Jacqueline Goldstein’s Ms. Murphy’s Makeover is the story of a collapsing marriage and second-time-around love, but it also provides insider insight into a topical problem–the pitfalls of too much emphasis on standardized testing in schools today. An urban teacher and suburban wife, Charlotte Murphy, comes to suspect that her husband is cheating and that the principal of the vocational school where she teaches English has changed the answers on a Regents exam. Sensing their teacher’s unhappiness, her students contrive to give her a movie-star makeover. When they’re done, Charlotte doesn’t recognize herself and vows to change her life. Charlotte’s new life is complicated by the attention of Theodore Lagakis, the school’s dean, who has a hidden agenda. Whom can she trust? …
“Bertie Trombetta died last night. A heart attack. The witch is dead!”
It took a moment for Charlotte to process this information. In the distance, a church bell chimed. Ask not for whom the bell tolls.
Natalie bowed her head and folded her hands in pretend piety, their lacquered red nails pointing to the ceiling. “There is a God, after all.”
Charlotte closed her eyes and swallowed hard. “Dead? Are you sure? She was here Friday, teaching across the hall.”
The image of Bertha Trombetta, smoking, floated before Charlotte’s eyes.
“Screaming her head off, probably. I bet she gave herself the heart attack. But I must say her timing was perfect.”
This was cold, even for Natalie. But the principal was under a lot of pressure. Charlotte thought she understood. “Are you saying the visitors won’t come?”
Natalie gave a short laugh. “Nothing can stop that.” She placed her hands on Charlotte’s desk and leaned in close. “Life goes on. That’s actually why I’m here. Charlotte, I need you to go to Bertie’s funeral.”
Charlotte immediately shook her head no.
Natalie waved a hand, anticipating Charlotte’s objection. “I know, I know. I should go myself. Normally, I would. But I can’t this week. Not with the visitors from State Ed here. And someone has to represent the school.”
Charlotte thought of an escape. “Does Lagakis know?”
Natalie nodded. “I just told him. He’s in his office, on the phone with the family.”
“Perfect. Send him. Or do we need him in the school?”
Natalie laughed a second time. “Be serious. But yes, he asked and I can’t very well refuse. You’ll have to go with him. I’m sorry.”
Charlotte exploded. “No! And Bertie wouldn’t want me there.”
Natalie smiled, showing newly whitened teeth. “She won’t know.”
Technically, Charlotte could refuse. But Natalie was more than her boss. She was a friend, of sorts. Twenty years ago, they had attended the same college. Natalie recognized Charlotte at a job fair three years ago and offered her the position of teaching English at a vocational high school for cosmetology.
At the time, downsizing at Francis’s firm had made the Murphys anxious, and Francis had been relieved when Charlotte was offered work. He’d kept his job, however, along with a big raise. Now he was after her to quit. And Charlotte didn’t want to.
Natalie pressed her advantage. “You owe me, sweetie. I need this.”
Charlotte made a last ditch effort. “Look.” She pointed at her stack of journals. “I’m swamped.”
“Sweetie, I know you don’t read those things, anyway.”
“I read every word. Unless they ask me not to. It’s for critical thinking.” Charlotte put air quotes around the last two words.
“Save the buzz words for the visitors. I need this, Charlotte. With you there, maybe Lagakis will behave himself.”
“Good luck with that.” Charlotte sighed. “But all right. Under protest. And you owe me.”
“Excellent. Now. A teensy suggestion. At the funeral, glam up a little. Lose the librarian look for a day. Black dress. Heels. Hair down.”
“The librarian look? Is it that bad?”
“Look, we are a school of beauty here. So. You have a black dress?”
“I do, but Francis says black makes me look—conspicuous.” Her husband had used another word, but Natalie didn’t need more ammunition.
“Oh, yes. Pope Francis. Was he speaking ex cathedra?”
Charlotte had to smile at the image of her husband in papal vestments.
“I’d be on the phone to my lawyer so fast.”
Maybe that’s why you’re divorced. Aloud, Charlotte said, “What does it matter what I wear?”
One of Natalie’s more annoying habits was whispering behind her hand. She did so now, although they were alone in an empty room. “You never know who will show up at these things. Bertie was always threatening to go to the media. There may be reporters. That woman had a big mouth.”
“So? Wait. Is something wrong? Is that why State Ed is coming?”
Natalie looked Charlotte full in the eye. “Don’t be ridiculous. It’s a purely routine visit.”
Chappaqua resident Jacqueline Grandsire Goldstein grew up in the Fordham section of the Bronx, and taught high school English there for 25 years. After retiring from teaching, Jacqueline began to take classes at The Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College and also joined the informal writing workshop run by Joan Schulman at the Chappaqua Library. Her debut novel, Ms. Murphy’s Makeover, is a work of fiction, but it reflects her experiences as an urban teacher and suburban wife and mother. Jacqueline will be reading excerpts, taking questions, and signing books at nearby public libraries in December 8 (in North Castle), January 7 (in Bronxville, and January 21 (in Mount Kisco). For more information, visit www.jacquelinegoldstein.com.