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Martha Snapdragon (rhymes with wagon) lived with her father, Luther Snapdragon, in the boiler room of Horace E. Bloggins (rhymes with noggins) School. Nobody remembers what Horace E. Bloggins did to get a school named after him. Maybe it was for surviving the name Bloggins.
The boiler room was like an oversize cracker box. A maze of steam pipes ran side to side along the walls, up and down, every which way, carrying steam to all the other rooms, heating the school in winter. Unfortunately, Horace E. Bloggins School was as old as mold. Nothing worked right, especially not the ancient steam pipes. So they also heated the place in summer.
The constant blup and phlut of water gargled in the metal throats of the boiler-room pipes. Some clunked and clanked in an everlasting racket. Year-round, Martha and her father wore earmuffs to muffle the cacophony. (It didn't help much.) But their voices got muffled, too, so they had conversations like this:
Luther: "How was school, dear?"
Martha: "I don't think so."
Luther: "Drat! Whacked my finger with the hammer!"
Martha: "That's nice, Daddy."
On a daily basis, the Snapdragons were nearly cooked, like crustaceans in a pot. They sweated a lot and their skin was as pink as SPAM. But even though the boiler room was sweltering hot, they were grateful that the principal, Dr. Klunk (rhymes with junk), gave them a roof over their heads, as part of Luther's (very low) pay.
Luther Snapdragon was the school janitor, on call both day and night. Dr. Klunk woke him up whenever he felt like it (sometimes just for fun). Luther didn't mind. Times were tough and he was happy to have a job and a place to live for his little daughter and himself.
Martha's mother had died some years before. Since then Luther Snapdragon had seemed a bit lost. But he loved his daughter and tried valiantly in his cloudy way to take care of her.
"Look to the positive, Martha," he often said, trying to keep their spirits up. "Imagine something wonderful about our little home."
Martha was always hungry. So she would scrunch her eyes shut and imagine her favorite thing, bacon, looped over every inch of pipe. Scrumptious bacon, popping and sizzling.
But the Snapdragons were too poor to buy bacon. Sometimes they poached eggs in a pot on the pipework instead. They had to sling their laundry there, too, both clean and dirty. The light was bad, so often they wore dirty clothes instead of clean. Oh well. That didn't matter. They had each other.
Martha was proud of her father for his hard work and devotion (thirty-seven years come July) to Horace E. Bloggins School. She knew how hard he worked, for the school and for her. So she tried to take care of him, too.
Bloggins was a good school in lots of ways. It had some great teachers. It had nice lawns. And trees. It had cool brick hallways with great sayings chiseled into them. Sayings like:
LEARNING IS GOOD.
SLACKING IS BAD.
MATH IS TONS OF FUN.
READ YOUR BRAINS LOOSE.
One bad thing about Horace E. Bloggins School was Dr. Klunk. The principal was pudgy and pasty and bald as a bottle, with beastly little eyes like mean raisins. He looked like the Pillsbury Doughboy stuffed into a suit.
Dr. Klunk wasn't a doctor at all. He lied about that. He wasn't a real principal. Big fat fib. But he was a sneak. That's how he'd squirmed himself into this Place of Power.
Dr. Klunk wanted to boss everybody. And to be rich. But he was too sneaky to do his own dirty work. He got the school bully, Rufus Turk (rhymes with jerk), to spy on teachers and dig out their secrets. Then he could really boss them around (and pay them less). Rufus stole kids' lunch money for Klunk. In exchange he and his gang could do whatever they pleased.
Rufus was a runty kid, like Napoléon. He had a pinchy face like a boll weevil, ratty little teeth, and hair the color of an orangutan. It was unfair to compare him with orangutans, for those apes are gentle creatures. Rufus wasn't.
Once he'd stuck a kindergartner in a tree. He laughed like crazy while the little kid bawled. Dr. Klunk had ordered a pizza and plunked a chair nearby. He laughed, too, spitting out pepperoni. Martha couldn't bear it. She'd scrambled up, helped the kid down, and got one thousand demerits.
Kids didn't bother to tell their parents what went on at Bloggins. They used to, but their parents didn't believe them. They believed the principal- imagine! Martha didn't tell her father much, either. She didn't want to worry him. Besides, Luther Snapdragon was too kind to think that anybody could be so evil. "Look to the positive," Luther would have told her. "At least you have a principal."
Rufus loved to terrorize everybody. But mostly he loved to torment Martha Snapdragon. Just seeing her fried his brain with anger. Sometimes he tied Martha's shoelaces together. Then he gave her a shove. Poor Martha hopped a lot, then fell on her face and got all scraped up. One or two of the other kids laughed, but mostly they felt sorry for her. They liked Martha. She'd saved lots of them from Klunk and Rufus. (So Rufus hated her even more.)
Rufus also squished chewing gum into her hair. Though she cut it out as carefully as she could, Rufus kept sticking gum into it. Her hair always looked like a horse had chewed it.
"You're nuthin' but a brain-o!" Rufus hollered whenever he saw Martha. "And your father's the janitor! Har! Har! Har!" (His father made movies and went to parties and ate sushi with movie stars and did other important stuff.)
Martha felt glum. Why was Rufus after her? She had no idea. She hated the taunts and the shoving and the chewing-gum treatment, but she hated jeers about her father more. And she couldn't stand that ruffian bullying little kids. But Martha was just one girl- usually limp as uncooked bacon, from sleepless nights and skimpy meals. She just had to take it. Martha couldn't do anything about Rufus. She could do even less about Dr. Klunk.
Copyright © 2005 by the Johnston Family Trust
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