When Billy Ruthers transferred to Miss Tawdry’s fourth grade class, he had no doubt he’d rule the class just as he had in his former school. But Miss Tawdry has special ways of dealing with troublemakers and Billy has really met his match.
“Okay, class, who can tell me the correct punishment for chewing gum in school?” Miss Tawdry asked menacingly, her eyes focused on Billy Ruthers. Billy just rolled his eyes. He was new in this class. New in this school and town, as a matter of fact. But he recognized a bluff when he saw one and Miss Tawdry was definitely bluffing. He had transferred in from Mrs. Attleberry’s Fourth grade class at Rushmore Elementary in Chicago, and was way too smart to be intimidated by some small town teacher’s scare tactics. In fact, this lady just didn’t know who she was messing with. He wasn’t known to his friends as “King Prank” for nothing.
Betty Jane Ferman raised her hand and Miss Tawdry nodded in her direction. Betty Jane got up and stood at attention beside her desk. She cleared her voice and said, loudly, “The first punishment for chewing gum is two whacks on the hand with the class ruler.
“That’s right, Betty Jane. Thank you!” Miss Tawdry said, and smiled briefly at her before returning her glare to Billy. Betty Jane smiled back and sat down and Billy felt a slight shift in his bravado when he noticed how nervous (scared, she looks scared!) Betty Jane looked. But his common sense took over again and he thought, “She can’t hit me. It’s illegal to hit kids. Especially over something as stupid as chewing gum!
So Billy was incredibly surprised to see Miss Tawdry get up, all 6 feet 3 inches of her and stomp over to his desk, carrying the trash can. She towered over Billy and with a fierce scowl she looked down at him and said, loudly, “Mr. Ruthers, your gum, in the trash, NOW!
Billy looked up at her insolently, embarrassed at her display. This was his first day of school and he simply could not have this woman making a fool of him in front of these kids. He knew she was bluffing, simply knew it, and he was going to show her right now who the boss was. “Whatever you say, teach.” he said with a chuckle, and looking her directly in the eye (while his heart beat a staccato note in his chest) he spit his gum out onto the floor (pretending to aim for the trash can, of course).
Billy saw Miss Tawdry’s eyes flicker to the floor, and then her face got even redder than before, and a deadly hush fell over the entire room. For the first time, Billy started to actually believe she might hit him, and he felt the first tentative finger of fear tickle up his spine.
Miss Tawdry leaned over until her face was within inches of Billy’s and with a low voice, full of barely contained fury, she said, “Pick that up!
Billy decided then that it was best to let her win this one and to get his revenge at a later date. He still knew that she was bluffing and would never hit him, but he was beginning to worry that she might talk to his parents, and his dad would go ballistic if he heard about Billy getting in trouble on his first day at this new school. Billy knew that one of the reasons his parents had decided to relocate to this little town was because of what they called “his behavioral problems” in their room at night when they thought he couldn’t hear them. He knew that they felt hopeful that if they got him away from the “rotten influence” of his friends on the South Side, that he might straighten up and learn to be a “benefit to society.” And if it didn’t work, they planned to take him to a shrink so he could discuss “the deep issues and pressures he obviously felt so he could work to a beneficial solution.” Billy did not want to go see a shrink. And he did not want to see the look on his dad’s face that he would see if Miss Tawdry decided to send a note home, or worse yet, to call him at work. And from the infuriated look on her face, she just might do that. So Billy did his best to look demure and said, “Yes, Miss Tawdry. Sorry Miss Tawdry.” and he leaned over and picked up his gum, and dropped it in the trashcan.
The teacher looked down on him with an evil smile and said, “Place your hands on your desk, palm up. Hold them out in front of you.” Billy looked up at her incredulously. She was actually going to hit him? That was illegal, wasn’t it? But there she was, watching him, still obviously very angry, and he noticed for the first time the huge metal ruler she held in her hand like a club. “Do it!” she said.
“But, Miss Tawdry,” Billy whined, now more than a little frightened. That was a big ruler and he knew it would really hurt if she hit him as hard as he thought she might. “I won’t do it again. I just didn’t know.”
“And this will help you remember, Mr. Ruthers,” Miss Tawdry growled. “We aren’t like other schools. You will mind your manners here or you will be eliminated. It is my job to make sure that you remember that. Now, put out your hands!”
Billy was very close to tears now. “I’ll remember, Miss Tawdry! I promise!” His fingers closed up around themselves so his hands were two tight little fists and he held them tightly in his lap.
“PUT YOUR HANDS OUT!!” Miss Tawdry screamed in Billy’s face.
A little girl in the back of the room gasped, and the sound bounced around off the walls, ceiling and floor in the otherwise silent room the way a child’s ball will during a game of jacks. Billy, by now terrified, slowly and meekly put his hands out, palm up, on the desk in front of him. He closed his eyes and thought, “it won’t be so bad. She wouldn’t hurt a kid.”
WHACKKKK! The pain was blinding, a lightening strike across his palms, so rapid and so excruciating that all he could do was blink with shock and then WHACKKKK! the second one hit him, and that one broke the skin a little and his bones all felt broken and crumbled and useless, and then he did what any other little boy would do in his situation. He cried.
The little boy in front of Billy shifted nervously in his seat a little, and the girl next to him started to cry a little, too. Billy tentatively wiggled his fingers and they all managed to move, although they were still shrieking with pain. But it was obvious to him that they weren’t broken, regardless of how they felt. He pulled them close to his body protectively, and huddled down in his chair, as if it this would help him to disappear from Miss Tawdry’s view. He was definitely going to tell his dad about this tonight when he got home. He definitely was. And his dad would do something about it, he just knew it. His dad would never let this woman get away with hurting him like that.
Emboldened by that thought, he had another. His dad was gonna crucify Miss Tawdry when he found out. She’d get what was coming to her for sure. Billy watched her pick up the trash can and turn around, heading back up the aisle to her desk, her ponderous body moving like a grizzly among the little sapplings of her students. He looked down at his hands and saw that one of them was bleeding pretty good. His dad would be furious when he saw his son bleeding like a stuck pig. And suddenly, Billy was angry too. He felt the imagined rage of his father wash over him and become his own. He felt all the fury it is possible for a little boy of 9 to feel, and with every fiber of his being, he yelled at Miss Tawdry. Billy shouted out the worse word he knew to call a woman. “You BITCH!” he screamed. “You complete bitch!!
At 6:15 PM that night, Billy’s father and mother showed up to Miss Tawdry’s classroom. She had called them both at work and asked for a conference to discuss Billy’s behavior in class that day. She had taken the necessary disciplinary measures, she had told them, but felt the need to discuss it at greater length with them in person. When they arrived, they saw their son sitting at his desk, quietly writing. As they entered the classroom, Billy’s mom saw what looked like sheer terror (or was it pain?) in her son’s eyes. She walked over to his desk and looked down at the paper he was writing on. “I will not cuss at my teacher in class” was written over and over and over on the lined sheet, in very tiny, very neat handwriting. “What’s going on, Billy?” she asked. “In trouble already, on your first day of school?
Billy looked up at his mother, and tears filled his eyes. He opened his mouth, and his mother screamed in horror. Where Billy’s tongue had once been was now a small stump wrapped in a bandage. And when she followed the direction of his eyes, she saw the rest of his tongue, stuck to the wall by a very large object that looked like a metal ruler. Screaming again, she turned around rapidly when she heard her husband say “What in the hell??” behind her and that’s when she saw, THEY saw, Miss Tawdry coming at them, a large butcher knife shimmering in the fluorescent lights of the classroom, and then heard her say, “Okay, who can tell me what the punishment is for raising disrespectful children?