chiseled into a concrete block built into the front of the building. That meant it was almost thirty years old by the time I first darkened its doors. Some of the desks had definitely been there when the school was new, but some were only ten or fifteen years old. The newer ones had hinged tops that lifted up so you could put books and papers in the compartment underneath. On the older ones the tops didn’t lift up, but there was an opening in front of you into which you could slide your stuff. Lots of them were covered in carved initials and pieces of dried chewing gum. Over the summer the janitors would scrape off the old gum to make room for the next year’s application. The tops all had grooved slots to hold pens or pencils. And they also had inkwells. Some had only the hole where the ink container had been, but some still had the little removable glass bottles, made to hold two ounces or so of ink. They had screw-on tops, made of hard black plastic, the same kind telephones were made of. The bottle tops had holes about half an inch in diameter with little covers that swiveled on and off the holes. These holes, of course, were for dipping the points of fountain pens, in the days before the invention of the ballpoint pen.
A Hungarian named Laszlo Biro patented the first practical ballpoint pen in 1938. After the Second World War they started manufacturing them in the United States. By the time I attended elementary school in the 50s ballpoint pens had become reliable and inexpensive, and were the norm. People still used fountain pens, but they were becoming fancy and relatively expensive, the way ballpoints had been when they first came out. Lots of fountain pens by that time had plastic cartridges of ink, instead of needing to be filled with ink from a bottle. It had probably been ten years since any of the inkwells in those desks had been used by students, but for some reason the school had not bothered to remove the little bottles. Being busy and industrious, we made the best use of them we could, filling them with spit wads, pencil shavings, or paper clips. Nature, after all, abhors a vacuum. Ricky Miller put flies in his inkbottle, where they would buzz around for a few hours before dying. I never knew anyone else who could catch flies with his bare hands the way Ricky could. At one point he had that bottle almost filled. It was his only real talent in school, reading and writing having for the most part eluded him. I still don’t understand why the school left the inkbottles for us to play with. Were they expecting fountain pens to make a comeback? It’s one of the mysteries that persist from that time of my life. What is even more amazing to contemplate is that that just a few years earlier students had actually used them for their intended purpose. The thought of a bunch of children having access to all that indelible liquid, capable of being spilled, squirted, and smudged, accidentally or by acts of deliberate mayhem, is truly awe inspiring.
The Dungeon was set up like most of the other classrooms, except for the fact that the only windows were the two on one wall way up near the ceiling—little narrow transom-sized panes that opened with the use of a long pole with a little hook at the end. That’s another detail I remember—the lack of natural light compared to the other rooms upstairs, which had ample windows that let in lots of sun (and for Ricky Miller, lots of flies). Down in the Dungeon it was gloomy whether the sun was shining in those little quarter-windows or not. In my mind’s eye I look out from my head somewhere in about the middle of the middle row. I face north, in the direction of the teacher’s desk, and the windows on the outer wall are to my left. Behind me is the door from the outside and the cold steps we walked down every day to get there. Back then I didn’t know I was facing north; knowledge about the geographic orientation of things didn’t come to me until I was much older. I know it now because I know that the school was on the east side of Sashabaw Road, and that Sashabaw road runs north and south. Then I only knew that I was facing in the direction of my home, two short blocks away. My home was the center of my universe, like Mecca. Wherever I was in my little town, my mind would tell me, “Home is that way.” For a ten year old that was a pretty important piece of information, far more so than the points of the compass.
The remaining detail of the Dungeon in my mind’s eye is this life-sized soft plastic human torso that stood on a desk in the corner. You could remove the chest covering and underneath were all the internal organs, which were also removable—liver, lungs, stomach, spleen. Some of the smaller innards, like the gall bladder and adrenal glands, were attached to their bigger cousins, and it was all in vivid color. I can’t tell you how many times we took that thing apart and put it back together. Its head had those cold staring eyes devoid of pupils, like on the old Roman sculptures. It was a female torso and the removable outside of the chest had vague breasts with no nipples. Giggling and grabbing were kept to a minimum by our understanding that having such an aid to anatomical knowledge was a high privilege that could be revoked if we behaved too rudely to it. The torso ended at the upper thighs, but the scrupulous detail that characterized things like the heart and kidneys was rounded off and missing once you got down below the bladder. It was a steady and dependable presence over there in the corner, as much a member of the class as anyone else. And its name, in the tradition of training mannequins everywhere, was Annie.
More specific than the physical details of the Dungeon is my memory of the feeling of uneasy anticipation that hung over the place. This stemmed from the constant tension between the class and our teacher. The problem wasn’t so much that Mr. Fernandez was a strict disciplinarian. He was certainly no pushover, but some of the other teachers were stricter. Mrs. Dalzell, for instance, whom we always referred to as Old Lady Dalzell or simply Dalzell, was known to be the meanest teacher in the school, and she appeared to take pleasure in being so. She was in fact a witch, lacking only a black cloak and pointed hat and broom. If you didn’t get Mr. Fernandez for fifth grade you got her. So we students who were assigned to the Dungeon actually counted ourselves lucky. In fact, some of the girls thought Mr. Fernandez was good looking. The chief problem with being in his class was that he wasn’t there enough of the time. He was always somewhere else, probably upstairs smoking in the teacher’s lounge. He came and went from our room by the inside door that led to the passageway hung with heat pipes, and to an interior stairway to the first floor. But the extra time it took him to go up and down the stairs made his trips away from the class longer that those of other teachers. He might have figured that since he had such a long way to go to get to the lounge or wherever he was always going, he might as well take longer breaks and have a couple of extra smokes while he was up there. In any event, when he wasn’t in the class, we were on our own.
You might wonder what was wrong with that. What kids wouldn’t want to have the teacher gone from the classroom half the time? Well, it had to do with our innate lack of self-control, or at least that of some of us. When your classroom was upstairs, even if the teacher wasn’t there you were only on the other side of the wall, or of the hallway, from another classroom, and there was always someone prowling around checking on you. Upstairs your ability to become your own worst enemy was curtailed. But not down in the Dungeon. There, when the teacher was gone there was no one to hear, and no one to check anyone’s behavior. The noise and the general level of gleeful abandon could rise higher, so that when Mr. Fernandez finally did come back down, we were more often than not raising holy hell in attitudes and postures that ordinary fifth graders would have been unable to achieve.
Tommy O’Toole was a year or so older than the majority of the kids in the class. He stood half a head taller than most of us boys, with red hair and freckles and a guileless moon face that usually wore a smile. He had flunked a grade somewhere a few years back. Tommy was what you would call a natural born fuckup. He didn’t try to be bad, but he had no sense of propriety when it came to classroom decorum. He was ineffably clownish. The fifth grade had other screwballs and misfits—barely-literate boys with marginal intellects—but most of them were surly and often malicious. They got assigned to Mrs. Dalzell, who patrolled her class with a ruler and an iron will, and who would just as soon send you to the principal’s office for a paddling as look at you. Hell, Mrs. Dalzell probably did her own paddling for the pure joy of it.
Today they would probably diagnose Tommy O’Toole with ADHD, and they’d probably be right. Maybe they’d give him pills of some sort, or at least not expect him to sit still like the good kids who never spoke or moved. There was one in particular, Dana Eastwood, who rarely spoke above a whisper and who, to the best of my knowledge, never spoke without being called on in the seven years we spent together in that school. Never. No shit. She was the ultimate Good Girl. You couldn’t hear a word she was saying even if you sat right behind her. The absolute high point of second grade had been when Dana Eastwood had puked into a wastebasket right in the middle of class one morning. The teacher might well have sent home a note that read, along the lines of the Pearl Jam song that came out decades later, “Dana spoke in class today.” At the opposite end of the spectrum was Tommy O’Toole, who was just a hyperactive goofball. I was somewhere in between, tending in my academics more toward the Dana Eastwood end of things, and tending in my behavior more in the Tommy O’Toole direction, in that I was usually turned around and talking.
They used to give us two grades in each subject, an upper case grade and a lower case grade. The first one was for academic achievement in that subject and the second was for effort, which included conduct. So you could get an “A/a,” which would mean that you did well and put forth a lot of effort and behaved yourself. Or you could get an “A/b” or “A/c,” which would mean you did well but didn’t try very hard and maybe disrupted the class. No one gave you any slack just because you didn’t have to try hard. If it came that easily to you, you were expected to show your appreciation for your good fortune by keeping your trap shut and minding your own business while the other kids sat struggling, pencils in their mouths. You’d get these separate dual grades for every one of your classes—language, arithmetic, science, social studies, music—even though they were all taught by the same teacher one right after the other in the same room. Then for good measure they graded you separately on your overall conduct. Some kids, Good Girls like Dana Eastwood, would get “A/a” or “B/a” in all their classes, and an “A” in conduct, each and every marking period. It was all they could do—all they were capable of doing, really. Fate had decreed that people like Dana would get all A’s and B’s. They kept their mouths shut and had immaculate penmanship and paid attention. It didn’t mean that they would go on to be doctors or lawyers. None of them did, as far as I know. It just meant that they were really good at being elementary school students—they had achieved the pinnacle of their life’s success before they even got into junior high.
Because I had trouble keeping my mouth shut, I would usually get C’s in conduct, even though I got A’s and B’s in most of my academic subjects. Also, I would sometimes get lower case c’s or even d’s in those subjects, indicating that I had been a pain in the ass to the teacher even as I was doing all the work. Sometimes it was because I was bored and showed it, which was not only a breach of etiquette but showed a lack of humility. Occasionally I would even get a D in conduct, when I was driving the teacher particularly nuts that marking period. I think I got one A in conduct also, during the seven years I was at that school. Just one. My parents congratulated me, and compared me favorably to Dana Eastwood, but they knew it was only a fluke.
More often than not, when Mr. Fernandez would return from one of his long absences, Tommy O’Toole would be out of his seat, bothering other kids and bouncing off the walls. Mr. Fernandez was on Tommy’s ass constantly. Taming Tommy O’Toole became his personal mission; he was determined to shape him up. Plenty of times he would take Tommy out of the room and upstairs with him, probably to have the principal’s big cricket bat of a paddle administered to what my mother used to call the “seat of learning.” None of it seemed to dampen Tommy’s high spirits. As the year wore on and he became more and more the bete noir of the class, I grew fonder of him. I tended to root for the underdog. I socialized with Tommy on the playground. As his troubles grew, and as Mr. Fernandez’s meanness toward him became more pronounced, Tommy and I spent more time together at recess, where we would joke and play paper-scissors-rock and complain about what a prick our teacher was. Because I was more respectable, Tommy appreciated my disapproval of the way Mr. Fernandez treated him. To him that meant that maybe it wasn’t all his fault. Everything in his life up to that point pretty much had been all his fault, if you believed the rest of the world. There on the playground it was as if he were a hapless repeat offender, one of society’s victims, and I was his attorney visiting him out in the exercise yard. This was the beginning of what would become a pattern for me over the years. I would become the friend or confidante of someone who was being persecuted by the powers that be, even as I managed to maintain my own position of favor with those powers. Which is to say that on the whole Mr. Fernandez liked me, even though I did not like him.
Tommy wasn’t a one-man show down in the Dungeon. Plenty of the rest of us were liable to be up and talking and goofing off when Mr. Fernandez was gone. It’s just that Tommy was one of those people who couldn’t fade into the background at strategic times. If life was a game of musical chairs, he was always left standing when the tune stopped. In time more of Mr. Fernandez’s anger at the class—and at something else in life that we couldn’t identify—came to be focused on Tommy. Mr. Fernandez’s expectations of our behavior were unrealistic, at best. He thought he should be able to leave us alone indefinitely and that we should remain quiet and in our seats the whole time. For Dana Eastwood and the other Good Girls that might come easily, but to most of us boys, who were essentially more kinetic, it was a struggle. Still, day in and day out, and contrary to everything he should have learned as a teacher, Mr. Fernandez’s idea of how we should behave never relaxed, and if anything became more inflexible. Those expectations as they related to Tommy were, of course, simply absurd.
Finally the day came when Mr. Fernandez made a stern announcement to the class. He had decided to try something new to get us to stay quiet in his absence. As of the first day of the next marking period, the whole class would have an “A” in conduct. Then, each time he came back down and found the class in an uproar, he would lower the conduct grade of the entire class, rather than just the individuals who were fucking up. Mr. Fernandez had happened on one of those behavior modification schemes you see in movies and TV shows about military boot camp—punishing the entire group for the actions of a few, or of one. “All right you maggots, since Private Pyle here can’t keep his trap shut, the whole platoon will get up tomorrow at oh five hundred and run twenty miles.” By this means he evidently thought to get us to apply peer pressure to the ones among us who were most apt to be talking and doing crazy things when he was away. Obviously the one he intended to be the chief recipient of this peer pressure was Tommy O’Toole.
One problem with this approach was that the people who had the most to lose—Dana Eastwood and the other Good Girls—could hardly be expected to persuade Tommy or anybody else to moderate their behavior. Hell, these girls wouldn’t speak up if their own asses were on fire, much less tell somebody else to settle down. For some of the rest of us Mr. Fernandez’s approach was equally impracticable because we had relatively little to lose. I myself never expected anything above a “C” in conduct anyway. My conduct was like my penmanship (something else they graded us on)—stuck in a permanent groove of sloppiness from which I had long since ceased to try to break out of.
But this was the new deal for the new marking period. Fortunately, we had six marking periods in the school year, so this experiment would last only five or six weeks. Some kids were probably optimistic and hoped everyone would rise to the occasion and do what was right for the class as a whole. They were the ones who would later become cheerleaders. But even six weeks can be a hell of a long time, and after a week or so Mr. Fernandez came back down to the Dungeon and found the class in chaos. BANG! Everyone went down a grade in conduct. On the blackboard he wrote the letter “B” about two feet high. Still, it was early, and who knew whether he was really serious or was only using this as a ruse to get us to behave? We began posting a guard at the inside door to try to hear or spot him before he made it to the class. This was courageous work, because the guard would have about three seconds to yell “FERNANDEZ!” and run back to his own seat before the teacher arrived. This met with some success, and another couple of weeks went by. Mr. Fernandez’s trips upstairs seemed to be getting longer. Many of us wished that he wouldn’t leave at all. After all, no one dared to fuck off when he was in the class. There wasn’t even room in our imaginations for what would have happened if someone had chosen to defy him to his face.
Then once again he came down to find the class in an uproar. BOOM! We were all down another grade in conduct. He erased the giant “B” on the board and replaced it with a mammoth “C.” Now even Mr. Fernandez knew he was in uncharted territory. He was in the process of calling his own bluff, and there wasn’t much more room to go down. Cautiously, he let a little unruliness go by, and ignored some borderline situations. It was nearing the last day of the marking period and the “C” was holding. No one knew for sure if this was all going to end up being some sort of bad dream from which we would awaken, chastened but with our normal grades intact, or if it was real. The only one who manifestly didn’t care was Tommy O’Toole. For him, a “C” in conduct would have been a rare gift, so he was ahead of he game at this point.
But it didn’t hold. At last the day came when Tommy was being even more than his usual happy-go-lucky self. While most of us were turned around and talking, he was up out of his seat, standing on a chair, holding the pole used to open the high windows while pretending to be a medieval jouster, laughing with abandon as some kids egged him on and others tried to convince him to sit down again. He was taking aim with his makeshift lance and preparing to go full tilt at Annie, the plastic torso, when in walked Mr. Fernandez. BAM! We were busted, and down to the ignominious “D” in conduct. Every last one of us, saint and sinner alike. For Tommy O’Toole, it was only the fulfillment of his destiny for the marking period. For Dana Eastwood and the Good Girls, it was the descent into a dark and alien realm hitherto undreamed of by them. But that wasn’t all. As Mr. Fernandez surveyed the now silent room, and the looks of horror and chastened misery on our faces, he pointed his hairy finger and said, “If your parents wonder why you got a ‘D’ in conduct, you can tell them it was Tommy O’Toole’s fault!”
So that was how it was going to be. The whole thing, it seemed, from the beginning of the marking period, had been an elaborate plot to make Tommy the scapegoat. It suddenly became clear to everyone in the class what a twisted fuck this teacher of ours was. I’m sure there were kids who were mad at Tommy for his inability to be still; he was decidedly a pain in the ass. But I am equally sure no one believed that the person responsible for the whole class being given a “D” was Tommy. We all knew that there had been other contributors to the chaos that reigned when the teacher was away—that the fault had been not in our stars but in our selves. More importantly we knew that the one primarily responsible for the “D” and for the whole twisted mess was Mr. Fernandez himself.
Justice is often hard to pin down with precision. People can be misled by false testimony and shoddy evidence. They are persuaded by smooth talk. They disagree on the degree and severity of punishment. But injustice, when meted out by a tyrant, shines with cold harsh clarity for everyone to see—everyone but the tyrant himself, who is motivated by a twisted logic that centers on him. So has it ever been, and so was it now. Mr. Fernandez’s need to control the class, and particularly Tommy O’Toole, had triumphed over what should have been his understanding of the nature of fifth graders. Not satisfied with imposing direct control, he sought to impose remote control as well. And he ruled, as all tyrants do, through intimidation and fear.
Early the next week the report cards went out. In those days we got them handed to us in class, and were expected to take them home and have them signed by a parent. The same report card would record all six sets of grades and would receive five signatures (the final marking period being the one where our parents got to keep the cards as mementos, for better or worse, of the year). This marking period was perhaps the fourth one, as winter was beginning to break. For some of the kids in the class, this would be the only “D” that had ever blighted a report card in their houses. For Dana Eastwood, certainly. I don’t know how things went down that evening for her. Her folks probably shit a collective brick. Whether Dana engaged in histrionics at this blemish on her otherwise spotless record, or whether she simply sat in silence as she always did in school, I can’t say. No doubt whatever the scene was, it was repeated several times over in our little town that night. Fathers spitting out their after-dinner coffee, yelling, “WHAT THE HELL IS THIS?!? A “D” IN CONDUCT?!?!?” Their daughters meekly telling them the whole sad story.
At my house the grade was a disappointment, but not a catastrophe. Like all the kids, I faithfully told my parents what Mr. Fernandez had said about Tommy O’Toole. If it was going to help me, fine. If it cast aspersions on Mr. Fernandez, so much the better. My mother said nothing. My father raised an eyebrow and frowned, but also said nothing. Nevertheless the eyebrow meant something. My folks were not without sympathy, I thought. They were both reluctant to gainsay authority in my presence, but I could tell that this story did not sit well with them. Tommy O’Toole’s grandparents lived across the street from us, and my parents knew his mother, too. This thing was a little closer to home than it might have been for some of the other kids. At least my dad didn’t harangue me about the grade, and the matter was concluded. Exhaling audibly, and drawing from his jacket pocket the fountain pen he still preferred to use, he added his signature to the report card with a flourish, and handed it back to me.
Now comes the part of this story that would seem a bit contrived if it were a work of fiction. But this is true, and sometimes the truth just happens along without any warning. I don’t know when after the conduct grade situation this occurred, but it wasn’t long. Early one morning before school my dad came into my room and sat on the side of my bed. He’d only done this one other time in my life that I could remember. “I have some sad news for you,” he began. His eyes were a little moist. “Tommy O’Toole died last night.”
What?! How? Sleep still in my eyes, I sat up and started asking questions, instantly remembering that the other time he’d come in like this was to tell me that my grandmother was dead. The rest of the details I got about Tommy are a bit jumbled in my memory. There was a fire at his house. He was lighting something and there was gasoline involved and it caught on fire and he breathed in the flames and smoke and he died.
My father was the local minister. He would have been one of the first to get this piece of news, after the firemen and police, and of course, Tommy’s parents. This was pretty much all the information I needed, and I don’t recall having received much more. I don’t know where his parents were when it happened. Maybe someone told me at the time. One fact I got many years later, from my mother, was that Tommy had made it out of the house safely, but then heard his dog barking inside, and went back to get him. That’s when the smoke and fire got him. So someone else must have been there to see that happen. I don’t know whether he saved the dog. When I heard it I thought, Jesus Christ, they couldn’t have scripted that any better in Hollywood. God save us from having our lives turned into screenplays.
On the morning of the funeral our class trudged together up the steep steps from the Dungeon and over to the funeral home. It was less than three blocks away, on a mild spring day. Some of the boys wore their Boy Scout uniforms, as did Tommy O’Toole, laid out serenely in his casket, as still and quiet as anyone had ever seen him. In death he had achieved at last what Mr. Fernandez had been trying to get him to do all year. He had earned his first “A” in conduct.
My father conducted the service, as Tommy’s family poured out their grief. His father, a small skinny guy, was so overcome that he had to be practically carried from the casket to his seat. It’s safe to say that there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
As for Mr. Fernandez, what a sight he was to see on that grim day. He sat in the corner in the back row and wept uncontrollably throughout the funeral. This was a side of our teacher that none of us kids could have anticipated, but we were unmoved. On the way out some of us cast sidelong glances at him and knowing looks at one another. Yeah, now he’s crying, the looks said. Because he feels guilty for the way he treated Tommy. Good. Let the bastard cry. On the walk back to school we said as much, under our breaths.
Mr. Fernandez did not repeat his social experiment in collective conduct grading. Although I didn’t know it at the time, in all probability he had caught some hell for it. This was not an era when parents glibly challenged the actions of teachers—at least mine didn’t, and I doubt if too many others did either. Tommy’s parents probably didn’t even know what had happened, since his “D” had been par for the course. But the parents of Dana Eastwood and the other Good Girls had a legitimate beef, and I’d be surprised if they didn’t let Mr. Fernandez know of their displeasure. I don’t think anybody’s grade got changed, but from then on we were each judged on the merits of our own conduct. Besides that, Tommy’s death had taken the wind out of Mr. Fernandez’s sails, and he didn’t enjoy abusing anyone else the way he had abused Tommy.
A couple of years later Mr. Fernandez left the school district under a cloud, amid accusations that he had made inappropriate advances to several young girls. It wasn’t the first time he had faced such charges, and I think some of the girls in our class had made complaints against him, too. So he turned out to be a pervert in addition to being a jerk. The dark angels of his nature at last proved too much for him. Sic semper tyrannis. And good riddance to bad rubbish, as we used to say.
Meanwhile, back in fifth grade, down in the basement, we endured until the end of the year—playing with our inkbottles, taking Annie apart, learning whatever else fifth graders learn, and watching for our teacher to return from his long absences. We had learned more that year than any of us could have bargained for—lessons about human nature which, even if they defy reduction to neat aphorisms, remain with us.
I’m pretty sure the whole class got promoted that June. Those of us who made it to the end, that is. After a year in the Dungeon we were ready to take our places in one of the sixth grade classrooms up on the main floor, in the front of the school, with lots of big windows. Only Annie would remain behind in the basement, mutely holding the truth of that year behind her blank eyes. But first we had the summer to enjoy. For that we had to climb for the last time up that cold narrow stairway and into the warm light of day.