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american gothic redux: out of sorrow comes joy
by robert a. melos

Emma Danzig stood frozen outside of the gymnasium door. Crying is for wimps, she thought. Tom, I miss you, but I won’t cry over you. She swallowed hard, but the tears still flowed down her cheeks. Dammit! Why Tom? Why? Why did you have to die before I could work up the nerve to tell you how I felt? She fought her thoughts, wishing them away. Willing her mind to focus on the task at hand, that of opening the door and going to the memorial reception the school officials deemed necessary to provide closure for such a sudden and tragic end to a dedicated teacher’s career.

“Miss Danzig, may I have a word with you?”

She turned to face Principal McCarrick. “Dr. McCarrick. That was a lovely eulogy you gave this morning.” She said, wiping away a tear from her cheek.

“Thank you, Miss Danzig. I’m sorry to disturb you in this time of sorrow, but as you know administrative duties go on even in the face of tragedy,” Paul McCarrick said. His voice revealed his exhaustion. Two more years to retirement, he thought. Two more years and no more school, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks. He smiled to himself at the thought of the childhood rhyme. The sight of Emma standing before him brought him back to the task at hand. “Let me get right to the point. The school board is in need of replacing Tom Richmond, and you are the name at the top of a short list.”

Emma opened her mouth to speak, but paused. Short list? She thought, I should be the only name those fools would consider. “Are you offering me the position of Department Chair?”

“Yes Emma. I know it may seem sudden, but Tom’s death has precipitated several changes to take place before the end of the school year,” he answered.

Sudden? Oh yes, sudden. Sarcasm filled her thoughts. Sudden, if you consider I’ve been teaching in this podunk school system for more than 20 years. Sudden, if the fact I’m the only one with tenure eligible for the position. “I assume a raise comes with the promotion?”

Paul cast his eyes down and noticed his brown shoes had mud from the cemetery on the tip. At least, he hoped it was mud. “Um, well, you know there have been some budget cuts this year,” he began. “I told the board you’d be a trooper and pull the department together.” He reached out and patted her on the shoulder. “Congratulations Emma. Oh, and I’ll expect your decision about who to let go from the junior staff on my desk by the first week of June.”

“What?” Emma’s eyes widened. “Are you telling me my first act is to fire one of the junior staff?” Her mind was already relishing the thought of watching Tony Phillips and Emily Dickersen squirm and suck up to her for the next few weeks.

“Yes, do you have a problem with that?” Paul asked.

Emma smiled. “Oh no, Dr. McCarrick. I have no problem with taking charge.” She boldly grabbed the doorknob and walked into the gymnasium. Oh this is going to be such fun, she thought. She surveyed the room like a tiger stalking its prey. Her focus fell upon an unsuspecting Tony Phillips, standing among the grieving basketball team.

“Todd I’m sure you did everything you could to save Coach Richmond, but it was his time to go,” the assistant coach said to the basketball star.

“Yeah,” Todd Benzinger agreed. “I was just sorry Amber had to see him die like that.”

Tony fought back a smirk. “Yes it was terrible that Amber was in the stairwell only accessible from the boy’s locker room, alone with you, when coach Richmond suffered his aneurysm.”

Todd glanced around the room. “Um, I can explain that.”

“Don’t worry man. The rumors are already all over the school. You and Amber are the talk of the faculty and student body alike,” Tony said.

Scott Crawford laughed. “Is it true Richmond walked in on Amber and you doing it?” he asked.

Todd felt his ears burning and knew he was blushing. “Dude, shut up.”

“I figured Tom Richmond saw the two of you going at it and his brain fried as memories of his youth came rushing back,” Tony said.

The boys laughed nervously. “Wow Coach Phillips, that was cold,” Scott said.

“Oh don’t get me wrong. I’m sorry the old man died, but with him gone I’m in line for his job and the recognition I deserve when you guys go to the state championships.” Tony spotted Emma making a beeline across the gymnasium floor toward him. “Uh oh. It looks like Miss Danzig is heading our way. Did one of you guys do something to set her off?”

“No coach,” the boys all answered.

“Tony, may I have a word with you?” Emma asked in a cheery tone as she approached the group of boys.

Tony stepped away from the group with Emma. “Is something wrong?”

“Not anymore. I just wanted to be the first to tell you, I’ve been promoted to Department Chair.” She smiled as she spoke. “I expect you’ll be putting in extra hours with the basketball team now, since Tom is gone. I just want you to know how much I’m relying on you to make the late coach and I proud of the team this year. What with budget cuts and all, well, it would go a long way to secure you future at Taft.”

Tony’s smile turned to a blank stare. “I’m working under you now?” He managed to get the words out.

Emma nodded. “That’s right, and you’d better be up to the tasks.” She reached out and patted him on the cheek before he could recoil from her touch, and was off in search of Emily Dickersen.

“Is everything all right, coach?” Todd asked, stepping up to his side.

Tony blinked a few times. “Yeah, it’s just great.” His mind whirled with visions of Emma bossing him around, and perhaps touching him as she had done a brief few seconds earlier. Well, I gotta do what I gotta do, he thought.

Emma moved rapidly across the gymnasium toward Emily who was standing with a group of cheerleaders and their parents. “It was so good of so many of our former students to show up for the funeral.” She said, as she joined the group. “And to see some of my former students here just makes me feel so overwhelmed.”

“I would’ve thought it would just make you feel old,” Joy Wong said.

“Well Joy Benicki, you haven’t changed a bit. Except for changing your last name, periodically. Amber, your mother looks just like she did 17 years ago when she left Taft,” Emma said to the cheerleader.

Amber glanced toward her mother, but didn’t speak. Why can’t I just disappear? she thought. I hate when my teachers remind me they taught my mother.

Joy dabbed her cheek with a silk handkerchief. “It was so sad to hear about Coach Richmond. And to have my daughter see him die right in front of her, Amber it must’ve been so awful for you.”

“I’m fine, mother.”

“Yes, but I would understand if you felt traumatized by it,” Joy said.

Like your four divorces didn’t already traumatize me for life, Amber thought. “He was a nice guy, but he had to be pushing 70,” she said.

“He was only 60,” Emma piped in. “Besides Amber, Coach Richmond and your mother were very close when she was in high school. Remember Joy? He tutored you in algebra, every night after practice, for months.”

Joy played with her long brown curly hair hanging loose about her shoulders. “Oh, Miss Danzig. It is still Miss isn’t it? Coach Richmond was just one of the best. I never would’ve gotten out of high school if it weren’t for him.”

“Yes, he was a saint,” Emma said. Her mind drifted back over the years she lusted after Tom Richmond. What a waste its all been, she thought. He was always chasing after the girls on my cheerleading squads. I can’t believe I actually wanted him in my life. Ah well, my life is going on. “Emily, may I have a moment?”

Emily Dickersen stepped away from the group with Emma. “Is everything all right, Emma?”

“Oh yes. It couldn’t be better. I wanted to be the first to tell you, I’ve been promoted to Department Chair. I’ll be taking over for Tom Richmond. Unfortunately I have some bad news for you,” Emma said, fighting back her glee. “The school board is determined to cut the teaching budget for next year. I don’t know who is going to be let go, but I’m guessing it’ll be you since you are the most recently hired. I’ll try to fight for your job. Really, I will. I just don’t know if I’ll be able to save it for you.”

Emma was unconsciously doing a slight jig of glee as she baited her young colleague. “I can tell them what a help you’ve been to me during the transition, once it begins. I’m sure I can rely on you to help me, can’t I?”

Emily opened her mouth like a bass taking the bait. “Of course Emma. I’ll help you in every way possible. I’ll make sure everything goes smoothly for you. I appreciate any good words you can put in for me with the school board.”

“Oh, I’ll let the school board know how valuable you are to Taft,” Emma said. “I can’t promise anything, but I’ll do my best to assure you a secure position.” Emma strolled off toward the buffet tables, feeling very hungry for the first time in days. Her mind racing with thoughts of making Emily and that hot compact bodied Tony Phillips squirm for her amusement. Teaching high school has such advantages, she thought.

“Miss Dickersen, is everything all right?” Tiffany Dombrowski asked.

“Huh? Oh, Tiffany. I’m sorry, I was just thinking about how much I missed Coach Richmond,” Emily said, actually meaning it.

“Really? He always made me feel creepy,” Tiffany said. “Like he was undressing me with his eyes.”

Emily brought her attention back to the moment. “Oh Tiffany, I’m sure,” she paused, taking in Tiffany’s slender figure, her long blonde hair, and ample breasts. If she didn’t know better, she would’ve thought Tiffany was wearing a pushup bra. “I’m sure Coach Richmond was just fascinated with your natural beauty.”

Tiffany giggled. “Do you think I have natural beauty?” she asked.

“Tons of it,” Emily replied.

“I wish Todd Benzinger would see it,” Tiffany said with a sigh. “But he only notices Amber.”

Emily glanced across the gymnasium at Todd and coach Phillips, before returning her gaze to Tiffany. “Boys never know what’s good for them,” she said. She reached out and touched Tiffany’s soft curls. “You have your whole life ahead of you, and many choices to make. Don’t fret over a boy, when you have so many other options open to you.”

Tiffany was watching Todd across the gymnasium, and felt comforted by Miss Dickersen’s gentle touch. Why can’t Todd touch me like that? she thought.


Robert is the author of the novels Cool Mint Blue, Melba Ridge, and the recently released The Adventures of Homosexual Man and Lesbian Lad; and the creator of the on-line comix Impure Thoughts found at his web site Inside R.A. Melos, as well as having been an on-line staff writer for QBliss where he had a monthly humor column, Maybe A Yip, Maybe A Yap. In his non-writing time, when he's not studying the metaphysical or creating a tarot deck, he sells real estate in Middlesex County New Jersey, hangs out with his dog Zeus, and spends time at the Pride Center of New Jersey in Highland Park, NJ, where he is on the Board of Trustees.

more about robert a. melos


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