#20 by Nancy Springer



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Little Veronica likes hanging out at Mrs. Life's porch. She can see the whole town from the steps, and Mrs. Life is fascinating in the way that she keeps track of all sorts of numbers and information in her little spiral-bound notebooks. So it's surprising to Veronica when the always-nice Mrs. Life has an argument with Mr. Quickel, the school health teacher and wrestling coach, about the cost of mowing her lawn. Soon, Mrs. Life has started to insinuate things about Mr. Quickel, his marriage and what he might or might not have done with a boy who ran off from the town to live life as an openly gay man. Soon, the entire town is turning on Mr. Quickel with rumors and threats and destroying his sanity. Before too long, Veronica starts to see what Mrs. Life's real motivation is, and what dark secrets she keeps in one of her spiral-bound notebooks. A short story.

Excerpt:

About a week later, Mr. Quickel came by my house one evening. We were all sitting out on the lawn in the dusk, watching the lightning bugs, and he came and sat with us. He and Mom and Dad had been friends since way back, because of church. After a while Dad gave me money and sent me across the street to the drugstore to get myself a candy bar. This meant that the adults were going to talk about something they didn’t want me to hear. So after I came back with my Snickers, I went up to my room. But my windows were open, so I could hear some of what they said. Something about rumors all over town.

“You can’t fight gossip,” Mom said. “If you try, it just makes it worse. All you can do is ignore it.”

“Talk about getting screwed from behind,” Mr. Quickel said like he was trying to joke, and they all laughed a little.

By the time school was out for the summer, even us kids had heard that Mr. Quickel was gay. Everybody knew it. And everybody knew gay people couldn’t be trusted around children. People whose boys had had Mr. Quickel as a coach were worried. I noticed that even my parents went into Greg’s bedroom one evening and asked him questions.

“But Nick has a wife, and grown children,” a woman said to Mrs. Life over the porch railing. I was under the lilac bush, playing Princess of California. I’d been spending a lot of time under there lately, to get away.

“Now, I’ve never said that Nick Quickel is a homosexual,” said Mrs. Life. “But I will say this: I have read that a fair number of men who are homosexuals can appear normal.”

The woman was a school board member who wanted Mrs. Life’s advice. It seemed the school board had been getting letters from people who had heard things about Mr. Quickel. “But nobody seems to have any proof,” the woman said. “What if it’s all just a bunch of hooey? The man’s life is half ruined already. If we start a formal investigation—”

Mrs. Life said, “It seems to me as a concerned citizen that we have to think of the children first. People know when they go into teaching that there are certain professional standards they have to uphold. They know we can’t go taking chances when it comes to the safety of the children.”

“Then you think he’ll understand that we have to do what we have to do?”

“I’ve known Nick Quickel for years, and I still think you have to do it, whether he understands or not.”

  • Published by: Untreed Reads


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