Excerpt of Heaven Lake by John Dalton
(Page 4 of 8)
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"Yes, it is," she agreed. "And I would very much like to see you swimming in the blue ocean. Do you know why I plan to see you swimming there?"
The class was well aware that things had gone amiss. The president and vice president exchanged pained expressions. More than a few of Trudy's classmates were trying to signal her quiet with their fingers pressed tightly against their lips.
"No, but I want you to stop -- "
"Because!" she said, and the exultant pitch of her voice rang out over his. "Because I would very much like to see the lovely muscles of your body."
"All right," he sighed. "That's enough already."
"I'm thinking about you now," Trudy said, lowering her pale eyelids and bowing her head in concentration. "You're in the ocean. I see you there, all alone, and I see that you really are the most splendid swimmer."
"That's enough," Vincent ordered. "Sit down, Trudy." The forcefulness in his voice proved unnecessary. She was already stooping down, easing casually into her chair. Vincent took a moment to compose himself and then went back to discussing the short speech assignment due the following week. The girls, with the exception of Trudy, sat dumbstruck and frozen, their embarrassment, their shame, acute and, as always, shared. It wasn't until almost the end of the lesson that any kind of natural rhythm returned to the class. When the bell rang, Trudy rose and filed out the door as if nothing had happened.
Over the weekend, Vincent worried about Trudy's speech project, what her topic might be and into which distressing avenues she might digress. What stayed with him most was Trudy's remarkable composure during both her apology and her outburst. All weekend he wavered back and forth, unable to decide when she had been acting and when she had been earnest.
His anxiety turned out to be uncalled for. Trudy did not attend class Tuesday or the following Thursday. When she did not show the next week, Vincent asked the class president if Trudy was ill.
"No," the president said. "Now Trudy goes every day to the other Toulio high school."
"Why is that?"
"Well," the president said. "Please wait a minute and I'll tell you." She stepped up to the board and wrote out a single character. As if on cue, all her classmates pulled out their Chinese-English dictionaries and raced to find the translation.
Violet Two found the entry first. "Expel or kick out," she reported.
"Yes," the president said. "She made big problems in one, two, three other classes. Not just your class. So the principal said good-bye, Trudy." The other girls giggled and nodded accordingly. Perhaps they had seen her expulsion coming. At the very least they appeared to relish the principal's decision. Now, they leaned back in their seats and exchanged ecstatic tidbits of gossip.
Vincent saw surprisingly little of Gloria outside the ministry classroom. They did not often go out for meals together; Gloria preferred simple noodle and rice dishes, which she prepared in the ministry kitchen. Moreover, their sleeping hours were nearly opposite. Vincent, always an early riser, was frequently in bed before eleven o'clock. As he prepared himself for sleep, he would find Gloria in the kitchen mixing a towering mug of instant coffee. She would offer a cordial good night and then retreat to her odd supply-closet bedroom. With the door closed tight, she turned on her bright work lamp. Vincent could see a narrow band of light upon the threshold. Then he heard music seeping through the thin walls. She had brought to Toulio both a tape player and a small library of cassettes, a collection of her favorite songs all recorded from the same Christian radio station in Nebraska. Between songs were snatches of recorded commentary from a silk-voiced announcer: That was Melinda Collins Young with "My Mother's Angel Eyes" and this is the voice of faith and religious freedom transmitting out of Omaha, across the highways and byways and fields of ripe corn into your homes, into your ears, and into your hearts.
Copyright © 2004 by John Dalton