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Lessons they don’t teach in school


July 27, 2016 by Lyn

October, 1989

Aunt Anna picked her up from school. She was sitting, calmly, or at least quietly, in the principal’s office, an icepack held to her eye, two seats from the sniffling, whimpering, horrible bully Matt Littles.

Aunt Anna sat down in a flurry of peasant skirts, ignoring the disapproving glare of the secretary. “What happened?” she asked in a conspiratorial whisper.

“Miss,” the secretary interrupted, “school policy dictates…”

“Anemone Laskaris,” Aunt Anna snapped. “Look it up. I’m Shahin’s aunt and am responsible for picking her up from school and these inevitable parent-principal conferences.”

“Aaah.” The secretary turned to her computer, clicking through as if checking up on Aunt Anna’s story.

“So what happened? Come on, kiddo, dish.”

“He hit me,” Shahin said. She’d had half an hour to think of the best way to tell the story. “He likes to do things like that. So I told him about the hammer story… and he hit me again. Then he started crying.” She shrugged, doing her best little-miss-innocent impression.

“Uh-hunh. Are you all right?”

She lowered the ice pack, not sure what the numbed place on her face looked like. The growing frown on her aunt’s face told her it was going to be a wide, nasty bruise though. “The little sh… shenanigans.” She glanced over at the crying bully. “That’s him?”

“Din’ do anything,” Matt sobbed. “I’m not a hammer.”

“That’s him all right. What’s this hammer story, Shahin?”

She smirked. “You know that saying ‘if all you have is a hammer, every problem begins to look like a nail?’”

“I do. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised anymore that you know it.”

“I read it somewhere.” She shrugged nonchalantly, but inside she was thrilled. The phrase had had the feeling of too-grown-up-for your-own-good, and she loved that sort of thing. “So anyway, I told him about that. And I told him, if he kept acting like a hammer, eventually it would be the only thing he could do. He’d just keep hitting and hitting everything until they locked him up and threw away the key.” She liked the way that sounded, and said it with delicious glee.

“So he hit you again.” Aunt Anna’s eyes had a dangerous gleam to them, but Shahin didn’t think it was aimed at her.

“Yeah.” She touched the side of her face gingerly. “Hard. So I said,” she grinned, despite the pain, proud of herself, “‘see? It’s starting already!’”

The moronic little bully sobbed even louder.

“That’s my girl! Were there witnesses?” That was one of Aunt Anna’s lessons: If you’re going to do something which people might, if they don’t know the whole story, think is your fault, do it in front of witnesses. Lots of witnesses.

“The whole class, and Mrs. Lovell, too.”

“Good.” She stood up as the principal, Mr. Switek, stepped into the room, and Shahin followed her lead. “Let’s get this straightened out.”

“Ah.” Mr. Switek looked, Shahin thought, particularly unhappy to see Aunt Anna. “Miss Laskaris. Shahin’s…”

“Her aunt.” There was a lovely crispness to Aunt Anna’s voice that she only took with people she found unpleasant. Shahin wasn’t quite sure how she did it; when she tried to imitate it, people said she sounded “snippy” or “bratty.”

“Ah, yes. Come on in, and we can discuss this.”

“I don’t see that there’s anything to discuss, is there? That boy punched our Shahin.”

“Ah. Well, while that is technically true, Shahin did provoke him, and such things…” He trailed off at the expression on Aunt Anna’s face, and then started again, sounding guilty. “You have to admit that it seems a little odd, if Matthew was at fault, that he is the one in tears and Shahin seems calm and in no distress.”

Shahin lowered the ice pack from her face again to grace the man with her most disdainful look. “I don’t cry in the face of my enemies,” she told him with injured pride.

The principal didn’t seem to know what to say to that. “Ah, oh. Well, that’s remarkably self-possessed for someone so young.”

“You’re new,” she said pertly. “You’ll get used to that in time.”

“Ah, well, the question remains of what to do about this situation.”

Shahin frowned at him. She didn’t like the way this was going. “He punched me. Twice. In front of a lot of witnesses.” She glared up at the principal. “He. Hit me. I don’t hit people.”

He frowned all the more. “Yes, but you made him cry, Shahin. Do you think that he liked that? Do you think you’d like it if someone made you cry?”

She glared right back at him, quickly growing impatient with this silliness. “I don’t care what he likes! I didn’t like being punched!”

“I’m sure you didn’t. I know I wouldn’t enjoy it. But Matthew has some special problems, and we need to be a little patient with him.”

She bit back, with what she thought was remarkable presence of mind, the nasty comment she wanted to make. “Yes, sir.”

“I can’t see that you did anything actually punishable, but I’d like you to keep in mind other people’s feelings in the future.”

She bit her lip again, but Aunt Anna was nodding a warning. “I’ll be sure to keep other people’s feelings in mind in the future, sir,” she said carefully. Aunt Anna had been teaching her what she called “the art of creative honesty,” and she was finding that it solved a lot of problems.

“Good. Well, I think it would be good to send you home for the day. If you’re not feeling well tomorrow, don’t worry about coming in.” He nodded at Aunt Anna. “Miss Laskaris. A pleasure to meet you.” He was lying; he looked like he needed to pee. That wasn’t, in her experience, something that meant “pleasure.”

“Likewise, Mr. Switek. I wish you luck in dealing with Matthew’s parents.” Aunt Anna was much better at lying than Mr. Switek was – and better at a dramatic exit than Shahin. Maybe the skirts helped; they swished beautifully as she turned and left.

Not until they were in her VW Rabbit, driving to the home Shahin shared with two aunts and her mother, did Aunt Anna turn to Shahin, smirking that private smile that meant she was proud of her niece. “He just gave you permission to skip school tomorrow, didn’t he?”

Shahin nodded. “He doesn’t like me, I don’t think,” she frowned. “It doesn’t seem fair. I don’t break any of the rules, and he still yells at me all the time.”

“He’s not a very bright man, and you’re far more clever than he is. I wouldn’t take it too seriously, honey.”

“He’s in charge, though. People in charge aren’t supposed to be like that.”

“No, they’re not. They have a responsibility to be fair with everyone under them. But when they’re not, well…”

“I know. I still have to do what they say, but I’m free to politely point out how unfair things are.”

“Good girl.”

“Aunt Anna? What if they’re telling me to do something horrible?”

Her aunt leveled a narrowed-eye look at her. “Nobody is, are they?”

“No, but… Mr. Switek seems like he might.”

“All right. Honey, if anyone ever tells you to do something you think is wrong, you tell them you need to check with your parents, and you come find me, or your mother or your Aunt Stazia – call us if you’re at school. “Okay?”

Shahin nodded, content that her aunts would take care of any problems, and Aunt Anna smiled again. “Good. So… are you going to take your principal up on that offer to skip classes?”


“Really? Mrs. Lovell is that interesting?”

“Well, sometimes. But tomorrow is Halloween.”

“Ah, that it is. Aunt Stazia made you a costume?”

“Yeah!” Shahin grinned. “It’s the White Rabbit, Aunt Anna!”

“The White Rabbit? Aren’t Halloween costumes supposed to be scary?”

“Rabbits can be very frightening,” she said solemnly. She held out her arm to remind her aunt of what had happened with her pet bunny Jonas last year; the angry red claw marks had faded to thin white scars, but they were still visible.

“Yes, yes they can,” Aunt Anna agreed indulgently. “And the White Rabbit in specific?”

She shrugged, feeling a little silly. “I like the White Rabbit. He’s a sign that things are going to go all weird.”

“A harbinger of change.” She nodded. “I can see that.”

“Harbinger of change.” Shahin tested the words. “I like it.”


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