Bucks County Writers Workshop
OCD by Dolores Mentis
The teachers' cafeteria looked like a restaurant supply house. It was fifth period lunch so the contents of the warped salad bar with the masking tape to cover the crack didn't yet resemble garbage. All the bitter pineapples were consumed along with the gritty fruit salad. Table five was gathering and the conversation there left no room for people who weren't willing to elbow their way into the action.
Alice was cheerful looking. Even though she was a year shy of forty, there was a slight palsy when she told stories about the nasty children she tried to teach religion. Jerome said it was not palsy but a righteous wag of her head. Alice said, "They just don't get it about chastity. I often tell them they will go to hell if they don't mind the Church. Nothing scares them: mom, dad, teachers, even God." She panned the table looking for support.
Helen rushed to her help. It wasn't done out of agreement but merely to keep the peace. Helen had just downed three slices of red beets. When she had chewed half of her vegetarian lunch she was able to say, "Not like when we were young, these kids. We were afraid of priests and nuns. We respected our parents and most of all we knew nothing about sex. I didn't know a tenth of what these children know when I got married."
Jerome leaned back in his chair and put his arms above his hips, bending them like the spokes of an umbrella. "Boy Helen, I'll bet you caught up awfully quick." Helen laughed and bared her horse teeth.
"Alice I must admit that we were virgins but when they opened the starting gate we took off like horses in heat."
Alice had eaten her turkey breast sandwich, which she brought from home everyday. Her diet seven up was finished so she had a clear mouth to correct Jerome.
"Jerome, you bring out the worst in people."
Jerome said, "Alice aren't you just a bit overly serious about sex. Lighten up."
"That's just what I won't do. You are just like the kids. Everything's a laughing matter. I find nothing lighthearted about the teachings of Jesus on chastity."
"What teachings Alice? There is precious little in the New Testament about sex. It seems to be the one sin Jesus forgave with compassion and without judgment. But the religious leaders and teachers were held to a stricter account. The Christian scriptures say nothing about masturbation, lesbianism and male homosexuality, which is mentioned only once. One passage on adultery and divorce is thought by many theologians to be a scribal interpolation. Do you seriously think your boys and girls will listen to their maiden teacher. They have more in common with Micronesian Islanders than with your generation or their parents." Jerome said all of this with his fingers grasping the edge of the table as if he would fall off if he let go. His cheese steak was getting cold.
Alice said, "Now you have introduced relativism into biblical interpretation which undermines true morality. I think you should spend an hour a day in front of the blessed sacrament and maybe you will get back the fullness of your faith."
Jerome's back arched like a cobra. "Do you do that, Alice?"
"It's not about me. The focus is on you." Alice was already standing, ready for flight, like some kind of military commando force, in and out.
Jerome got to his feet to meet the challenge head on. Alice wasn't finished, however. "The trouble with you Jerome is that you are too liberal and have lost your fear of the Lord."
"The trouble with you Alice is that you're a know-it-all and have lost your manners. And besides you're a rigid self-righteous fundamentalist."
Alice stormed off with her righteous wag even more pronounced.
Why did I say know-it-all? Why did say self-righteous fundamentalist? What if she turns me in for harassment. I could lose my job. No, nothing will happen, what I said was just unprofessional. But I read in the union newsletter how a man lost a week's salary for saying shit in front of the principal. Name calling, now that is serious, I could get suspended for a semester if they wanted. Oh my God, wait till Louise hears. She's told my often enough that bluntness is not a virtue.
Jerome was unable to teach the rest of the day. He gave his children seat work. He was quiet at supper, even until bedtime. Louise knew he was processing something, but she wouldn't ask because it was his disease. Through the day and into the night the mantra kept repeating itself: why did I say call her names? He fell asleep and his words woke him up three times. His jiggling leg woke Louise up. In her white cotton nightie she looked like an Angel of Mercy. "Jerry, did you take your medicine?"
"Yes, of course, Louise." He wanted to add, what good is all the medicine in the world without love. But Louise loved him.
"Give me your hand." And she warmed his cold clammy hands. She rubbed them until they became warm and spoke soothingly to Jerome. "It'll be all right in the morning. Trust me. I love you sweetheart. Now close your eyes and rest. If you lose this job you'll get another one. You are bright and talented. Where would they get another science teacher as good as you?"
Like a three-year-old with faith in his grandmother Jerome settled down, stopped ruminating and fell asleep within minutes of his wife's gentle commands. As far as the East is from the West, Alice left his thoughts. The medicine was working.