Skywriting at Night

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Chapter 24

     Jet ended up sitting next to Johnny in detention. While this was where Johnny traditionally spent the first hour after school each day—at least on those days that he actually went to school—by this time Jet was usually home, snacked out and trying to avoid the kids on the block who always, it seemed, wanted to play baseball. This was, in fact, the first time in several years Jet had to stay in detention, something which is more easily explained by luck than culpability. Getting sent to the principal's office was a common occurrence, usually for espousing his philosophy of the day. Being assigned additional homework, often in the form of writing "I will not talk out of turn in class" one hundred times, was far from unheard of. But detention? That was another matter altogether.

     He’d been sitting in English class minding his own business, numb with boredom since Johnny’s surprise entrance and hasty exit had made for a rather premature class climax. Two rows away Rubber Boots flipped through his navy blue loose leaf notebook trying to find a white page with the light blue lines that hadn’t been written on already. How could it be that there were no blank sheets left when his mother had braved the brutal early August heat by going to Woolworth's at the very first sign of a Back to School Sale and bought enough three-hole punched paper to stock a large stationery store?

     "Gimme a piece of paper," he said to Neckless.

     "What?!" Neckless nearly shouted from inside his turtleneck, which was still encasing his head.

     "Shhhh!" Rubber Boots hissed at him. "You're gonna get us in trouble."

     "Sorry," Neckless whispered.

     "Can I borrow a piece of paper?"

     "You gonna give it back when you're done?"

     "I wasn't planning on it."

     "Okay," Neckless said as his hands groped the top of his desk, "take this one."

     Rubber Boots reached over and took the pale yellow piece of paper his friend handed him. He glanced at the printing on one side, then turned it over and wrote on the blank side. When he was finished he folded it in quarters and nonchalantly dropped it on Neckless’ desk.

     "Pass it to Jet, willya?"

     "Huh?!" Neckless yelled.

     "Will you stop that already!" Rubber Boots scolded. "You're gonna get us both caught."

     "Sorry."

     "Just pass the note to Jet, okay?"

     "What note?"

     "The one that's right in front of you."

     Neckless reached out and knocked the note off the desk, but thanks to a lot of luck and just a touch of instinct, snatched it out of mid air before it could hit the floor.

     "Where's Jet?" he asked.

     "On the other side of you where he always is."

     Neckless thrust the note to his left, swiping the side of Jose's head with his hand, which wasn’t difficult considering the exaggerated size of the target. Jose spun around sharply, lashing out with his right arm and brushing Neckless’ hand aside like an obnoxious gnat. Using far more force than he realized, he knocked Neckless’ hand into the side of Mary Margaret Dickerson's head. Mary Margaret, who the kids called M&M despite—though perhaps because of—her insistence on using both names, instinctively slapped Neckless’ hand, sending it flying back towards Jose's face. Like a tennis champ defending himself at the net, Jose's hand flew up, successfully blocking the shot and sending Neckless’ hand careening into his own desktop. The commotion, not to mention the interesting sequence of noises, caused the class to turn and stare at Neckless. As Miss Hellstrom looked up from the book she'd been reading aloud, the note fluttered out of Neckless’ hand like an injured butterfly and landed gently on the floor.

     "Is that your note?" she asked Neckless.

     He sat quietly, for without his sight he had no idea the teacher was speaking to him.

     "No, ma'am," Hanner answered, not having any idea the teacher wasn't speaking to her.

     "I was talking to Mr. Francis," Miss Hellstrom told Hanner, then turning to Neckless, "Is that your note?"

     "Nope," he said quietly.

     "I can't hear you."

     "I said nope."

     "You said what?"

     "I said no, ma'am," he corrected.

     "Mr. Francis," the teacher announced as she walked towards him, "I can't hear a word you’re saying when you hide inside your shirt and mumble into your chest. I want you to take that shirt down from around your head so we can bask in the glory of your smiling face and feast our ears upon your responses."

     "No," he said, raising the volume of his voice a little louder.

     "I’m warning you. If you don't take it down, I'm going to do it myself," she said, reaching for the ribbon that secured the turtleneck above his head.

     "No!" Neckless shouted in anguish. "Don’t do it!

     "It's mine," Jet said suddenly, leaning way down and picking up the note, almost tipping over his desk in the process.

     "Well, Mr. Banker," his teacher said, her hand poised over Neckless’ head mere inches from the grand unveiling, "I'm glad to see you decided that honesty is indeed the best policy. Why don't you bring the note-that-was-so-important-it-just-couldn't-wait-until-after-class up to the front of the room?"

     Jet stood apprehensively, clutching the note tightly. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Neckless trembling like a vampire who had barely escaped a deadly ray of daylight. And beyond him was Rubber Boots, his eyes closed tightly, slowly shaking his head back and forth.

     "Now, Mr. Banker," the teacher said impatiently. Jet walked to the front of the room and faced the class. "Good. Now please open the note and read it to the class."

     Jet let out a gust of air and looked at Miss Hellstrom with the biggest puppy-dog eyes he could muster, the picture of conjured up innocence, but she just looked at him impatiently. "I must be losing my touch," he thought to himself as he unfolded the pale yellow sheet of paper. Rubber Boots had a look on his face that said a railroad spike hammered in one ear, passing through his brain, and emerging out the other ear would be a welcome relief at the moment.

     "Read it," Miss Hellstrom commanded.

     Jet took a deep breath. "Come praise the Lord at an old fashioned revival featuring the Quite Reverend John Joseph Matthew Paul III," he read. "Live and in person. You've seen him on TV, now..."

     Miss Hellstrom walked over and took the paper out of Jet's hand. It was a flyer for the Quite Reverend's impending revival which a young man in a navy blue suit had handed Neckless on the way to school that morning. She turned the paper over and saw the scribbled handwriting on the back. She handed it back to Jet.

     "Now read it."

     Jet looked at Rubber Boots, whose eyes were bugging out so far they threatened to pop out of his head and fall into his shirt pocket for convenient carrying. And him not wearing a pocket protector. Jet looked back at his teacher. Her eyebrows were arched clear up to her hairline, silently questioning whether he was going to start reading it while at the same time warning him that it had better be soon.

     Jet looked from the note to Rubber Boots, then back at the note. He looked down and slowly tore the paper in half.

     "Mr. Banker?" the teacher asked.

     He lined the two pieces up and with great deliberation tore them in half again.

     "What are you doing?"

     He stacked the pieces and tore them. Again. And again. And again.

     "I'm talking to you, Mr. Banker."

     Walking to Ed Frederick's desk, which was the first seat in the first row by the door, Jet dropped a small piece of the mutilated note on the desk top. Then he stepped behind Ed’s desk and placed a torn up piece of the note in front of Sheri Banks. He continued walking down the row towards the back of the room, pausing to give each person a single small piece of the note.

     "Mr. Banker?" the teacher called out. "I asked you what you're doing!"

     Jet picked up the pace, walking down the second row and depositing a piece of paper on each desk.

     "Mr. Banker, stop that this instant."

     He handed a piece of the note to each person in the next row.

     "Mr. Banker?!!"

     He finished up by giving two pieces to each person in the last row, then walked to the front of the room where he looked directly at Miss Hellstrom. He took the four pieces of paper he’d saved for himself and balled them up, then popped them in his mouth, chewing ever so slowly and deliberately.

     "Mr. Banker," his teacher said in exasperation, "you get to the principal's office right this minute and you've got detention after school."

     As Jet continued chewing on the wad of paper, Rubber Boots picked up the small piece of paper from his desk and placed it in his mouth. So did Jose. One by one, every student in the class put their piece of paper in their mouth, some in an obvious manner, others sneaking it in and swallowing it whole before their teacher could see that they'd really gone through with it. All, that is, except Hanner and Neckless, who would have gladly been a part of the proceedings had either one been able to see what had transpired. Ignorance may be bliss, but it oftentimes isn't any fun either. Jose reached over and took the piece of paper from Hanner's desk and tossed it in his mouth, then took Neckless’ and did the same.

     Jet swallowed hard; the chewed-up paper was a rather hard, unyielding lump, much like his mother's solid chunks of rice. And him without a glass of water, iced tea, or even milk.

     "Mr. Banker," his teacher said sternly, "I hate to have to say this, but I’m very disappointed in you."

     "Well," Jet said as he walked to his desk and gathered up his books, "you’ve got to face life’s frustrations."

            

Chapter 25 ]



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  Skywriting at Night - a novel by Mad Dog

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