Loud, Un­pleas­ant Noises

Geist - - Findings - NOR­BERT RUEBSAAT

From In Other Words. Pub­lished by AUL Press in 2017. Nor­bert Ruebsaat holds an MA from SFU and taught Me­dia and Com­mu­ni­ca­tion at SFU and other uni­ver­si­ties. His work has ap­peared in sev­eral is­sues of Geist. He is re­tired from teach­ing and now lives in New Den­ver, BC.

Iwent into Grade One in Ed­mon­ton in Septem­ber 1952 at Spruce Av­enue Ele­men­tary, Room 6. The school was a few blocks from our home at Mr. Curry’s and I learned while walk­ing there what “blocks” were. Streets back home fol­lowed ra­dial pat­terns and the grid struc­ture of our Ed­mon­ton “sub­di­vi­sion” struck me as an­other one of these plots or chal­lenges or pos­si­ble traps that Canada was throw­ing at me to see if I could sur­vive and maybe be heroic. My mother took me to school on the

first day and when she told me to pay at­ten­tion so I’d be able to walk home on my own I slid into what I had come to know as “im­mi­grant boy zone.”


Your mother takes your hand and you move among the squares and rec­tan­gles the sun lays down be­tween the houses. You look at your feet walk­ing in a straight line.

The school is like the Royal Alex. A tall red build­ing made of bricks. The school where your grand­fa­ther teaches back home is red brick too, and it is be­hind your grand­par­ents’ house: you walk through their gar­den, open the gate, and are on the school ground. You think of your grand­fa­ther as you walk on the Ed­mon­ton school­grounds.


In the class­room called Grade One the tall lady stand­ing at the front of the room and smil­ing at you is called Frau Un­day­zone. Your mother ex­plains: you will stay here with Frau Un­day­zone, and I will go home. The tall lady smiles and looks down at you. Her voice is warm. You don’t know what she is say­ing.

Frau Un­day­zone puts her hand on your shoul­der and leads you to one of the desks. You sit. Your mother and Frau Un­day­zone talk and Frau Un­day­zone smiles and nods, and then your mother walks to the door. You watch the dis­tance be­tween you and her fill with empty space. Frau Un­day­zone looks at you and smiles and nods again. She has a kind face.

Your mother’s gone.


The chil­dren sit in rows made by their desks. They look in one di­rec­tion. At the end of that di­rec­tion is a black­board. Frau Un­day­zone turns of­ten and draws let­ters on it with her chalk. It makes a tap­ping sound when she starts and fin­ishes her words. Back home pupils carry small black­boards in their Ranzen, lit­tle back­packs.


Frau Un­day­zone says some­thing and the chil­dren put up their hands. Frau Un­day­zone points to one of them and nods and the chil­dren put down their hands and the child she pointed to

says some­thing.

You won­der if you should put up your hand. Yes, you should. You put up your hand like the other chil­dren do when Frau Un­day­zone talks again. She smiles and says your name in a strange way. She nods again and looks at you and you don’t know what to do af­ter this. Si­lence. The chil­dren turn around in their desks and look at you.


She’s not Frau Un­day­zone, she’s Mis­sis An­der­son. Your mother said it wrong. The chil­dren say her name in the right way. You lis­ten and whis­per it to your­self.

Mis­sis An­der­son looks at you and says your name with its Cana­dian sound. You want to put up your hand for Mis­sis An­der­son. But you don’t.


The noise is in­side your head. Other chil­dren make it with their mouths and you be­come noise. You sound like an an­i­mal. You lis­ten for Mis­sis An­der­son’s calm kind tones to come.


On the play­ground the chil­dren crowd around. They call out to you but you can’t hear them. You’re in a glass bell of noise. The chil­dren press their faces against it and their noses and lips flat­ten.

They move their lips like fish.


The sound starts in your stom­ach, then pushes against your chest. It lives up there. It sits qui­etly with you at your desk.

The sound goes push push push. You let it out. It doesn’t sound like it­self. Wolves are run­ning out of your chest.


Mis­sis An­der­son makes a sad con­fused face.


You’re cry­ing. Mis­sis An­der­son presses you against her chest. Her great bo­soms are soft and you want to live in them. You’re sob­bing; she sobs with you. The chil­dren are quiet and

Rika and Nor­bert Ruebsaat, Ed­mon­ton, 1952

Ed­mon­ton, 1952

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