Loud, Unpleasant Noises
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.”
THE WAY TO SCHOOL (SCHULWEG)
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
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