Sister Benetrix smelled of vintage plastic and mildew. She was hunched over so her monstrous crucifix hung plumb from her twisted neck and she shuffled along as mechanically as a wind-up ramp walker. She spat when she shouted. If you were sprayed while she scolded you, she would make the sign of the cross over your head and gargle, “Blessed be His name.”
By mid November, I was the only boy in my third grade class that hadn’t been made to cry by the nun. A pool was started. The sum of $3.67 would be mine if I could make it to Thanksgiving break without being moved to tears. I had plans for that money. I lost with just two days to go.
It was before the bell that Tuesday morning. I was showing a few of my classmates Issue 34 of my favorite comic book series, The Transformers. Optimus Prime was on the cover bravely taking a blast to his chest from an attacking jet. We were all admiring the Autobot’s fortitude and so we didn’t notice Sister Benetrix coming up behind us.
The nun snatched my comic. The other boys ran to their desks.
“No funnies!” Sister screamed as she ripped the book in half. “I’ll not have the devil in my classroom!”
I couldn’t tell if the wetness on my cheeks was only my tears or if I had also been spat upon. Sister offered me benediction just in case, “Blessed be His name.”
I chose to sit alone in the cafeteria that afternoon. No peer mockery would have come my way, but I wasn’t sure I wanted the sympathy either. I was furious. When the school year started I had to give up my paper route and my savings were off limits for “frivolous“ purchases. So I had been putting aside a few cents from my lunch money every day to buy my comics. The evil hunchback in the habit had destroyed my personal property. I couldn’t understand how she was allowed to do that.
My silent fuming was interrupted when Brian O’Hara sat across from me.
“Hey, Tommy,” he said.
“I won the pool,” Brian frowned, “but I feel awful about it.”
“That’s okay,” I shrugged. “Somebody had to win. It was stupid of me to think I could hold out.”
Brian pulled a dollar out of his pocket and handed it to me.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“From the winnings,” he smiled. “I want you to have it so you can buy another copy of that issue. It looked like a good one and I’d hate to see you have to wait until you save up enough again.”
“No,” I shook my head, “I can’t — “
“No arguments,” Brian stood up, “it’s the holidays.”
I was embarrassed but thanked him as graciously as I could.
At the end of the day Sister Benetrix announced, “Remember, boys, tomorrow is Thanksgiving Eve and only half a day. As a break from all your hard work, we’re celebrating career day. Come dressed as and ready to talk about your future vocations.”
Career day! I was so upset by the morning’s event that I had forgotten. A plan formed in my mind. I stopped at the corner store on my walk home and bought a fresh copy of The Transformers No. 34. By the time I reached my front porch, I knew how I was going to take my revenge on Sister Benetrix.
I arrived at school the next day covered in my Obi-Wan Kenobi robe. A large set of wooden rosaries — a gift from my grandmother on my first communion — hung from my neck.
Many of my peers questioned my garb, but I just smiled and told them all, “Wait for it.”
With an hour left of our half day, Sister Benetrix called each of us in alphabetical order to the front of the classroom. I clapped for the other boys as they presented themselves as doctors and scientists and — right before me — an astronaut, to which Sister scowled, “Really? You want to blow up like those others last year? Don’t be stupid, Andy! Thomas Sullivan! You’re next!”
Andy sobbed back to his seat as I took his place at the front of the room.
“Mr. Sullivan,” Sister folded her hands and scoffed at me from behind her desk, “are you seriously expecting me to believe that you plan to become a monk?”
“Not at all, Sister!”
I threw off the rosaries and let my Jedi robe fall to the floor. In my Rowdy Roddy Piper costume (kilt and all) I declared, “I want to be a professional wrestler!”
The class cheered.
The nun yelled, “Satan! Satan! SATAN!”
Sister scrambled from behind her desk and grabbed my arm. I threw off her grip and delivered a Scottish backhand to her chin. She yelped and tried to grab me again, but I was too quick for her. I climbed her desk and the class cheered again.
“Get down from there right now!” Sister commanded.
I laughed and jumped off the desk. I expected the nun to go down when my elbow connected with her skull, but instead I found her fingers around my neck squeezing much harder than someone so old should be able to squeeze.
“What the hell?” I managed to choke out. “Haven’t you heard of arthritis?”
Sister Benetrix answered by using her free hand to grab the waist of my kilt. She hoisted me above her head. “Blessed be His name,” she growled and body slammed me to the tile floor.
Before I blacked out, I managed to ask, “Why do you smell like old Christmas ornaments? Vintage plastic… mildew…”
If she answered, I don’t remember it.
I woke later that day in the hospital with a concussion and a cracked collar bone. My parents were able to cover the medical bills since they no longer had to pay tuition.