It seems that Mike had lied to his teacher, Sister Beatrice, which sounds like a real 1950’s nun’s name, doesn’t it? As it turns out, Mike was going to have a tough year. Later in the Spring he would come down with encephalitis, which caused him to completely lose both his bearings and his balance. He really didn’t know where he was, up from down or one side from the other. He was lost and senseless and overwhelmed, and he was sure it was because this was, indeed, another incarnation of the spanking machine that the Mother Superior had told him about, and which he had tried as mightily as a little boy can to avoid.
Earlier in the Fall he had failed to bring something back signed from home. He had forgotten to give it to his mother entirely, becoming distracted with play after school, and then, as children sometimes do when caught between trouble at school and the trouble that can cause at home, Mike lied.
He didn’t say the dog ate it, that would be stupid. He didn’t tell Sister Beatrice that his parents were fighting and that his dad had given mommy a black eye and that she had been periodically sobbing in her room all night after Dad had stomped out of the house into the dark to go drinking at the NCO Club. His father had peeled out of the driveway in the Chevy Bel Air, leaving a cloud of burning rubber and the echoes of the rumbling engine sounds reverberating through the mufflers. He just hid under his blankets and he never showed them the permission slip.
So Mike told Sister Beatrice that he lost it on the way home, and was afraid he’d get into trouble. It wasn’t entirely true, and somehow, Sister Beatrice always knew when little boys lied. So Sister Beatrice sent him, with a note, to the Mother Superior’s office to explain himself to her.
It seems that there was a rumor that the Mother Superior had a spanking machine in her office. It was in a closet that no student had ever had the nerve to open and no student who had been subjected to it had ever disclosed the details of their experience. It was just one of those things that all of the children knew and all of the nuns took advantage of for what it lent to peace and order in the school.
Mike got up from his desk as bravely as he knew how and turned toward the classroom door as Sister Beatrice passed him the note. It was folded in half and he was instructed not to look, that it was for the Mother Superior and not for him. He trudged onward and out of the doorway, turning down the hall towards the office. Tears began to leak out of his eyes even as he bit his bottom lip, trying to contain them. He began to quiver and shake.
Little Mike began remembering everything that he had been told about the spanking machine. Apparently, the other kids had said it was like a big washing machine that the Mother Superior put the bad and disobedient children in for punishment. It had big hands with paddles, switches, leather belts and sticks in it that randomly struck the child it was punishing. But the worst thing of all was that once you had been put inside the spanking machine only God could stop it and it wasn’t just for the thing you had been sent to the office about that you would be punished: it was for everything!
Walking towards the office, all of the inadequacies that had already been pointed out to him loomed like terrible sins for which he would be punished. All the ways he had disappointed his recently violent father. All the ways he had made his mother cry. He was pretty sure that he would not live.
He stood before the glass door to the office and the nun who acted as the receptionist saw him and waved him in to the office, taking the note and pointing toward a big, dark wooden bench. He sat on it alone with his feet dangling in the air.
She picked up the telephone and he fainted with the weight of the fear that had been consuming him since last night.
When he awakened he was lying on the bench with a scratchy, grey wool blanket thrown over him and his mother was sitting beside him looking worried. The Mother Superior said she wanted to speak to him for a moment. She took him into the office, and let him know that he had given them all quite a scare, and she handed him a copy of the permission slip for his parents to sign. He walked past a couple of closet doors before being led out of her office. He wondered which one contained the spanking machine, but at least for today, today would not be the day when he found out the secrets behind that closet door.