Our school has the worst principal in the world. Ruthless McMahon we call him. His real name is Rutherford McMahon but Ruthless suits him better. We all hate him - yes, every student at St Maria Goretti Primary School in Langwarrin hates him. There are rumours going around that some kids years ago had been called into his office and had never come out again. I'd believe it.
Mr McMahon is a solidly built man and he looks to be about fifty. He has a large round face that is red with anger most of the time. But it is his teeth that are the scariest things of all. They are yellow and they are all slightly pointed - sort of like a wolf. He is mean. He yells at kids all the time and if your mum ever told you to go up to him and say hello - like at the school fete or the Parish Picnic, he would just bend over and stare at you with blood shot eyes and then he'd snarl. Our annual Parish Picnic was this Saturday and I have almost considered not going.
I reckon that the teachers all hate him too. They are just as scared of him as we are. Yesterday, I was listening in on a conversation between my teacher, Ms Sposato, and the grade two teacher, Mr Box. Ms Sposato told Mr Box that Ruthless McMahon had called her into his office and she said she would rather bungy jump in a spotted bikini from the top of the Victorian Arts Centre spire - in the middle of winter. It occurred to me that it wouldn't have been a pretty sight because Ms Sposato has what my mother would call a "generous figure".
Mr Box said he was glad it was Ms Sposato and not he that had been called to the principal's office. His words of advice to my teacher were "to pull a sickie". I don't know what that means, but today Ms Sposato didn't come to school and our class had to have an emergency teacher and that was when all the trouble began.
Ms Sposato is a great teacher. She can be strict and sometimes she yells, but we know she never really gets cross at us. The best thing about her is that she knows us all really well. She will yell at Troy McKenzie because he can take it (and he usually deserves it), but she would never yell at Emma Vigilante because Emma would just shrivel up into a lump the size of a Twisties packet. She always lets you go to the toilet if you need to - even if it is just after playtime. According to Ms Sposato, "when nature calls, it must be answered." We love her - but of course we would never tell her that.
We hate it when Ms Sposato isn't there. It's just not the same. When I walked into our classroom this morning and saw a strange fat woman wearing a revolting floral print dress sitting at Ms Sposato's desk, my heart just sank. I didn't even feel better when Thomas Bird slapped me on the back and said, "How wazit Satdee?"
Of course he was talking about the win of the Mighty Bombers against Footscray at the M.C.G on Saturday. The win had shot us to the top of the ladder and made us almost a dead certainty for the Grand Final, but just as I feel the warm footy glow inside me, I look up again at the Emergency Teacher and even when I try really hard to picture Timmy "Number 32" Watson and Paul "The Fish" Salmon, I still feel rotten.
Bronwyn Bunting, the class crawler, simpered up to the Emergency teacher and showed her where the roll was and told her that the lunch orders should go to the tuckshop before 9.15. The Emergency teacher leaned over the desk and I watched as she looked at Bronwyn Bunting and slowly smiled. I nearly fell off my chair. The Emergency teacher's teeth were yellow and pointed just like Ruthless McMahon's. The day was going from bad to worse.
At 9 o'clock, when the bell rang, all of the grade fives lined up crookedly outside classroom. The Emergency teacher came to the door and was just about to say something to us when Ruthless McMahon walked around the corner, past the library. We all jumped and lined up straighter than we ever had without having been told. Everyone in our class stared straight ahead hoping that the principal wouldn't single them out for a nasty remark or a cuff behind the ear. Two grade 5 boys wearing runners instead of school shoes tried to stand closer to the classroom wall so he wouldn't notice that they were out of uniform. But Ruthless McMahon did something very surprising - he walked past our grade without noticing any of us and he walked straight up to the Emergency teacher and said, "I'm so glad you were available to teach today. I'm sure the children will behave well for you," and then turning toward us, he said, "Won't you children?" He gave us a yellow pointy teeth grin and we quickly nodded.
We filed into the classroom and sat down on the floor while the Emergency teacher sat in Ms Sposato's chair near the heater. We waited for her to speak. She looked slowly around the room and then finally at us. She smiled a pointy teeth smile and then introduced herself as Mrs Odorous. She asked us what we normally did on a Friday. We looked slyly at each other and began:
"Ms Sposato gives us an hour of free time," yelled Troy McKenzie.
"Footy tips," called Thomas Bird.
"A maths test," said Bronwyn Bunting after first raising her hand. The rest of the class groaned. Trust Bronwyn Bunting to be honest.
Mitch Mooney, a freckled faced plump boy who sat down the back, raised his hand and told Mrs Odorous that Ms Sposato usually took our class out for sport in the afternoon.
"Thank you young man," she said, "and what is your name?"
"Marvin," lied Mitch - who was also lying about the sport. Our teacher, Ms Sposato with her comfortable figure was happy to leave physical education to the specialists - or so I overheard her telling Miss Gretelianos, the Italian teacher.
"Marvin, could you give out the maths book?" she said to Mitch who looked at her with such freckled innocence that she didn't even suspect his lies.
We all went back to our desks - well not exactly our own desks - we went back and sat wherever we felt like it. Mrs Odorous didn't know that we weren't allowed to sit with our friends and nobody bothered enlightening her - not even Bronwyn Bunting who sat down firmly next to Emma Vigilante. Poor Emma. We reckon that Bronwyn had sort of adopted her because she is so shy and Bronwyn had no other friends.
We had been doing maths problems for a whole hour when Mrs Odorous told us to put our books away and come and sit on the floor. Our class isn't exactly obedient - which is why Ms Sposato often has to yell - and so when Mrs Odorous told us to sit on the floor, only Bronwyn Bunting, Emma Vigilante and Jason McWhirter actually went. Everybody else packed up in slow motion, had a bit of a chat and took their time. Mrs Odorous asked again and this time there was only a marginal improvement in numbers on the floor. The next time she roared!
"GET ON TO THE FLOOR - NOW!"
The whole class shook in their school shoes and there was a mad scramble to get to the floor. We quickly re-evaluated. Mrs Odorous was no push over. Emergency teachers usually were. We always played the same tricks on them and they always fell for them. When we were lucky we even made them cry - but Mrs Odorous was different.
Mrs Odorous settled into the chair by the heater and began a discussion on the structures of government and even though we tried our best to follow her, we didn't understand much of what she said at all. She droned on and on and some grade fives just stared out the window, but not me. I was fascinated by Mrs Odorous. Her face wobbled as she spoke and if you squinted your eyes and looked really carefully, you could just make out short black hairs on her chin - as if she shaved. Yuk!
Just when every member of the class had well and truly tuned out from the intricacies of the three tiered government system, Mrs Odorous suddenly said, "Now, time for questions."
Oh, no - nobody had been listening - although we always take care to appear as if we were.
"You," she said, pointing at Thomas Bird, "what does G.S.T. stand for?"
Thomas Bird looked incredibly uncomfortable. He obviously remembered how Mrs Odorous had yelled at the class before and, equally as obvious, was the fact that he had no idea what G.S.T. stood for.
"Um, Great Specky Timmy," suggested Thomas.
Mrs Odorous didn't say anything. She just gave Thomas Bird the nastiest look I have ever seen and he turned red and looked at his shoes. She asked for his name.
"Gavin Wanganeen," he lied, but Mrs Odorous must have been an Essendon supporter because she wasn't fooled for a minute.
"Go and sit in the corner beside the fire extinguisher," she roared. The rest of the class grew more uncomfortable by the millisecond.
"Who can tell me who the Deputy Leader of the state branch of the National Party is?" she asked in a soft, but scary voice. She stared at us expectantly. We all looked downwards, trying to avoid her gaze. Her stare fell right on Emma Vigilante. The whole class took a deep breath. We all felt a bit protective towards Emma. I'm not sure why, but she was kind of like everyone's little sister.
"What is your name, little girl?"
"E-e-mma," she stammered in the smallest voice.
"Emma, who is the Deputy Leader of the state branch of the National Party?"
Tears began to roll down Emma Vigilante's cheeks. The whole class watched the scene closely and you could almost feel everyone begin to tense up. Mrs Odorous didn't seem to care about Emma's discomfort. Our teacher Ms Sposato, would never ask Emma a question in front of the whole class unless she was sure Emma would know the answer. Ms Sposato understood about things like that.
Emma's crying was becoming louder with every second that passed - and then a very unexpected thing happened.
Troy McKenzie stood up. He puffed himself up to his full height and he said in a loud voice to Mrs Odorous, "Stop picking on Emma!"
Mrs Odorous pulled her gaze away from Emma Vigilante and fixed it firmly on Troy McKenzie who remained standing defiantly at the back of the classroom.
"Now, young man, what might your name be?"
"Gary Ablett," he replied insolently.
"Is it really?" Mrs Odorous said, a slow mean smile creeping onto her thin lips. "Well, Gary Ablett, you and Emma can go and explain your behaviour to Mr McMahon."
Troy McKenzie looked as if Kernahan had missed a winning goal on the siren. Nobody was ever sent to the Principal's Office. Not even the worst teachers at our school ever sent kids to Ruthless McMahon. Emma Vigilante dissolved into a quivering wreck and had to be helped up from the floor by Bronwyn Bunting and Snotty McFee. Snotty McFee's real name was Scotty, but he had this horrible habit of doing really wet sneezes, hence his nickname. He even offered Emma one of his hardly used handkerchiefs to dry her tears. Emma, it seemed, still had some of her wits about her because she declined his damp offering.
Troy McKenzie tried to protest, "But... you can't..."
"Oh, yes I can," broke in Mrs Odorous. "GO NOW!"
Troy McKenzie and Emma Vigilante scuttled from the classroom and the rest of us were left to wonder at their horrible fate.
Mrs Odorous gave us a boring worksheet and sent us back to our desks while she settled comfortably into Ms Sposato's chair and began to read "The Australian Women's Weekly".
I looked around the room. Everybody else was looking around too - trying to catch each other's eyes. We were all worried. It was weird because I knew what everybody else was thinking - they were all scared. What would happen to Troy McKenzie and Emma Vigilante? Would we ever see them again? I caught Mitch Mooney's eye and gestured for him to expect a note. I put my head down and planted my arm across my desk so it looked like I was filling out my worksheet. I scrawled a message:
"Got to help them. What can we do?"
When Mitch got my note, his round, freckled face creased with concentration and then suddenly he grinned. He scribbled something underneath my note and passed it from Jason McWhirter to Snotty McFee. Jason McWhirter read the note on the way and took a minute to correct Mitch's spelling. Jason McWhirter's only talent was that he could spell almost any word in the dictionary and he never missed an opportunity to show off. Snotty McFee finally got the note, read it and nodded almost imperceptibly. He passed the note on to me. It said:
"SNOTTY, DO THE BIGGEST, WETTEST SNEEZE YOU EVER DONE AND DO IT WHILE YOU'RE SHARPENING YOUR PENCIL IN THE BIN NEXT TO THE TEACHER'S DESK."
I read the note and smiled. I watched Snotty McFee get up out of his desk and walk over to the rubbish bin. He was only centimetres away from Mrs Odorous who was still pouring over her magazine. He began sharpening his pencil, turning it round and round slowly, the noise ringing out in the silent classroom. The news of the plan had travelled faster than teachers into the staff room at recess.
Snotty McFee, with a small claim to theatrics, was determined not to let his big moment pass without an appropriate build up of suspense.
"Ah..." he said in a small, breathy way and then stopped and kept sharpening. We all watched him - except Mrs Odorous who hadn't even seemed to notice him at the bin.
"Ah..... ah.....," went Snotty McFee, and this time even his dramatic abilities couldn't stop THE SNEEZE!
"Ah..... ah..... ah..... AHH CHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" Snotty's head flew forward and true to his name, a clear wall of something truly revolting was emitted from his nasal passages.
Mrs Odorous, eyes wide and glasses knocked slightly askew, stared at Snotty McFee. Her Women's Weekly had small damp droplets clinging to a recipe for Chinese clear soup. If her magazine had been slightly splattered, Snotty McFee was absolutely covered. He stood there in front of her, pencil still in hand, trying ineffectively to clean some of his face with his sleeve.
"For the sake of decency, get this boy out of the classroom and cleaned up - NOW!" she screamed leaning as far back in her chair as she could.
This was our cue. Mitch Mooney and I jumped out of our seats and said soothingly to Mrs Odorous, "Don't worry, it happens all the time. We'll clean him up." We each grabbed an arm and led Snotty McFee to the door. Once outside and well clear of the classroom, Mitch and I began to laugh and when Snotty McFee joined in, small glistening droplets on his face quivered.
We all kept laughing as we raced around to the taps and quickly cleaned Snotty McFee's face and then discussed a plan of action. Mitch Mooney suggested that we sneak down the walkway between the tuckshop and Ruthless McMahon's office and try to see in the tiny office window. The three of us crept past Mr Box's room and fled into the covered walkway. Ruthless McMahon's window was high off the ground, but luckily there was a pile of tuckshop crates nearby and Mitch quickly stacked them one on top of another and climbed up the rickety construction. Snotty McFee and I held the crates steady.
"Can you see anything?"' I whispered when he reached the top and peeped into the window, but right at that moment, the pile of crates began to wobble and then Mitch's construction collapsed altogether and Mitch went sprawling into Mr Box's grade 2 vegetable garden which decorated the walkway. Thump!
Snotty McFee and I quickly helped him to his feet. He didn't look well, in fact, he was white and shaking.
"What did you see?" I asked urgently.
"I... I... I... saw a knife... a large carving knife," Mitch stammered. "I think it had blood on it!"
"Where did you see the knife?" said Snotty, the fear in his voice was obvious.
"I don't know," said Mitch beginning to cry. "I think it was on a big table in the corner of the office."
"Could you see Troy and Emma?" I said shaking Mitch by his plump shoulders.
"No, but on the table with the knife was... some... something awful..."
"What?" cried Snotty and I in unison.
"It looked like... like... intestines!" Mitch dissolved into a blubbering mess leaving me and Snotty to digest the facts - if you'll pardon the pun.
What had Ruthless McMahon done to Troy McKenzie and Emma Vigilante? Had he killed them and cut out their intestines? We had to find out for certain and there was only one way - through the office door!
There was no time to lose. Mitch was no good, sitting in the vegie garden crying and shaking, so Snotty McFee and I ran to the end of the walkway and stuck our heads around the corner. The coast was clear so we snuck past the main office and slipped through the "Staff Only" door and shut it gently behind us.
"What are you two doing here?" whispered a voice from behind a potted plastic palm in the hallway. Snotty and I nearly jumped out of our skins. We wheeled around and saw Bronwyn Bunting and Jason McWhirter standing in the shadow of the palm. They both looked as scared as we did.
"We have to try and rescue Troy and Emma," I whispered, "Mitch thinks that Ruthless McMahon is going to... hurt them." I didn't mention the knife and the intestines. "What are you two doing here anyway?"
Bronwyn Bunting looked half ashamed and half pleased with herself. "I lied to Mrs Odorous," she said. "I told her that I felt like I was going to vomit and she told Jason McWhirter to take me to the sick bay. I had to get out of there to see if you were alright and to help... Emma."
I momentarily forgot our dire predicament and looked closely at Bronwyn Bunting. She almost looked nice - and this was certainly the first decent thing I had seen her do since she offered me half her soft banana in prep when I forgot my playlunch.
We all looked at the solid wooden door separating us from Ruthless McMahon's office and Ruthless McMahon himself. There was a small window above the door and Bronwyn Bunting said suddenly, "Pull the potted palm over and I'll climb up and look through the window." Snotty McFee and I groaned quietly thinking of Mitch sitting in the grade 2 vegetable garden, but we realised that spying through this inside window was our only option.
Jason McWhirter had already started dragging the heavy pot over to the doorway and Snotty and I helped him push it into position. Bronwyn Bunting didn't even look scared - maybe because she had never done a naughty thing in her life and hadn't learnt to fear the consequences. She hitched up her green and white, immaculately pressed, St Maria Goretti regulation school dress, and climbed high up onto the pot plant. She couldn't quite see, so she began to climb up the plastic potted palm itself. It was a big mistake.
Just as Bronwyn Bunting climbed high enough to peep through Ruthless McMahon's window, she let out a startled yell as the potted palm began to tilt violently in the direction of the door. Snotty McFee, Jason McWhirter and I held on as hard as we could, but we couldn't stop the palm from tipping.
Bronwyn Bunting went crashing towards Ruthless McMahon's door and at the very same moment, the door flew open and who should be standing there but Ruthless McMahon. Well, he wasn't standing there for very long. CRASH! Bronwyn Bunting and the potted palm landed squarely on top of Ruthless McMahon and all ended up sprawled on the floor of the Principal's Office!
Jason McWhirter, Snotty McFee and I stood staring at Bronwyn Bunting who was desperately trying to untangle herself from Ruthless McMahon and the plastic palm. Beyond the spectacle were Troy McKenzie and Emma Vigilante placidly on the visitor's side of Ruthless McMahon's desk. They were sipping orange cordial from clear plastic cups.
Ruthless McMahon struggled to his feet and tried to straighten his checked blazer with its leather patches on the sleeves. A vague odour of moth balls reached us as he shook the dirt out of his pockets.
"Wh... what is going on here?" he spluttered, spitting a bit of potting mix into a stained old handkerchief.
Bronwyn Bunting struggled to her feet, her face as red as Timmy Watson's Essendon stripe. "Um," she said, "we were just on our way to the sick bay and we noticed that someone had moved the pot plant and we were just trying to move it back and it fell over. We are very sorry Ruth... er, Mr McMahon."
Troy and Emma stood up and moved over towards us. They had realised what we were trying to do. Troy McKenzie said, "Yes, I thought I heard someone outside the door before, Mr McMahon."
Ruthless McMahon looked around at all of us and he picked out Snotty McFee to clean up the mess and told the rest of us to go back to class.
Just before I left his office, I noticed a table against the back wall. On it was a large carving knife and a huge bunch of sausages wrapped in clear Glad Wrap. Further down was a set of bar-b-que utensils and four packets of paper plates. Ruthless McMahon noticed me staring at the table and explained in an annoyed voice, "For the Parish Picnic tomorrow."
We left Snotty McFee behind with a dust pan and brush and scuttled out the door and ran for the walkway.
"What happened?" we all shouted at Troy McKenzie and Emma Vigilante.
Emma looked at Troy and began to laugh. I'd never heard her laugh before.
"You'll never guess," she said, "Mrs Odorous is his sister! When we went to his office, all he wanted to know was how much we were enjoying having her for an emergency teacher! He gave us cordial and he was on his way to get a tin of biscuits from the staffroom when Bronwyn... er dropped in! Emma giggled so hard that we all soon joined in - even Mitch Mooney, who had left the vegie patch and run up to us as soon as we entered the walkway.
"Ruthless McMahon isn't such a bad bloke after all," said Troy McKenzie wiping at the ring of orange cordial around his mouth, "I might even go to the Parish Picnic tomorrow!"