A Taste Of Wool

by: Sarah Fader

A whimsical work of fiction with a surprise twist, that revels in the joy of dancing to the beat of one’s own drum…

Harry Ellis was a janitor. Everyone at the Rutherford B. Bacon Elementary School knew him as either Harry or “that weird guy with the mop.” Those who addressed him as Harry were usually beyond the stages of thumb sucking and nose picking, though this was not always the case. There was, for example, Mr. Urie, a fourth-grade teacher, who was very familiar with the ins-and-outs of his nasal passage. Sometimes Harry would catch Urie (whom all the fourth graders referred to as “Urine”) in the act of familiarizing himself with his nostrils. Urie would abruptly remove his finger from the area in question and clear his throat acting as if nothing happened.

Urie was a scruffy middle-aged man with glasses that always seemed to be falling off the edge of his enormous nose. It seemed to the nine and ten year olds of Rutherford B. Bacon that Urine wore the same red knit sweater vest every day.

Harry liked Urie very much. He didn’t mind Urie’s nasal fixation, and Urie didn’t think of  Harry as “that weird guy with the mop.” It became routine that Harry would walk up to Urie and catch him in the act. Harry would stare at Urie until Urie noticed that he was being stared at. Finally, Urie would spark up a conversation with one of his many ingenious conversation starters.

“How’s that floor looking, Harry? Can you see your pretty face in it?”

This remark Harry identified as ‘Remark P’ for “pretty face.” It was often followed by a forced chuckle, but not always. On the occasions when the chuckle was included, Harry referred to it as “P-chuckle,” which eventually became “pachuckle.”

Sometimes, Urie would be so flustered by being caught in the act that he couldn’t even manage to form a complete sentence or a decipherable word for that matter. Instead, Urie would simply nod and say “Haaarriee.” This was amid numerous throat clearings that were the product of intense embarrassment. Harry labeled these sort of remarks  as ‘Cottage Cheese.’ He didn’t know why exactly, but he thought it conveyed the essence of what Urie was so desperately trying to communicate.

A third response from Urie in these cases is something that Harry had a hard time labeling. What would happen was Harry would approach Urie in the midst of his nasal orgasm and stare at Urie for what seemed to both of them like an eternity. Finally, Harry would assume that Urie was not going to speak at all, and would start to leave. But Urie would realize that the staring had ceased and would begin whistling a tune that both Harry and Urie were particularly fond of “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” by The Platters. Then the two would join each other in a duet.

It was always a surprise as to which of the three possible reactions Urie decided upon. After Urie would react, Harry would find a way to say the name of the response that Urie had chosen. For example, during Urie’s chuckle, after he uttered the pretty face remark, Harry would pretend to laugh along with him, but he was repeating “pachuckle, pachuckle, pachuckle,” over and over again. Urie never seemed to notice.

What Urie did notice however, was that every time he was unusually flustered and could not utter a decipherable phrase, Harry would pat him on the back and say with the wink of an eye, “cottage cheese.” Although Urie had no idea what “cottage cheese” was about, the sound of Harry’s voice saying it was always so comforting, so he took it to mean “it’s okay.”

Urie and Harry had a unique relationship. Very few people understood Urie, and fewer people understood Harry. Other than these three possible exchanges, Urie and Harry never spoke. It was only through these interactions that these two men had any contact at all.

To circle back to Harry’s being called “that weird guy with the mop” by those who had not overcome their habits of thumb sucking and nose picking, there were a few reasons why Harry received this title. The first reason being that it was nearly impossible for the kindergartners to pronounce the name “Harry.” Most of them had a terrible problem pronouncing their “r’s.” Thus, when they tried to say “Harry,” it came out sounding more like “Hawee.”

The second, and most important, reason emerged one day when Harry had first begun his custodial job at Rutherford B. Bacon. It is not such a strange phenomenon that a janitor should be seen carrying around a mop, of course. After all, a janitor’s job is to clean, and a mop is an integral part of this process. But, the peculiar thing about Harry was that he was often seen talking to the mop.

Harry would take a break from cleaning, lean the mop up against one of the walls in the hallway, and begin conversing with it. Many of the children would catch Harry in the midst of his conversations with the mop. Often, they would run off snickering to themselves at the sight they had just seen.

All the children thought Harry was crazy, except for Terrence and myself. And so what, you might think. So what if the entire staff of Rutherford Bacon Elementary school believed that Harry the janitor, the weird guy with the mop, was crazy. He was just a custodial worker. Did it matter all that much if he went around talking to his mop or himself, depending on who was observing him?

But the problem wasn’t the objections or judgements of the students or even the teachers. Instead, it was the gossiping of prospective parents eager to send their children to a top-notch elementary school. Once these parents were provided a glimpse of Harry bantering with his soapy friend on a stick, most parents were quickly deterred from looking into Rutherford Bacon Elementary any further.

Rumors about Harry’s idiosyncrasies spread fast around town, and soon the amount of people interested in touring Rutherford Bacon dwindled significantly. This concerned Ms. Sweeny, the PTA president, and the unofficial public relations queen of Rutherford Bacon. The few parents that continued to tour the school were forewarned of the eccentric janitor that came with the school like the prize at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box. Parents did not shy away from asking questions about Harry and his potential absence of sanity. Naturally, this was all related to the safety and well-being of their offspring.

Well, folks, the shit hit the fan one day on a routine tour when a father and his buck-toothed daughter, a prospective student, were touring the school and the daughter caught sight of Harry talking quite excitedly to his sud-soaked friend. The tour proceeded onward down the hall, but the girl decided to stop and examine what was going on. The girl was bit of a know-it-all and she thought she was going to clue Harry into something he had failed to realize.

“Hey, mister?” the girl said insistently tugging on Harry’s sleeve.

Harry abruptly turned to face her as if an electric shock had risen through his body.

”You know, you’re talking to yourself?”

Harry’s eyes opened so wide that it looked as if they might fall out of their sockets. His lips parted, and he emitted a sound that could only be replicated if a lion mated with a crow. Buck-tooth was terrified. Her little mouth opened wide as she went running crying and screaming to her father. Her father decided to take the matter directly to Ms. Sweeny.

“Mrs. Sweeny—”

“Please,” Miss Sweeny said as she held out her hand. “I prefer to be called Miss


“Miss Sweeny, what the hell kind of school is this? How can you live with yourself knowing that you’re paying an insane man to scare the bejesus out of innocent children? You do realize that this man is entirely out of his mind, right?”

“Well, Mr. Barns,” Miss Sweeny said with a saccharine smile, “I’m sorry that our janitor scared your little girl. I can assure you that this is not a regular occurrence in the Rutherford Bacon community.”

“Well, that man ought to be put away! He’s not right in the head, I tell you. He’s not right!”

And with that, the girl’s father slammed the door behind him leaving Miss Sweeny with the words “he’s not right” ringing in her ears.

During this exchange, Harry was waiting outside of Ms. Sweeny’s office playfully whistling “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” and stroking the mop’s wooden handle as if he were petting a loyal sheepdog. Occasionally he would put his finger to his lips in a gentle quieting motion as if he were calming the mop from talking excitedly. Miss Sweeny opened her office door, took one look at Harry, and thought to herself: He’s not right.

“Tested? What do you mean, tested?” Urie said with a puzzled expression.

“I mean that they’re finally gonna confirm that that guy is a full-fledged lunatic!” replied Marvin Greenwall between sips of his coffee. Marvin was a third-grade teacher who was born with a landfill for a mouth. It was akin to physical labor to Martin to utter a phrase that didn’t include vulgar language.

“I can hardly believe they’ve put up with him this long. Jimmy Rosenfeld peed in his pants after he saw Harry yelling at a bucket of Mr. Clean. It took me hours to calm the little fucker down!”

“Well, Harry is a little off-beat, but he’s not—”

Marvin assertively raised his coffee cup in Urie’s face.

“Off-beat? Christ, Urie, he’s crazy. He’s scaring the kids, not to mention he’s giving the school a bad name. Parents don’t want to send their kids here, because of the loony janitor who makes kids piss on the floor. Shit, I wouldn’t wanna send my kid to a place like that, would you?”

No, Urie thought, he guessed he wouldn’t. But still, Harry didn’t seem to be unstable, just a little eccentric. Sure, he had a few strange habits, but he wasn’t really doing anyone any harm, but rather dancing to the beat of his own drum.

“Look, I can’t say assuredly that Harry is crazy. Marvin, this is Harry. Remember Harry who used to play poker with you in the teacher’s lounge during lunch?”

It was true, there was a time when Harry used to partake regularly in poker rounds with Marvin, and whomever else was gullible enough to be convinced into playing. Marvin was an expert poker player, and even though they only played for sugar packets, Marvin could have rotted his entire mouth out with the number of packets he collected.

Marvin recalled the first day he asked Harry to join him in his daily poker game. Marvin was “whipping Mr. Klein’s ass” at the time, as he would put it, and was getting bored with Mr. Klein’s game.

Mr. Klein was a middle-aged first grade teacher with an enormous bald spot next to his left ear that made his head look off-center. Every time Marvin saw him in the hallway, he wanted to say “Do you know that you have an enormous bald spot that makes your head look off-center?” But he someone managed to withstand the urge.

Anyhow, Mr. Klein was taking a severe beating in poker, and Marvin happened to notice out of the corner of his eye Harry strolling down the hall with his bucket and his beloved soapy sheepdog.

“Hey, Harry!” Marvin yelled out the door of the teacher’s lounge “You wanna play a round of poker?”

Harry boorishly turned to face Marvin, the way that a panther might turn to meet its prey. He stared at Marvin for what seemed to Marvin like an eternity. Finally, Harry decided that this was a reasonable offer, and simply said “I’m in.”

Harry didn’t care much for cards. Harry didn’t care much for anything, but he was apathetic at best about cards. However, Harry, found Marvin to be quite entertaining and decided that this was enough of a reason to stick around.

“Okay, okay, so Loony Tunes played a few rounds of cards with me, big freakin’ deal. That doesn’t make up for the fact that he’s short a few marbles.”

“I’m afraid he’s not well.” sighed Dr. Drillateral Eisenger. “He’s suffering from a delusional disorder in which he believes that this mop of his is a living, breathing entity, and he believes he can converse with it.”

Miss Sweeny narrowed her eyes and leaned in closer to Dr. Drillateral.

“How do you mean ‘converse’?”

“I mean,” said Dr. Drillateral clearing his throat, “that Harry believes that the mop can vocalize.”

Miss Sweeny smiled a vacant smile and blinked precisely twice. Dr. Drillateral counted.

“What exactly do you mean ‘vocalize’?”

Dr. Drillateral was a patient man, so he understood that the lack of clarity in this situation was due, undoubtedly, to Miss Sweeny’s stupidity. He proceeded, out of sympathy for her lack of intellect, to entertain her moronic queries. Dr. Drillateral stared directly at Miss Sweeny’s sagging breasts, which were plummeting out of her lavender low cut blouse and said, “I mean that he thinks the mop can talk, just like you and I are talking right now.”

“Well good lord! That’s not possible!” Miss Sweeny exclaimed in disbelief.

“Yes, Miss Sweeny. I know that, and you know that, but he…”

“Doesn’t know that?” she asked incredulously.

“Exactly!” Dr. Drillateral beamed. He had an overwhelming urge to sleep with Miss Sweeny at that very moment, but he quickly repressed this urge as Miss Sweeny brushed aside a strand of her hair.

“Well, what are we going to do?” Miss Sweeny moaned.

“Well,” Dr. Drillateral said calmly “he needs help. He might need to be put on medication.

“No, no! I don’t care about that!” Miss Sweeny exploded. “I mean, how is it going to look if the Rutherford Bacon Elementary School janitor is institutionalized? No one will ever want to send their children here again.”

Miss Sweeny took a deep breath and realized that she had just lashed out at Dr. Drillateral, who was staring wide-eyed at her. The notion of sleeping with Miss Sweeny had, at that very moment, packed up and left for an unpleasant trip to Antarctica leaving Dr. Drillateral staring at this idiotic creature in disgust.

“We can’t let him go! He stays here for the good of the community, the welfare of the little ones. Plus, we can’t have this awful news spreading around town. Doctor, what do you suggest we do?”

Dr. Drillateral sighed for what seemed to him like the twentieth time and said, “I’m going to be honest with you, at the very least he needs counseling.”

“What exactly do you mean by ‘counseling’?”Asked Miss Sweeny in all sincerity.

Here we go again, thought Dr. Drillateral. His patience was waning.

“Therapy! He needs therapy!” the doctor erupted loudly exploded.

As soon as he blurted out those words, Dr. Drillateral knew what question was coming next.

Was Harry crazy or were Miss Sweeny and the rest of the school officials the crazy ones? I knew he wasn’t crazy, but they wouldn’t and couldn’t (for that matter) listen to me. Harry would bellow at Dr. Drillateral: “You think I’m crazy! I’m not crazy!” Dr. Drillateral would politely nod and respond: “Do you think that I think you’re crazy?” To which Harry would reply: “BLAHHHHHHHHHHHH!” Or something of the sort. I could see the whole thing play out perfectly.

Therapy sessions were failing in effectiveness, and Dr. Drillateral felt as if they were at a stalemate. When their meetings started, Dr. Drillateral couldn’t get Harry to talk at all. If Harry uttered anything, even if it wasn’t quite a word, Dr. Drillateral considered it therapeutic progress.

Any vocalization Harry uttered at all impressed Dr. Drillateral. If he confided this in Miss Sweeny, however, she would have asked: “What do you mean by ‘vocalization?’” So Dr. Drillateral refrained from disclosing too much information to her. He merely told her that Harry was making excellent progress. That was all Miss Sweeney wanted to hear anyhow.

Terence Conrad was new to Rutherford Bacon. He had just moved to town and was about to start the fourth grade. Terrence was used to moving, and his mother had given him the gift of nine moves in his short life. Since Terrence had only lived nine years on this planet, it equated out to one move per year of his life.

During his travels, Terrence had had some strange encounters in his many elementary schools. In Terrence’s third grade class, his teacher, Ms. Hanover, kept two pet hamsters in the classroom. It seemed to Terrence that there was something a little offbeat about Ms. Hanover, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it.

Terrence’s suspicions were confirmed one day when he was supposed to be out in the yard playing dodgeball. He was bored and somewhat curious as to what it was that Ms. Hanover did while the others were out assaulting each other with a giant red ball. When Terrence quietly tip-toed up to the doorway of his third-grade classroom, he was amazed by what he saw — Ms. Hanover was sitting on the beige carpet enclosed by bookshelves, her legs spread eagle revealing her underwear (for she was wearing a skirt), waiting for the innocent hamster to enter the abyss between her thighs. Terrence was not at all interested as to what Ms. Hanover did with the rest of the forty-minute recess block, and he abruptly left

Now, Terence was beginning the fourth-grade hamster free. That was the first thing that he made sure to check in Urie’s classroom, whether or not Urie kept classroom pets. Fortunately, Mr. Urie was allergic to hamsters, and pretty much any other animal with fur. And even if he wasn’t, Terrence was pretty sure that Urie looked far different from Ms. Hanover in a skirt.

Terrence Warily hung his coat up on the hook with his name written above it. Urie had written all the children’s names on pieces of masking tape in blue permanent marker and taped these individual pieces over each of their hooks in the coat closet. Since Terrence was new to Urie’s class, his name was written in red permanent marker as opposed to blue. The reason for this was, actually, that Urie had misplaced the blue pen, but Terrence felt that it made him stand out more from the rest of the closet hooks, and the other children in the classroom. It was as if Terrence was the star in a major motion picture entitled Fourth Grade: Adventures in the Coat Closet.

As Terrence approached the closet to hang up his green fleece jacket, he bumped into a boy who held a residency at the masking tape zone next to his.

“Damn boy! Watch where you’re goin’!” Shouted Rasheed Brown as he pushed passed Terrence to hang up his red winter jacket. Rasheed was the loud mouth of Urie’s class. Being a Sagittarius with a moon in Leo, he didn’t hesitate to tell anyone at any time what was on his mind. It didn’t matter if Rasheed was talking to Terrence or Miss Sweeny for instance, adult or child, he would let them know what he thought.

Urie was quite fond of Rasheed. Most teachers at Rutherford Bacon despised Rasheed’s forthright manner, which usually resulted in a fight or two and numerous trips to Miss Sweeny’s office. The trips Rasheed took to Miss Sweeny’s office ended up being pointless because all Rasheed would do was stare at her breasts the entire time.

“Rasheed?” Miss Sweeny would ask quietly.

“Huh?” Rasheed did not move his eyes from the sagging melons beneath Miss Sweeny’s blouse.

“Do you want to talk about why you felt the need to hit Nicholas?”

“Not really,” Rasheed replied, “But I guess you want to.”

Rasheed looked up directly into Miss Sweeny’s eyes. Miss Sweeny said nothing, so Rasheed returned to staring at her breasts. After a half hour of this, Miss Sweeny gave up and returned Rasheed to Urie’s classroom, or recess, or music, or whatever activity Rasheed happened to be missing out on to get a better look at Miss Sweeny.

“S-s-sorry,” Terrence muttered, “I didn’t mean to…”

“That’s all right,” Rasheed said slapping Terrence on the back “You’re the new kid, I’ll cut you some slack. But don’t let me see your ass in my space again, got it?” Rasheed said with a wink.

“Okay…” Terrence began, but Rasheed had already walked away to sit at his desk.

“Bloorg!” Harry exclaimed. Dr. Drillateral sighed a long sigh and closed his eyes. He saw purple and green spots. The spots he saw resembled the ink blots that he was gripping tightly in his left fist — for Dr. Drillateral was left-handed — and had just asked Harry to identify.

“Can you describe ‘bloorg’?” Dr. Drillateral said calmly.

Let it be known that Harry was perfectly capable of using adjectives to describe “bloorg coherently.” Bloorg was more of a feeling than a tangible object. Bloorg was the utter frustration that Harry felt at that moment when Dr. Drillateral was so desperately trying to evoke an answer that resembled “table” or “beach ball” or “ice cream cone.” But that wasn’t the answer that Harry would have given if he were to answer under the coherent terms of Dr. Drillateral. He would have begun a monologue about the complexity of the current situation, and how he wished that Dr. Drillateral could understand what he understood. Unfortunately for Dr. Drillateral, what Harry did say was nowhere near “ice cream cone,” or even “bloorg” for that matter. He opened his mouth and began to tell a story:

“When I was eight, I had a pet rat. She was black and white. Her name was Susie. She was a domesticated rat, so she was wasn’t dangerous, she didn’t bite. I used to sit in my living room on a couch cushion on the floor in front of the television with Susie in my lap. Sometimes I would spread my body out on the carpet lengthwise and let Susie climb from my stomach to my face. Now you’re probably thinking, ‘weren’t you afraid that Susie would poop on your face?’ But Susie was a good girl, and I knew she wouldn’t do that to me. When Susie reached the point just below my collarbone, I would stare into her eyes. She had a spark of knowledge in those black beady eyes and now, I know what she saw.”

Dr. Drillateral had wasn’t fond of pets. He once briefly owned a Golden Retriever puppy, but quickly had to get rid of it because he broke out in hives after wrestling with it. Ever since his match with that particular canine, Dr. Drillateral had rid himself of animal interaction altogether. However, Dr. Drillateral knew what Harry was getting at.

“What does the mop know, and what has it told you?” Dr. Drillateral asked leaning in close to hear the answer.

Harry began snickering quietly. The snickering transformed slowly into a slight chuckle and eventually evolved into an uproarious cackle.

“Bloorg!” Harry exclaimed joyfully. Dr. Drillateral groaned.

It was 8:15 am, and Urie was standing in the hallway in front of his classroom. Unconsciously, he reached his index finger into his enormous nose. There was absolute comfort in the nasal cavity for Urie that could not be replicated in any other area on his life. It was as if all his problems melted away as he slipped his wrinkled finger into the abyss of his nostril. His finger was fully emerged in nostril heaven at the very moment that Harry turned a corner with his mop. Harry stood next to Urie and stared at him until Urie turned as red as a radish, removed his finger from his nose and said, “Haii, har, haiiree,” or something of the sort. This was reaction number three. Harry patted Urie on the back and said softly:

“Cottage cheese.”

The two began to whistle “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” by the Platters. Then something miraculous happened, Harry spoke to Urie.

“How did you know I was going to whistle that song?” Harry asked.

“What?” Urie was startled, not by Harry’s question itself, but by the fact that Harry was able to utter a full sentence.

“You knew, didn’t you?” Harry asked looking deep into Urie’s eyes with a stare of a child.

“Knew what?” Urie asked still in shock.

“That I was going to whistle that song,” Harry repeated slowly. Urie furrowed his brow.

“Well Harry,” he said clearing his throat, “I honestly hadn’t given it much thought. I guess it just happened.”

Harry scoffed at Urie.

“Nothing happens! Okay! Do you think it’s a coincidence that we only have three possible interactions with one another?” Harry was getting riled up. He was losing control.

“Harry, I’m sorry, but I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Why was he lying? Harry thought to himself. Urie knew very well what Harry was referring to. I mean, after all, these interactions were so commonplace between Harry and Urie, they might have been saying to one another ‘Hey, how ya’ doing? How are the wife and kids?’

But Urie was terrified. He didn’t like where this conversation was leading. A part of him was beginning to think that Harry was, in fact, crazy.

“Come on Urie! Don’t do this! You have an opportunity…” Harry began, but Urie quickly cut him off.

“I think I’d better straighten up before the kids get here.” Urie blurted out, and with that, he disappeared into his classroom and slammed the door in Harry’s face. Urie’s heart was running a marathon in his chest. Damn it, James Urie! Why can’t you keep your finger out of your nose?

He banged his fist against the coat closet and slumped into his desk, one that was way too small for his adult body. Without warning, tears began to flow from his eyes. He was so engrossed in his sadness that he didn’t even hear the door creak open.

Terrence was always early for school, and today was no exception. His mother dropped him off ten minutes early every day so that she wouldn’t be late for her job. Olivia, Terrence’s mother, had just obtained the position of legal secretary at a law firm in town.

Little did Terrence know that his early arrival would result in him coming face-to-face with his fourth-grade teacher, bawling his eyes out at a wooden desk that was ridiculously too small for his adult body.

Terrence tried with all his might to not make a sound as he tiptoed to the coat closet to hang up his jacket. Unfortunately, he banged his toe on the door, and that was that. Urie was startled by the loud thump and he suddenly lifted his head up from sobbing and stared at Terrence, who was stunned by his teacher’s tear-stained face. Then it was Terrence’s turn to look like a radish; it was indeed a perfect day for radish impersonations.

“Well, hello Terrence. I didn’t see you there.” Urie said as he hastily wiped tears from his face. “And how are you this morning?” Urie asked trying his hardest to put a lighthearted tone into his voice.

“I’m fine, um…I…” Terrence began, and then he realized that he had nothing to say. Actually, that wasn’t exactly the case. He could have said that he had never seen a man cry before, which was true. The fact was, Terrence hadn’t been around many adult men in his short life. Terrence’s mother was a single mom. The only males Terrence had regular contact with were the mailman and his long-haired cat, Garfunkel. The mailman didn’t get too emotional about the mail one way or the other, and Garfunkel hardly ever blinked, so it seemed highly unlikely that tears would flow from his furry face.

“I um…forgot something outside. I’ll be right back.” Terrence said slowly, and with that, he crept out of the classroom door and exited as if he were trying not to wake a sleeping child.

As he closed the door behind him, he stepped out into the hallway and came face to face with Harry. Harry’s wide eyes stared at Terrence with fear. There was something about this boy that made Harry a little uneasy, and it was an exceedingly difficult task to make Harry anxious. It was Terrence’s calm that made Harry’s stomach twirl. Unlike most children who interacted with Harry, Terrence was not afraid. He peered into Harry’s black eyes with curiosity, not fear. All at once Harry knew that Terrence knew that Harry wasn’t crazy.

“Thank you!” Harry said to Terrence after he had this realization.

Terrence raised his eyebrows in confusion and said, “Um…you’re welcome?” while letting out a little giggle. Harry let out a chuckle. They both sighed a sigh of relief.

“Come here. I’d like to show you something,” Harry said intently.

Terrence was no stranger to unusual occurrences in elementary institutions. After all, he had seen Ms. Hanover’s love affair with a domesticated rodent. That was enough to make anyone’s skin crawl, but Terrence took it in stride. What Terrence wasn’t prepared for was…well…me! Now you’re probably wondering who I am, or perhaps you’ve already figured it out after all humans are relatively intelligent creatures with a decent amount of reasoning skills. Well, some of them are anyway, except MIss Sweeny. But anyway, on with the story.

Harry led Terrence a few feet down the hall to where I was leaning against a doorway. With no prior warning, I began to speak.

“Hello Terrence,” I began. Terrence stared wide-eyed as I, Harry’s loyal soapy sheepdog addressed him. “Don’t look so surprised. You’re used to strange happenings in elementary schools, isn’t that right? I’m familiar with someone you know who has a little hamster fetish.” Terrence blushed as he recalled Ms. Hanover.

“You’re probably wondering why I decided to talk to you, as opposed to the numerous other people I could have chosen. Well, that’s an easy one. You believe that Harry isn’t crazy. You didn’t need proof that his mental capacities were functioning adequately, you blindly believed that all was in order. That is the sort of faith that I admire in humans, and I felt that you deserved to know the truth.”

Terrence stared at me in awe. The fact was, speaking had become quite commonplace to me. I wasn’t amazed at the fact that I possessed the power of speech, I was used to it, just as I was used to my thoughts. I remembered the day I discovered that I could think, but that’s an entirely different story. What probably amazed Terrence the most was that I had no mouth. I mean, there isn’t much room for a correct mouth within a moppish clump of hair. Instead I “speak” telepathically, as I was doing so with Terrence.

“There’s something else you should know…” I started to say, when all of a sudden, Urie burst out of his classroom.

“Harry, I know something is going on! I have this sick feeling in my stomach, and I want you to tell me what it is!” Urie demanded with his face once again radish red.

Harry sighed and I decided that I had better handle the situation.

“Urie, if I may address you so informally,” I began, “I think it would be best if you went back inside your classroom and continued crying.” Urie cocked his head to the right, and his mouth dropped open. He looked into the dishwater colored strands of my hair.

“What the…fuck?” he bent down to touch a strand of my hair.

“Mmm, that feels nice,” I said. “You can continue petting me if you wish.” Urie jumped back and shuddered as if a roach had just crawled onto his hand. He stood there for a moment and said nothing.

“No, no, this can’t be real. Harry, you’ve got some tape recording device behind there or something. It is not real!” Urie stood very still shaking his head.

“Interestingly enough my friend, you are partially right about that. This isn’t real.”

“Harry, what are you doing?! What is this?!” Urie exclaimed.

“Let me confirm your doubts, Urie,” I continued, “I know that everytime MIss Sweeney speaks a word, you hear a cacophonous sound that is unbearable. I know that you secretly hate her and her lack of morals. I know that your mother gives you the same thing for your birthday every year, a maroon sweater vest and a lemon meringue pie. And finally, I know that until today, Harry and your…”

“Stop!” Urie exclaimed “There’s no need to go on! I’ve never told anybody about my mother’s pies. They’re disgusting.”

I took that to mean that he no longer doubted my vocal capabilities.

“Very well then,” I responded.

“So what is it that you have to tell us, Mr. Mop?” Urie asked, and then unexpectedly began to laugh hysterically. Harry and Terrence joined in, and soon there was a festival of laughter.

I waited until the wave of laughter subsided and then I began to speak.

“What I have to reveal to you is not of a humorous nature,” I said calmly. “There are several reasons why I must disclose what I am about to. But enough of the previews, on to the feature presentation.” I paused, and then I said very slowly “You are not real.”

“Who’s not real?” Urie asked incredulously.

“All of you, Terrence, Harry, and you, James Urie, are not real beings. This school, Rutherford Bacon Elementary School is fabricated — none of it is real. Miss Sweeny’s breasts are not real. I created everything you see before you, from the snot in Urie’s nose to the hair on Terrence’s head, to the crazy look in Harry’s eyes right now.”

At that moment, Urie and Terrence turned to face Harry.

“I invented everything you see around you.”

“So nothing here is real?” Urie asked.

“That is correct,” I replied.

“Harry, did you know about this?” Urie asked, his voice trembling.

Harry stared wide-eyed at Urie and said nothing. If he could have spoken at that moment, he would have yelled “Bloorg!” However, the power of speech escaped him.

“Yes, he knew,” I answered for him. “Why do you think the school officials think that he’s crazy? Wouldn’t you go a little bonkers if you found out that your entire reality was false?” I realized that I was a little insensitive just then. After all, I was telling Urie that truism; Urie’s entire reality was imagined.

“If everything isn’t real, are you real?” Terrence asked.

“Ah, a brilliant question! Yes, I am real, and I’m not — depending on how you look at it. You see, on the one hand, none of you exist in reality. The only entity that exists in our scenario here is me. I am sitting on a linoleum kitchen floor somewhere in southern New Jersey, slave to a homemaker and mother of three. It was on that very floor that I began daydreaming and came up with the lot of you. But that got out of hand when I decided to break the news to Harry that he wasn’t real. You see, I became tired of imagining day after day in this silly little school, and I wanted to move on to another fantasy. Unfortunately, the characters from daydreams don’t let go as smoothly as you would think. Harry argued, and begged of me day after day about how he wanted to go on existing. And so, here we are.”

“Don’t you bring those muddy shoes in this house, Cindy Harmon!” Nancy Harmon shouted at her eleven year-old daughter. It was a soggy day in Helenville, New Jersey. The rain had just cleared up, and Cindy and her friend Jamie had been romping around in the mud in the backyard. Nancy fastened her apron tighter around her waist and turned to face her daughter, who was standing in the doorway of the kitchen.

“Aw, mom!” Cindy whined. Nancy Harmon turned her back to her daughter and resumed her task of rinsing off string beans for dinner. Cindy saw her chance. She motioned to Jamie to follow her into the kitchen and upstairs to Cindy’s room. Cindy was halfway across the kitchen floor when her mother whirled around, flinging several string beans into the air.

“Aha! Caught you! Girls, take off your shoes and socks and leave them on the porch. Cindy, I want you to mop those footprints up this instant! Jamie, you can help me with those, she said motioning to the string beans. Cindy sucked her teeth and went to get me out of the closet.


Sarah Fader is the CEO and Founder of Stigma Fighters, a non-profit organization that encourages individuals with mental illness to share their personal stories. She is an author and blogger, having been featured on Psychology Today, The Huffington Post, HuffPost Live, and Good Day New York. She recently released a collection of her essays from around the Internet entitled, Old School / New School Mom

0 replies on “A Taste Of Wool”