Chalk dust exploded with each strike.
Chuck pounded the eraser against the chalkboard under Mrs. Culberson’s ‘Current Events’ corner. He accidentally erased part of “President Johnson stays in South Vietnam.”
“I hate Social Studies!” Whack.
“I hate 4th grade!” Whack, whack.
He breathed in the chalk dust; the grit stung his eyes and made him cough. Should a guy have to stay after school just because he didn’t turn in his homework? His mom will punish him too, and he’ll have to miss Lost in Space. It isn’t fair.
He didn’t want to do a report on Vietnam. Didn’t Mrs. Culberson know that his father had died in that awful place? Maybe she thought a year was long enough, but forever was not long enough for Chuck. He would never stop thinking about it. What good did it do to be good? His dad was good, and look what happened to him. His mom was very good, and now she was doing other people’s laundry to make money. If it is such a crime to be good, then Chuck decided to be bad.
“Not only am I going to leave this chalkboard a mess, I’m going to...” thought Chuck and he paused while he tried to think of something really awful.
“I’m going to swear!”
He whispered the “d” word. Then he spoke it out loud just as Principal Hamilton stuck his head in the door.
“It’s going to rain, Chuck, better get on home. You can come early and finish this in the morning,” the principal said.
“Yes, sir.” Did the principal hear the swear word? Chuck wasn’t going to stay around and find out. He grabbed his baseball and glove and skedaddled.
Whew. He was pretty sure that he got away with it. He breathed easy and started walking the three blocks home.
“Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.” He skipped along the sidewalk. He felt a little uneasy when he thought about what his mother would do if she knew he had cursed. She’d only just recently stopped crying so much.
Chuck dropped his baseball. It rolled behind him a few feet, and he turned to fetch it. Mr. Hamilton was walking down the sidewalk, toward him, a block back.
“Oh no! He heard me, and he’s going to my house to tell my mom. No, he wouldn’t come to my house. He’d call or send a note home. Keep your cool, man,” Chuck whispered to himself. He forgot about the cracks in the sidewalk and picked up his pace.
He thought about the Purple Heart sitting in its velvet case. He often took it out and admired it when he missed is father the most. Tears burned his cheeks as he regretted his dishonorable behavior today.
He looked back at Mr. Hamilton; he was still following. Chuck broke into a run toward the principal and skidded to a stop in front of the tall man.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Hamilton, please don’t go to my house and tell my mother. I won’t swear again, I promise!”
The principal put his arm around the sobbing boy.
“I don’t know what you are talking about, Chuck. Did you forget that I live two blocks past you on the same street? I’m just on my way home. But if you did something wrong, I’ll trust you to tell your mother yourself. Alright?”
The two walked together silently until they reached Chuck’s house. Mr. Hamilton put his big hand on Chuck’s shoulder.
“I know it’s hard, son, but you’ll feel better in time. Think of what your father did for this country. Your anger will hurt you and will especially hurt your mother. Give it time,” Mr. Hamilton said.
Chuck stepped inside the front door. His mother attached a sprinkler to a coke bottle full of water. She prepared to steam iron dozens of twisted, damp shirts. He spilled the whole ugly story.
“So punish me, Mom. I deserve it. No Lost in Space; no Jello or Mallomars. Or...” he swallowed hard, “...you could spank me.”
Mother got on her knees and pulled her boy to her. They both wept a little.
“Daddy would have been so proud of you. It is hard to admit wrongs. I think you’ve suffered enough today,” she said. She returned to her ironing.
“Proud of me?”
“Yes, son, it can be very hard to do the right thing.”
“Just like Daddy?”
“Yes, Chuck, just like your daddy.”
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