Brenna's note: This is a scene from near the beginning of the book. Tate Stewart's little sister has just died, giving rise to amount of gossip at school. Not everyone is behaving kindly toward Tate, and Mackie feels bad for her, but mostly, he just wants to pass unnoticed.
We were finishing the unit on Romanticism and TheAnd there you go!
Scarlet Letter. Mrs. Brummel was tall and thin, with bleached hair and a lot of
different sweaters. She got very excited about the kind of literature that no
reasonable person would ever read for fun.
She stood at the front of the
room and clapped because she was always clapping. “Okay, today we’re going to
talk about guilt and how Pearl’s very existence condemns Hester more effectively
than the A. This is most obvious in the fact that some of the villagers believe
Pearl is the child of the devil.”
Then she wrote it on the board: Pearl as
a concrete manifestation of guilt.
“Does anyone want to expand on this?”
No one did. In front of me, Tom Ritchie and Jeremy Sayers were flicking a
paper football back and forth, mock cheering each time one of them got it
between the uprights of the other one’s hands. Alice and Jenna were still
watching Tate, whispering and then covering their mouths like they’d just said
something so shocking it needed to be contained and giving each other
Mrs. Brummel was making bullet points with her back to
us, waiting for someone to start filling them in.
I watched Alice. When
she’d taken her seat at the beginning of class, her skirt had slid up far enough
to show the tops of her thighs, and I was enjoying the fact that she hadn’t
adjusted it yet. Her hair was loose down her back and looked almost like bronze
in the fluorescent light.
She propped her elbows on her desk and leaned
forward so she could whisper into Jenna’s ear. “I heard that her mom won’t get
out of bed since it happened. Like, not even for the funeral. I can’t believe
she’s acting like nothing’s wrong. I just wouldn’t even come to school.”
Apparently, that one was loud enough for Tate to catch some or possibly all
of it because she stood up fast enough to send her desk screeching along the
floor. Her gaze was hard, sweeping over us, and I couldn’t tell if I was dizzy
from the screws and wires in the walls or from the way she was looking at me.
“Oh,” she said, in a clear, challenging voice. “Was this what you wanted?
Did you want a good look? Take a good look—I don’t mind.”
And maybe no one
had really been excited about Hester Prynne and her illegitimate daughter, but
they were paying attention now. I kept my head down, hunching over my desk,
trying to get smaller. My heart was beating so fast that I could feel it in my
throat and I kept telling myself that everything was fine, that I’d imagined
she’d looked at me, because I had to believe that. I had to believe that no one
in Gentry would ever hear the words child of the devil and then look at me.
No one said anything.
The room was so quiet that all I could hear was
the buzz of the fluorescent light. I had the idea that it was buzzing right over
me, like some kind of signal or alarm, but no one turned to stare accusingly. No
one whispered or pointed.
Mrs. Brummel stood with her back against the
whiteboard and the marker uncapped in her hand, staring at Tate. “Is there
something you needed?”
Tate shook her head and kept standing. “Don’t mind
me. I’m just waiting for my big red A.”
“This isn’t funny,” Mrs. Brummel
said, putting the cap back on the marker.
“No,” said Tate. “It’s not. But
we can all agree to smile anyway because it just makes things so much easier.”