-Excerpt VII: Hyena Subpoena, cd/book (2014)

  1. You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown Cat Kidd

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YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN

Mona Morse. Mr. Ivanovic does not know what to do
with her. She seems intelligent but her attitude is
peculiar. Having learned that other teachers either 
really like Mona Morse, or else they cannot stand her,
he finds himself tending toward the latter category,
though he’d never say so to her face. Mona’s only eight,
and Mr. Ivanovic is a professional who’s been in the
country just a few months. He’s not about to screw this
new job too soon. Mr. Ivanovic is destined for better –
trained for better, frankly. Back in the old country,
he’d taught university calculus.

So, this morning when the rest of Grade Three 
is seated resignedly at their desks, awaiting their 
Times Tables test, Mona dallies in the cloakroom 
with her back turned, as though she has all the time in
the world. She currently appears to be combing her
hair, which is cut too short to even need it. He’s asked
the class once to please be seated, or maybe he’s asked 
twice, and now his patience is beginning to fray. He
raises his voice and commands that Mona Put the comb
away and sit down immediately. 

The child turns slowly round and skulks toward her
desk, still clutching the offending hair-care item in her
sweaty little hand. Was she deliberately disobeying him?
Was she pretending not to understand?  “I told you to put
away your comb,” he says shortly, 
now leaving his post at the head of the class and
striding toward Mona between rows of desks. 
His pronunciation of comb sounds closer to calm, but
Mr. Ivanovic is now far from calm. Mona doesn’t help
matters much by choosing this moment to correct his
pronunciation.

“It’s koe-m not kah-m,” she says, “and anyway it isn’t a
comb, it’s a brush.” She holds up the object to show
him that it is, in fact, a brush manufac-tured by Avon,
hard molded plastic in the shape of Charlie Brown,
with soft white bristles sprouting out the back of his
head.

Mr. Ivanovic cannot believe the girl’s insolence. 
He grabs the brush from her extended fist and whacks
her on the crown of the head with it. It makes a loud 
thwack. He likely regrets the action as soon as it’s
committed, while Mona won’t give him the satisfaction
of letting on how much her head now smarts. She sits
down to her Times Tables test in a hell of shame, with
flames burning the rims of her ears and a throbbing
head, blinking back tears.

And as usual, the numerals refuse to line up in any 
proper way, instead they snake about the page like
noodles. Mona’s eyes and mind can’t simultaneously
follow whatever-it-is numbers are on about, and
anyhow she reads them all backwards

But this time she’s not going to panic. 
There’s a secret method she’s been working on. Since
she can’t force the scribbly digits to stay in line, she’s
invented a system of signs, based on patterns of dots
tapped out in the margins of her test paper. Her hand
has no trouble under standing numbers as patterns, it
was the same as memorizing phone numbers. Her
brain could never keep the digits in the right order, but
her fingers knew the shapes they drew on the keyboard. 

And thanks to Mona’s secret method, her test score
comes back very poor. Worse than this is the fact that
Mr. Ivanovic has taken the time to circle in red all her
marginal dots, and has written, “Don’t do this” 
all over them.

**

Without art class Mona would have died. 
Her art teacher is Mr. Kestrel, a lanky septuagenarian
with a speckled cranium, a trim white beard, and the
constant motion of an orchestra conductor. Mona
loves him dearly, things he says make more sense to
her than almost anything else. He can see beneath the
skins of things. 

Near Hallowe’en, he brings in a portable tape recorder, avocado
green and the size of a lunch-box, with a cassette tape of
something called Danse Macabre. He describes the scene the
music will be illustrating, passing around huge books of famous
paintings about this same piece of music. Previous to this,
Mona had no idea there were paintings about pieces of music.
The paintings show skeletons waking up and climbing out of
their graves and dancing around, really chipper as though death
were one big party. 

When Mr. Kestrel finally plays the music, 
it does sound exactly like this. One of the 
skeletons plays fiddle and slowly all the 
dead people wake up to his playing and 
climb above ground and dance around. 
The music is creepy and cheerful at the same 
time, a coupling that makes perfect sense 
to Mona, though she’s never heard anyone 
else speak of it but Mr. Kestrel. He’s handed 
out sheets of black construction paper with 
white chalk, so each kid could draw his or 
her own skeleton dancing in the graveyard. 

Mr. Kestrel can’t resist even dancing around himself as the
cassette wheedles on. It’s one of the reasons most kids don’t like
Mr. Kestrel. They think he’s weird. He does weird things, like
keep dead birds and small mammals found by the roadside in
his freezer, so he can practice amateur taxidermy on them.
Then he brings the robin or marmot to Art class, to show kids
its miraculous bone structure. He gets really excited showing
the skeletons of birds in particular, their wings and hollow
bones.

Once, he actually steps right up on his desk, to
demonstrate the wonder of avian bone structure.
He stands on one leg, drawing the other one up as
a stork does, folding long arms like wings behind
his back then extending them in simulated flight.
The effect is thrilling, looks like he might fly right
off his desk and round the room. 

But then at recess Mona overhears some big kids 
saying Mr. Kestrel is really losing it these days, so 
she keeps her feelings to herself. Then, when Mr.
Kestrel is away for several weeks having open-heart
surgery, Mona is the only one who asks about it
later, probably the only student in the whole
school to whom he shows the cross-shaped scar 
on his chest, where they’d stitched him up like a
scarecrow, or like one of his birds.