“I done it again, Mr. Bailey.” I kicked a tin can ahead of me as we walked down to his old shack by the creek to go fishin’. I had a heavy heart and I was hopin’ Mr. Bailey would understand..
“Done what, boy?” He spit tobacco juice to the side of the path.
“Got in trouble at school. All them names and dates o’ the Revolution give me a headache, and my eyes git heavy. I plum cracked my head open, fallin’ asleep on the desk.”
Ain’t no sin t'fall asleep, but yo' need t'try an' pay heed. Teacher pretty mad?”
“Yes sir. She said if I don’t pass the next homework, I am gonna fail and be held back with the first class.” I dropped down by the side of the creek.
Mr. Bailey married my ma after Pa died. I didn’t mind. Mr. Bailey was my best friend. Even though he moved in with me and Ma, we still went down to his old shack to fish and pick dewberries.
“I kin help you with yer homework. I knows a bit ‘bout the Revolution.” He tied the bait onto my string and we cast out.
“Well, thanks, but that ain’t the trouble. I got Minnie May to do my homework for me. She’s the smartest girl in class. I turned it in this mornin’. I feel bad and I’m scared.” I looked sideways at ‘im to see if he was mad. His disappointed sigh stabbed me to the gut.
“That ain’t no way to git ahead, boy. Did you even think to pray and ask fer help? You sinned agin’ the Lord, the teacher, yer little friend, yer maw and me, and yerself,” he said. He surprised me by puttin’ his arm around me and holdin’ me close. Dang if I didn’t start to cry.
“I hear the repentence in yer cryin’. Let’s git up to the school and make this right.”
We left our gear right there on the side of the creek and walked two miles to the school marm.
I stood before Mrs. Culbertson wiping sweaty palms on my trousers. She sat straight up like a rod behind that wooden desk; hands folded tightly together with not a hint of a smile. Wished I’d brung her an apple. Mr. Bailey stood in the back of the room by the door.
“Ma’am, I did a falsehood. I got Minnie May to do my homework, an’ I turned it in with my own name on it. It was wrong an’ I’m real sorry.”
“I knew it wasn’t your work. I am just so glad that you came and told me yourself. I will still have to punish you,” she began, looking back at Mr. Bailey, who nodded his approval, “but all is forgiven.
“Well, thank you, ma’am, but I don’t feel much better.”
She sat on the edge of the desk and pulled the world globe up to her.
“’As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us’, the Psalmist taught,” she said.
“Here, put your finger on America.” I put my finger on Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. I knew that place fer sure on the map, on account o’ my pa died there.
“Now, slide your finger east. Keep going east and the minute you start turning west, stop.”
I traced my finger from Gettysburg, across the Atlantic, Europe, China, the Pacific and back to Gettysburg again. I did it twice, going east the whole time. As long as I was going east, I was never going west.
“The east and the west are forever apart, ain’t they, Ma’am?”
“Yes, you see, when you repent, your sins are just that far away from you; forever and eternally away.”
Mrs. Culbertson, Mr. Bailey, and me went to Minnie May’s house. Her ma and pa were fit to be tied over what we youngun’s did about my homework. Minnie and me spent the rest of the day whitewashin’ the outhouse behind the school.
I minded the time that Mr. Bailey told me what it cost the Lord so’s I could have that big space ‘tween me an’ my sin. I felt a little funny inside, light, kind of like a I could fly.
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