Charlie had some choice words for her. But he didn’t like saying them, even to himself. She deserved them. ‘She’ was his fourth-grade teacher, Miss Margaret Pringle.

‘Miss Pee’, her name being the source of endless humor among his classmates, yelled at Charlie today. In front of his friends, no less. He hadn’t done his homework. He hated homework. He hated her.

Miss Pee made him stay after school to finish it. But Charlie outsmarted her. When she left the classroom, Charlie picked up his backpack and made an ‘exit left’.

“Charlie, are you done with your homework? No video games before homework. You know the rule.”

“I finished it, Mom.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m sure…”

Charlie’s mother and Mrs. Jensen, their neighbor, shared a coffee at the kitchen counter, a daily ritual. Cigarette smoke rose lazily from the ashtray, a souvenir from his parent’s trip to Vegas.

Charlie sat on the floor by the table playing on his video game console. He liked listening to adults. They would talk away and suddenly use letters instead of words. Whenever he heard them using code, his ears perked up.

“I swear, that woman is out of control.” Mrs. Jensen said. The women exchanged looks and his mother cleared her throat.

“You mean M. P.?”

Mrs. Jensen nodded. “You know what I mean. Kids need to apply themselves. How can they gain the discipline to get a job when they graduate?”

“Careers don’t grow on trees.”

“Unless you’re a lumberjack.” They laughed.

“But I’m talking about her personal life. She’s a mess. I heard… money problems… debt.”

“With what they get paid?”

“Glorified baby sitters, if you ask me. Don’t they teach them anything anymore?”

“And still living with…”

“Well, with one of them…?”

It got quiet at that. Charlie could hear their eyes rolling, though. He knew they were talking about his teacher. They went on and used some words he didn’t know, like ‘bankruptcy’ and ‘repo’. But Charlie got the gist. Miss Pee was irresponsible. And a member of a messed up family. Hoo boy!

Wait ‘til she scolds him again. She won’t know what hit her.

Charlie stood and headed for the door. His mother called after him.

“Don’t go far, young man. Dinner at six.”


Charlie needed to think. He headed to the slough, where the creek passed under the highway down from the school.

Almost dry in the fall, the cattails in the slough grew like mad, reaching eight feet in places. Their thick heads tufted, sending out millions of seeds. A red-winged blackbird sang. A few dragonflies hovered where tadpoles would swim in the spring swell.

When the water was down, Charlie used the underpass as a shortcut walking to school. He hopped from stone to stone in the cool gloom. Charlie passed the cool embankment and remembered once smoking a ‘borrowed’ pack of cigarettes there.

Charlie exited the tunnel. It was quiet except for the wash of traffic from overhead. The stone he threw bounced into the weeds. Someone called his name. Jim approached, walking his dog, Shep.

Charlie said, “What’s up?”

Shep sniffed urgently along the water. The boys threw stones across the trickle of a creek.

“Just walkin’. I’m surprised you’re not grounded after Miss Pee sent that note to your Mom.”

“I tore it up.”

“You’re kidding! Won’t she find out?”

“I don’t care.”

Shep ran into the cattail forest.

“My Dad always says he’ll make me care.”

“They can’t make me.”

“Why not?”

“’Cause I know something.”

“Like you’re so smart?”

“I’ve got information.”

“Like what?”

Charlie looked at Jim. He knew secrets told, lost their power.

“Like nothing. It’s a secret.”

“Heard that before.”

“You’ll see.”

Jim called Shep, who came to him with tail wagging and dusted with cattail fuzz.

“Look. Shep’s in love.”

They laughed as they brushed the fuzz from Shep’s fur. Shep loved the attention.

Charlie said, “Why do they say that?”

“I don’t know. It’s just funny. See you tomorrow.”


Charlie watched Jim walk back up the path followed by Shep.

In last spring’s flood, he and Jim borrowed a flat bottomed boat and poled around the slough like Tom Sawyer. They tried to navigate the tunnel under the highway. It got scary when the current sent them spinning and careening off the concrete walls of the tunnel.

They didn’t drown. But they did get into trouble for dinging up the boat. Jim and Charlie didn’t hang out much after that. Parents always blame the other kid’s bad influence.

At dinner, Charlie’s parents talked about their day, boring stuff. Charlie went to his room after dessert and didn’t even watch his favorite TV show.

Later, his Dad knocked and stuck his head in. “You alright, kid?”

“Sure, Dad.”

“You seem kind of low energy.”

“Naw. Just studying. You know…”

“That’s great. Keep those grades up.”


“Be sure to get your sleep.”

“Okay, ‘night Dad.”

After his Dad left, Charlie found his dictionary. It provided him a better definition of ‘bankrupt’ than he dared hope for.

Charlie put some late effort into getting homework done. He knew he would get yelled at for ditching detention. He had his secret weapon ready, just in case.

Charlie awoke early. He had barely slept anticipating this blockbuster day. How often does a kid get to call out their teacher for the gross mismanagement of personal finances? Hah! Maybe he’ll even get her fired. That would show her.

Almost giddy thinking about it, Charlie almost skipped down the sidewalk. He stopped himself from that. He might be giddy, but he wasn’t crazy.

Picking his way through the tunnel, Charlie noticed the little mound strewn with cigarette butts, smoked right down to the filters. ‘That’s one dedicated smoker,’ thought Charlie. Smoking’s allure eluded him ever since Charlie smoked that pack.

Charlie came out of the tunnel and into the cattail forest. He looked up to see Miss Pee stepping down from a city bus. She accompanied an older man wearing jeans, a leather jacket and carrying a backpack on one shoulder.

Avoiding detection, Charlie stepped into the thicket. He watched them hold hands as they descended the embankment towards the tunnel.

Miss Pee put her arm over his shoulder. They spoke in familiar terms as Miss Pee spoke encouragingly to the man. He dismissed her concerns but she insisted. She gave him a go-bag from the Breakfast Hut. He protested while she stuffed folded bills into his shirt pocket.

“You need to eat.”

“I’ll be fine. I’m just camping out a bit.”

“Things will work out.”

They embraced and she kissed him on the cheek. Before turning to go, she said, “Love you Dad.”

The man waved good-bye and lit a cigarette as he entered the tunnel. Miss Pee wobbled in her dress shoes as she scaled the embankment to the street. She held a handkerchief in her hand.

Charlie waited a minute before walking to the school. Now he had more to work with. Miss Pee would never forget this day. Mission almost accomplished.

Everyone in the playground seemed happy to see Charlie. It was weird. Even stuck-up Dorothy, who never spoke to him, approached Charlie with a big smile on her face.

“Hi, Charlie. You have something you want to tell me?” Some girls standing behind her giggled.

Charlie turned and saw Jim, who looked away with a big grin on his face.

“Naw, I’m okay Dorothy.” Some other kids laughed as they ran by.

The bell rang and everyone hurried to class.

When Charlie sat at his desk, he felt ready to burst. He knew exactly what to say but needed the perfect moment.

The usual commotion died as everyone settled. Today there seemed to be an unusual amount of laughter. What did Jim say to them?

Charlie turned to Jim, who sat in the desk behind him. “What did you…”

The bell rang and Miss Pee spoke immediately. “Everyone settle! Please get out your homework and pass it forward.”

Charlie held his homework. And he was prepared for that delicious moment.

He felt Miss Pee’s hand on his shoulder. She knelt beside him and spoke quietly.

“Charlie, I’m sorry I snapped at you the other day. Please, let’s get a fresh start.”

Stunned, Charlie could only say, “Okay.”

Miss Pee gave his hand a little squeeze as she took his homework and stood. Then she said, “Oh, Charlie, you have a little cattail fuzz on your head. You can go to the washroom to clean it off.”

Jim leaned forward and with a stage whisper said, “Charlie’s in love!”

All the kids burst into laughter, including Charlie. Only Charlie also had tears running down his face.

November 15, 2019 05:20

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