The moment Kirk invited me to spend the night at his house, my life changed. Spending time pretending to want to marry Penny one day was a waste of everyone’s childhood years. I had to set Penny free and break up the gang.
I would have given away my wheat-cent collection for the opportunity to sleep over at Kirk’s house and to look for Mars in a telescope that he got one Christmas. Penny knew, being a girl, that she couldn’t stay at a boy’s house. After she heard Kirk invite just me over, she jumped from the school swings and landed like a stallion dressed in Cinderella’s gown. Penny loved horses and Kirk had plenty.
The silver swing from which she had just swung rattled as it twisted into a ball, nearly hitting the legs of Tammy Cornelious who was just coasting on hers. Penny wiped awaythe wrinkles from the same dress she wore in Third Grade, and galloped towards the sea-saws. Her cheeks drooped in a sad,sad way, I was sure. She trotted towards the marry-go-round. In the distance, a cylinder spun to the momentum of spool-like little legs, wrapping a thread of first and second graders towards a ball of centrifuge where Rhonda Garlock served as a Snow White to the dwarves. She appearing as a giant Twinky, in the distance . Penny turned to see Kirk balancing with me on the sea-saws before turning her pig-tailed head to us to drift off into an endless cycle of sunsets.
Girls had slumber parties, boys just stayed at each other’s house. Penny had to understand the birds and the bees. It wasn’t our fault.
Never in a million years would I be allowed to stay over at Kirk’s. I knew that. Mom hated him. If my Mom ever met Kirk in person, she would have known that he was not the one who stole my radio wrist-watch from my desk. For all I knew, it could have been Penny who took the watch. I told Mom everything Kirk did in class. That was a big mistake. I should have kept my trap shut, but I couldn’t help it. Mom was making deer steak and mashed potatoes for dinner and at the same time gave me a spelling quiz on words that would be on a test at school that Friday. That was when I accidently told her about how Kirk acted in class–
“You know what Alison Fox did in class today, Mom?”
“No, and I don’t wanna know. Spell ‘education’,” Mom ordered as she rolled red chunks of meat in a bowl of flour, while holding my spelling book with her clean hand. Grease was already melting in the electric skillet. I knew I need to spell everything right if ever there was a chance she would say yes when I asked her if I could stay over at Kirk’s for the weekend. Dinner was a few minutes away and Mom didn’t have the time to sit all night with me, trying to get me to spell everything perfectly.
“Ed, you cat she on,” I mumbled.
“What did you just say?” Mom asked.
“This is my secret way of remembering letters,” I explained as a big pot filled which chucks of potatoes started to boil over.
“That ain’t no word,” I protested.
Mom waved her spoon at me before dipping it in a saucepan of stewed tomatoes.
I was not going to marry Penny Chillcoat when I grew up. Mom was making me mad. Although Penny told me that if and when I ever asked her to marry her that she would say ‘yes’ in a heartbeat, I had no interest in a life with her. I wanted to be the one cooking and giving spelling tests to the kids.
Penny had been a close friend of mine since the age of seven. We put on puppet shows for our second grade class together. We skipped recesses just to make puppet stages to re-enact, through popsicle sticks, characters like Snow White.
A record player spun and a voice of a man read the words from our reading books. After recess while our classmates were cooling down from kick-ball, Penny twiddled all eleven of her fingers for the class as I ran the record player and lowered stage backdrops that were drawn on construction paper.
Our imaginations went wild, so did the students who watched our little shows. Stages were made from large cardboard boxes. It was nice of Mrs. Beck to inspire Penny and me to put on puppet shows for the class, as a creative outlet. We had both been held back a year and now found ourselves too smart for kids a year younger than we were. Mrs. Beck went as far as to leave us unsupervised during recess. Mrs. Beck’s husband, Mr. Beck, the principal, found us cutting cardboard boxes with extended legs of scissors one Thursday afternoon when everyone else, including Mrs. Beck, was out at recesses. He asked why we weren’t outside–
“Why are you in here?”
“We’re making a puppet show. We put it on every Friday. You should come watch it,” I offered, sounding as much like a sixth grader as possible while closing the legs of Mrs. Beck’s good scissors.
“Who said you could be here and not out at recess?”
“Mrs. Beck,” Penny replied, almost as if she were using her voice to make a puppet come to life. I was terrified. Mr. Beck didn’t appreciate being ventriloquisted.
Before we were caught being not where we were supposed to have been with the rest of the class, and the after recess puppet presentations came to an end, I suggested to Penny that she make a tiny puppet for her extra sixth finger. Our conversations in that empty classroom were intense. All Penny wanted was a lot of kids. I promised them to her if she agreed to put on the Three Pigs instead of Peter Pan.
Penny broke down when I suggested she make a puppet for her little finger for the part of the ‘big bad wolf’. The silence of the empty classroom echoed with sobs of pure agony. Penny told me then it was not an extra finger, but something called a wart, but a doctor was going to freeze it off her.
“How do they do that?” I asked.
“Real big ice-cubes,” Penny explained.
She was a liar. I didn’t like her any longer and would never marry her. I was glad I had Kirk as a back-up best friend in the fourth grade. I was getting tired of Penny. I wanted to be the Mom when I grew up.
“Alison Fox showed her privates to Kirk in class today,” I mumbled to Mom right after I had spelled ‘fundamental’ perfectly.
“She did what?”
“She pulled out her pants like this and he looked down.”
“Did you?” Mom asked.
She cracked me with the tomatoed spoon, even though I certainly did not look down Alison’s blue, polyester pants. I was busy reading.
Sitting with Kirk on the sea-saw during recess made me almost want to throw-up. My stomach was tickling when he asked me over. I knew my mom wouldn’t let me spend the night at Kirk’s place, though. And now, Kirk no longer sat in front of me in class. I was losing him.
Mr. Holovakia hung up posters in the classroom on the bulletin board next to Kirk’s new seat. The images reminded the class of important historical figures. Kirk now had to sit in the back row of all fourth and fifth grade students, next to a poster of a black guy. Kirk didn’t know that he was last in class yet. He was still out sick. It was Wednesday. We had art on Wednesday. Kirk loved that class and he was still out sick. What could have happened to him? His granddaddy would never let him take off more than a day. Kirk told me that when he stayed home sick from school, his pap’s made him split wood all day long. Even when he had the chicken pox, Kirk had to chop wood. I knew just how my best friend felt. He would much rather have been at school with teachers like Mr. Holovakia who seemed not to care that we shot spit-wads all day, instead of studying.
I sensed, as I spun my head around while sitting at my new desk, that most of my peers, with the exception of two twins sitting in front of me, were all sucking their teeth in envy. I noticed Kirk’s empty desk at the back of the room and decided that I was too young for love anyway. Kirk was going to hate me now too.
As I faced the blackboard, I monitored classroom activity out of the corner of my eye. I sat very still with a glazed stare focused on the teacher. Mr. Holovakia handed thick stacks of paper to the class. On the top of each stapled booklet there was a listing of all fifty states with corresponding capitol.
If and when Kirk ever came back to school, he would likely flunk this test. I’m sure he would find the time to lay at least one spit-ball between the eyes of the Black man on the poster that Holovakia put up with his stapler, next to Kirk’s newly assigned seat.
I wouldn’t be behind him anymore to watch him act-out in class. At least shooting a spit wad at Holovakia’s poster might make Kirk happy for a while on upcoming hot days when he could no longer capture slightly freshened manure wind from a nearby window, like me.
I hoped the welts on his back were healing. I was no longer behind him to tell him how sorry I was for him. All he could do was shoot spit wads at a ….(can’t say it. It’s a bad word. Mom would have hit me with her spoon)… but still, Kirk was angry on the inside and never meant to offend the poster or the Black civil rights leader– just our teacher– Mr. Holovakia– who assigned him to the last seat in the class.
“Our class will be putting on a play this Spring. I wrote the play,” Mr. Holovakia explained to the class while handing the large stacks of paper back each row. “Students in other schools where I taught put this play on. It went over well. The cast is small. Anyone interested in participating must score at least a B on an upcoming test on state capitols. This test will demonstrate your ability to memorize lines. Only those who are able to memorize well will join the cast of characters…”