Poot said she was a Yankee from a poor family. Since his dad worked at a bank, I thought maybe he knew. Once, in one of her lighter moods, she told us she came from Ackerman. But Mike Rose had a cousin in Ackerman who told him that she and her husband were there only a year and had come from somewhere out of state. He also said they were “non-renewed,” but we didn’t know what “non-renewed” meant.
Mrs. Sylvanus was a tender looking woman with lovely hair, a pretty face, and legs I wanted to be taped to. But she was vicious and unpredictable and quickly became as detestable to me as a mangy dog. Still, though, she was as hot as lava, and she’s the reason I got imagination today. I used to picture her lying nekkid on my mother’s dining room table. She would have donuts speared on her boobs, and I would eat my breakfast cereal off her belly while she begged me to do grownup things to her. I always said “no” cause I was hateful and she gave me bad grades. In my dreams, she promised an A, an A forever. In my dreams. In real life, she hated me.
Her husband, Coach Anus we called him, was a huge hulk of an ugly man who taught football and P. E. He was always angry and had a fetish for his whistle which he wore with a matching goofy scowl. He loved that whistle and blew often with great authority. He was also fond of screaming at us and calling us names like roody-poop, skinny boy, and sissy. Me he called Jane. He held a special place in my heart.
Things could have gone better for her, though. I had never been a good boy, but somewhere inside of me was one wanting to come out. I heard the speech at the end of my fifth-grade year about the boy who could have been president but wouldn’t do his homework. Over the summer I had also heard a lot of sweaty preaching at church about repentance and such as that. By golly, I repented and was going to be a good boy who did his homework and helped old women across the street and always said “Yes Ma’am” and “No Ma’am.”
Then on the first day of school, Mrs. Sylvanus walked up to my desk, bent over, and looked me right in the eye. “I heard about you Zane Hodge,” she said through big teeth that lay behind red lips. My face burned with embarrassment at being singled out. “You’re not getting away with anything in this class.” I saw her titty-tops peeking out of the slit in her frilly blouse while she bent over before me. It was my first dose of strong lust, and I drank the whole bottle. The thoughts of the dining room table started soon after. More dreams followed. A whole library of them.
That year she destroyed the entire male population of the sixth-grade at Bankston Elementary. This was Mayberry, or so our parents thought, and people would move their families hundreds of miles just so their children could go to school at Bankston. But that was before the Anuses came. She was a smart aleck, and way strict, a hynie-pie from hell. He was just a goofy dumb ox. Often she would sit on top of her desk, wearing a dress. She always wore a dress. With legs crossed she would dangle a shapely foot in and out of a high heel shoe. Or sometimes, the shoes would be under the desk and I would stare at her nekkid feet for as long as she sat there. She had a nice arch, a stunning instep, and painted toenails.
We loved it when she wrote on the board. Especially when she wrote up at the top and had to reach a little. Her skirt would ride up and tighten over her hinder parts. If her shoes were off, she would rise up on her toes, muscling up the calves. Sometimes she wore stockings with a line up the back. I never slept the nights she wore them kind of stockings. It was a good day when she wrote high on the board. All the guys would leave her room with books covering their groins.
But she knew we had filthy minds, and she hated us boys, but was sugar and spice to the girls. We resented that, of course. Like most kids, we had a super-sensitivity to justice or the lack thereof. Frequently, she sent us to the office for the most minor of infractions. Sometimes we really didn’t even know why. Our claims of ignorance only infuriated principle Bailey, a roaring moron who was always feeling around our underarms. He was creepy and made me sicker than the flu. He paddled me often and, and my butt got really tough that year before all this correctness and self-esteem invaded the schools.
Her worst offense, however, was to take things out of boys’ pockets. All it took was an accusation, which anybody could make at any time. Usually a girl. Sylvanus would make the accused stand before the class, and then she would reach into his pocket and retrieve the contraband. In those days, contraband was things like rubber bands, cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, notes, snuff, marbles, and pocket knives.
After a few days, she brought in a glass box that had a lid with a padlock on it. All of our confiscated goods went in the box which sat on her desk to remind us of our “sins” as she termed it. Slowly the box filled with the most amazing collection of sin that could ever corrupt a boy’s soul. Except her. Before the month of September had passed, my pocket knife was in that box.
It was Poot who told Mrs. Anus that I had the knife. I wasted no time in beating the snot out of him. I caught him in the bathroom and told him he had to buy me a new knife, that I ordered that one from the back of a magazine with money I had made mowing a yard. When he refused, I told him to put up his dukes. He raised his fists, and I hit him with two left jabs and a right cross. He started bawling like a little girl, but that didn’t stop my revenge. I pushed him against the block wall with my left forearm under his neck and was punching him on the side of his head with my right fist when Mrs. Tubbs came in and dragged us both out by the ears. We were in her homeroom class, and she didn't send us to the office or nothing. But she did make us stay in after school and at recess for one whole week.
She made us stay after school one hour a day for a week. But she didn’t send us to the office, and she never treated me like I was a bad boy just ’cause I got in a fight. She was different that way. I got in more fights that year, and Mrs. Tubbs broke them all up. When she died thirty-five years later, nobody ever knew it, but I got alone and I cried real hard for a long time.
But Mrs. Sylvanus? I declared my own personal war on her. That October, Dad and I did a lot of squirrel hunting. We would dress the squirrels on the patio behind the house when we came home from hunting. I started stashing away some of the heads. I would sneak out at night with my wrist-rocket and take the squirrel heads and make my way to the home of the Anuses. Since I lived on Harding and they lived on Montgomery, I could be there in ten minutes. Cloaked in darkness and dressed in camouflage, I would hurl a barrage of squirrel heads at their front door and windows with the wrist-rocket from the alley across the street. Then I would sneak home and eagerly await school on Monday, sure I would hear a tirade about squirrel heads. But she never said a word even after three straight weekends of her house being battered by bloody heads. So I had to come up with another strategy. War is like that.
I ran into Poot one Saturday at Gibson’s. He was wary of me, but I was nice and told him he could work off the knife, and I wouldn’t whip him no more. When he asked how, I told him to meet me at Bankston School at midnight. Friday I had left three windows unlocked, and I told him which ones. I didn’t expect the little sissy to show up so I went on in through the boys’ bathroom window. I made my way to Mrs. Anus’s room and then heard a racket. I thought I was caught for sure and would spend the rest of my life in Parchman and send my mother down to the grave with weeping. I peeked out the door into the hall. My heart was about to beat out of my chest. I got week-kneed when I saw a shadow move down the hall coming my way. I was about to pee in my pants, but then I saw who it was. It was Poot. By golly, the little turd did it.
“Hey Poot,” I almost yelled grabbing him by the shoulders. “You made it.”
“What’s the plan?” was all he said in return.
We went into Mrs. Anus’s room and just stared for a while at the glass box that had my knife and all the other good stuff in it. There was just enough moonlight coming through the window for us to be able to see a little. “You want me to bust it open?” Poot asked.
I thought on that for a long time and then said, “Naw. She’ll know I done it.”
“What then?” he asked.
“Let’s tear this place apart.”
And we did.
We turned over desks, girls’ desks and kicked their books and notebooks all over the place. Then we thought that looked too obvious so we turned over a boy’s desk. It was Tommy Sayle’s. Not that we had anything against Tommy, just that we wanted the wreckage to look general and not like one of the boys done it. Then we both peed on Mrs. Sylvanus’s chair. It took a long time to get it out with us standing there seeing each others pecker. But finally the flow started and we soaked it really good. After that we drank a bunch of water from the fountain in the hall so we could have some pee for the radiators in the bathroom. We found the janitor’s closet unlocked, and armed with brooms, we knocked the bulbs out of every light in the whole building except the office where we couldn’t get in. We did the deed to the radiators, turned over more desks in other rooms, ripped down all the bulletin boards we found, emptied the fire extinguishers, and I even managed to squat and lay a big doo doo on the floor just outside the school office. I was real proud of that.
When we climbed out the window to leave, I told Poot I was sorry for whipping him and that he didn’t owe me nothin’ and that if he ever had any trouble just come and see me. I also told him we had to get home without talking to no police. If they stopped us, they would ask if our parents knew where we were. We could lie and say yes. I had done it before. But if they wrote down our names that we was walking the town on Saturday night, and then got the call the school had been destroyed, well even Greenwood police could figure that out.
Bankston School is on the north end of Grand Blvd so it is pretty well lit up. So we detoured one block south on Popular and then crossed the Blvd to Clarico Park which offered us some darkness. The next obstacle was getting across Park Avenue. We made it without seeing a single set of car lights. We went down Walnut Street until we got to Harding where we split up. You can’t be seen by the police I told him. If you see car lights, you got to hide in the bushed till they pass.
Poot made it home with no police, and Monday morning at school was glorious. Our invasion had an effect. The entire student body was ushered into the auditorium while the police investigated and the janitorial crew cleaned up. Our principle, Mr. Bailey, addressed the student body and used big words like “debauchery” and “vandalism.” His hope was that no one of us had done this “dastardly deed.” We thought he had cussed when he said that one. Even the ancient shuffling Mr. Wilson, our Assistant Principle, went to the microphone and actually said a prayer that it wasn’t one of us “lambs gone astray.” Bailey later came back to the podium and asked for the person or persons responsible to come forward. Yeah right, I’m just going to walk forward, like at church, and say I’m a sinner. Bailey went on to say the police were taking fingerprints and setting up lie-detector machines. Like Achan, the guilty one or ones would be found out. I remembered the story from Sunday school. Would the earth really swallow us up?
I was powerful scared for a while. In my mind, I could see my mother weeping violently while the police led me out of the courtroom bound in chains headed to Parchman. But the talk of the lie-detector machine was a lie. I never understood grownups that way. They were always telling us not to do stuff and then doing it right in front of us. After an hour or so, they turned us loose to go to class. Nobody could sit still all day. That night the Greenwood Commonwealth ran a scathing editorial denouncing the “uncivilized, sorry-no-good, headed-for-Parchman-Penitentiary-person who did this cowardly deed.” Cowardly deed? It was my finest hour, and they called me a coward. Whoever wrote that ain’t never broke into no school at night.
For the rest of the week, all the guys wanted to know who-dunnit. They asked me if I knew anything about it, and I lied like a governor. When Friday came and went without Poot even lettin’ it out to the guys, I started eyen’ him different.
Christmas break came and every time the phone rang I thought it was the police calling to tell my dad to turn me in. I couldn’t enjoy my time off for jumping whenever the telephone or door bell sounded. I just knew the police were about to come at any second to take me to Parchman. And at church, I blushed ever time the preacher even looked my way. I was sure he could see my sins which had to be as scarlet. But when the break passed and the police never showed up to take me away to prison, I started thinking I just might get away with it.
And as far as I could tell, Poot never did tell nobody. He was a delicate looking runt with a touch of sissy thrown in so he had always been a target for wannabe tough guys. But all that changed after we got back to school. I whipped Sanford Thomas and Mike Moses on back to back days because they tried to mess with Poot. My grades even came up those six-weeks not because I had repented again, but I spent so much time after school in Mrs. Tubbs’ room that I actually studied some. Word got out, though, that if you messed with Poot, you had to fight me. I wasn’t the toughest kid in the sixth-grade, but I was one of them. At that age, the boys didn’t know how to fight. My dad had taught me how to box, and it didn’t take much to whip the average eleven year old.
Although our destruction of the school was a major victory, I wanted more. I wanted a more personal and direct victory over Mrs. Sylvanus. It took a long time, but finally I hatched me a plot. I knew this one would get me in serious trouble maybe even sent to Parchman so I mulled it over for almost a month. Finally, I couldn’t hold back no more.
I told no one of the plan, not even Poot although I needed him to pull if off. I went to school on Monday prepared for my victory, but I became so nervous I got the trots. I planned again on Tuesday, but once more I lost my nerve. Wednesday I did it.
“Poot,” I whispered to my buddy while we sat in Mrs. Sylvanus’s class. “Tell her I got something in my pocket.”
He just gave me a funny look. He didn’t understand.
“Poot.” I said again. “Do it. Please.”
He raised his hand.
“Yes Robert?” Mrs. Sylvanus asked.
“Mrs. Sylvanus, uh, Zane, uh, he got something in his pocket.” A hush fell over the room. Her eyes glowed like a werewolf as she rose up to confront the situation.
“Zane. Get up here,” she barked.
I slowly walked to the front of the room, stiff with anticipation.
“Let’s see what you have this time,” she said as she reached into the right pocket of my jeans.
When she grabbed it, she didn’t know what she had.
“What you got in there? That a toad frog?” she asked suddenly devoid of all teacher talk and sounding trashy like we knew she was. I looked up and saw confusion on her face.
She was feeling it, trying to figure out what it was, and trying to pull it out all at the same time. But it wouldn’t come out. When she realized what it was, her face changed all at once. Jerking her hand out and wiping it off on her dress, she gave me a look that could have killed a potted plant.
“You nasty little boy,” she snarled, grinding her teeth while digging the fingernails of her left hand into my shoulder. It’s funny how she never was pretty when she was mad. She stormed out of the room and slammed the door so hard the bulletin board fell off the wall.
“What you got in there?” Poot yelled out after she was gone.
“I cut a hole in my pocket and run my pecker in.”
The room erupted in laughter. The boys started cheering.
I was a hero; I had made contact.
I basked in the glory of my victory.
Until Bailey showed up.
He didn’t say a word. He just stood at the door and motioned for me to come to him.
If they did today what they did to me then, they would be more than fired, more than sued, more than charged, more than jailed: they would go to prison. To Parchman for a long time. Bailey beat my butt until he couldn’t anymore. Even the ancient Mr. Wilson took a couple of swipes until he almost fell down on his old geezer face. And of course that ape, Coach Anus, had to come and defend his wife’s honor. He hit my butt so hard that I was driven forward and banged my head into the block wall.
They even let the school secretary, Miss Turnbull, a fierce woman who chain-smoked and always smelled like wet dog, paddle me. It was like a gospel meeting. Whosoever will, let him come and whip of this butt freely. And all the teachers for several halls came by to gaze upon the boy who would do such a thing. They looked at me like I was the worst sort of trash.
They called Mom, of course, and she picked me up early. She didn’t say nothing except to instruct me to wait in my room till Dad got home. After about two years of waiting, Dad burst into the room in a fury and wanted to know “Why in the Sam Hell” I had done “such a dumb-ass thing?” I told him ’cause she was “an evil bitch from hell.” He exploded at my language and yelled, “That ain’t no damn way to talk!”
He made me pull my pants down and was going to whip me himself until he saw the blueness that ran from my buttocks to just above my knees. “They do that to you?” he asked. I told him that every teacher in school whipped my butt and that Bailey was on the phone calling around to other schools trying to get some more teachers to come over and whip me cause they was all wore out at Bankston. He put his belt on and left the house and was gone a long time. Neither he nor Mom never said nothin’ about it no more. After a week of suspension, which amounted to a week of plotting revenge, I was allowed to go back to school.
I was a rock star.
All the guys wanted to be my friend. They followed me around like they was my shadow. But I made sure everybody knew Poot was my number one buddy.
But before I could actually go to class the first day back, I had to go to the office first thing and apologize for “the incident.” It was a gathering of eagles as Bailey, both Sylvanuses, Old Man Wilson, and the secretary Miss Turnbull were all there like it was a ceremony or something. They all lined up and Bailey said I could go ahead and speak. When I told Mrs. Sylvanus I was sorry she grabbed my penis and started pulling on it, you’d a thought I hit a wasp nest with a rock they way they scattered and turned red and began making noises.
Miss Turnbull poked a bony finger in my chest and told me I had better sit my “b-u-t-t in that desk over there.” She said I was the worst they ever had seen and was headed for Parchman or hell if either one of them would have me.
When Bailey got his eagles back together, they went into his office, closed the door, and talked a lot real loud. When he came out he told me to go straight to class and never mention either “incident” to anyone again. I couldn’t believe they didn’t have more fun on my b-u-t-t. I guess they was still wore out from last time.
And Bailey even changed rules and regulations because of me and “the incident.” I’m real proud of that. There was no more going in a boy’s pockets. Ever. If an accusation was made, the boy had to turn his pockets inside out in front of the teacher and a suitable witness. And the janitors were required to check every window every day at the end of school. They knew I done that one too.
Bailey had questioned me about the break-in. But I had got real good at telling lies. I told him if I had done it, I would’ve got my knife which was still in the case last time I checked. And besides, I said, I was plum tuckered out from hunting with my dad all day that Saturday. There was just no way I had energy enough to do such a thing. He come out of his chair at that one and wanted to know how I knew the school was broken into on a Saturday. That had me looking for words a few seconds and I could feel my face turn red. But I said I figured it was a teenager who done it since only a teenager would have the nerve and they all had dates on Friday night. A girl would never go along with such as that and even if she did and sat in the car while he done it, she would tell if he ever broke up with her. He sat back down and eyed me for a long time. He knew I had done it, but he didn’t have no proof and that chapped his butt.
And Mrs. Sylvanus, she couldn’t never make eye contact with me after “the incident.” I kept a constant mild grin on my face while in her class, and although she never looked directly at me, I knowed she could see me out of the corner of her eyes. My demeanor irritated her real good. Coach Anus didn’t want to see me at all, so I spent the rest of the final six weeks in the school office doing chores during the P. E. hour. That meant I had to smell Miss Turnbull who always looked at me with fight in her eyes. Mrs. Tubbs, however, she never treated me no different.
At the end of the year, I picked up my report card from Mrs. Sylvanus. I made a D - -. That is D minus minus. I guess she didn’t want to fail me considering “the incident.” She asked me if I wanted my knife back. I told her she could keep it to remember me by. For the first time since “the event,” she looked at me. I winked at her as I turned and walked out the door. If looks could kill, it wouldn’t of done me no good to be a cat.
And me and Poot, we spent the summer fishing Fobey’s Ocean and hanging out down on the river. We would ride our bikes over the Tallahatchie bridge and take the turn row to the swing where we would swim and whole gangs of kids would gather and beg me to tell them how I hatched the idea and what it felt like to have Mrs. Sylvanus’ hand on my goober. That whole summer, they never tired of hearing the story or of giving me stuff to win my favor. But I never let nobody give me nothin’, not a cigarette, not a dip of snuff, not a soda pop, not nothing unless they also gave the same thing to my friend Poot.