The Cannigans were a poor family. They were six in all; the father Allen Montrose, Tina the mother, Titus the oldest brother, the twins Tim and little Al, and their sister Ellen. They called her Ellie, and they adored her. They were so poor that they couldn’t afford real toys, so they played with tin cans, and cardboard boxes. It was quite a problem though because little Ellie’s tin towers were quite heavy when they crashed to the floor and, try as they might, they just couldn’t build a tower taller than eighteen cans. This was partly because the cans were so ill fitted together they lacked structural stability, and then again that they happened to live right next to some rather busy train tracks which caused a sporadic rumble in the house; but also because at any given time the family never had more than eighteen cans to stack together. You might ask why it was that they didn’t then stack the empty cans, which is a ridiculous question. Have you ever tried to build with empty cans? Without the weight of the pickled pork or lima beans the cans just wobble and fall. Ellie’s little toes were perpetually colored in varying shades s black, blue, purple and yellow because she was the worst at getting out of the way when they thundered to the floor.
Ellie spent hours building pararapets and pillars. Her mind propelled her across duned deserts to lands where crusty pyramids climbed toward the sun. She stood at the tops of two and reached deep inside the sun and pulled out the hot heart to share with peoples of the north who huddled freezing under candy colored bulbs topped with snowy spires. Before they could thank her she ran fast as a wolf to lands where dragons breathed flame and fortune from thick roofed angular roofs atop rice paper palaces. Then headed west to churches built of stone stilts and colored. She pulled the walls higher and stretched lacy threads of stone between panes of colored glass. The rumble of a distant C train, and her glorious chapel shattered around her
The family was utterly destitute. Mr. Cannigan worked as a street side shoe polisher in their home town of Dugganville North Kentuckery. In this little town it rained constantly, making the dirt streets a perpetual mess of mud. This would seem to be either a very good, or very bad thing for a shoe shiner. Creating an endless supply of dirty hoes. However the townsfolk of Dugganville being neither inclined toward cleanliness, or particularly careful with their footwear, they saw little need to actually remove the mud that had so graciously been smattered by the hand of providence. Poor Mr. Cannigan was unfortunately stuck though, having invested all his money in the chair and a lifetime supply of shoe polish, which promised to last several lifetimes at the rate he used it. Tim’s mother worked the midnight shift cleaning janitor closets at the local school. She also made jewelry from recycled milk tabs, which brought in a scant amount for food, and the occasional new book.
Books were the one object which the family tresured above any other, and they had a generous library housed in the crates in their rather sparse studio. Fifty of the finest books ever written including classics by Dickens, Poe, Hugo, Dumas, Kipling and more. Poets like Blake, Frost, and Shakespear. When not constructing precarious architectural wonders, they explored the realms of imagination with greats of the past.
The town had only one school, and children aged five to eighteen went there. The school had four teachers, one for kindergarten through second graders, one for third through fifth graders, one for sixth graders alone, and one for seventh through twelth grade. The school also employed one principal, Mr. Schizo who also functioned as the vice principal, school secretary and secretly as the town clown hired for local parties.
One might think that being such as he was the principal would have a really fantastic sense of humor. Nothing could be further from the truth though. When donning his make up and fire colored wig, the principal became a heckler of the worst sort. “You think those shoes are cute? You must be a duck because that’s a quack up,” was just one of the terribly stale jokes he came up with while “entertaining.” He considered it a particularly profitable evening if he could leave the entire crowd crying. Once a mother had paid him an extra two hundred and seven dollars to leave before he’d finished his set.
At school he was even worse. Mr Schizo loved the rules. Every morning he announced the rules over the intercom in the morning, and stalk the halls every afternoon enforcing said rules. The rules changed every day according to his whims, “Good Morning Children. I am excited to announce that we have some exciting developments for the day. It is a fine spring day and as such EVERYONE will speak only in whispers anywhere on campus. I am certain that everyone will enjoy the extra quiet time to listen to the sounds of spring.” There was silence in the halls, there was silence in the classrooms, there was silence on the playgrounds. Teachers wrote their lectures on the boards. Students on the playground were careful to play games that wouldn’t overexcite them. Noone wanted to be on the wrong side of the principal.
Another day the anouncements ran thus, “It seems to me children that there is an overabundance of pink in this school, which is a color I detest. It gives me a headache and is therefore banned until further notice. Those found in violation of this new restriction will be forced to head up cleaning duties after lunch. That is all.” Poor Flora Mingo didn’t own one scrap of clothing that wasn’t pink, and spent the next six months mopping up after lunch along with Ellie who had only had one article of clothing, a pale pink jumper.
The Bad News
It was the morning of Ellie’s 12th birthday. Mr. Mcavoy the kindly old landlord was up early in his watercloset sized flat below her. His hand trembled as he prepared spearmint tea in the same flowered teacup his mother had used. The teapot was chipped and the silver filligree was showed a tarnished copper color. He gently plucked a few dried leaves from the potted plant on the table beside him, and dipped them gingerly into his cup. His fingers gently traced the daisies on the cup he held. He looked down at the pile of yellow notices stacked next to a small pile of nails and hammer. He reread the words again and again, willing them to change.
By the time he finished the cup he had firmed his resolve. He stood, stuffing hammer, nails and notices into the front pocket of a faded leather apron at his waist.
Door by door and floor by floor he delivered the pathetic notices to each of the buildings twenty three tenants. Each revelation signalled by the tell tale shuffle of feet, scritch scratch of paper against the door and rap-rap-rap of the small nails against solid wood doors.
Speechless fathers, and husbands were joined by curious wives and cautious children as they lingered, lookong out at the bent traitor retreating from them.