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I paw the ground like a bull. I charge. The sisters of Saint Joseph spring into action. They rush me joyously, a line of wide receivers shouldering a tackling dummy. I try to get up. My drunk blooms. My head wants to stay down. The sisters pull me to my feet. They hang me like a wet T-shirt on a clothesline made out of the shoulders of Charlene and Mary. They carry me out of the bar. Sister Helena walks in front, conducting us like an orchestra.

Pin her hand to your shoulder, Charlene. They pause halfway to rest. The tree stump is swaying. Or, I am swaying.


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No bigger than a cricket. In the arms of Sister Georgia, I am surprised to find a soft place. The fat that hangs like half hula-hoops below her arms stabilizes me on both sides. Her dress holds a sweet smell, and through its coarse fiber I hear her flapping heart. She makes her tsk ing sound. On every other occasion this fills me with worry and regret, but when you are tired enough, anything sounds like a lullaby.

Crickets hum in the bushes we pass. My eyes are closed, but I know there is a moon. When we reach the gate of the convent, she hands me back to Charlene and Mary. I watch as she thunders into the night big-ly, as round as the moon that persists above her, until they are indistinguishable: the moon and my vestige of safe transport. I am yanked through the opened gate. The courtyard fills with the shushings of women struggling under the weight of a drunk.

I am that drunk, but am too drunk to feel bad about it.

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My inebriation is ebullient, wide enough for everyone. I forget about Sister Georgia because I have come up with a brilliant idea.

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The sisters of Saint Joseph carry me down the stairs to my room. They arrange their shoes into a perfect line by my door. I hurl my boots on top. They carry me to bed. I hear rustling by the foot of the bed as the sisters root through my drawers. Then, into my vision intrudes the head of Sister Charlene. She gives me an aspirin and I sit up to take it. Then, she sits on the bed while I try to get my scrambling atoms in order.

Fall in, ducklings. After a while, my quivering head slows. I begin to wonder what Sister Helena is thinking, if she feels she is wasting her night with me, a drunken sinner. I want to give her something so her time with me is worthwhile.

I wake up with a headache. My limbs are attached to an invisible system of weights and pulleys. I munch a palmful of aspirin and lay with a damp towel on my head. At noon the pain has not receded. Sisters Charlene and Mary visit after lunch with a bowl of onion broth and salted crackers. They adjust the curtains.

Before they leave, they bow their heads by the foot of the bed and I catch a few words of Latin. By four when I should have been helping Sister Mary with dinner, my headache, as if acquiring strength from the advancing night, takes possession of my entire body. I throw up into a bucket, viciously, like I am trying to prove something to the bucket. I am slipping off the earth. I am the patron saint of shit. My symbols are a pogo stick, a pack of Marlboro lights, and a tomato. Then, the bucket is full so I throw up onto the floor, my throat shifting into new gears to rid itself of every poison.

I can barely keep up. I am flattened by sweat. Release me! Around midnight I pass out, still in pain.

I have brief, thrilling dreams about apricots. A smile she has extended to a nubby tomato is still on her face when she looks up. Terese felt different from everyone else. She had fire in her. She prayed for it to go away but it is good to have fire. Not to be eaten by it. As always she speaks in the quiet voice that makes it impossible to gauge how upsetting or special I am.

She employs the same level of intensity to tell me we need more oatmeal as she uses to promise I will get into heaven. Ruby, they are showing Roman Holiday at midnight. I squirm where I sit holding a gnarled tomato between my index and middle fingers. I picture it with arms and legs.

I can teach this tomato how to walk and dance. With the last of the tomatoes, we make gravy. It simmers for hours, filling up the hallways and courtyard, picking up the corners of an otherwise regular Wednesday. That night, we feast. Lasagna, pizza, gnocchi. The sisters are giddy with good food.

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In December I begin to see a man named Levon who sings in the choir. He visits me in the basement and we lie on top of the sheets of my bed. Sometimes we watch game shows on a television I buy at the Charity shop. He believes when we die we get forgiven. I see his wife in Church sometimes, her purse clamped in her armpit like a wide receiver holding a football.

Levon asks if I love him and I say, I love cigarettes, they are my only, truest love. Sometimes I am still in the middle of smoking one when I already long for another. One afternoon, a storm collects around me as I sweep the courtyard. Sister Helena calls: Ruby, better get in.

She has the news on and there are advisories.

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Record-breaking winds and flooding. Thunder makes Sister Helena jump. Two quick pops, then a sound like a boulder detaching from the center of the earth. An explosion in the courtyard. The convent rattles.