By Gregory Shipman.
“You’re late, Monroe.”
Miss Clabber never can see my side of things. It’s more like the world is early.
As I head for my seat, Cindy Garrison smiles at me. I try to look down her blouse. Bet
there’s more than toilet paper stuffed down there. Bud Riley’s foot gets in my way. I stumble and almost fall. Luckily, my schoolbooks are at home so my hands are free to grab Bud’s desk. He smirks. See if his butt smirks while I’m kicking it later. I don’t like violence… unless I’m the one being violent. That piece of brilliance came from me, or maybe it’s a line from a kung-fu movie.
“Take your seat, Monroe.” Miss Clabber smiles without showing her teeth. She’s sensitive about that new dental work. I actually liked those gaps. They reminded me of a Sunday nature show.
“Take it where?” I whisper loudly. Cindy smiles. No gaps in that cave.
Miss Clabber pretends not to hear. Some teachers are smart enough to pick their battles.
I’m twelve-years-old and still have my teenage period ahead of me. It’s not that kind of period, but it does make me cranky sometimes. This school thing is rougher than all-day church… and there’s no offering basket to swipe quarters out of.
I wink at Freddy Briscoe as I head for my seat. He can’t wink back because Miss Clabber has eyes like an eagle… an eagle with bad teeth. Freddy keeps the same desk each year. He’s a legend here at Wilson Junior High. He’s decided to do the seventh grade until he gets it right. So far he’s missed the mark three times. It’s 1977. I figure he’ll hit the eighth grade somewhere around 1983. There’s a rumor that Principal Radley pays Miss Clabber not to send Freddy to his office.
I sit in my chair, which is attached to my desk, which is attached to the floor. No wonder this crappy school furniture can’t be replaced. It’s part of the building.
I’m not quite settled when I hear the Clabber voice. “Where are your books, Monroe?”
“Stolen,” says I.
“When?” she clabbers.
“Last week,” says I.
“Last week you said you left them at home.”
“And then they were stolen. Junkies steal anything. Remember, one of them stole my report card?” I decide to keep a journal of my lies. It could be the beginning of a career as a writer. Hopefully grammar and punctuation won’t mean much in the future.
“Please pass your homework forward, Monroe.”
Miss Clabber is like a bulldog with this homework thing… she won’t let go. “I left it in my dad’s car.”
“You told me your dad died last week.”
“He did. My uncle came to get the car. I put my homework on the back seat.”
“You said your uncle died two weeks ago.”
“That was my mother’s brother. This is my father’s brother. He and my mother took the car last night and ran away together. My homework ran away with them.”
“Can we change the subject, Miss Clabber? I think I’ll need therapy because of this personal stuff you’re forcing me to share with the class.”
“You’re not the only one that may need therapy, Monroe.”
I wonder if she’s making a pass at me. Those therapist offices have couches… and blinds to keep the sun out so the room stays dark. Crazy people don’t like sunny days.
“I’m going to have to give you a zero for not having your homework, Monroe.”
“Jeez, Miss Clabber. My mother and uncle could be making me a baby brother-cousin right now, and you’re going to give me a zero?”
“You always have excuses, young man, and not believable ones either. Suppose I call your mother?”
“You’ll have to call every seedy motel south of Baltimore, m’am. And this isn’t fair anyway. I’m under a lot of pressure, and soon I’ll be going to Vietnam and probably get all shot up.”
“The Vietnam War ended two years ago, Monroe.”
I look over at Freddy. He shrugs. He’s older so he shoulda told me.
“How ‘bout the Korean War?” I suggest.
I just notice that she’s learned to talk with her lips pressed together. “It ended in 1953,” she answers.
There should be a law against teachers knowing stuff. “Well, there’ll be another, Miss Clabber. We got all those atomic bombs just rusting away. Our preacher always says, waste not, what not.”
“I think that’s… ‘want not’, young man.”
“Yes, m’am, but the point is there’s still people we can blow up with those bombs so they don’t ‘waste not’.”
“Monroe, if you continue down this path you will be like some others in this class.” She shoots a side-glance at Freddy. He gives her the thumbs up sign.
“Yes, m’am,” I say. If I wanted to be like Freddy, I’da picked the sixth grade. Miss Hollenbocker had really good teeth.
“You’ll come back here after school and do your back home assignments, Monroe.”
I knew she was making a pass at me. I wonder if I have to kiss her. If I do, it won’t be like the French do.
“Do I get extra credit, Miss Clabber?”
The class laughs. She doesn’t, especially since it’s hard to laugh with your mouth closed.
GREGORY K. SHIPMAN is a native East Baltimorean, but now a Fairbanks, Alaska resident, and has a day job which often extends into the evening hours. His passion is writing about the steamy, noir side of life… past, present and future. He has yet to earn a dime from his scribbles but has the satisfaction of knowing it’s all non-taxable. Greg is an active member of the on-line community, Writer’s Carnival, the Community Writer’s Group of Fairbanks, and a board member of The Fairbanks Drama Association. He lives a life of hardly quiet desperation with his pet laptop and unreliable Jeep. He enjoys Jazz, Blues, Theater and the occasional diabetic coma…