(WARNING: This blog will be of most interest to readers of the Ishmael series.)
The character of Ms Heckenvaal (aka The Wrecking Ball) makes a fairly brief appearance in Ishmael and the Hoops of Steel as the boys’ Modern History teacher. I’ve always really liked her. She’s larger than life (both literally and metaphorically), has a great sense of humour, an unstoppable drive, and a wonderful way of relating to her students. She is both feared and loved at the same time. I have been fortunate enough to have taught with many remarkable teachers just like her, and in a way the character was dedicated to them.
But unfortunately, in the editing process, the major scene involving Ms Heckenvaal and the boys had to be cut because the first draft of the book was way over the word limit. Because of this, readers never really got to see The Wrecking Ball in full swing, so to speak.
Below is that deleted scene in full. By way of explanation, before Ms Heckenvaal enters the room Razz has just been making fun of the possibility of Ishmael dancing with her at the Senior Formal.
21. A HOOPING HAND
We were interrupted by a rapid tapping on the desk. It was Scobie, pen in hand once more.
‘Debating? Debriefing meeting? Remember? Right. First things first …’
‘So what den of iniquity have I stumbled upon here?’
Behind James Scobie Ms Heckenvaal was manoeuvring her way through the doorway like a docking airship. Scobie lay down his pen, positioning it exactly parallel to the edge of his paper and smiled up at her – his mouth was one tight line.
‘Ah! It’s the St Daniel’s Brains Trust,’ Ms Heckenvaal beamed, ‘oh and Mr Zorzotto.’
‘Hey that’s pretty cruel Miss,’ Razz said. ‘That could damage my fragile self-image. You could give me a complex.’
Ms Heckenvaal offered Razz a look dripping with compassion.
‘Orazio really, let’s be honest. You and I both know that the chances of anything vaguely “complex” finding its way past the countless images of scantily clad females already jostling for position in your disturbed, adolescent brain, would be next to nil.’
The Wrecking Ball was always good value.
‘So James what’s going on here then? As part of my playground duty I must be vigilant and work tirelessly to stamp out the spot fires of any possible violent uprising. Not planning the overthrow of the School Hierarchy in some sort of brazen, student led coup are you?’
‘Not just at the moment Miss, that’s next on the agenda’ James told her. ‘Right now we’re supposed to be having a debriefing and an evaluation of the debating season.’
‘Ha! Likely story Mr Scobie, although I’ll believe you for now. But just keep in mind, when you do get around to planning the overthrow of the School Hierarchy in some sort of brazen, student led coup, I’d very much like to know – so I can join in ok?’
‘I’ll put you on Speed Dial Miss.’
‘Good,’ Ms Heckenvaal said holding up a fist. ‘The people united will never be defeated.’ Then she glanced around the table, stopping when she got to Bill.
‘Bill Kingsley you are turning into an iron man before our very eyes. You have to tell me your secret. I seem to have put on a person or two over the years. Not that anyone would notice of course because I carry it so well. So what’s the Bill Kingsley formula for slimming success?’
‘He hoops Miss,’ Razz said.
‘Yeah, he hoops heaps.’
‘Is this true Bill? Do you really hoop heaps?’
Bill nodded. ‘Mum started me on it. She goes to classes every week. She’s right into it.’
‘Hooping hey,’ Ms Heckenvaal said with a click of her tongue. ‘Not sure about that. I tried it at a Christmas party once. I had no trouble at all keeping the hoop up off the ground – had a lot of trouble levering it off my stomach though.’
‘Good one Miss,’ Razz laughed and the rest of us joined it.
‘Thank you boys. I appreciate your concern and sensitivity.’
‘Mum makes her own hoops and sells them Miss. She does all different sizes. She could make you one if you want.’
‘Really? Could be a challenge for her – a bit like making one of the rings of Saturn. But I really wouldn’t mind trying one of those classes. Tell your mum I’ll give her a call. ’
‘She’s on Tuckshop tomorrow.’
‘Even better. I’ll catch her then. Gentlemen, looks like that thin person inside me who’s been fighting to get out is about to get a hooping hand.’
There were groans around the table led by Razz.
‘You can’t fool me boys, you’re all just jealous of my sparkling wit. Go on, admit it,’ Ms Heckenvaal said as she set off for the door. She was almost through it when Razz asked a question he would soon regret.
‘Hey Miss. I was just wondering. Do you like … dancing?’
There were stifled laughs from around the table. Then Bill snorted which set everyone off again.
The Wreckin’ Ball stopped and swung around. The smiles from our faces ducked for cover as she eyed each one of us suspiciously.
‘Do I like dancing Mr Zorzotto?’ Miss began to circle back around the table like an orbiting Death Star. Maybe it was my imagination but I thought I felt a gravitational pull as she passed behind me. Either that or the floor was being tilted down.
‘That’s an … unusual … question wouldn’t you say Orazio. Quite out of the blue. Why do you ask?’
‘Ah, no reason Miss. Just, you know … curious I guess.’
Now The Wreckin’ Ball was right beside Razz. It looked like he was about to be the wreck-ee.
‘Just curious you say? Interesting.’
Miss placed a hand on Razz’s shoulder. It subsided a few centimetres. Her fingers dug in. Razz grimaced.
‘Well call me paranoid Orazio, but it’s just that I got the distinct impression when you asked your question that you might have been sharing some kind of a tiny private joke with all your little friends here. And I also got the distinct impression that I may have been, what is commonly referred to as the butt of that minuscule attempt at humour.’
‘No, no way Miss! Like I said, I just wond-aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!’
The Wrecking Ball’s fingers had moved from Razz’s shoulder to his ear.
‘Miss I don’t want to alarm you but I think my ear has accidentally got caught between your fing-aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahs!’
‘Highly unlikely Orazio. I mean, what would be the chances of that?’
‘Miss I’m pretty sure there might be a law against torturing students.’
‘Torturing Students?’ Ms Heckenvaal said looking horrified. ‘Torturing students? Can anyone here see any students being tortured?’
Razz’s eyes pleaded at the rest of us. We happily shook our heads.
‘A preposterous idea,’ was Scobie’s response.
‘Outrageous,’ was mine.
‘Ridiculous,’ was Bill’s.
‘Mental!’ That believe it or not came from Ignatius.
‘Exactly boys,’ Ms Heckenvaal agreed. ‘But in any case, while I have your undivided attention Orazio, it might be a good opportunity for me to point out to you this little home truth. Sometimes a person can be too smart for their own good and it would be a tragedy if that someone’s smart mouth saw that person missing classes due to silly detentions or suspensions.’
Miss released her grip. Razz rubbed his lobe.
‘Yeah you’re right Miss. Modern History class wouldn’t be the same without me, eh?’
‘Indeed not Orazio. We are eternally grateful for the blazing fire of your unique insight which shines forth every lesson like a lump of coal in a darkened room. Why it seems like only yesterday, when you gave us that brilliant observation on the struggle of women for equal pay and equal opportunity in the work place. What were your exact words of wisdom again? Oh yes, I remember.’
Miss Heckenvaal’s head began bobbing up and down and she started rubbing her hair like she had nits. ‘Awww I reckon chicks – aw sorry miss, females and stuff – well I reckon they do pretty good in the workplace ‘cos like what about all those awesome supermodel babes who earn heaps of dough for just like walking around lookin’ totally hot and everything.’
Spontaneous applause broke out around the table. Apart from Razz of course whose eyes rolled up into his head seemingly never to return.
‘Thank you! Thank you!’ Ms Heckenvaal said as she blew kisses and performed a perfect curtsy. ‘But now I’m afraid I really must leave you.’
For a second time Ms Heckenvaal headed for the door and for a second time she stopped and turned before she passed through it.
‘Oh and Orazio, for your information, just in case you were truly curious, yes, I actually do like dancing. Love it in fact. And this will shock you to the point of disbelief I’m sure, but in a former reincarnation I once held many State and Regional Ballroom dancing titles and not only that, one year my then fiancé and I were the hottest of hot favourites to take out the National Titles.’
‘Hottest of hot favourites Miss? So did you win?’
‘Sadly not Orazio. There was a tragic mishap.’
‘What was it? What mishappened?’
Ms Heckenvaal gave us all the once over. ‘Well I suppose you’re old enough to hear this. It may even serve as a cautionary tale for you boys. But it’s just between us all right?’
‘Well as it turned out, I discovered right on the very eve of the National final, that my wonderfully loyal and devoted fiancé had been busily dancing,’ (and here Miss made little inverted commas signs with her fingers and gave us a huge, slow motion wink) ‘dancing I say, behind my back, with just about every other girl in the competition.’
‘So you dumped him straight up hey Miss and you didn’t get to compete in the finals.’
‘Oh noooooo Orazio. Would I be that small-minded? We competed all right. And we were doing brilliantly too. The trophy and the title were ours for the taking – right up till the very final movement. And then, as I said, tragically, while we were twirling our way across the floor for the last time, one of my knees accidentally got jammed right up between my fiance’s legs …’
There was a group wince from around our table.
‘… then our feet got tangled together which sent us both crashing to the floor. It was a disaster for all concerned. We missed out on the title, my fiancé sprained his ankle severely and I bruised my elbow slightly when it unfortunately came in contact with his face as I attempted to break my fall.’
Ms Heckenvaal paused as if she were reliving every detail of that moment.
‘Such a shame,’ she said dreamily, ‘he used to have the most beautiful teeth. All the girls said so.’
Then Miss looked up and grinned. ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, boys. You might do well to remember that. Carry on with the coup plotting gentlemen.’
And with those words Miss did a graceful twirl and waltzed herself out the door and down the corridor, humming as she went.
For a little while we all just stared at each other, not knowing what to say. It was Razz who finally put his thoughts into words.
‘Wow!’ he said, ‘Incredible! Imagine what the Wreckin’ Ball would have done to that dude if he hadn’t just danced with those other chicks.’
For once I was pleased to see that I wasn’t the only one staring at Razz in disbelief.