Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Ballad of Sally McGee

"Sweet Sally McGee!" I shouted upon seeing balls of flame shoot into the sky over the moon base. Now, I'm aware that "Sweet Sally McGee" is somethin strange to be yellin when you see a gout of flame shoot into the sky, but it all goes back to third grade. Douggy and I attended elementary school with this girl named Sally McGee. I'll even go so far to admit that she was my first crush. I would watch her skip to school in her frilly dresses, red pigtails flappin in the breeze, but I never got the nerve to say nothin to her.

That went on for weeks. I would make sure that, in the morning, I was positioned somewhere I could see her approaching school. Even on the coldest days, with a nor'easter blowing and the snot freezing as it came dripping out of my nose and then being sculpted by the wind so that, by the time school started, I looked like I had dragon whiskers. Three times that winter, I was nearly transferred to the Dragon Elementary down the street by the vice-principal, but I was lucky enough to sit in his office for thirty minutes, allowing my snot whiskers to melt and, when I had to go into his office to discuss my dragonocity, he was willing to admit I wasn't a dragon.

Despite the cold, the being mistaken for a dragon, the almost losing my nose to frostbite, and the nearly being carried off by a yeti in that one snowstorm, it was all worth it to see Sally McGee skipping to school. That girl loved skipping. Even with two foot drifts on the ground, she would still skip to school. Keep in mind, this was back in the day, before kids got spoiled and expected schools to send buses to their homes and pick them up like they was some kind of celebrity of somethin, back in the time when a hill could run upwards both ways and before we expected school to be cancelled just because it was snowin a foot a minute and yetis were out snatchin people and takin them back to their winter lairs to do strange, awful things to them, like challenge them to a nacho eating contest and then cheatin at it. It was also back in the time where schools were just one little room, and we were lucky if some student or another brought a lump of coal with them to heat the place.

All that changed when Sally McGee came to school, and that was prolly why I loved her. You see, Sally's pa was a jalapeno farmer, and, though he made enough to pay the mortgage on their farm, he didn't make enough to feed his family any more than what he grow. The McGee family lived on a steady diet of jalapeno peppers. Keep in mind, now, that jalapenos is vegetables, just like any other pepper, and theys full of vitamins and nutrients and whatnot that growin and grown people need to get about their days, so the McGee family wasn't sufferin from malnutrition or nothin like that, so I don't want y'all gettin down on Mr. McGee, who was a good, upstandin man and a friendly citizen to boot (even if you couldn't touch your eyes or face after shakin hands with him).

Mrs. McGee did what she could to add some variety to her family's steady diet of peppers, but it couldn't have been easy. Sally would come to school carryin herself jalapeno crackers, jalapeno stews and, near the holidays, turkey sandwiches made entirely of jalapenos, which Mrs. McGee had painstakingly molded into turkey form and then dried in the sun to get that turkey color. Sure, it still tasted like jalapeno, but at least it looked like turkey.

The result of this steady diet of peppers was that the entire McGee family, Sally included, had an internal body temperature of, I would estimate, about three hundred degrees Fahrenheit. I can only estimate because every time the nurse tried to check Sally's temperature, which only happened three times, the mercury in the thermometer would start to boil and shatter the glass holding it in, spraying boiling mercury everywhere, which is why we always had our temperatures taken outside and at least 200 feet away from the nurse.

Because of her elevated body temperature, Sally's popularity varied depending on the season. In the winter, she was the most popular girl in school and the children all scrambled to get a desk near hers. It didn't help that the teacher, Mrs. Crowley, would sit Sally and her cast iron desk in the middle of the room, replacing the stove that only worked occasionally, or that other students would set tin cups of water with tea bags floating in them on Sally's desk and then never offer to share their tea with her. Some students were downright rude, bringing raw eggs from home and frying them on Sally's desk when she went up to go to the bathroom and then never even offering to trade their eggs for some jalapeno concoction that she brought in her lunch.

In the summer, Sally would be placed at the back of the room, as far away from the other children as she could get. When it started gettin above ninety, usually in the last week of school, Mrs. Crowley would go so far as to put Sally's desk outside so Sally had to look in the window in order to see what was written on the board. It was heartbreaking, I tell ya. I went home every day that year feelin bad for Sally McGee, and wonderin what I could do.

Then, one Tuesday afternoon, after studyin brave men of the past and how they did things even though they was scared, I got up the courage to speak to Sally. At lunch, I saw her go through her ritual of opening her lunch box, lookin in, sighin and then starin to weep a little before liftin whatever new jalapeno thing her mom had made out of the box and slowly start stuffin it in her mouth. This was my chance.

I walked over to Sally's desk and help my sandwich out to her. "Hey Sally," I said, profferin my lunch, "you wanna trade?"

"I dunno," she replied coyly, "what kinda sandwich ya got?"

"Tuna salad."

"Oh yeah?" she leaned back in her chair, "and whatchoo want for it?"

"I dunno." I scanned her lunchbox. "How 'bout that fried chicken?"

"That ain't really fried chicken, you know."

"I know, but it's ok."

She squealed with delight, digging into my sandwich with relish as she tossed me the jalapeno chicken leg with such disdain that it might as well have been a week old dead possum. We sat next to each other the rest of that lunch, but didn't say anything. She was too busy enjoyin the tuna salad and I was tryin my darndest not to cry from the heat. And I don't wanna hear no lip outta you about how jalapenos ain't that hot and how you've had a lot hotter stuff in your time, I was nine for heaven's sake, and I'd grown up mostly eatin tuna salad and potatoes and cabbage. The hottest thing I'd ever had up to that point was yellow mustard, and even that my mom mixed with water do it didn't upset our humors.

That trade was the beginning of a beautiful relationship spanning 3 whole months. Every day, Sally and I would trade a bit of our lunch and then enjoy it together. She gained a whole new appreciation for food and I, well, I raised my heat tolerance and got to see all the wonderful and ultimately terrible things that could be done by a determined mother with a near-endless supply of jalapenos. As we ate, we would talk. Just a little at first, but we learned more and more about each other.

Then, on the last day of third grade, I took the ultimate step. I told Sally I loved her.

"Well," she said, taken aback, "I didn't expect that."

I was crestfallen. "I understand if you don't feel the same way, Sally, but I had to tell you."

"No, no!" she said, "I just thought I was the only one who felt that way. I...I love you, too, Pat."

It was like a flock of doves had wrapped taffy around my heart and carried it into the clouds. I was elated. Sally apparently was, too, because she was more flushed than I'd ever seen her.

"So, now that we're in love," I said, prolly less slyly than I thought, "how's about we kiss?"

"Oh, I dunno," she blushed even redder, "I'm not sure that's a good idea."

"It's all right," I cajoled, "I won't tell no one."

"It ain't that, silly. It's just...I ain't never kissed no one, and I'm afraid I'm gonna burn you."

"That's a risk I'll take," I said bravely, and leaned in, puckerin my lips like I'd seen Gary Cooper do.

Sure enough, Sally was right, she burned my lips right off my face. It took me two whole months to grow them lips back, and it caused me to miss the Iowa Whistlin Championships at the sate fair that summer, but it was worth it, I tell ya. I ain't never had no kiss like that since. It was like touchin the sun with my face, glorious and painful all at the same time. I think Sally felt the same way, but I never got a chance to ask her.

After the kiss, her face kept gettin redder and redder, sweat pourin out of her in pints.

"Oh, oh!" She shouted, "Oh no! OH NO!"

Then she burst into flame. It think it was the sudden rush of blood and increase in body temperature that inevitably follows a Pat O'Neil kiss, but I ain't no scientist. All I know is that, right there on the bench, she caught fire. She kept gettin hotter and hotter. I tried to brave it out the best I could, and I lasted long enough to burn off all my clothes and get first degree burns over half my body. But then I had to back away, wishin I could do somethin to help and feelin selfsh about kissin her. Sally burned hotter and hotter, gettin brighter and brighter, like a star about to supernova. We all had to shield our eyes and so we didn't see exactly how it happened, but we all heard the WHOOSH and felt the heat gettin farther away. We looked up to see Sally flyin through the sky, leavin a trail of flame behind her. And we all heard the boom as she went supersonic. Then, she was gone. When we looked into the sky that night, we saw an extra star in Orion and, though we couldn't be sure it was Sally, we all agreed to say it was as a way to honor her memory.

I never saw Sally McGee after that. Her dad decided that feedin his family nothin but jalapenos was a dangerous thing and so he sold his farm and moved back to the old country. As for Sally, n one ever saw her again. Tom Blickenstein, another kid in our class, kept track of the "Sally Star" every night, and updated us every day through high school. He ended up takin a career in astronomy, but was drummed out of the university where he was teachin when he delivered his paper on the burnin woman flyin through space. I guess it just wasn't sciencey enough for them egghead types.

In the years since then, I've had women come and go, but I ain't never lost my love for Sally McGee, and there ain't never been no woman that stacked up to her. I guess that's why my relationships ain't never lasted that long.

The long and the short of it is, whenever I see a ball of fire shootin through the sky, I'm taken back to that May day that I got my first kiss, and I remember my sweet Sally McGee and wonder when I'll ever see her again.

It was not to be this day, sadly. I saw the fireball erupt from the moon base, but soon saw it come back down. Then it shot into the air, and back down again. That fireball went up and down and up and down and...well, you get the picture.

"Get in closer," commanded Alistair, "let's get a look at what's going on."


Niffiwan said...

Sorry, I meant to post this ages ago... a few thoughts about humour. This entry shows both good and bad 'Pat' humour.

Things like the 'Dragon Elementary' school are not funny because they just come out of nowhere and don't feel like they could be real (some of the entries before this one had that too). It feels like Pat isn't making an EFFORT to get you to believe that it can be real. On the other hand, the rest of this story is brilliant, and just believable enough to be hilarious (Pat explains everything - i.e. the girl is really hot because her dad made her eat many jalapenos. It's a ridiculous explanation, but it's the sort of explanation that someone who's not very smart would try to fool you with, which is why it's funny).

I hope that the "Dragon" part is expanded or removed in a later edit, because I think it's too unbelievable to work as a throwaway gag...

Niffiwan said...

Although I've only read to 01/12/2009 so far (I'll catch up soon...) - I see that you have something about dragons later on, so maybe this ties in.

If so, it is still probably introduced & forgotten too suddenly here...