His haircut troubled me—the most severe I’d seen in my whole fifteen years. It was a pronouncement of his exactitude, buzzed close to the head around the sides, only an inch at the top, all of the hair contained in some gel that forced each strand to obey. Around his ears, the geometry of his dark do was calibrated so the hair lofted in perfect arches, away from his skin. No hair touched his flesh. His young sons, whom I merely saw from a distance at church or in the academy parking lot, sported identical cuts in blond. They wore dress pants to school, each with the same hint of sock showing at the hem, like characters from a Dick and Jane reader.
“Woman, she is folly,” Mr. Blount read, holding his leather Bible out in front of him. In his brown double-knit pants, his legs bent slightly backward at the knee, and his shoulders twitched. He launched his verses into our class before the algebra lesson. “She maketh the righteous man stumble,” Mr. Blount read from the Book of Proverbs with perfectly dry lips and tongue, and I held my breath. Fall winds pushed against the window and sent piles of dry oak leaves to the edge of the parking lot beyond. We women were gossips, we led good boys into adultery, we distracted them from their battles, we broke their hearts.
“Woman must be avoided,” he said. I thought of his wife, six inches from her math-teacher husband on the church pew. Maybe he read these verses to her, over dinner? No wonder she looked like she’d swallowed a helium balloon. No wonder she never smiled. Mrs. Blount’s hairdo reminded me of the ones I pressed onto doll heads with a Play-Doh mold.
“If you beat your son, he will not die,” Blount offered, with more twitching of his shoulders. “What does this verse mean?” he asked, his eyes darting around the room.
Some propriety made me watch him, although he only made contact with boy eyes. Justine watched him, too. Claire looked at the chalkboard, her face soft. Her father was a college math professor. Abbie designed ankle-strap shoes in her notebook. I held my fingers curved in my lap and rehearsed Miz Tulia’s piano lesson notes. Lift, then place with firm joints. Lift, place, relax, lift, place, relax. The first finger joint must be strong enough to support the whole hand, the arm, and the body.
No one spoke. “This verse means God intends for parents to beat their children in order to help them learn,” he said, as he scanned the room, daring anyone to disagree.
Instead of writing a newspaper article about misogyny at Waltham Academy, instead of leading a protest march or burning down the school, I became addicted to a powerful drug: Modern Bride. From the October issue, images drifted in to medicate me: flawlessly profiled young women in sequined charmeuse holding calla lilies with long green stems wrapped in creamy jacquard ribbons.
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