That Word


At first, our classroom was buzzing with conversation while the homework assignments were being passed forward. Mr. Hyde, a short and pocked little man with golden eyes, recited the names off the work as he received it.

“Luke. Brett. Woody. Brian.” And then he paused from reciting the names for a moment. “Charles, is your penmanship homework with you?” Mr. Hyde asked.

Charlie nodded, his black haircut flopping about his ears. “Yeah. Just a second. I’m looking for it.”

And the classroom went silent because Charlie had said That Word. We all knew what was coming. An icy chill went through the room.

“Charles, you are not to use that word. Head on desk. Ten minutes.”

Charlie glowered, maybe a bit at his own stupidity, crossed his arms on the table, and laid his head down. His eyes faced the black-framed wall clock, so he could watch the second hand gliding his punishment away.

It was the first rule we learned. We had heard it from the older kids, even before we had met Mr. Hyde. And we heard it on the first day of fourth grade, too. “You are not to use That Word in class. Intelligent children do not need to use That Word,” he stated, simply.

And intelligent people didn’t dare cross Mr. Hyde. Charlie was a lot of things. But intelligent?

Nah. In fact, I’m pretty sure his Stupid was infectious.

So we weren’t exactly surprised when, before long, Brett and I could just barely make out Charlie’s voice, singing, “She loves you, yes yes yes.”

I stifled a laugh. My laugh made Brett snicker.

Mr. Hyde, who hoarded silence like a scaly pink dragon hoards his gold, looked sharply at the table we shared. “Brett? Have you got something to say?”

“No,” his eyes went all big, as his smile twisted back into a forced frown. He glared and jabbed me with an elbow.

“Ow!” I said.

“Good,” Mr. Hyde said.

A few moments later, Charlie’s deskmate began quietly singing in his Southern lilt. “Yeah, Jesus loves me…. Yeah, Jesus loves me… Yeah, Jesus loves me…” And in a final crescendo, “the Bahhhhhble tells me soooooo.”

“Michael! Fifty burpees in the hall. And when you have returned to your seat, head on desk. TEN minutes.” Mr. Hyde never called Woodie by his nickname. Maybe because he was taller than our teacher.

The tall white-haired boy ambled past Brett and me on the way to his punishment, smirking like an imp.

For the next couple minutes, we continued with our quiet deskwork to the sound of Woodie chuffing out his exercises out in the hall. And a few minutes later, our sweaty friend ambled past, winked at Brett and me, and drawled, “Yeah. Totally worth it.”

“And I’ll have complete silence!” Mr. Hyde growled.

And he did, for awhile. But also, we had noticed that our teacher didn’t catch Woodie, when he had just said That Word.

Girls in our class generally avoided trouble. Except Sonia. Everyone knew she had a mouth. And a problem with authority, my mother said. And that day, from across the room, her mouth began humming that Beatles song: the one with That Word.

“Sonia!” Mr. Hyde demanded. “Head on your desk.”

“But I was just humming!”

“Indeed you were. Head on your desk, Sonia. Ten minutes.”

“But I didn’t say That Word!” she exclaimed, the face behind her thick glasses turning all righteous.

“HEAD! ON! DESK!” shouted Mr. Hyde. The roar made his face turn cranberry.

“FINE!” she shouted, right back at him. And she slammed her face onto the desk, a little harder than necessary, and without the protection of her crossed arms. Her glasses were askew and she began to cry. Girls are weird.

Charlie said, “Hey Mr. Hyde. Do you need a drink of water?”

“No, Charles. Quiet please.”

“Are you sure? You looked kind of hot just then.”

“Yes, Charles. I am fine. I do not need water right now.”

“Beer?”

Mr. Hyde just glared his response, and got a few more minutes quiet for his trouble.

“How about Kool-aid?

“What?”

“Big giant pitcher of Kool-Aid. It’s delicious. In fact…” and at that point, Charlie stood up, knocking over his chair in the process, and shouted, “HEY KOOL-AID!”

We all knew our cue.

We all stood up, and shouted “OHHHHHHH YEAHHHHHHHH.”

And then we were all forced to run around the field ten times. And then we all missed recess for the rest of the week, heads down on the desk immediately after lunch. And, right there in front of the class, Charlie got to meet flat end of Sting, Mr. Hyde’s paddle.

But I think everyone in the class would agree with Woodie had said, earlier that day, after he had sung That Word.

Yeah. Totally worth it.

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