From 'A Lesson Before Dying.' (fiction) (excerpt)

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Date: Spring 1993
From: The Southern Review(Vol. 29, Issue 2)
Publisher: Louisiana State University
Document Type: Excerpt
Length: 5,403 words

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TWO THINGS HAPPENED at the school during the weeks before I visited Jefferson in jail. The superintendent of schools made his annual visit, and we got out our first load of wood for winter.

We heard on Monday by Farrell Jarreau who had gotten the news from Henri Pichot that the superintendent was going to visit us sometime during the week, but we didn't know what day or time. I told my students to take baths each morning and wear their best clothes to school each day. After pledging allegiance to the flag in the yard, and after reciting their Bible verses inside the church, I would send a student back outside to look out for the superintendent. If the student saw a car, any car, turn off the highway down into the quarter, he or she was supposed to run back inside and tell me. The superintendent didn't show up until Thursday. By then we had had many false alarms. The minister of the church, who didn't live in the quarter, had made a couple of visits to church members. A doctor had come once, a midwife had visited a young woman twice, an insurance man had come once, a bill collector from a furniture store had made a visit, Henri Pichot had driven through the quarter at least once each day, and family and friends of people in the quarter had also visited. On Thursday, just before two o'clock, the boy I had watching for cars ran into the church.

"Another one, Mr. Wiggins, another one."

"All right," I said to the class. "Keep those books opened and look sharp."

I passed my fingers over my shirt collar and checked the knot in my necktie. I felt for the flaps of my coat pockets to be sure both were outside the pockets. I had three suits--blue, gray, and brown. I had on the navy blue today. In the yard I passed the tips of my shoes over the back of my pant legs. Now I was ready to receive our guest.

The superintendent stopped his car before the door of the church. A thick cloud of gray dust flew over the top of the car farther down into the quarter. The superintendent was a short fat man with a large red face and a double chin, and he needed all of his enegry to get out of the car.

"Dr. Paul," I said.

"Hummmm, stifling," he said.

I thought it was a little cool, myself, but I figured that anyone as heavy as he was must have felt stifled all the time. He wheezed his way across the shallow ditch that separated the road from the churchyard. He looked up at me, but I could tell he didn't remember my name, though he had visited the school once each year ever since I had been teaching there.

"Grant Wiggins," I said.

"How are you, Higgins?"

"Wiggins, sir," I said. "I'm fine."

"Well, I'm not," he said. "All this...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A13877173