Deep Trouble in Mrs Ellen’s Garden by Lori A. May

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April 12, 2013 by northerncardinalreview

It was second grade. My feet couldn’t touch the floor as I sat in the olive green armchair in the principal’s office.

“Do you know why you’re here?”

I cried. I nodded. But I didn’t fully understand why it was such a crime to pick a few flowers for my mother.

“Those weren’t yours to take,” the principal said. “Those are Mrs. Ellen’s flowers. That’s her house on the other side of the fence.”

I expected punishment. I expected detention or suspension or something worse that would ruin the rest of my academic career. Mostly, I was afraid of what my mother would say when I confessed to taking something that didn’t belong to me.

I took the note, from my principal addressed to my parents, and ran across the playground, through the junior baseball diamond, past the senior football field, out into the street and all four blocks to the high school, student population 300. I was intimidated by the grandiose institution, but felt the lure of comfort in needing to see my older brother.

In the high school administrative office, I asked for him to be pulled from class.

I stood on my toes to see above the solid oak reception desk. “I have to talk to him. It’s an emergency.” Tears continued to streak down my playground-dirty face. My fingernails showed evidence of having picked the life from some neighbor’s flower bed.

“Wait here,” the receptionist said. Momentary relief placated me. Then I was called into the high school principal’s office.

The man could have been a hundred years old. He was round and hairy, but commanded authority with a deep, booming voice. I felt like God was channeling judgment through this man’s words. “What is the nature of your emergency?”

Explaining my predicament, that I had taken something not belonging to me—out of innocence, as a gift for my mother—and that I needed to talk to my older brother—for what? comfort? redemption?—did not appease the high school principal. I was scolded, as I had been scolded in my own principal’s office.

My brother received a hall pass. He was asked to walk me back to my second grade classroom.

There, my teacher used me as an example of all that was wrong with us young punks. I was put in the corner and provided with the third disciplinary letter I would have to take home to my mother that night, the wilted flowers no longer the centerpiece of my day.

Bio: Lori A. May writes across the genres, road-trips half the year, and drinks copious amounts of coffee. She is the author of four books, including The Low-Residency MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Creative Writing Students (Continuum, 2011). Her reviews and essays have appeared in publications such as The Iowa Review, Passages North, Phoebe, Brevity, and elsewhere. Canadian by birth and disposition, she now lives in Metro Detroit, Michigan. Visit her at


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