I’m Grateful I Didn’t Sing That to You
I’m grateful I didn’t sing this to you. You would’ve left me.
To rest. together
at the sunset
of a long, day’s ache,
with the weight
of all the tomorrows
on both shoulders,
and take in
of your caress…
It happened when we were watching the sinking sun through our bedroom window
and just lying there you made me think of oil paintings.
Thank God I didn’t sing this to you. You would’ve left me.
Or worse, you would’ve told all your friends.
You make my nerves sing.
More than if they hadn’t been
Stripped down, bare
From heartless ex-lovers
Over and over again.
Perhaps I’ll discreetly record it, and pay a lawyer to give it to you in the unlikely event of my death.
Perhaps my hopeless hidden melodrama will provide some consolation. You might think: well it least I never had to worry about the look on my face when he sang THAT to me.
As silly as it sounds it’s about returning spring and you, and for now I’m calling it Sweet Exhaustion.
The green is coming back,
and the rain is getting softer,
and I’ll take my leave
and taste the air
of our sweet exhaustion…
– David J. Bausch, 1st Place in Poetry
Outlaw’s Call (excerpt)
Robin of Locksley laughed and threw back his head to enjoy the warm sunlight. After two weeks of rain, it was good to see the blue sky again.
Much laughed and shook his head at Robin.
“What?” Robin asked, grinning.
“Nothing,” Much said, the sun gleaming off of his round face. “You just keep dancing about.” Much didn’t seem to be standing still either.
“Well, of course I do!” Robin exclaimed. “It’s a beautiful day! You know I can’t stand to be inside on a day like this.”
“Which is why you’ll never be a blacksmith, and I’ll never be a miller,” Much said cheerfully. “Our fathers’ professions are not for us.”
Robin nodded. “True, true,” he said. “But why worry about that on a day like today? Let’s go get the bows and Eliza and shoot some archery!”
Robin couldn’t help laughing as they ran down the lane to his family’s house. Children played in the fields, farmers shouted at each other as they worked, birds sang, and a light breeze blew. As they entered Locksley village proper, they saw women working in their gardens, the potter twirling a bowl on his wheel; and the carpenter sawing a log.
“Hey, Robin!” the carpenter called. “You looking to earn a few pennies? I got some wood that needs splitting.”
“Maybe in a few hours,” Robin said, waving at him. “Much and I are going into Sherwood first.”
The carpenter shook his head and smiled. “Ah, go off and be youngsters for a little while. But don’t forget to be back soon!”
“We won’t!” Robin called as he hurried onward.
Robin’s family’s house stood near the center of Locksley, near where the stream ran through the village. It was slightly better built than most of the houses around it, but for the most part it looked like all the others, with a thatched roof and earthen walls. A large garden stretched in front, full of herbs, vegetables, flowers, and other things that Robin didn’t know about. Robin smiled when he saw the person who did know about them kneeling in the middle of the herbs.
“Eliza!” he called.
Eliza looked up, a handful of weeds in her hand. She had long red-brown hair tied back firmly with a scrap of leather, and her brown eyes shone in the sunlight. She was not beautiful, but she was pretty enough, and Robin loved his sister with all of his heart.
“Yes, Robin?” she said, dropping the weeds she held into a pile next to her.
“Much and I were going to go shoot a little. Care to come along?”
Eliza sighed and shook her head, but her smile betrayed her. Robin grinned. Eliza was always too serious, but she did sometimes have a point. Not this time, however. “Come on!” he said. “We’ll be back in time for you to finish your weeding.”
“We’d better be back in time for my lessons with Beth,” Eliza said, but she stood up and wiped her dirt-covered hands on her green dress, the dozens of colorful pouches she wore at her belt dangling down and making creases in the cloth.
Robin walked to the doorway and stuck his head inside. He waited for his eyes to adjust to the darkness so he could see his father hammering away near the forge.
“Father, Eliza, Much and I are going into Sherwood,” Robin said.
His father lowered his hammer and smiled indulgently at Robin. Robin smiled back. “I couldn’t get you to stay inside if I wanted to,” his father said, stretching his huge muscles. “Very well, go have your fun. Don’t get lost”
“As if l could do that!” Robin laughed. “It’s Sherwood, Father. I’ve been roaming about there since I could walk.”
“Despite all your mother and I could do to prevent it!” his father said. “You were born for the forest, lad. Now go, shoo.” He waved his hands at Robin like a hen wife shooing chickens.
Robin grinned and grabbed his and Eliza’s bows and arrows from their place near the doorway. Much already had his, as he never went anywhere without them and the axe that hung from his belt
Much and Eliza were waiting outside. Much had grabbed their target from around the back: a simple sack stuffed with straw. Robin tossed Eliza’s bow and arrows to her.
“Let’s go!” he said.
It was a good thing, Robin reflected, that his mother and father did not mind that their only son had no interest in carrying on his father’s trade. It they had, there would be a great deal more conflict in their family. There had already been enough dissension when Eliza had announced that she was going to learn herb craft from old Beth.
It was clear where Locksley ended and Sherwood began. The transition wasn’t sudden, but you knew when it happened. The trees, aside from being much more numerous, seemed to grow in both size and majesty. The undergrowth grew thick, making it difficult to walk through if you didn’t know how to follow the natural trails.
Robin sighed happily as he led Much and Eliza down a deer trail. He loved Sherwood. It gave him a place of refuge, a place of calm, and yet it was so large that it could be a hundred other things as well. He walked rapidly until they reached one of their favorite clearings. Much ran down to the end and hung the sack up on a low-hanging branch.
“Have you heard about the sheriff’s new law about poaching?” Much asked as Robin stepped up for his first shot.
“New law? No,” Robin said as his arrow hit the exact center of the sack. A warm feeling of pride filled him. It would not be boasting to say he was the best archer in Locksley: it would be fact.
“Yes, new punishments for anyone caught poaching,” Much said as Eliza took aim. “They’re chopping off people’s hands.”
Eliza’s shot banged into the tree behind the bag as she turned to stare at Much. “Their hands?” she exclaimed.
Much nodded. “Anyone caught poaching has their left hand cut off. Anyone found killing one of the king’s deer… they’re put to death.”
Eliza closed her eyes.
“Wait,” Robin said as Much drew an arrow from his quiver. “The sheriff is ruining people’s lives just for killing a small amount of game?”
“Yep,” Much said as his arrow went through the very bottom of the sack. He looked at Robin, his eyes serious. “It’s the foresters’ jobs to enforce these laws,” he said.
Robin stared at the sack hanging from the branch. He knew Much hadn’t wanted to say that. Robin dreamed of becoming one of the king’s foresters. To him it would be the perfect life, spending most of your time wandering the forest and keeping travelers safe.
“Robin…” Eliza said.
Robin shook himself. He would think about what this meant for his future later. “No sense in worrying about it right at the moment,” he said. “Come on, let’s shoot.”
They shot until the sun was well into the west and the sack was riddled with arrow holes. They started playing games as they shot, seeing who could shoot the best while running, shoot the best patterns in the sack, or shoot while being attacked by the other two. Robin managed to win every competition they thought of. Finally, Eliza called a halt.
“If I don’t get back to the village soon Beth is going to wonder,” she said firmly. “And I really don’t want to miss anything she has to teach me.”
Robin and Much gathered up the arrows from the last round and the target before they slowly began to walk back to Locksley.
“So, Robin, are you planning on going to Nottingham Fair next time?” Much said.
Robin smiled. “Whatever for?” he asked innocently.
Much sighed in mock-exasperation. “To shoot in the archery competition, of course. What else?”
Robin grinned. “I might,” he said.
“Don’t be fooled,” Eliza said. “That’s all he’s been thinking about for nearly a fortnight.”
“Hey!” Robin exclaimed indignantly.
Eliza smiled at him. “It’s not my fault your thoughts are plainly written on your face,” she said. ‘”At least, they are for those who know you.”
Robin shrugged. “I was thinking about it,” he said seriously to Much. “I was kind of hoping that I’d win and be able to convince the sheriff to let me become a forester. But if what you’ve said about this new law is true…” he let his voice trail off. He didn’t want to be a forester if the sheriff was making them cut off people’s hands and ruin their lives.
Much shrugged. “A herald came into Wickham this morning with the news. I’m surprised one hasn’t come to Locksley yet.”
Eliza smiled. “Locksley isn’t exactly on the list of large villages,” she said wryly. “Not like Wickham.”
“Hey, Wickham isn’t exactly large, either,” Much protested.
“But it’s closer to Nottingham,” Robin pointed out. “And that’s where everything happens.”
“Not everything,” Much said. “After all, Nottingham doesn’t have you or Eliza.”
Robin grinned. “Nope, it doesn’t,” he said. ”And it doesn’t have Much either. Or Sherwood Forest!”
Robin cast aside his gloomy thoughts about the new law as they reached the edge of the village. It was still a beautiful day. “See you tomorrow!” he called to Much.
Much waved and started off down the road to Wickham.
Robin paused before entering Locksley. Even though both Eliza and Much had to go elsewhere, he was not going to get stuck inside.
“Tell Father I’m at Carpenter Joe’s house, will you?” he asked Eliza.
Eliza nodded. “You go spend the last few hours of sunlight outside,” she said with a smile.
“Of course!” Robin said. “Where else would I be?”
“Father, do you really have to go out?” Eliza said as she held out his belt for him. Her mother stood in the doorway to the back room, a worried expression on her face.
“Yes, I do,” her father said firmly, taking his belt from Eliza.
“David, we don’t need meat,” her mother said. “We can survive without it.”
Eliza’s father sighed. “Love, Joseph and Rachel are expecting their first child sometime this month. They barely have enough to eat as it is. How will they survive when the baby gets here?”
Her mother lowered her head.
Her father walked over and gave her mother a kiss before going out the door. Her mother sighed. “Your father,” she told Eliza, “Is too stubborn for his own good.”
Eliza smiled. “I’m going to help Beth today,” she said instead of answering. “She’s going to teach me more uses of herbs.”
Her mother sighed again and shook her head. “Eliza, why do you keep going over to her house?” she asked wearily.
Eliza bit her lip. They had had this conversation hundreds of times. “I don’t want to marry,” she said. “And if I don’t marry, I want to do something to support myself instead of relying on you or Robin. Herb craft is perfect.”
“But why… oh, never mind. Go on, then.”
Eliza went out the door without saying anything more. Her mother could not understand that she just did not find any of the boys in the village interesting. None of them understood her, or her desires, to her satisfaction. Only Robin did that, and he was her brother.
The beautiful sun of the day previous had faded into clouds covering most of the sky. Eliza looked up at the clouds worriedly as she reached Beth’s hut at the edge of the village.
“It’s not going to rain,” Beth said from the garden.
Eliza started and smiled when she saw Beth sitting on a stool weeding. Beth had tucked her long white hair away in a cap. Her face was lined with wrinkles, but her old, gnarled hands were just as steady as a youngsters’.
“I’m not going to ask how you knew what I was thinking,” Eliza said. “You do it so much to me.”
“Well, it’s obvious,” Beth said. “You’re looking with a worried expression at the clouds. What else could you be thinking?”
Eliza shrugged and knelt beside Beth. Beth pointed at one of the herbs. “Arrowroot,” Eliza answered automatically. “Stops the bleeding, prevents infections. Helps cure bruising, also helps with colds and coughs.” “Good,” Beth said. She pointed at another one.
They continued like this until Beth’s entire garden had been weeded. Sometimes Beth pointed out another couple uses for herbs that Eliza had missed, other times she merely nodded.
“Beth, why is Mother so opposed to me having lessons with you?” Eliza asked as she helped Beth walk inside the hut. It was dark inside, and Eliza paused inside the doorway before heading to the table.
Beth snorted. “Is she still asking you about that?” she asked. She shook her head. “Of course she is. All mothers want to see their children grow up to be happy and healthy. Your mother has been very happy married to David, and she doesn’t realize that you might not find happiness in the same way that she did.” Eliza nodded. “Now, tell me what you would do if someone came to you with a bee sting,” Beth said.
Beth quizzed Eliza until they had the table clean, the dishes washed, and dinner on the fire. “You’d better be going back home,” she said. “It’s getting late.”
Eliza nodded and hugged Beth before she set out back through the village. Beth had been right; it was getting late. The sun hung far in the west, and all around people were getting ready for the evening, farmers returning from the fields, the crafters packing up their tools.
Eliza bit back a sigh as Simon, one of her young suitors, fell in step beside her.
“Might I walk you home?” he asked.
Eliza forced a laugh. ”I’m almost there,” she said.
Before she could say anything else, however, she heard a scream that she recognized as her mother’s. “David!”
“Father…” Eliza broke into a run, pushing aside and dodging anyone in her way. She saw Robin and Much running from the opposite direction. In front of their house, her father lay in her mother’s lap, a blood-soaked cloth wrapped around the end of his left arm.
“No!” Eliza screamed, running to his side and gently laying his arm out. He was barely conscious from shock and blood loss. Eliza’s herb lessons from Beth were fresh in her mind. “Simon, fetch Beth!” she yelled. “Robin, get my motor and pestle! And some rags!”
Eliza paid no attention to the shouts of the villagers as she grabbed herbs out of the pouches she wore on her belt. Agrimony, Arrowroot and Calendula all stop bleeding. Arrowroot will prevent infections, and Comfrey and Plantain will help the skin knit back together. “Much, will you get some water?” Eliza asked as Robin came running with her the mortar and pestle.
She pounded her chosen herbs together until they were a soft mush and Much came back with a bucket of water. She rinsed her trembling hands off and soaked one of the rags Robin had brought in the water before putting the herbs in to make a poultice. She blinked back tears and clenched her teeth as she started unwrapping the cloth from her father’s arm, bracing herself for the flow of blood. Before too much more blood could start flowing again, she placed the poultice and bound his arm up with the rest of the rags.
Her mother held a wet rag against her father’s forehead, murmuring softly to him as Eliza worked. Now Eliza joined her, talking quietly until Beth came hobbling up.
She placed her hand on Eliza’s shoulder. “What herbs did you use?” she asked quietly.
“Arrowroot, agrimony, calendula, comfrey, and plantain,” Eliza answered absently.
“Good girl,” Beth said.”Let’s get him inside where he can rest I’ll look at his arm closer there, but I don’t think I can do anything that you already haven’t done.” She looked at Simon, Much and Robin, who were standing uncertainly a short distance away. “Lift him inside, will you, boys?” she asked.
Eliza let them do the work of carrying her father inside. Her knees had suddenly gone weak and she collapsed onto the ground.
Beth leaned down and helped her to her feet. “Get inside and get a cool drink of water. You have done very well.”
Eliza stared hopelessly at Beth. “But his hand!” she whispered. “How will he work now?”
“Hush. Worry about that when your father can talk,” Beth picked up the bucket of water and ushered Eliza inside.
Eliza’s father lay in the inner room on the bed, his bead on his wife’s lap, his eyes clear, although pain-filled. Simon started a fire in the small fireplace.
“Are you awake now, David?” Beth asked.
“Aye, Beth,” Eliza’s father breathed. “Did you do this?” he gestured at his left arm with his right hand.
Beth smiled and shook her bead. “That was your Eliza here. She did everything as she should have.”
“You are not to use that arm for a while,” Eliza said sternly. “Probably not for at least a fortnight”
Her father smiled weakly. “We’ll see about that, daughter,” he said.
Eliza bit her lip and knelt by her father’s side as Robin sat down next to their mother. “What are we going to do now, Father?” she asked.
Her father laughed weakly. “Well, your mother can do most of the blacksmithing. I didn’t teach you my art for nothing, did I, dear?” he laughed.
Her mother smiled down at him and kissed his forehead. “No, love, you didn’t.”
Eliza took a deep breath and stared at the floor. For Robin’s sake, she didn’t want to ask her next question.
“Father,” Robin said, “What happened?”
Her father took a deep breath. “It was the king’s foresters, son,” he said quietly. “They had found one of my traps and were waiting for its owner to come back. I’m sorry.”
Eliza looked at Robin. He stared down at his hands, and his eyes were suspiciously bright. Eliza pulled herself to her feet and sat down beside her brother. She put her arm around his shoulders, and he returned her embrace, burying his face in her shoulder.
“Thank you, sister,” he whispered.
“You’re welcome, brother,” she whispered back. They always had taken turns comforting the other, throughout their entire lives.
Beth picked up Eliza’s father’s left arm, examined it for a few seconds, then gently laid it down. “You are not to use this arm at all for at least a fortnight, you understand me?” she told him.
Eliza’s father smiled wryly. “Since I know the pain that comes when one does not obey you, yes, Beth,” he said.
“How come you can tell him that but I can’t?” Eliza wanted to know.
“The advantage of age and experience.” Beth looked around and gestured at Simon, who squatted by the fire. “Come along, boy,” she said.
Simon got to his feet and looked back at Eliza and Robin, his lip trembling, before following Beth out the door.
Eliza looked at her father, who struggled to keep his eyes open. “You rest now, Father,” she said firmly. “Robin and I will leave you in peace.”
Robin obediently got up. “Heal quickly, Father,” he whispered before following Eliza outside.
Eliza leaned up against the wall of the house and closed her eyes. She was exhausted.
“Are you all right, Eliza?” Robin asked.
Eliza opened her eyes. Robin stood next to her with a concerned expression on his face. She nodded, then let Robin embrace her.
“We’ll find a way through this,” Robin said. “We’ve found a way through every hardship before.”
We haven’t had a trouble this big before, Eliza thought, but she didn’t say it. She knew from experience that Robin would just tune out negative thoughts. “I hope you’re right,” she whispered instead. “Because it’s not going to be just trouble for us, it’s going to be trouble for all of Locksley and Nottingham Shire.”
Robin did not look where he was going as he ran through Sherwood. He knew the forest well enough that wherever he found himself he could find his way out. And right at the moment he needed to be alone. His mother and Eliza had managed to keep him busy for the last three days, and this was the first chance he had had to escape.
His dreams of the future lay shattered. All of his hopes and expectations had vanished in an instant. He would never be a forester now, not after what the sheriff had made them do to his father. But what would he do now? He knew a little of the blacksmithing craft, but not enough to make a life out of it. And besides, he had always wanted a life where he could roam the forest at will.
“No! Please! I beg of you!” The young female voice startled Robin out of his thoughts. He turned to run towards it.
“He’s a poacher, wench. His hand goes off.”
Robin winced as he reached the edge of a clearing. Two foresters held a young man down on the ground, his right arm stretched out over a log. Two men in the blue uniform of the sheriff’s guard stood to either side, unsheathed swords in their hands. A young woman knelt before them, her long light brown hair falling free from its confines and over the bundle on her back as she pleaded with the guards. The young man’s eyes were closed and his face tight, as if he was waiting for the axe to fall.
“Please, he’s a minstrel! He can’t play without his hand. Please, I beg you, let him go!” The young woman grabbed one of the guard’s arms. Robin noticed a lute strapped across the young man’s back, supporting her claim that the man was a minstrel.
Robin knew he couldn’t just stand by and let this happen. “Do as she says,” he ordered. He stepped out from behind the tree, an arrow nocked on his bow.
The four men jerked around in surprise, the foresters letting go of the young man in their surprise. Robin winced as he saw that the young man had already been injured; his right leg was slashed open all the way up his thigh.
One of the guards drew his sword and spoke to Robin. “What’s your name, outlaw?” he asked.
Robin frowned. “Outlaw? I am no outlaw. I’m merely Robin of Locksley, and I’m preventing an injustice here.”
“You will be an outlaw for what you are doing here,” the guard said. “Take him!” The two guards charged. The foresters hung back, as if uncertain what to do.
Robin hesitated for just a second, then released his first arrow. It hit the first guardsman’s leg, and he screamed and fell onto the ground. The second guard kept coming. Robin backed up a few steps as he nocked a second arrow. The man’s face was wild with rage. Robin fired an arrow into his arm, but he kept coming. Robin winced as he drew a third arrow. The guard was just a few feet from him and raising his sword when he let his third arrow fly straight into the guard’s throat, dropping him to the ground as if felled by a falling branch.
Robin snarled at the two foresters. “Get out of here!” They started running, not even bothering to pick up the guard who rolled around on the ground in pain. Robin looked at the second guard and closed his eyes. There was no way any man could have survived that shot. Oh God. Did l just do that?
A gasp of pain from the young man brought Robin back to his senses. The young woman had dragged him out of the way of the fighting and was trying to bandage his leg.
Robin bit his lip as he examined the wound. “It’s bad,” he whispered. “The bleeding’s not stopping.” He looked at the young woman. “My sister’s an herbalist. If you want, we can carry him to Locksley and find her.”
The young woman paused and looked at the man, his face clenched with pain. “Let’s go,” she said. “You saved his hand, and thus our lives. We have to trust you.”
Robin smiled wryly. “You’re going to have to help me carry him. Can you do it?” The young woman nodded as she and Robin each supported the young man between them so that he could hop along on his uninjured leg.
“I’m Caitlin of Greenvale, and this is my brother, Alan a’ Dale.”
“Robin of Locksley,” Robin said.
“You shouldn’t have told the guards that,” Alan gasped.
Robin looked at him in confusion. “Why not?” he said.
“You’II be an outlaw now, if you weren’t already.” Alan said.
Robin looked at Alan, then back at the clearing they had just left, with a guard lying dead and another lying wounded. “Bloody hell,” he said.
Edward de Lacey, the Lord High Sheriff of Nottingham, surveyed the young nobleman standing before him in the audience chamber. He stifled the impulse to laugh. Thomas of Leaford stood a little shorter than Edward. He was slightly pudgy, but there were definite muscles in his arms. His eyes blazed with a light that was a match for the torches along the wall and the candles along the table. Thomas, Edward mused, was headstrong and ambitious enough to be a match for his deputy, Sir Guy of Gisbourne.
“Just why should I help you with your plan?” Edward asked smoothly. All of this was an act, of course. It would suit Edward to have Thomas as lord of Leaford rather than his brother, Sir Geoffrey. He could manipulate Thomas, as he could not Geoffrey.
“I can offer my Lord Sheriff much,” Thomas said, shifting his weight uneasily.
Edward concealed a smile. However ambitious Thomas might be, he was no match for him. “I can be your staunchest ally, open my entire coffers to your disposal, and offer my people to be your guards. All ask is that you help me put my brother in his place.”
Edward raised his eyebrows at the poison in Thomas’s voice, fighting down an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach. Thomas truly hated Geoffrey, but why he should hate him was something Edward had not yet figured out. He leaned back in his stone chair. “Three hundred pounds,” he said.
“Done,” Thomas said instantly.
“Fifty of your men as my guards.”
“Full support for me in everything I ask of you,” Edward said.
Thomas nodded. “Will that be all, my lord?” he asked.
Edward worked to keep his face blank. “Just one more thing,” he said. “I understand your cousin has recently come to stay with your family at Leaford?”
“Lady Marian of Raedburne,” Thomas said slowly. “What is it my lord requires?”
“I have heard that Lady Marian is a great beauty,” Edward said. “I would be most obliged if you would allow me to visit her frequently.”
A slow smile spread over Thomas’s face, and his eyes opened wide. “Of course, my lord,” he said.
Edward waved lazily, and Thomas bowed out of the room. Edward waited for a few minutes before he nodded to his right, where Sir Guy stood behind a tapestry. Sir Guy emerged, bowing before he took his place standing at Edward’s side.
“So, what do you think of our young friend, Gisbourne?” Edward asked, beckoning a servant to fill up his goblet of wine.
Sir Guy snorted contemptuously. “A fool,” he said. “But a fool who may prove useful.”
“True,” Edward said lazily. He watched, amused, as Gisbourne took a deep breath, obviously working up the courage to speak.
Sir Guy’s short blond hair fell across his face, and he shook it away absently. “I hope my lord intends to allow me a chance at the girl,” he said, finally.
“Of course, Gisbourne,” Edward said agreeably. “That was my intention all along.”
”But… you said…” Sir Guy stammered.
Edward laughed cruelly. “Of course I said, Gisbourne. And if you do not succeed, I might amuse myself by taking her. But Raedburne is not a large enough estate, nor is Lady Marian so wealthy that I cannot do without the money. No, Sir Guy, the first chance goes to you.”
Sir Guy bowed, obviously overwhelmed. Edward felt pleased with himself. There was nothing like earning the loyalty of your followers with a simple, meaningless gesture. “Has there been any news from our foresters?” He asked, turning his attention to the necessary chores.
“Yes,” Gisbourne said, his face darkening.
Edward frowned. “What?” he demanded.
“One of the bands had caught a poacher, a young minstrel from their description. I believe his name was Alan a’ Dale. A “Robin of Locksley” rescued him. This Robin killed both of the guards you sent with the foresters. One he killed outright, the other he wounded in the leg, but the guard has now died. The foresters fled.”
Edward sniffed. “See to it that a writ of outlawry is made for this Robin of Locksley. And punish the foresters. We can have no cowards in our service.”
“Yes, my lord,” Gisbourne bowed and left the chamber.
Edward stared around the large chamber. The law had been necessary. Poaching had been getting out of hand, and the only way to quell rebellion was with harsher punishments. This Robin would soon be caught, and that would be the end of it.
– Tuppence Van de Vaarst, 1st Place in Short Story
V for Victory
Less than a minute before the bell rang, I stumbled unceremoniously and panting into the cavernous workshop. I had switched to auto-pilot, born from three years of routine, and headed to the secluded fourth floor band corridor before remembering the change in my schedule. Cursing myself for the mistake as I made the sprint down to the far comer of the basement, I really hoped that my teacher was lenient on latecomers the first day of class.
I had been defined by band. I was Kat, the band geek; quiet, awkward, mostly unknown and okay with it I had even named my sax ”Frank the Tank, Formally Known as the Sexy-maphone.” Band was where my friends were, and where I knew who I was. I had lost that. A ruinous sheet of paper, taped carelessly to a cold cinderblock wall, had shattered my definition. It had waved tauntingly at me, fluttering in the wind of passing band-mates, telling me that I had been beaten in my audition for honor band. I was not good enough to move on to the only band that was acceptable for a senior to play in. I had to give it up. After scrambling to find a class to fill the now open period, I found myself with the choice of Home Ec or Art Metal 1. I wasn’t an apron and “egg baby” kind of girl. I chose Art Metal hoping it might dull my sense of failure, and maybe even bring out the artistic side that my friends and family always said I had.
I shook off those thoughts as I took in deep breaths to calm my heavy breathing. A mix of coppery metal smell and pungent chemicals stung my lungs with each gulping breath. I looked around the room at the massive setup of tall black tables surrounding a single workstation. There was an older man sitting there with a faraway, peculiar expression on his face. His eyes landed on me as I continued my attempt at regaining my composure. With an amused grin, he nodded at an empty stool by the front before turning back to the class.
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Introduction to Art Metal. My name is Mr. McGonnall. This year you will learn the basics of jewelry making while I attempt to keep all your appendages attached. Insurance for this class is already ridiculous. Sound like a plan?” He looked around the room and his gaze lingered on a few cliché trouble making types, grinning at their expressions of horror. “Moving on, I would first like to introduce you to some of the tools you will be working with.” He walked throughout the lab, pointing out and explaining tools and machinery I had not noticed before due to my late arrival. Some of it looked downright ghastly.
“He was just kidding about the appendages thing, wasn’t he?” I whispered to the student next to me. My companion paled. “I’ll take that as a no. This should be a fun year,” I thought sarcastically as I turned my attention back to McGonnall. He held up a small question mark-shaped hand-saw, which for all I could tell was a cheese cutter.
“This,” he started, “is a jeweler’s saw. This is your god. Almost every project you make in this class will start with this little guy here. Now, the important thing to remember when cutting with this saw is this,” he held up two fingers like a peace sign. “V for Victory. The blade goes between your fingers, facing away from you, while you hold the metal with your middle and pointer finger. This is how we make sure we don’t lose a finger. We don’t lose a finger, we are victorious. Let me hear you say it.”
“V for Victory.” The class droned together.
He gave us our first project of simple geometric shapes cut from copper. My design of overlapping circles, squares, and triangles was drawn on tracing paper and taped to my square piece of copper. I braced the frame of the jeweler’s saw on the black work table with the meat of my shoulder and fastened the blade into the clamps, so when I released the pressure, the blade would pull taut. I began to slice and became mesmerized by the vibrations created when saw teeth caught as they dragged through the metal, dust coating my shirt in sparkling glory, and the bloodlike smell of copper.
With each down stroke, a jagged trail grew along the pattern, eventually freeing the design of its square confines. Like a mother with child, I nurtured my creation born from an insignificant sheet of metal. With loving strokes of a file, I reshaped ragged imperfections. Blemishes were smoothed away with the caress of sandpaper until the metal shone. I breathed life as I polished perfection into every edge and surface. I was so lost in the experience that I had not realized I was alone until McGonnall tapped my shoulder. I jumped.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you. I just wanted to know if you were aware that the bell rang.”
“Oh, um, no, I didn’t realize. I guess I zoned for a little bit there.” I said quietly.
“It is quite hypnotizing sometimes, isn’t it?” He said in more a statement than a question. I nodded as he smiled and examined my finished piece. “It touches some more than others, and it seems to have grabbed you like it did myself. I expect big things from you now, Miss Goodman.” He walked away. I heard him mumbling and whistling to himself from unseen comers of the workshop as I packed up my materials and scurried off to lunch.
Mr. McGonnall was a special breed: the type of teacher most students feared because it was unclear which side of the crazy/brilliant line he toed. Only those few who earned his respect knew that it was just his way to keep the troublemakers in line. He told me once that no one in their right mind would talk back to a crazy man surrounded by dangerous pointy objects. He had been quickly impressed with my dedication and almost obsessive push for perfection in every project and he pushed me harder, demanding more. He took the time to teach me more advanced techniques while encouraging me to take on multiple projects at once, knowing I could do it. I was honored by his praise and pushed myself to learn everything I possibly could from the eccentric teacher.
A few months later, I walked into the workshop towards an expansive wall of wooden drawers of various sizes, and pulled out a drawer marked with a dirty, worn strip of masking tape adorned with my scribbled name. Rifling through the jumble of scrap metal, tools, and designs doodled on bits of tracing paper, I found the plans for a new piece and made my way past the crowd of students clamoring for the best tools, back to my work station.
McGonnall’s voice cut through the din of scraping chairs and the muttering and shuffling of students. “I will be returning your last projects today. I want you all to get started on your next project right away. Make the most of the time today and the rest of the week. I won’t take any more of your time.” He made his way over to my workstation, seeing me already seated, with tools gathered, and handed me my last project with a smile on his face. ”Kat, this is a beautiful piece. It’s hard to believe this was your first attempt with wood inlay. You should think about entering a piece in the art show.”
“Thanks!” I replied. “But, I don’t know about the art show. I’m only an intro student. My work isn’t good enough.”
“You’d be surprised. You may not have the advanced techniques like the third and fourth years, but the quality is superb. That’s really what people care about, not how hard it was to make. Think about it, okay? ”
“I will. Thanks.” I said, fighting off the blush of embarrassment while turning the project over in my hands.
It was a box made from thick copper pipe, standing about three inches tall and two inches wide. The outside was covered in shallow dimples like a golf ball and had an imperfect patina to darken and accentuate the dimples, giving it a rustic look. The cover had an intricate design of red, purple, and black rare woods sanded in a domed curve, flush with the metal. It was beautiful, I had to admit.
I kept surprising myself with how well my projects turned out. My friends noticed, too, and I had a laundry list of requests for jewelry. Still, I debated with myself on whether or not my work would be good enough. I was afraid to step out of the bubble of comfort that McGonnall’s praise had created, only to find out that my work was truly terrible. I didn’t want to make a fool out of myself. However, not many people in beginner level art classes were asked to submit their art, so it was an honor and a compliment to be asked. Maybe Mr. McGonnall was right; I did have the quality to my work, even if it was only using basic techniques. I’d seen some of the projects that the more advanced classed had made, the craftsmanship was comparable to my own.
I decided to go for it. I wanted people to see what I was capable of, that I wasn’t shy and awkward “Band Geek Kat” anymore. I had a new definition. I had confidence that, even if my work didn’t sell, someone believed in me. I believed in me. With my newfound confidence, I submitted three pieces to the show and did not care if they sold or not. The fact that I was invited to submit a piece was an honor I was proud to accept. With McGonnall’s encouragement and the joy I felt in creating something, I found more confidence within myself than I had ever felt in the six years I had played band.
I had been so afraid that I was losing the only thing I was any good at. But in doing so, I found this talent that changed the way I look at the world. I found inspiration in nature, especially in trees, whose twisting and interweaving branches challenged me to capture and recreate. I found myself looking at trash lying on the side of the road, searching for that interestingly twisted scrap of metal to design a piece around. Every shape or silhouetted shadow sparked ideas to form. Most of all, I found a calm in the final moments of polishing a piece, when the last smudge of polishing agent was swept away and the metal shone like liquid. It became a living, moving thing in my hands, and I felt like a god. Victory indeed.
– Katherine Goodman, 2nd Place in Essay
The Well-Meaning Beast
Over the course of the past three decades, there has been an often-debated, ongoing ideology that seeks to prescribe a uniform level of accountability in the American education system. This has led to numerous acts of legislation that has evolved into a medieval revolution in educational standardization. The relentless and forgivingly human need to see all forms of progress measured in numbers and statistics has developed a virtually impenetrable foundation, with its massive infrastructure spanning the social and political landscape. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is a bureaucratic shortcut to address a problem in need of complex reforms on all levels of educational institution, demanding a massive re-appropriation of federal funding. The most common (and most widely agreed upon) concern with NCLB is the inefficient, fragmented way it has been implemented. The specifications of mandates handed down from the federal government to the individual states are often too vague to apply without a disproportionate amount of interpretation left up to unqualified state-level bureaucrats. “All states being required to submit plans that describe their achievement standards, aligned assessments, reporting procedures, and accountability systems.” (Gardener) It is the guiding principle behind this legislation that is so woefully misguided. And today one of the largest obstacles in overcoming the Nation’s educational crisis has become thissolution.
This giant snowball that has become NCLB, found its earliest ruminations in 1981, when the National Commission on Excellence in Education was tasked to review the “data and scholarly literature on the quality of learning and teaching in the Nation’s schools.” (Gardener) Their report was released in 1983, titled A Nation at Risk. The report’s “suggestions for improvement” centered around addressing areas of educational content, level of expectation, the amount of time dedicated to studies, and, of course, the teachers themselves. The document seemed to possess the wherewithal to anticipate where the government could positively and productively affect change, and just as importantly, where it could not. Though the approach taken by proceeding administrations in the wake of A Nation at Risk did possess the ideals found in the report, it did not in practice.
This impassioned plea for bureaucratic reform illuminated the depth and dimension of America’s foundering education system. It was riddled with alarming statistics that confirmed and further defined the problem. For example: “International comparisons of student achievement reveal that on 19 academic tests American students were never first or second and, in comparison with other industrialized nations, were last seven times…Some 23 million American adults are functionally illiterate by the simplest tests of everyday reading, writing, and comprehension.”(Gardener)
Perhaps even more politically resonating, the report described the plight of our military institutions, forced to implement numerous remedial education programs to re-teach recruits the most basic curriculums, losing more financial momentum every year. The writing was most certainly on the wall, and a relentless, bipartisan political movement was born, continuously fueled by the looming specter of an intellectually decaying society, becoming so severe and malignant it threatens our national security.
The Improving America’s Schools Act of I 994 reestablished legislation introduced first by Lyndon Johnson, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of I965 that channeled federal funding to schools with a high percentage of students below the poverty line. This policy, with the addition of the Goals 2000 Educate America Act, illustrated a new way of thinking, and a new way to focus federal education funding that included all schools, not only the disenfranchised. Both pieces of legislation were part of a natural political progression toward nation-wide uniform standardization, and No Child Left Behind was signed into law by George W. Bush in 2000. This new legislation would create a new “standard of learning” and use the threat to withhold federal funding as a method of enhanced coercion.
The deepest of the many flaws in this system is that it completely bypasses comprehension, and instead forces an emphasis on application. Students become the desired vending machines for the much-coveted answers; and a generation is sent into the world with no idea how to ask questions. Teachers are literally strongarmed into teaching toward a single test, rather than using their talents to be creative and individualized in their approaches to cultivate stronger thought processes. Even the most in-depth education analysis indicates younger students learn experientially, which illustrates why creative talent should one of the most valued traits in evaluating educators.
Another flaw has to do with a student’s test-taking ability. Kinesthetic learners and those with learning disabilities often struggle with test anxiety, and suffer from lower scores despite retaining the information, something that is ironically ignored by this legislation. The opposite is also true; students who are good test takers can get satisfactory credit when they have not truly comprehended the material.
Regulations were developed in 2002 to try to take into account the metaphysical, fleeting, and intangible nature of comprehension. Legislators loosened restrictions on curriculum, but still enforced the standardized test. If the destination at the end of every school year is the same, the learning process is every bit as suffocated as it was before, students are directed toward a single test that will decide their educational future, no matter how creative the curriculum, students are still expected to regurgitate answers for the sake of answers, and nothing else.
To supply federal funding without the proviso of standardized accountability would be an alternative that can generate better results by simply allowing substantial federal oversight to monitor how the money is distributed. New financial distribution committees could be created as a conduit between state and federal lawmakers to ensure responsible and practical application. This could be used in conjunction with Lyndon Johnson’s initiative to provide additional financial aid for under-funded schools. This would be the most beneficial way to encourage productive learning using some of the tools implemented in the past.
Real comprehension can never truly be measured; we can only instill faith and confidence in the talent of our educators, to see our youth to the other side. What is sad about this fact is that the only ones who seem to know this are the educators themselves. There is another, less-discussed obstacle that stands in the way of a more progressive approach to learning. Officials with a political stake in education (with no real educating experience) want numbers and percentages to fuel campaign advertisements and speeches.
The problem with even the few seemingly effective acts of legislation set forth in the previous century is that none of them address the change in infrastructure that is so sorely needed in a modem and enlightened society. It is vitally necessary with all the challenges we face in the twenty first centuries, to utilize all of our possible resources to fuel our education system. There a several untapped resources the government leaves in the hands of organized crime syndicates that could generate biblically astronomical revenue. The Government could shrink classes, institute permanent tutoring and mentoring programs, or provide more thorough evaluations of student comprehension by attracting more candidates to fill sorely needed teaching positions. The government could afford to pay two teachers to every class of four students. The United States could have a veritable new age of enlightenment, creating a learning society that is not only accustomed to once taboo-distractions, but a society with the tools to thirst for knowledge as no generation ever dared.
The legalization of perhaps just one of these extremely taboo industries – marijuana, narcotics, or prostitution – could transform our economic landscape. This is not the only way our government can seamlessly have the financial tools to empower our school system. Today, the government maintains publicly its commitment to church and state, yet it refuses to impose taxes on religious institutions. Unfortunately, the only practical way to implement these policies would likely have to involve succession.
The problem with a government mandate is that as soon as it enters the classroom and lays its hand on the fragile dynamic of the learning environment, it effectively poisons the well. No Child Left Behind is the most destructive piece of legislation with the most admirable of intentions; it’s like Lenny from Of Mice and Men. Due to its bipartisan support, hopefully the future of our education system will not end up reminiscent of the dead mouse in Lenny’s pocket, or the young woman he suffocated in that barn.
United States. A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform: a Report to the Nation and the Secretary of Education, United States Department of Education. Washington, D.C.: National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983.
– David J. Bausch, 1st Place in Essay
It had been a long time since she’d been in the French countryside. Six months in fact, not a day more or less, since she’d last walked these dirty, worn-down, cobblestone streets on her way to what the locals affectionately referred to as the Cat Piss Cafe. The waiter there greeted Marie warmly as she walked up to the old wooden door – she wasn’t a frequent customer, but she was a memorable one.
Richard was already there, sitting at one of the outside, glass tables scanning the crowd – presumably for her. It didn’t take long for him to spot her, and Marie watched with a heavy heart as his face lit up, and he eagerly motioned her over. What she had to do today just became harder. “You look lovely today,” he greeted warmly, rising as she arrived at the table. He leaned over to kiss her cheek but she pulled away.
“Thank you,” Marie replied quietly. Richard’s brow furrowed slightly as both of them sat down, reading the menu. Silence reigned until a waiter came over, chatting jovially with both of them as he took down their orders and departed. “How have you been?”
“Excellent,” Richard replied, face splitting into a wide, goofy grin. “I just recently got a job promotion. Now I get to sit on my ass and give orders rather than busting my ass running and carrying them out. How have you been doing?”
“Fine.” Marie paused, looking for the right words to say. There was no easy way to break the news… “Richard, I-”
“How are the kids?” Marie grimaced, but Richard wasn’t paying attention. As usual.
“They’re doing good. Rachel is excited to start first grade next month. She wants you to come shopping with us so you can help her pick out the ‘coolest backpack ever’, her own words.”
Richard smiled warmly, taking a swig of his beer. There was a small growing collection near his elbow, an alarming sight. “I should come visit sometimes. I saw a little blue bear I know Rach would love.”
Marie sighed. “I would prefer it if you didn’t.”
“Why? You’ve never minded before.”
“Yes, but Richard, I -” Marie abruptly stopped as the waiter returned with their meal. The soup was steaming hot and she paused to blow on it before eating a spoonful.
“How’s Katie?” Richard asked timidly. His other daughter had been upset by the separation, blaming him.
“She got a scholarship to John Hopkins,” Marie declared proudly, face lighting up. The memory of the smile on her daughter’s face was one that would stay forever. “We took her out last night to celebrate.”
“You didn’t invite me?”
“She didn’t want you there.” Neither of them did, truthfully.
Richard sighed. “Still, John Hopkins…that doesn’t sound like any local school I know of. Is it in England?”
“America,” Marie corrected him, frowning. “It’s a prestigious medical school.”
Richard beamed. “My daughter, all grown up and going to be a doctor. Looks like she got my brains after all.” Marie coughed, hiding a derisive snort. “She’ll be lonely, being in a country across the sea by herself.”
Marie steeled herself for what was coming. She couldn’t let things continue like this. “She won’t be alone.”
“I’m moving to America.”
“You – wait, what?” Richard stared at her, mouth agape. “But, but, the children!”
“They’re coming with me.”
“You can’t take my kids!” Richard sat up in his seat, face starting to turn red.
“They’re my children too,” Marie snapped, getting fed up. It was always the same damn argument! ”They’re coming with me.”
“You can’t take them!” Richard insisted, face contorting into a snarl.
“The courts say I can,” Marie spat.
Richard leaned forward, looming formidably over the table. Marie could smell the alcohol on his breath. “You…bitch!” He spat.
The surrounding tables grew silent at the sound, heads turning to stare at them. Marie flushed in embarrassment, heart pumping with adrenaline. Her palm stung from the force of the blow she’d delivered to Richard’s cheek. He sat back in his chair, one hand going to his face as he stared silently at her. “It’s been a long time since you’ve hit me,” he commented quietly.
“Me too.” Richard looked subdued. Silence reigned across the table as they finished their meal, a bit of soup spilling in Marie’s lap as her spoon trembled.
“America, you say?” Richard asked, finished with his sandwich. Marie sighed, not answering as the waiter came by to place their check on the table and clear their dishes. He was giving them both an uncertain look.
“Yeah,” Marie eventually replied, heart heavy. Richard would keep badgering her if she never answered.
“That’s not so bad,” he continued, trying to sound casual. “I could always come with you.”
“You probably don’t want us living together, but I’m sure I can find an affordable apartment nearby-”
“I could see the kids more often, maybe even take Rach to school on the bus. Or maybe drive – Americans use cars a lot, right?”
“And we could see each other more often than twice a year, maybe I can even cook dinner from time to -”
“Richard I’m getting married,” Marie blurted, looking frustrated.
Richard closed his mouth, blinking owlishly. “Married? To who?”
Marie blushed. “An American businessman I met a while back, named Hank. He works with art dealers, and was meeting a few contacts in France.”
“Marie, I don’t want to know.”
She ignored him. It was his tum to listen. “We met at a cafe in Paris. A thief tried stealing my bag while I was eating lunch, and he actually tackled him to the ground, can you believe it? I treated him to dinner as a thank you and…well, he asked to see me again. This was about 5 months ago.”
“Marie, I don’t want to know.”
“You’re going to hear it anyway,” Marie snapped. “I have to get it through your thick skull that we’re never getting back together.”
Richard looked bewildered. “But…but we get along great! I thought we were finally getting closer, I mean…you still keep meeting me!”
Marie sighed heavily. ‘The only reason I agreed to see you every six months was so that you would stop calling me every week! It’s over, Richard. Done. Nothing is going to change that.”
“But I love you,” Richard replied desperately.
Marie stood up, pulling out her wallet. “Not enough to stop drinking,” she retorted quietly. Richard winced. ”Not enough to keep me from hitting you. We’re never going to work, Richard, love or not. And Hank…Hank makes me happy. I haven’t felt this happy in years.” She pulled out her half of the bill.
“I’ll pay for it,” Richard said hastily.
“Keep your money.” Marie dropped the bills on the table, ignoring him. She didn’t want to owe him anything. “This is goodbye, Richard.” She began to walk away.
“Wait!” Despite herself, Marie paused at the sound of desperation in her ex husband’s voice, looking back. “Can I see you again?” He was wearing that look, that apologetic, teary-eyed, despondent look that always made her cave in and let him back into her life again, and again, and again. Even now she could feel herself wavering, wanting to erase the pain she had caused him. But…
Marie walked away. It was for the best…for both of them.
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– Stephanie Smith, 2nd Place in Short Story