Sally Reichman is the cafeteria manager at Cloverdale’s School for Encourageables. This school is joint venture between the Confederacy of Dunces' Ministry of Health and Asylums and the Ministry of Education and Employment. It is a special school for children who find it difficult to follow society's rules. Most call the school's clients delinquents. The liberals label them 'misguided' . Sally refers to them as 'mouths'. The Ministry calls them Encourageables, a new word coined to bring a positive feel to their condition. The word hopes to emphasise the fact that with a little encouragement these children may correct their deviant behavior and adapt to society's norms.
Sally has managed the cafeteria for the past five years. The children call her Salmonella Sally. The nickname implies her food isn't safe. To the contrary, there have been no cases of food poisoning in the school since she inherited the cafeteria from the last manager who left due to a nervous condition. Granted, her food seriously lacks presentation and taste (the faculty of the school refer to her food as institutionalized vomit) but it is nutritious. There are times it is overcooked, burned may be a better description, but "A little bit of extra carbon never hurt anyone," she says to anyone who complains.
Sally brought strict German efficiency and discipline to what was a cafeteria in crisis. She strives for a noise free environment. Children’s voices are fingernails on a chalkboard to her. To preserve her sanity, Sally hovers over the children as they enter the cafeteria. She listens for the slightest vibration in a child’s vocal chords. She watches for hands free from their moorings. “Hands to the side and voices switched off!” she says in a voice soft and frightening like a cold breeze on a Halloween night.
Sally waits patiently knowing someone will crack and break her rules. When that happens she descends and feeds on the young and helpless offender. Unfortunate is the word to describe that child. Her punishments are graduated, beginning with a pull on the arm to take you from the safety of the herd. She then has you alone, separated from the pack. She bends down, moving her mouth closer to your face. She smiles, revealing her yellow nicotine stained teeth. New residents easily burst into tears. Those with stronger stomachs endure what comes next. With breath smelling of death and disease she delivers her warning.
“You violated the peace of my sanctuary. You don’t want to do that. I can be very nasty. Nasty indeed. Do you understand or should I repeat?”
No one asks her to repeat. No one’s stomach is that strong. The warning's climax is spoken with her red cracked lips rubbing against your outer ear. “Do we understand each other?”
Sally watches the child's face and continues to breath heavily while staying in close proximity. She waits for a faint shade of green to appear. When it does, she's finished with you. She nods to the class signalling for two students to escort you back to the line. She stands erect, rubbing her hands on her stained apron and begins her walk up and down the line of the damned.
Sally’s cafeteria has been referred to as Dracula’s dining room. You don’t know what’s on the menu. Is it her specialty - stewed chipped beef on toast - or is it you? Your lunch begins when you pick up a lime green plastic tray divided into compartments. If you’re lucky you'll find one recently washed. Searching the stack of trays for a clean one is grounds for detention. Sally has a special table in the back of the kitchen for delinquents deserving detention. The menu for those sitting at the Table for Special Purposes can only be described as ghastly. Imagine food not fit for a mongrel dog. That’s the cafeteria's normal menu. Now image the food unfit for that menu. It may be food that fell on the floor during preparation, scooped up, blown off and thrown back onto the grill. It could be food burned into charcoal sculptures. The lunch ladies enjoy their mid morning coffee and can’t be bothered to check food in the oven or fryer. Whatever it is you can be assured it is indigestible.
With plastic tray in hand you begin your walk down the Path of Saints sliding the tray in front of you. There are large STOP signs taped to the glass telling you when to stop and wait while food is slopped onto the tray. You may only look up. Any attempt to look at the food being dispensed will be met with a ticket to the Table of Special Purposes. The line moves forward when the child gets the nod from the lunch lady. Only when you are safely sitting at your table can you look at the food. Some risk making a face at the steaming matter before them. Others succumb to a power greater than themselves, pick up their fork, slide it into the quivering mass and pray to whatever higher power they believe has abandoned them.
A large sign hangs over the two trash cans near the cafeteria’s exit. It reads:
“Any Uneaten Food will be Used in Tomorrow’s Casserole” Sally has everything thought out. All angles are covered. There is no hope.
Then one day Matthew Rider appeared in the Cafeteria's’s doorway. He was a new seventh grader from the Outside World........
To Be Continued........