David L. Hebert
Miss Sampson studied the sign and shook her head in disgust. In all her eighty-four years, she had never seen such disregard for the English Language.
The sign was posted in the window of a restaurant on Main Street. On it was printed a menu which looked as if it were done by the hand of some teenager whose best subject was art, or perhaps physical education. Anything but English. It advertised "Pizza Pop's" and "French Fry's" for what Miss Sampson assumed to be a low price, although she would never eat there. Nothing disgusted her more than blatant grammatical mistakes.
In situations such as this, she wanted to approach the creator of the sign, grab him or her by the ear, and ask, "whose French, and whose fries?" She might one day try it, but she realized that it was pointless. She knew from her forty-five years of teaching that people would not learn. She turned from the sign and continued down the street. She was upset, again.
When she was a teacher, she had always tried to show the essential rules of grammar to her students; it hadn't always been easy, but she saw to it that every student graduated from her class with a proper grammatical education. She wished that she could say the same for the teachers of today.
She had noticed a definite decline in proper grammar after Latin had been removed from the curriculum. When it was a mandatory subject, students knew what a direct object was. They knew how to use prepositions. They knew when to use "whom".
Miss Sampson quickened her pace as she walked toward the parking lot where she had parked her car. She wanted only to go home. She was upset. She felt betrayed.
Perhaps it was due to apathy among teachers, she thought, or to the ignorance of the general public. But, whatever the cause, its effects were completely intolerable. Something had to be done.
She began to drive home, veering blocks out of her way to avoid a sign that particularly annoyed her. It was located in front of a Real Estate office, and on it were advertised such statements as "Prises Cut", "Beet The Tacks", and "Bye a lot Now". The sign was designed, she supposed, to attract attention, but it did nothing more than make the people in the office seem foolish.
She was almost home when an idea struck. She turned her car around, drove to the mall, and went into the Office Supply store once she arrived.
"Hello, Miss Sampson," the owner said, greeting her in much the same way he had when he was eight. "What do you need today?"
"Oh," she said, peering down one of the aisles, "I came in to look at your markers."
The man smiled and nodded his head. "Right over here," he said, and guided her down the aisle. "I have to go and check some things in the back, so I'll get one of the employees to help you."
"Thank you." Miss Sampson smiled at him and began to look at the selection of markers on the shelf.
She had picked up a few when a young man approached her. He was well-groomed, well-dressed, and seemed very pleasant. But he should have kept his mouth shut, she decided. It completely destroyed the image.
"What can I do you for?" the young man asked.
Well, you could start by not ending your sentences with prepositions, she thought, but ignored his mistake. She had far too many pressing things on her mind than to bicker with a stockboy.
She explained that she was looking for markers, and he helped her to pick out a wide variety. Once she was satisfied, she went to the counter to pay. She had amassed quite a collection.
"You sure seem to need a lot of blue," the clerk noted as she pushed the buttons on the cash register. Miss Sampson had chosen just about every type of blue marker they had, with a few extra colours just in case.
"My granddaughters are coming in for the weekend," she lied. "They like to play with dolls, and they have decided to paint a sky."
"Sounds like a huge undertaking," the girl said, not even looking at the elderly lady. "I hope you have fun."
Miss Sampson smiled. I think I shall, she thought.
She left the store and thought about the lie she had told the clerk. There was no way the clerk could know that Miss Sampson had never married. She simply didn't want suspicion thrust upon her, and that story was the best that she could manufacture at the time.
When she arrived at home, Miss Sampson laid her markers out on the table and studied them intently. She was happy with her purchases; she now owned a marker for every occasion. The largest one had a tip that was almost an inch wide, and was precisely what she needed for what she wished to do.
She gathered it and the others together and carried them to her sewing room. She had plenty of work to do before dark.
Miss Sampson crept quietly along the bushes, ducking low to avoid the lights of passing cars. She was dressed completely in black, from her collar to her shoes, and she had a black balaclava pulled over her head. It was hot but necessary. She needed something to cover her white hair.
She crouched outside the Real Estate office, studying the detested sign. She reached inside her jacket and removed the large poster marker from the pocket she had sewn into it that afternoon. She uncapped the marker and began to write.
The blue appeared black in the darkness, but the shiny ink was clearly discernible as she wrote. She corrected the spelling of "bye", "prises", and both "beet" and "tacks." It took only moments, and she crept quickly away once she had finished. There was no time to admire her work tonight. The enjoyment would come tomorrow.
She had many similar corrections to make that evening, and only had so much time. She had to work quickly if she hoped to finish on schedule.
She stifled a yawn as she drank her orange juice the next morning. She had watched the sun rise from beyond the horizon and then sat down to watch the morning news.
There was no report of her deeds on the local news. It would take until noon to tape a story. Miss Sampson knew that the reporters couldn't possibly miss the item, since she had corrected a sign outside their building, too. She leaned back in her chair and smiled with satisfaction.
She was tired. She would have liked to have gone to bed, but there were more corrections to make yet that day. One she especially wanted to correct was the sign in the window of the restaurant on Main Street. It would be a challenge, but she looked forward to it.
It had been difficult to get down the sign unseen, but Miss Sampson had managed. She snuck it into the bathroom and made her corrections there. She scolded herself when she found another - "Perogy's" were six for a dollar ninety-five.
She made her changes and replaced the sign, hoping that no one had noticed. She had changed from her black "evening-outfit" into a flowery print dress. Its large pockets required no alterations and now held a select few of the markers she had bought the day before.
She returned home satisfied. Perhaps now, she thought, people will take grammar more seriously and realize their mistakes. She turned on the television and waited for the news.
The story of her corrections was the second to be shown. They aired clips of much of her handiwork, including a sign that had advertised a "multy-family" garage sale. As she had corrected it, she wondered idly if those people wrote "multyple", too.
The Police, according to the report, were treating it as an act of vandalism, and not the service to society that it was. Ah, well, she thought. They had laughed at Einstein.
The report went on to say that an intense investigation was underway to find the perpetrator of this "heinous crime". Too bad there wasn't a murder last night, Miss Sampson thought dryly. It might have lightened the reporter's spirits.
Miss Sampson shut off the television and went upstairs to bed. She had gone almost thirty hours without sleep, and it was not an experience to which she was accustomed at all.
She was awakened the following morning by the insistent ringing of the doorbell. She rose on its third ring and answered the door on its sixth.
"Miss Sampson?" the officer outside asked.
"Yes, may I help you?" she asked, gathering her robe tightly around her.
"I am here to investigate a case of vandalism, Ma'am. I would like to ask you a couple of questions."
Damn. "Well, of course, officer. Come in."
She led the officer into the house and offered him a chair at the kitchen table. He opened his notebook and looked down at the page.
"Now, we got a phone call from the people at the office supply store," he told her, "And they seem to remember you buying a lot of blue markers. Did you?"
"Well, yes, officer," Miss Sampson nodded, supposing that the granddaughter story wasn't as brilliant as she had thought. "But that hardly makes me a criminal."
"I know," the officer said, nodding. "But there were a couple of people who saw you changing the sign in the restaurant. Do you deny that?"
Miss Sampson almost did, but admitted to the officer that she was the perpetrator. He sighed and told her that he would have to take her to the station.
She nodded her head slowly. "Just let me get my teeth."
Miss Sampson looked at the man sitting outside the door. He was one of the men, the officer had told her, who had seen her replacing the sign. She had waited outside while the man gave his statement, and was now being ushered into the office where she would give hers.
This was the first time Miss Sampson had ever been arrested. It was an entirely invigorating experience. She had never felt the like before.
She gave her statement, and then was asked by the officer to sign the page. She read over the page and winced.
"Honestly, officer! This is precisely the thing I was trying to stop!" she said, grabbing the pen and correcting the mistakes. The officer obviously didn't know when to use a possessive apostrophe any better than the general populace did.
She thrust the page into the officer's hands and grabbed the other man's statement. Before the officer could conjugate the verb "to be" in both the indicative and the subjunctive, she had corrected that one too.
On the day of her court appearance, Miss Sampson was led into the courtroom and shown to the defendant's stand. She didn't contest the charges, on her lawyer's advisement, but explained her actions to the judge.
"So you see, your Honour, grammar is in such a deplorable state, I simply had to act." The Judge nodded his head thoughtfully for a moment, and then sat up in his chair.
"Since this is a first offence," he began, "and given the nature of the crime involved, I think that one hundred hours of community service would be in order." He smiled down at her. "Hopefully this service will be performed in elementary schools, aiding in the instruction of students on the usage of proper grammar." He tapped his gavel on the bench. "Case dismissed."
The judge called to Miss Sampson, asking her to approach the bench. "I would just like to say one more thing. Please try to keep your nocturnal activities to a minimum."
The elderly lady's smile grew even larger. "Of course, your Honour." She began to giggle as she asked, "You are not going to demand the seizure of my weapons?"
The Judge smiled. "I think not, Miss Sampson. Perhaps you will be able to use them in your new capacity."
"Perhaps so," she nodded.
"And, next time," he continued, "you might wish to approach the owners of a sign when you see an imperfection. It would be much kinder to your record."
"I shall," Miss Sampson replied. It might be unnecessary, she realized. Already the signs in the windows of the town were being replaced with ones that were more carefully constructed.
"Good," the Judge said. "I'm glad this is finished with."
Miss Sampson let it pass.