Ten to fifteen minutes into the ceremony Babe starts whimpering a readiness to stop, and the junkie headmistress begins stamping her left foot in time to the smacking of the blows. Babe's head, resting on her thigh, bobs up and down; the bag turns this way and that. The assembled girls and faculty begin to stamp their feet in time to the rhythm set by the junkie headmistress. There is no rigid orthodoxy binding them to her beat but she does frown on flights of jazzy syncopation. In a wall-shaking crescendo of sound the ceremony builds to its climax in the guttural shrieks of the junkie headmistress and the blood-red lights' sudden extinction; then slowly, before the fallen curtain, as the house lights resume their daily life, the martial clamor of the audience subsides, and the girls file out row by row.

For Babe, this late afternoon, the squawking of geese migrating southward overhead sounds like a rusty pulley's protest at being jerked into unaccustomed use: another curtain is rising upon a far more private scene. Or else a curtain is falling, leaving Babe and Constance the stage--just as Babe and the junkie headmistress and the faculty and the occasional Trustee are left behind the curtain after her spanking: white wine is served, and they all chat together congenially enough, although Babe (and, she suspects, the junkie headmistress too) finds the reception the most tiresome part of the ceremony. Noting, down the hill to her right, the nearly empty Faculty parking lot with its hackneyed signage threatening the Violation of Trespassers, she remembers her youthful admiration for the daring faculty; she remembers long years of believing that they exemplified the life of a mind limited only by discipline. And perhaps some of them did; but the best she's known have left or died, while the worst drag on, weighty with vigorous conceit.



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