Excerpt from Master Class by Christina Dalcher, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Master Class

by Christina Dalcher

Master Class by Christina Dalcher X
Master Class by Christina Dalcher
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Apr 2020, 336 pages

    Mar 2021, 352 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Mark Anthony Ayling
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About this Book

Print Excerpt

Now we're all used to the lines and the tiers and the different strokes for different folks.

I guess, if I think hard enough, people can get used to anything.


There are nine alarms in my house now. One next to my bed set for five o'clock, one that chirps an hour before Anne's school bus arrives, three more to mark the final thirty minutes, fifteen minutes, and seven minutes. Same for Freddie's bus, which shows up slightly later. Nine pings and pops and chimes, five days a week. I feel like I'm on a goddamned game show.

All so my daughters don't miss their ride to school.

When I was a girl, my mother would call up the stairs. Her voice walked the fine line between gentle and firm as she spoke my name, spurring me on to get up, get dressed, get ready. I still failed to reach the bus stop on some days, only arriving just in time to watch it turn the corner, see the red taillights disappear in the morning fog. Everyone missed a bus now and then. No big deal.

There weren't incentives to make sure you got on the bus-the right bus. Not back then.

Malcolm's already out the door, ensconced in a bright office with some junior aide bringing him coffee and whole-grain bagels glazed with nonfat cream cheese. He never sees his daughters, two contestants in the daily Who Won't Make It to School on Time? show, on weekday mornings. It's too bad, really. The prizes aren't anything to get worked up about, but the penalties bestowed on the losers make for solid motivation.

"Freddie!" I call from the kitchen, sounding less like my mother and more like a desperate lioness with a pack of hyenas circling my cubs. "Anne!"

Her thirty-minute warning pings while I'm spooning yogurt from a quart-sized tub and teetering on one leg to hitch the ankle strap on my left heel. Anne pokes her head around the corner and gives it a quick, silent shake.

Freddie's not ready, not even close.


On the second testing day of the school year, I'm running late, my daughter hasn't shown up for breakfast, and all I can think about is the yellow bus idling up the street with the Child Catcher sitting behind the wheel.

When I was young, I had dreams of the Child Catcher from that old musical, the one with the flying car and Dick Van Dyke stumbling through a bad British accent. He lurked outside my house in predawn shadows, grease-slicked black hair and Pinocchio nose. Waiting.

The Child Catcher wasn't immediately scary, not when his wagon tinkled with bells and lights, or when he danced around in a Technicolor coat, or when he promised all good things and sweets to children. After all, what child shies away from bells and colors and sweet things? And you didn't know the first time around that the wagon was really a cell with iron bars, or that the Child Catcher wore black underneath his robes, or that he would take his prey to a dark cave.

But you knew the second time you watched the movie. And the third. And all the times after that.

You knew exactly what he was waiting for.

In my early forties, I learned there's still such a thing as the Child Catcher.

He's old, and his hair is a blurred froth of white through the windshield of his bus, the one with Federal Schools printed in black along the sides. Instead of colored robes, he wears a plain gray uniform with the Department of Education logo embroidered on twin shoulder patches, a peace-symbol design in three colors-silver, green, and yellow. Around it are the words Intelligentia, Perfectum, Sapientiae. Intelligence, Perfection, Wisdom. I'd know two out of three even if I didn't speak Latin. The yellow paint on the bus-Chrome Yellow, they used to call it when it still contained lead, but it's been National School Bus Glossy Yellow for a while now-is chipped and peeling around the fenders and the accordion door. I guess no one gives much of a shit about what the yellow buses look like. It's not essential, given where they're headed, or what their cargo is.

Excerpted from Master Class by Christina Dalcher. Copyright © 2020 by Christina Dalcher. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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