Evil vs. the Angels of Stony Island
by Jim Heaney



FOOTBALL WAS A GREAT DISTRACTION, but eventually my bottled-up anger at my parents for abandoning me took its toll. As fifth grade went on, my concentration faltered. My homework began to come back marked “Incomplete,” and I started acting up in class. Although I’d received B’s and C’s in the beginning of the year, I was unraveling to such a degree that I couldn’t focus on anything.
“Jimmy, you’d better stop screwing off or Mrs. Wall will flunk you!” Joe warned said one spring afternoon.
I was afraid he was right. When my father had seen my previous report card, he’d told me the final report card had better be D-free or he’d ground me a week for every one.
“Mrs. Wall is taking a leave to have her baby,” I reminded Joe. “Miss Tormey is taking over the class. She said I had four F’s and two D’s going into the final tests. I wonder what Dad will hand out for an F?”
“What did you say?” Joe asked.
“Miss Tormey says I’m going to get four F’s. If I don’t do something in a hurry, I’ll be grounded past the Fourth of July. By the time I get out, nobody will recognize me.”
“Why don’t you start studying?”
“I do, but I don’t remember what I read. Besides, it’s too late. The semester is almost gone. I’m going to have to go to the two-week plead.”
“What’s that?” Joe asked.
“That’s where I start pleading up, and if I’m a good boy and stop causing trouble, maybe Miss Tormey will give me C’s. It’s my only hope.”
Miss Tormey was small, thin and had soft white hair. She had never married. Maybe she was lonely because she didn’t have any children or grandchildren. She could be somewhat fragile and get flustered if class got out of hand. As the leader of the chaos, I had to make sure I didn’t break her.
One day while I was serving detention for misbehaving, I saw a tear drop from her eye and roll down under her glasses. I got up and gave her a big hug. It didn’t shorten the detention, but that wasn’t why I had hugged her, and I respected her for not bending the rules.
My desk was right in front of hers. There were two reasons for this. The first was so she could keep an eye on me. The sec- ond was because we liked being close to each other. Sometimes we seemed to know what the other was thinking without saying a word.
I loved the attention she gave me, and my first reaction when she took over our class had been to start showing off. My favorite trick was throwing a paper wad at her while she wrote on the chalkboard. When the paper wad bounced off the chalkboard, she’d wheel around and glare at me. I’d turn to Marie Payne, who sat next to me, and shake my head as if to say, “How could you do that to poor Miss Tormey?”
Those days were over now if my plan was to succeed. I’d have to sit in my seat quietly as a mouse. I’d even try to answer a few questions. Hopefully she’d see I was trying to be a good boy and pass me with C’s. I’d even offer to clean the chalkboards after school. The next morning we read out of our english book and answered questions about the final chapters on grammar. She smiled at me as I wrote.This was the first year my grades had been so bad. I’d had an occasional D before and my conduct was always on the edge, but I was never been in this deep before. Ms. Tormey knew we were products of our environments—that home life could affect performance in school. She used to say, “There are no bad children, only bad parents.” I was banking on her remembering that as I approached her after the lunch bell. everyone else had left the classroom.
“Miss Tormey,” I began, “I was thinking you might need some- one to help you clean the chalkboards after school.”
“you know that Mr. Collins does that when he cleans the class- rooms.”
“Maybe I could do empty the wastebaskets?”
She smiled. “He does that, too.” “Well, I know he doesn’t carry your books to your car!”
She sat down at her desk.
“Jimmy, come here.”
I walked over and stood in front of her.
“Jimmy, if you had studied a little harder, you wouldn’t be in this predicament.”
“What’s a predicament?” I asked.
“A predicament is a difficult situation,” she said.
“Kind of like me having to stay in all summer long because I’m going to get grounded for getting D’s?”
She nodded. “exactly like that.”
“Couldn’t you give me C’s so that wouldn’t happen? I promise I’ll do better next year.”
I looked up into Ms. Tormey’s tired, wrinkled face. I reached out on an impulse and touched her white hair. It was stiff with hair spray. Her wire-rimmed glasses had slid down her nose.
“Jimmy, it’s not a matter of you doing better next year. It’s a matter of you not learning what you were taught this year. you can’t learn next year’s lessons without passing this year’s. Are you getting along at home?”
My eyes hit the floor at that question and I let out a big sigh. “I don’t like being there much.”
“Why?” she asked gently.

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