214. Assembly: The Surprise

The principal himself
Was startled. To watch
His piano player
Take the stage!
Riah’s mouth was open–
What on earth?–
She had never seen her friend
This way.

Patty stumbled,
Cheeks mottled with red,
And stopped stage-center,
Nodding to the crowd.
Her nose shone; she was
Sweating through her dress,
The best one, her
Maroon, with shoes to match.
It was her hat, though,
Caught Riah’s eye. That
Hat–so meticulously chosen,
Mail-ordered from a Dallas catalogue–
That hat, with its tiny touch of net,
Its artful tilt–
Was on askew. Crazily,
It clung for dear life
To the left of Patty’s head,
As if she’d just jammed it on,
The net drooped
And grazed her ear.
She paid no mind.

Patty made a sort of bow.
“Ladies and gentlemen”–
She cleared her voice–
“Ladies and gentlemen,
We have come to the end
Of this day’s program.”
Silence doused the room;
They stared.
The principal stepped, awkward,
To the side: he must not interrupt
The banker’s wife.
“There is, though,
Ladies–and gentlemen,
One more announcement.”

Had Patty gone mad?
Fumbling at a card,
She skimmed her notes.
“As you may know,
Through a past election
By the ladies of this town
I am the president
Of our affiliate,
And delegate
To the statewide Convention
Of the GF–General Federation
Of Women’s Clubs.”
Riah blushed:
Was she up there to brag?

“I have recently been
In correspondence
With the GFWC,
The Core Committee….
Having obtained their guidelines….
Having submitted
Documents requested–”
Here she appeared
To wholly lose her way–
“Having submitted….
At any rate, I
Am here to announce to you
Today, the GFWC will grant
One full scholarship, books
And tuition, room
And board, to the state
College of her choice,
To Miss Narcissus Lightner,
Senior Class.”

Pockets of applause,
Polite, then rising:
Patty did this thing?
Turning, Riah saw
The Seniors’ teacher,
Ann Stein, who would
Wed, so not be
Rehired next year–
Stand, with brilliant, firmly
Reined-in smile, and
Push her student, frozen,
Toward the steps.

White as death,
Tears streaming down her face,
The girl received the envelope.
Her dress was a shame:
The crowd clapped loudly.
Flushed and trembling,
Wobbling in her heels,
Patty stood, triumphant,
On the stage.

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