Curiouser & Curiouser

Small Screen Rapture

by Gregory Maguire

Gregory Maguire, who lives in Concord, Massachusetts, is a writer for children and adults, a founder of Children's Literature New England and a popular teacher of creative writing in the classroom.

from Four Stupid Cupids, Volume Four in The Hamlet Chronicles,
by Gregory Maguire, forthcoming from Clarion Books.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher.


The students of Miss Earth's class in the small town of Hamlet, Vermont, make friends with some stupid cupids who have some arrows to spare. They decide, in the book's early section, to ask their cupid friends to help their teacher fall in love with a TV newscaster, Chad Hunkley. Their plans go awry, however, and Miss Earth, formerly a devotee of books and reading, falls in love with the whole concept of television. Her students, the principal, the mayor, nobody seems to be able to help…

"Oh books," said Miss Earth tiredly. "The thing about books is that they're so heavy. If you know what I mean."

The children were scandalized. "Miss Earth," said Pearl Hotchkiss. "You're a card carrying member of the National Council of Teachers of English! How can you diss books?"

"That stuff about books being good for the mind, it's all a bit overrated, don't you think?" said Miss Earth thinly. She didn't look as if she had much more life than a doughnut right now.

"But look," said Mayor Grass. "I also brought you Abducted in Arabia! The very latest. See, it's a double volume, packaged with its sequel, Quicksanded in Q'om." He pulled the heavy hardcover from the pocket of his parka. "They say it's a book that you can't put down."

Miss Earth heaved it onto the desk with a thud. "I say it's a book that you can't pick up."

Mayor Grass continued desperately, "Roses, Miss Earth. I brought you roses. Beautiful roses . . ."

"Roses have thorns," said Miss Earth. "Thorns hurt. TV doesn't hurt."

Mayor Grass couldn't believe his eyes or ears. The children felt terrible. "Here," said Thekla Mustard, rushing forward, "let me put those roses in some water, Mayor Grass. I'm sure Miss Earth will come to her senses in a moment. She's just had a shock."

"Perhaps it's a shock due to a bee sting?" said Mayor Grass. "let me go ask Nurse Crisp to check her out and administer an antidote if need be."

"TV is a wonderful antidote to everything," said Miss Earth staunchly.

Mayor Grass left, looking worried. The kids sat at their desks. Jasper Stripe returned with a small black-and-white TV. It didn't have the right fixtures to hook up to the VCR. Miss Earth wasn't going to be able to find Chad Hunkley now, since the Breakfast in America show was only on from 9 till 10.

But Miss Earth fiddled with the antennae and worried the knob about. Without the help of a satellite dish, TV reception in rural Vermont was poor. For a while she couldn't tune in to anything much. Still, she made comments about the gray herringbone stripes that zigzagged nervously, east to west. "Soothing, and somehow stimulating too, don't you agree?" she asked the class.

"One can learn so much from TV," said Miss Earth. "Do books look you in the face and speak to you? No they do not. They lie around like old pieces of pie that nobody wants. Whereas TV has this powerful pull, with noise and movement. And you don't have to lift a finger. Look, a commercial. Watch carefully. All of life passes before you in commercials, if you but have the eyes to see."

"Drastic situations call for drastic measures," said Lois Kennedy the Third. Swift and sure of purpose as a United States Marine, she dove to the front of the room and yanked the TV plug out of the socket.

Miss Earth's pupils -- the ones in her eyes, not the ones standing around worrying about her—seemed to be dwindling like the little white dot in the middle of the TV screen. When the white dot disappeared, Miss Earth sat with her hands on her knees as if she had been unplugged too.

"Are we in trouble," said Fawn. "Catastrophe."

At that moment Nurse Pinky Crisp and Principal Buttle came bustling in.

"The janitor told us you were ill," said Principal Buttle.

"TV," murmured Miss Earth, as if in a coma.

Miss Earth suddenly lunged for the TV cord and plugged it in again. A commercial came blaring on. The TV commanded: "Right now, for a limited time only, a complete set of the novels of Stephanie Queen. Order now! Now! Call 1-800-555-OUCH."

"What a good idea!" said Miss Earth. "Why didn't I think of that before?"

"But Miss Earth!" screeched Thekla Mustard. "You have some Stephanie Queen novels right here at your feet."

"I think they're better if you order them through the TV," said Miss Earth.

Principal Buttle and Nurse Crisp looked at each other sagely and nodded. "You've finally cracked," said Principal Buttle to Miss Earth. "Being the best teacher in the school has proved too much for you. Let's get you home for a little loving care by your mother." Nurse Crisp and Principal Buttle locked arms with Miss Earth, and marched her out of the room.

"For homework," Miss Earth called over her shoulder, "class, watch as much TV as you can, and tell me all about it tomorrow."

Gregory Maguire

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"Small Screen Rapture"
© Gregory Maguire , 2000.
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