Crying with a Clown

The first day of my last year in high school, I felt lucky to discover that Alyce Pringle was in two of my classes. I say lucky because a class with Alyce meant a class with excitement. She was unpredictable. Alyce was Hollenda High’s school clown, a true comedienne who, with the raise of an eyebrow, could create hilarity. The teachers, therefore, weren’t very fond of her, but we, her classmates, love her. “Did you hear what Alyce did (or said) today?” people would ask each other in the halls. No one asked which Alyce. Everyone knew which Alyce it was.

Why Alyce began teasing me, I’m not sure. Perhaps it was because I was shy and blushed easily. She always mentioned my blushing, which made me blush more. Maybe it was because I was too serious for my own good. “Here’s Bill,” she would say. And she would mimic the way I pushed my glasses back, while reading a book. Maybe it was because she had found out that I am a Mormon.

One day when Mr. Jackson asked me to work out a problem on the blackboard, without thinking I put the chalk in my mouth for a moment like a cigarette. Alyce noticed it right away. “Bill!” she said loudly. “What will people think of a Mormon smoking?” I took the chalk out quickly and blushed as 25 students giggled. When I got back to my seat, I surprised Alyce by joking back. I faked a cough. Alyce liked that.

I didn’t really mind Alyce’s teasing. I had never received so much attention before, and it was fun and exciting. Alyce was not malicious in her teasing, she was never cruel. She never joked about people who were not present. Being teased by Alyce, I felt, was a compliment. Because we sat next to each other in one of our classes—algebra—we began talking once in a while before class. At first Alyce only joked, no matter what I said. But then later she became a different person, and I saw that Alyce wasn’t only a clown. I doubted that many people knew that. It was just when I thought Alyce and I might become fairly good friends, however, that I did something that almost ruined our friendship.

Mr. Thorndike had given an unexpected Spanish vocabulary test to us. It had surprised even me. Usually I anticipated his tests, but this time he had fooled me. I had only read over the vocabulary words once and had worked on my physics project the night before instead.

After the test was over, I knew I had flunked it completely. I’d missed at least 14 of the words. Then, to my humiliation, Mr. Thorndike had us correct the tests in class. He gathered them up and then passed them around at random. I wondered self-consciously who would get mine and think I was real stupid.

The next day after he had recorded the grades, Mr. Thorndike passed the tests back to us. “Congratulations, Bill. You are the only one who got 100% correct,” he said, as he handed my test back.

“I couldn’t have.”

“Well, you did.”

“No, I …” I looked at the test. It definitely had my name on it, and it also had a big underlined 100 percent in the corner. I controlled a gasp. All the spaces I had left blank had been carefully filled in. Someone had cheated for me. But why? I looked around the room and saw that the students sitting around Alyce were looking at me and giggling. Alyce had her head down but was grinning widely. I realized Alyce had somehow managed to get my test paper and had corrected it. As a prank she had filled in the right answers.

Now what do I do? I wondered. Alyce, why did you have to do that? I thought unhappily. I looked back down at the test. I couldn’t accept a perfect score and the grades were already recorded in Mr. Thorndike’s roll book. Yet, I couldn’t reveal Alyce’s guilt either.

“I thought you said you flunked it,” said Ralph, my buddy, as he walked out of class with me. I still had the test paper in my hand, my fingers covering the 100 percent.

“Alyce’s joke has really embarrassed me,” I said.

“Oh, no.” Ralph began to laugh.

“What can I do? What would you do?”

“I don’t know. Just forget it, I guess.”

“Ralph, I can’t accept the perfect score. I told you, I flunked it.”

“Go and change the grade when Thorndike isn’t looking?”


“Then just forget about it. If you get Alyce in trouble, the whole school will be angry with you.”

“But most people know what you and I represent. They know who all the Latter-day Saints are. Even if I didn’t mind being dishonest personally, and I do, I still can’t cheat because it would make the Church look bad.”

“Having everyone in the school hate you wouldn’t help the Church much either, would it?”


“Just forget it.”

“You’re probably right.” Sure, I thought, Ralph is right. I won’t cause problems. It’ll just forget what has happened. But by the end of the day, by algebra class, I still hadn’t been able to forget it. I knew I would have to talk to Alyce about it.

“You got a 100% on the Spanish test, right?” Alyce said grinning. Her dark eyes were mischievous. When she wasn’t making funny faces, Alyce was a pretty girl.

“Yes,” I said. “Amazing isn’t it, since I didn’t study?” She could sense my misery.

“You don’t sound very happy for someone who just got a perfect score on a test you didn’t even study for.”

“I’m not,” I said. “Alyce, you’ve put me in an uncomfortable position. I’ve thought about it, and I can’t accept that perfect score. Now what do I do?”

“Oh, no! I should have known you would feel this way. You’re such a bore, Bill, so predictable.” She tried to pretend it was funny. “Well, go ahead and tell Mr. Thorndike. I don’t care.”

“I don’t want to get you in trouble.”

“I said I don’t care. Do what you feel you have to do.” I could tell she did care. Talking to her hadn’t made the situation any easier. Then, in the middle of one of the algebra problems, I thought to myself, Mr. Thorndike would have no way of knowing that Alyce had corrected my test unless I told him. I could simply tell him that someone had changed my answers and that I really failed; I did not get a perfect score. He wouldn’t ask me if I knew who had corrected the test because he wouldn’t think I knew. How would I know? Even if he suspected Alyce, he had no proof of her guilt. And, if he asked me if I knew who had done it, I’d just tell him outright that I didn’t want to cause trouble for anyone. After algebra class, I smiled at Alyce and touched her arm.

“Don’t worry,” I said.

After school I went right into the Spanish room and told Mr. Thorndike what had happened. He seemed angry, but he didn’t ask me if I knew who had done it. I stood and watched as he crossed out the A and put a F in its place.

“Next time maybe I’d better be prepared,” I said sheepishly.

“Yes,” he said.

I thought that the problem was over, but is wasn’t. The next day I could tell by the way Thorndike stood up that he was extremely angry. I held my breath.

“The day before yesterday someone corrected Bill McKinley’s vocabulary test,” Mr. Thorndike said slowly. “That person filled in some right answers and gave Bill a grade he didn’t deserve. Now I want to know who that person is.” The color must have drained from my face. I didn’t dare look to see what Alyce was doing for fear I would reveal her guilt. “Let me continue,” Mr. Thorndike said. “If that person does not identify himself, this whole class will be punished. I don’t know how right now, but I’m sure I’ll think of something. Now who did it?”

I put my head in my hands and began moaning inwardly. Why did this have to be happening? Tension increased in the room as no one spoke. My chest felt tight inside. Then I surprised myself. I spoke out. “I didn’t want anyone to get in trouble.”

“Be quiet, Bill,” Mr. Thorndike said sternly. “Once again, I ask, who did it?” he said dramatically.

“I said I didn’t want to get anyone in trouble,” I repeated, once again surprising myself and Mr. Thorndike who still had his mouth open and was staring at me.

Before he had a chance to rebuke me, a clear voice said, “I corrected it.”

“Who said that?” Mr. Thorndike looked around the room.

“Mr. I did it,” Alyce said bravely. “It was just a joke.”

Mr. Thorndike, who had never liked Alyce much, nodded. Anger flared in his eyes. “I should have known. Yes, I should have known. Well, I’m tired of this kind of thing, young lady, and we’ll have no more of it.” He was speaking loudly. “You’re seniors now, and I’m tired of this kind of joking. It’s very immature. Next year you’ll be going out into the world, and you are still acting like children Alyce, I want to see you after class. I’ll have to do something about it. I’m tired of this nonsense and want it to stop. Is my meaning clear to you?”

“Yes, sir.”

The rest of the day I was miserable. I should have listened to Ralph, I thought. It was such a small thing, one insignificant (small) test. It was such a stupid thing to make such a fuss about, to have been so strict about. Why hadn’t I just kept my mouth shut?

I didn’t know what to say to Alyce later when I sat next to her in algebra class, and she wouldn’t look at me. She had her head down, and her hair had fallen down in front of her face. “Alyce,” I whispered. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know Mr. Thorndike would get angry. It makes me feel terrible. What did he say to you after class?”

“Oh, he said it would affect my citizenship grade for the semester. He was mad.”

“You know I didn’t want anything like that to happen.”

“I know,” she said. “It doesn’t matter. Don’t worry about it.” But it did matter, for my relationship with Alyce changed. Although she still joked with others, she quit teasing me, and though we still spoke, she seemed aloof. At the time I though it was because Alyce was angry, but now I realize she was probably just embarrassed. It saddened me to have a barrier between us, but I hoped that soon, maybe before the end of the school year, our friendship would be back to normal.

But before the end of the year, Alyce’s brother Pete was killed in an automobile accident. Such news travels fast. The seat next to mine in algebra was empty for a whole week, and I felt compassion for Alyce. I wanted to write her a note, but I didn’t know what to say. Anyway, I thought Alyce didn’t want to hear from me. The following Monday when Alyce still wasn’t back in school, however, I decided to send her a card. I stopped in Gilbert’s drug store after school and looked for an appropriate sympathy card. Finally I picked out the one I liked best and took it home. I started putting it in the envelope, but before I sealed it, I took the card back out and wrote a few words on it that I though might be comforting. I knew Pete had been dear to Alyce. She had talked about him a few times. Once she had said, “Pete is not like me. He doesn’t joke (tease) as much. He has a quiet sense of humor like you.” Whenever she talked about Pete, I could sense a cheerful pride in her voice.

I decided to mail the card that night before I changed my mind. The least I could do was tell her I was sorry and try to comfort her in some small way. Even if our friendship had changed, it could possibly still help her.

That Friday Alyce was back in her seat next to me in algebra class. “How are you doing?” I asked quietly as I touched her arm. She looked tired and thinner.

“Okay, I guess. Thanks for the note.” The next minute some of her friends came in, and she called to them and said something funny. They laughed, relieved to see that Alyce had recovered. She looked down at her desk and then over to me again. “Could I talk to you, maybe after school?”

“Sure,” I wondered what she wanted to talk about.

“I’ll meet you by the oak tree.”


She was there after the bell rang and we began silently wandering. “Do you care if we sit down on the grass for a minute?” Alyce asked.

“Of course not.”

She didn’t talk but lowered her head; I couldn’t see her face, but then a tear dripped down to the grass. I handed her my handkerchief. “Let’s go. I don’t want anyone to see me. I didn’t intend to cry.”

We walked around the school until we found an area that was somewhat secluded near the bleachers. She had stopped crying and she took hold of my hand. “You know, you’re one of the few people who has treated me like I’m more than just a funny person. It’s hard to be funny all the time. There’s a lot of pressure.” She began laughing. “That sounds funny, doesn’t it?”

“I think I understand,” I said.

“Like right now. I don’t feel much like being funny, but nobody knows how to react to an unfunny Alyce, so feel I have to joke and tease.” Her lips began to tremble.

“Go ahead and cry if you need to, Alyce,” I said.

She cried then, and I put my arm around her shoulders and felt helpless as her back jerked with each heavy sob. “I’m sorry,” I kept saying. “I’m sorry.”

“I feel so foolish,” she said.

“No, it’s okay. Don’t feel that way.”

Finally, she got control of herself and bit her lower lip. “I’m not going to cry anymore now.” She swallowed hard and tried to smile. “I suppose you’re wondering why I called this little meeting,” she joked. Then she was serious again. “It’s about something you said on the card you sent me, Bill. I memorized it. You said, ‘I have strong faith that Pete still lives.’ “She bit her lip again. “I’ve got to know more about that.” She was whispering in emotional spurts. “My family has never been very religious, and I’ve got to know where he is right now.” She was losing control of her emotions again, and she paused for a moment. “If you believe it, I can believe it too.” She tried to laugh. “Because you’re the most honest person I’ve ever met!” Again she paused and was serious. “And, I know I can trust you, Bill.”

“I’m glad,” I said softly but emphatically. “Because what I said is true.” I was starting to feel emotional, too. “Yes, I’d like to tell you more, Alyce.” Now I felt my eyes beginning to fill with tears, and now I was the one who felt foolish. “Could I borrow my handkerchief back for a minute,” I said as ruggedly as possible. “I think I might need it before this little meeting is over.”

“Now what do I do? … Alyce, why did you have to do that?”

“You know, you’re one of the few people who has treated me like I’m more than just a funny person. It’s hard to be funny all the time.”

“If you believe it, I can believe it too … Because you’re the most honest person I’ve ever met!”