My thanks to Donna W. Hill for sharing the below chapter from her novel “The Heart of Applebutter Hill”. The below content is copyright of Donna W. Hill and may not be reproduced without the express written permission of the author.
The Heart of Applebutter Hill by Donna W. Hill
Writers’ Roundtable is manditory for all refugees at the Plumkettle Learning Center. Abigail is a fourteen-year-old legally blind songwriter who uses a guide dog named Curly Connor (aka, the Fluffer-Noodle).
Tuesday’s Writers’ Roundtable was the most traumatic class Abigail and Baggy had ever endured. To begin with, they were still arguing over what to do about the clearing at Missing Creek. They were also nervous about sharing their poems. Thornhammer was at the table when they arrived, so they waited in silence.
Abigail reviewed a Braille copy of her poem and got out a typed version for Professor Thornhammer. Baggy drew a long breath and let it out slowly. The Fluffer-Noodle rolled over on his side, stretching his head under Baggy’s chair.
Christopher, the last to arrive, stumbled as he approached his seat to Abigail’s left. He sighed frequently, and his leg shook under the table.
After some introductory comments, Thornhammer asked Laurel to start. She stood up and cleared her throat.
“It’s a haiku,” she said, and brushing stray hair from her face, she read from her notebook in a soft, vulnerable voice.
“Hands clasped in friendship,
Till sleet comes and leaves me here,
Holding empty sleeves.”
A brief silence followed. Abigail heard Christopher fiddling with a sheet of paper.
“That’s really sad,” said Gabriele.
“Isn’t that always the way, though,” Tommy added.
Christopher fidgeted in his seat, his paper bending more frequently. Thornhammer called on Lester, who straightened himself and spoke in a strong, clear voice.
“They lead you around by the nose,
By the nose, I tell you,
With promises and dire warnings
From the pulpit, from the podium, from the page,
from the squawk boxes;
In person and pumped into your privacy
through wires and wind,
They lead you around by the nose.
And, you, who were once free to think,
to question, to wonder,
Having once chosen not to do so,
You follow, heavy with their leadings,
As they shape you with pats and squeezes,
Shape you to perform
oblations of assent and mimicry,
To wash your hands of us, your children.”
“Wow,” said Tommy, “That really gets to it, doesn’t it.”
“Les doesn’t pull punches,” said Laurel smiling.
Abigail wondered if Lester’s poem was directed at Adiaphora. She was too afraid to ask.
As the class shared several other comments, Christopher slipped his paper under his books.
Abigail felt her face flush and her heartbeat quicken as she struggled to sit up straight. How had her mouth gotten so dry?
“This is also a haiku,” she said before proceeding.
A close companion shrinking,
A new summer dawns.”
“Hope,” said Laurel, “That’s cool.”
There was a discussion about the haiku form and how different Laurel and Abigail’s poems were. Tommy bemoaned the fact that summer images are always presented as hopeful, while winter images are associated with loss and sadness.
“Why?” he asked rhetorically, “There is a lot of good about winter, and summer can be dreadful.”
“Yeah,” said Baggy, “especially if you’re in the city.”
After the conversation ended, Thornhammer said, “Mr. Posterly?”
Christopher was squirming and fidgeting more than ever. He sounded as though he had been running.
“I d-didn’t … do it,” he squeaked.
“Indeed?” said Thornhammer getting to his feet and pacing, as alarm spread through the class, “You did not finish the assignment I gave you a week ago?”
“You didn’t write a short poem?”
“We get it,” Tommy whispered, “He didn’t do his homework.”
Thornhammer placed his hands on the table and leaned forward, surveying the tiny boy with the look of a cat ready to pounce.
“You’re saying,” he continued with sarcastic incredulity, “that, even though you had a full week, even though you were allowed to use any poetic form you wished, even though you could write on any topic, that you did not do the assignment?”
Christopher’s breathing was becoming more and more labored. The rest of the class shot furtive glances at one another. All of them were uncomfortable.
“Then,” said Thornhammer, retrieving the paper Christopher had hidden under his books, “What, may I ask is this?”
Christopher gaped at the paper in his hand, but did not answer.
Thornhammer, straightening himself, turned to the rest of the class and said with astonishment, “Mr. Posterly has earned the distinction of being the only student who has ever lied to me by saying that he did not do his homework.” Then, turning again to the terrified boy, he said, “So, Mr. Posterly. It appears that you would rather tarnish your character than read this” — he gestured with Christopher’s poem.
“Stop it!” Gabriele blurted out.
“I’m wondering,” Thornhammer continued, “is this a matter of being afraid to read to your classmates? If so, I would remind you that doing so hardly constitutes a significant risk. Every day, people all over the world are asked to do more dangerous things than this. Some are asked to risk their lives in wars; others must endure toxic chemicals and harsh working conditions.”
“Leave him alone,” cried Gabriele, “What’s wrong with you!”
“Gabby,” whispered Tommy in distress, “Be Careful!”
Thornhammer ignored them and commanded Christopher to stand. He then handed him his poem. Christopher swayed back and forth, holding the paper as though he thought it might explode. His mouth was scrunched up in an effort to hold back the tears, but they were falling anyway. The blood drained from his face, and the paper fluttered from his hand as he fainted.
Thornhammer caught the unconscious boy, carried him to the couch and elevated his feet. Laurel stood up and gestured toward the globe on the desk.
“Should I call the nurse?”
“No … Smelling salts, top drawer in the back.”
She rushed to the desk and found a packet which Thornhammer broke under Christopher’s nose. When he regained consciousness, Thornhammer helped him sit up. He removed the inhaler from Christopher’s pocket, and Christopher took it.
“It’s not fair,” Gabriele pleaded.
“Oh, shall I give up on Christopher? Is that what you would do, Miss Stein?” Thornhammer imitated her whining, “Christopher shouldn’t have to do it. He can’t do it. He’s too scared.” Turning to him, he continued, “Isn’t that right, Mr. Posterly. You get too upset, don’t you? I should let you off the hook.”
Thornhammer helped Christopher to his feet and led him to his chair. He then removed the poem from the table, where Baggy had placed it face-down, and stared at it for a long time.
Abigail heard Thornhammer draw breath as though he were preparing to read aloud. She couldn’t help remembering the picture which he had found so disturbing. Mortified at the thought of hearing what Christopher had written, she stopped breathing, waiting for the blow to fall.
“Don’t you dare,” said Gabriele. There was no pleading in her voice this time, only a cold, powerful anger.
Thornhammer’s mouth closed and he met her eyes. Then, turning his back on them, he sighed as he paced around the room. At last, he placed Christopher’s poem on his desk. Picking up a book, he returned to the table. He placed the book in front of Christopher and sat down.
“Now,” he said in a somewhat softer tone, “find something to read to us and read it. I don’t care if it’s the title page, but you are going to read something to us. You will not remain silent in my class.”
Christopher’s hands trembled as he opened the book. Stammering and coughing, he read the title page.
“Thank you, Mr. Posterly,” Said Thornhammer. Then, turning to the class he added, “We will continue with your poems on Thursday. Your assignment, for next Tuesday, is to write a short essay on what your poem is about and why it means something to you. Mr. Posterly, you will write about why you lied.”
With fifteen minutes left in the class, Thornhammer rose from the table without a word and sat at the desk. They all watched silently as he took out a tablet and began to write.
Lester and Laurel whispered back and forth to each other. Then, Lester opened a book and they took turns reading to the class.
Shortly before the bell rang, the sound of Thornhammer rummaging through the metal desk drawers distracted Abigail. She heard him fold the paper he had been working on and seal it in an envelope.
The Heart of Applebutter Hill is available in print and eBook through Amazon, Smashwords and other outlets. To get all of the links, go to
Accessible Formats & Special Libraries:
Heart of Applebutter Hill – Migel Library
American Printing House for the Blind
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