One-Minute Memoir

September 28, 2012

 My Piano Lesson

By Jo-Ann Pilardi

On the Monday after a Saturday dance at my small, all girls’ high school, Pittsburgh circa 1959, Sister Mary Magnus, our principal, called a full school assembly in the gym.  A non-Friday assembly meant something serious was up.  Exchanging fearful looks, we girls proceeded to the gym.  Upon taking a seat in one of the cramped rows of metal folding chairs, I straightened the Student Council badge on my shiny navy blue gabardine uniform.

Sister Magnus was a woman of significant bulk and height, and one who never retreated, flinched, or allowed excuses.  That day, she began the assembly by reporting that “vandalism” had taken place during the Saturday dance.  Someone had carved a girl’s name into the top of the dusty old upright piano in the gym.  Through clenched teeth, she commanded that we tell all, and she threatened that the assembly wouldn’t end until there was a full accounting by the guilty party.

Moving menacingly up and down the rows of girls, Sister Magnus reported that a single clue had been left behind by the culprit:  “It’s the name ‘Jo-Ann’—that’s J-O-Hyphen-Capital-A-N-N,” she said.  Others in our school of 300 had the same phonetic name, i.e., there were a few “Joannes,” at least one “Jo Ann,” and a couple of “Joanns” and “Joannas.”  But there was only one hyphen afoot—me:  “Jo-Ann.”  I knew my spelling was unique.  Magnus knew it too—and so did the other nuns and all my classmates.

Magnus stopped to stare at me, silently inviting—virtually forcing—me to confess.  Student Councilor Me.  President of the National Honor Society Me.  Member of the Latin, History, and French Honor Societies.  Winner of the city’s “Seven Wonders of Pittsburgh” essay contest.  All those Me’s.  Was I also Guilty Me?  And would I be a Confessing Me?

Of course I knew who the “vandal” was.  He was a friend of mine—Ronnie R., cousin of my best friend, and a chronic tease.  Ronnie attended the nearby boys’ Catholic high school, so if I informed on him, within minutes the word would reach the Christian Brothers who ran the school, and Ronnie would be yanked out of class and . . . who knows what?  The thought of being an informant disgusted me.  On top of that, I couldn’t make a public Confession to the assembly just because it was my name engraved on the piano and I knew the vandal. Confessing meant accepting one’s guilt, and I was guilty of nothing.  Besides, Sister Magnus would never believe that I wasn’t a party to the act.  Remaining silent to save Ronnie was also a way to save myself.

The tense interrogation continued as Magnus repeated the histrionics, threats, and calls for a Confession. But I continued to stonewall her.  I already knew that the spoken word can intimidate, but now I understood the power of silence.  So I faced down my Inquisitor—Jo-Ann of Arc Me against the judges of the court.  Not guilty of the sin of vandalism, I wouldn’t confess.  Guilty of the non-sin of knowing the vandal, I wouldn’t confess.  Surprised by my own willful silence, I learned something about my own values.  Maybe Sister Magnus learned a little something too.

Copyright © 2012 Jo-Ann Pilardi.

Jo-Ann Pilardi is retired from Towson University where she taught Philosophy and Women’s Studies for 38 years.  A working class Italian from Pittsburgh, she moved to Baltimore in 1969 and was active in women’s movement groups through the 1970s. Currently, she teaches for TU’s Osher Institute, reads and writes, gardens, travels, and studies jazz piano. In the schoolyard photo above, Jo-Ann is in the center, and her friend Noriene is on the right.  (Click images for larger views.)  She thanks Jim Sizemore for help in shortening and editing this original essay for Doodlemeister.

Doodlemeister is looking for short memory pieces up to 500 words, on any subject, in any style — as long as it happened to you. Whatever the subject, we have a bias for the lighthearted tone. If need be, we’ll help you to edit and/or cut your piece. If you’d like to submit a story, please contact us at jimscartoons@aol.com 

My Wife Thinks You’re Dead

July 29, 2008

Short Fiction/Part Two

When Bernie walked through the door, Helen straightaway asked him what he was doing home in the middle of the afternoon. He hemmed and hawed and came up with a nervous story about needing to retrieve some work stuff. Bernie’s jiggly behavior, plus a telephone call Helen had received only minutes before, put her on a Mean-Green Betty alert. She didn’t let on, though, just allowed him to think he had lied his way out of the situation. Bernie didn’t know it, of course, but he was pre-sunk—that phone call had alerted Helen to the younger woman’s resurrection. “Your buddy Fred called,” Helen said, telling part of the truth. “Wants you to drop by the police station tomorrow first thing. Some kind of special project.”

Fred, the town sheriff, was Bernie’s best friend from high school. At one time Fred had also been belly-bumping close to Helen, but she had kept that fact from Bernie, it being a bit of deception she allowed herself out of concern for his feelings—or so she liked to think. Without another word, Helen went back to work on a complicated tuna fish concoction she was whipping up for supper, her mayonnaise-covered hands deep in a big yellow mixing bowl. Bernie picked up some papers and walked out the door. Helen was whistling as she worked, but she had murder on her mind. She had confessed as much to Fred earlier when he called. Helen told him straight out that either Bernie or Betty had to die, and she was at the point where it didn’t matter which one. Fred laughed, of course, but he also felt a tad uneasy—not being sure if Helen was joking or what.

Monday was Helen’s bowling league and her mom kept the kids, so Bernie was free to do as he pleased—within reason, of course. He went out for a ride and stopped at Jigg’s Drive-In for a few beers, and it wasn’t long before he got to thinking about old times. The Jigg’s crowd provoked it, all them being real young these days—too young—and Bernie realized he didn’t really know anyone enough except to nod and say “Hi” to. On an impulse, feeling a tad lonely, he decided to cut out and visit his old friend Chuck. That turned out to be a first rank bad idea. He and Chuck were a duo that went back to the days of running with the booze-pill-and-sex bunch that featured Betty as the main attraction. The three of them were—well, let’s just say they got to be very close. Chuck is your basic small burg bachelor, a big rumpled guy with a small neat apartment over the pet shop on Main Street, and he has a small neat brain to match. He’s the sort of fellow who gets along by going along, satisfied to spend his days working part-time in an auto body shop, picking up the occasional house painting job and selling a bit of weed or a handful of pills to take up any financial slack. Chuck would never intentionally harm a living soul but he’s not above providing the means for folks to screw themselves over.

That evening found Chuck and Bernie in Chuck’s living room, shirts off, drinking beer, toking on a fat spliff they passed back and forth, and yelling at a two week old football game Chuck had recorded on his VCR. Three minutes into the fourth quarter there came a knock on the door. Chuck opened it and Betty glided in a foot off the floor, on what appeared to be air currents. Whatever it was that she had ingested also produced an aura of sensuality that glowed off her like yellow-green neon. Bernie and Chuck could tell she was there for one purpose only, to play big-time party tag and those two hapless dolts were “It.”

It being hot, the first thing Betty did was take off her blouse and bra and head for the fridge to, as she said, “cool her tits” and get a beer. Bernie somehow came to the conclusion that he was capable of resisting her charms and followed her into the kitchen. Betty was stationed in front of the open freezer door fanning cold air onto her chest with one hand and sipping from a Coors can with the other. As in times past, Bernie felt himself instantly attracted to the incredible muscle definition in her back. “Goddamn it, Betty,” he said, “one of us is gonna have to leave this town.”

She turned around, smiling, with one perfect breast cupped in her free hand. “Really, Bern? You mean that?”

“It’s good to see you, baby—been a long, long while—but I can’t afford to play them games no more.”

“Your choice, hon.” Betty slid past him and headed for the living room where the amiable Chuck waited in ecstatic anticipation.

Bernie stayed in the kitchen for a beat, feeling what resistance he may have had ebb from his body like brackish water from a swamp. By the time he got to the living room Betty was completely naked, astride Chuck in the classic lap dance position, him smiling over her bare shoulder like it was Christmas and he was more than willing to share this gift. Bernie watched those two go at it awhile, then shrugged. “What the hell,” he thought, moving toward them, “Helen thinks she’s dead.”

By evening’s end the threesome had done everything to each other they could think of, short of man-on-man, which Chuck and Bernie would have no part of even to please Betty. They were convinced, however, that they had invented several trio combinations heretofore undocumented in Chuck’s extensive porn collection. Bernie had never had so much fun or felt so low at the same time—especially later, on his way home, drained dry like a corn husk left in some farmer’s field during a ten year drought.

Part three of My Wife Thinks You’re Dead will post tomorrow.

Copyright © 2008 Jim Sizemore.