I intend to do," Miss Carswell said clearly and firmly,
making eye contact with no one, is interview the principal
figures involved in this conflict, Mr. Willard, Dr. McCallister,
and Jason Hardy. Then if anyone else has anything relevant
to say, I'll give him or her a chance. I'll consider what
I've heard and let you all know my conclusions. I hope that
is satisfactory to everyone."
She looked from the teacher and principal over to me. I nodded,
I couldn't help it. But no soon had I done so, than the lawyers
jumped up to protest their exclusion from the proceedings.
She interrupted them after twenty seconds of their shouting
over each other. "Do be quiet, gentlemen," she enunciated
with excessive clarity, as if talking to very young children.
"You are here to make sure your clients aren't treated
unfairly. I don't treat anyone unfairly. You are not here
to speak for your clients or badger other people. So unless
you have a rational objection to something I ask one of your
clients, you are to sit quietly and observe the proceedings.
And I mean a rational objection, not mere quibbling!"
Mr. Willard's lawyer opened his mouth to protest but then
thought better of it and sat down.
"This is not a courtroom," Miss Carswell continued.
"I am not a judge. I will not reach a verdict but a set
of conclusions that are not binding." She smiled faintly.
"However, no one who has challenged my conclusions in
the past twenty years has ever won in a court of law."
My mother took a quick breath as Miss Carswell briefly made
eye contact but didn't smile or acknowledge her in any way.
Instead the old woman shifted her gaze to the other side of
the room and nodded atMr. Willard and Dr. McCallister.
"Now, which of you gentlemen would like to begin?"
Mr. Willard looked flustered, and his lawyer leaned over and
whispered in his ear. He shook his head and shrugged.
"Is there a problem?" Miss Carswell inquired. There
was just a touch of impatience in her voice.
Dr. McCallister stood up. "Miss Carswell, you are no
doubt aware of the rules we recently put into effect with
the approval of the school board in response to the episode
that occurred recently in our high school when some of Jason's
classmates set off tear gas."
She nodded. "Yes, I am."
"Well," he continued. "I think the case speaks
for itself. Jason violated the rule against bringing weapons,
implements that could be used as weapons, and implements that
resembled weapons to school. He was suspended and his pen
Miss Carswell waited for a few moments. "Very well, Dr.
McCallister. You may sit down. I'm sure I'll have some questions
for you in a few moments, but first I'd like to hear from
Tom, er, Mr. Willard."
From the way Mr. Willard stood up, it was clear that he didn't
really want to have to be interviewed by Miss Carswell. I
wondered if he too had what my mom called history with the
"Jason brought a fountain pen to school that looked just
like the green tear gas pens Joel Thompson, Michael Archer,
and Dwayne Murphy set off in school. I confiscated the pen
and sent Jason to the principal. That's pretty much all I
have to say, except that he gave me a lot of back-talk."
A lot of back-talk? I wished I still had the Sentinel so I
could take notes and know what to reply to when it was my
turn. I squirmed, and Miss Carswell eyed me. Her severe expression
didn't change. I noticed that she had deep creases between
her eyes. Were they what my mom meant when she spoke of worry
lines or signs of bad temper, as my granda always insisted?
She put bits of sticky tape on her face to stretch her skin
and keep her from looking bad-tempered. I never noticed that
they did any good though.
Dr. McCallister suddenly jumped up. "Yes, Jason was very
shall I say it?
emotionally overwrought when he came
into the office. He threw his fountain pen cap at me and began
Miss Carswell nodded her head. "I see." She pulled
her pen out of an enormous, black purse, which she lifted
from the floor. The notebook on which the pen had lain when
I first saw it followed. "Excuse me for a moment, please,"
she said, and began to write very quickly in her notebook.
I'd never seen anyone write that fast, especially not with
a fountain pen.
"Dr. McCallister, may I ask you a few questions?"
The principal nodded and started to stand up. "Oh, you
can remain seated," she told him, "Have you suspended
anyone else for bringing a lethal writing instrument to school?"
I wanted to laugh but controlled myself, not sure if Miss
Carswell was being as sarcastic as I thought she was. Her
face showed little expression.
"No, but I have suspended several students for bringing
nail files, pocket knives, and the like."
Several? Two! Why, I wondered, was he exaggerating."
"But never a writing instrument," she pressed him.
"Well, of course, the boys who set off tear gas pens
were suspended as well."
"I see. And did they ever write with those tear gas pens?"
He glared at her. "No, of course not. One cannot write
with a tear gas pen. But according to the rules we instituted,
anything that could be used as a weapon or resembled one was
She stared back at him coolly, still writing quickly. "And
have you ever had a writing implement used as a weapon during
your tenure as principal?"
He shook his head. "No, but that's not the point."
She smiled, but the look in her eyes didn't change. Maybe
I was just imagining it, but I thought she was trying hard
not to make some kind of crack about pens and points. No one
else seemed to notice. They all just looked scared.
I was sorry she didn't any questions for Mr. Willard. She's
made the principal squirm. But instead of questioning the
teacher, she turned her hooded eyes on me.
"Jason," she asked me, "is there anything you'd
like to say?"
I was surprised when she didn't put me on the spot with a
specific question, but having the leeway to say anything made
"Should I stand up or can I talk sitting down?"
I asked, not wanting to do the wrong thing. She looked at
me with a touch of impatience. It looked like she wanted to
drum her fingers on the table, but she didn't. "It doesn't
matter, Jason. Which ever feels better to you."
I remained seated. "I got my grandfather's pen when I
was fourteen and have been using it ever since Mr. Harmon
fixed it for me, and I sure would like to get it back. As
for my suspension, well, I didn't think I was bringing a weapon
to school or anything that looked like one or could be used
as one. I mean, just about anything could be used as a weapon,
couldn't it? I've been using the pen regularly for a year,
well, actually a year and two months, and no one ever told
me not to bring it to school But if you decide that they were
right to suspend me, that's up to you. I just want my pen
I had to stop talking because I felt my voice starting to
quiver and I was afraid I'd make a fool of myself. I felt
her eyes boring into my face. "You're quite right, Jason,
just about anything could be used as a weapon." She smiled,
but the smile didn't reach her eyes. "In fact, I've seen
pencils and ballpoint pens used quite effectively as weapons
when I was in the classroom." The smile left her face,
and she stared at me intently. "Now Jason, please tell
me in your own words exactly what happened,"
I took a deep breath to steady myself. "I was using my
pen to copy what Mr. Willard wrote on the board the way I
always did. Suddenly he came over and grabbed it out of my
hand and told me to go to the principal's office. I asked
him to let me cap the pen. I guess that was the back-talk
he told you about. He tossed the pen at his desk. But he missed
and it landed on the floor. I was pretty upset and I guess
I tossed, no, I don't guess, I admit I tossed the cap on Dr.
McCallister's desk and complained about Mr. Willard not letting
me cap the pen. Dr. McCallister suspended me, and my mom came
in and argued with him, and he told her he had to back his
I felt like I was babbling, but I couldn't stop for fear I
might start crying. "I just want my pen back. It's all
I have from my grandfather." I stopped talking and stared
at my hands.
"Very well, Jason," Miss Carswell said. I looked
up and she didn't look quite so fierce as she had when she
was questioning Dr. McCallister.
"Dr. McCallister, do you still have the tear gas devices
that Joel, Michael, and Dwayne set off?"
McCallister nodded. "Yes, I do, but they're in my office."
"Very well," Miss Carswell said. "We'll take
a fifteen minute break while you retrieve them and the fountain
pen confiscated from Jason and bring them back here."
She stood up, put her pen and notebook into her bag, and left
the way she'd come in. My mom stood up and stretched while
Dr. McCallister, Mr. Willard, and their lawyers made their
way out of the room.
"You did very well, Jason," Ed Conley told me. "If
I didn't know better, I'd say that Miss Carswell likes you."
"What do you mean by that?" I blurted out.
"Oh, nothing in particular. She just has always been
very hard on her male students," the lawyer replied,
"Well, I'm not her student," I said. "And they
probably deserved it."
I had no idea why I was defending Anita Carswell. Except perhaps
that she obviously liked fountain pens and had let me use
hers. It didn't seem fair that no one had a good word to say