[This is part 3 in a series called “The 2nd Grade Mafia”. The first post in this series can be found by clicking on this link.]
Week 5, Day 2 Once a week we had library time, which was a chance for us to check out a book from the school library. I loved this time of the week because I could pick up more of the authors I liked, their books were right on either side of the book I had previously selected. This week was different. I quickly rounded the library to the fiction section where I had collected all of my books. They were gone. All of the books in the fiction section had been checked out. That was impossible! It would take every kid in the school to check out that many books. Or maybe…
I turned around to see a bunch of girls giggling by the doorway. They weren’t even in my grade, these were fifth graders. Each held a stack of seven books, the maximum amount we were allowed. Their leader mouthed “look in the back”. I went around to a little bookshelf to see that the only books remaining were the entirety of the Babysitters Club series. More giggling ensued when they saw my disappointment. Yet the library was sacred, and I wasn’t going to let them hurt me on my turf. I approached the librarian to see if there were any books that had been turned in and had yet to be put on the shelves. The girls bristled, as they hadn’t anticipated this move.
The librarian, a kindly old woman, said “I’d give these to you, but only the fifth graders have been to the library. These are way too advanced for a second grader.”
With some quick talking and a promise to take care of them, I convinced her that I was up to the challenge, and I checked out all of them.
Week 5, Day 3 It was time for silent reading, a fun ceremony where we all got to read and Ms Hotchkiss got to drink some coffee and grade some papers. This was the only time that the boys put minutes on the board, it seemed. I was delighted, because I got to read again. I was halfway through Hatchet and I wanted to know what happened after Brian had accidently kicked the porcupine. I went to lift the top of my desk to find that it wouldn’t budge. I tried again, but nothing happened. I stood up to give it a good go, but when I heaved with all my might the desk didn’t open, it just flipped over.
Ms Hotchkiss whirled around, “Steve, what is it that you are doing?”
“My desk won’t open.”
“We don’t throw desks around just because they don’t open.”
Julie raised her hand, but proceeded to talk without actually being called on. “Ms Hotchkiss, the reason his desk won’t open is because Steve glued it shut.”
That’s silly, why would I glue my own desk shut? Oh you lying jerk! Ms Hotchkiss zoomed across the room, sailing like a foxtail on the breeze through the maze of classroom clutter. She descended upon me so swiftly that I was unable to enact any kind of verbal defense of my innocence. One sniff and she confirmed that my desk was indeed glued shut. “Steve, it’s very bad that you glued your desk shut. We also don’t throw our desks. That’s something bad kids do. You know what else bad kids do? They go to the principal’s office.
“But I didn’t do it Ms Hotchkiss! It had to be the girls-“
“We also don’t tell lies to get out of trouble. We take responsibility for our actions. Come along now.”
I had to sit in the principal’s office without a book for all of silent reading, and for the first recess. All the while I sat, staring at the clock, watching my minutes slip through my hands into oblivion. I had zero minutes because of this charade. The girls had two hundred and eighty. I had to read five hours when I got home just to catch up.
When I got back to class, the janitor had pried my desk open and removed all of the rubber cement. He gave me a scolding about respecting other people’s property. I tried pointing out that I don’t even own rubber cement, but that just made him angry, because now he thought I’d lost a bottle of rubber cement somewhere and it was vandalizing some other part of the building. I didn’t listen to him; I didn’t have to. Not only was there no rubber cement in my desk, there were no books that I’d checked out from the library. All of them were gone. If I didn’t return them by next week I’d get a detention every day until they were returned. I couldn’t get detention, I had to take the bus home. The girls had sent their message loud and clear. I couldn’t even risk telling on them, because sitting on the board was my name with a checkmark behind it. One more instance of misbehavior and I was in for a detention. Who was going to believe that the girls were all a part of some massive conspiracy, when I, the class clown was so much easier to blame?
On the bus ride home, Paige sat next to me. She lived in my neighborhood, and it was especially hurtful that someone from my street could turn on me. “I’m sorry about the desk and the books.”
“Thanks. Do you know where they are?”
“No. They hid them in case you asked Ms Hotchkiss to search all the desks in the room. I think the third graders have them now.”
“Paige, I’m going to get in trouble if they don’t give me those back! I told the librarian I’d take special care of them.”
“I know. I’m supposed to tell you that if you stop reading this week, you’ll get the books back. We’ll put them in the book return and nothing will happen. You won’t get detention, and you’ll get to catch your bus.”
“Paige, they can’t do this! This is stealing! This is lying.”
Paige sighed, because I just wasn’t getting it. When she spoke next, her voice was curt and condescending. “If you keep reading, your books are going to stay missing for a month. Then they’ll show up on the library’s doorstep one day, except they’ll have been washed in a tub, colored with crayons, every fifth page will be missing, and we’ll smear them with mud.”
“Paige, tell them no! I’ll have to give up my allowance to buy those books back, and I’ll have to miss the Scholastic Book Fair! They’ll take away my library card. They won’t let me read anymore.”
“Then you know what to do.” Paige got up and went to the front of the bus with the rest of the girls.
Week 5, Day 4 I had to borrow a book from my aunt and uncle, my babysitters before school began. Technically I stole it, but both of them were working on some unrelated project and were unavailable to be asked. It was the first time I had delved into Stephan King. The Green Mile started off in a pretty scary place, unlike all of the previous books I had read. The characters seemed much more mean than they needed to be. It was an eye opening experience.
At school I didn’t want to talk to anyone. The boys were jerks and the girls were nefarious. I just wanted to sink into my shadow and disappear. That wasn’t going to happen today. Today was the day that Ms Hotchkiss had updated her bar graph.
I was still in first, but there were more bars. Cassie was in second, Pam was in third, the girls were in fourth, Paige was in fifth, and the boys didn’t matter. The girls all collectively bristled. If Hotchkiss had kept the girls together they would have won, but she didn’t. Somehow this was my fault, and I could feel the malevolence of their resolve strengthening around me. The only way they’d win is if Cassie could beat me by herself, otherwise the girls’ bar graph would just keep splitting.
Silent reading approached and I took out The Green Mile,taking a peek at the girls around me. It was hard to read their expressions. I hadn’t stopped reading, despite their threats to my library books.
It was a strange mixture of expressions, showing some kind of disappointed respect. The girls were at a crossroads. They didn’t really want to steal my books, rip them apart, and frame me for a crime I didn’t commit; they just wanted to win the competition. I smiled over my book at each of them, because even though they were debasing themselves they still weren’t getting what they wanted.
The problem with silent reading was that it gave the girls a solid 10 minutes to come up with a plan. Courtney was the first to pounce on my rebellion against the mafia’s tyranny. “Ms Hotchkiss! Steve is reading a bad book!”
Ms Hotchkiss stood up and looked at my book. “What’s that you are reading?”
“The Green Mile by Stephan King.”
“Will you come to the front of the class, Mr. Steve?”
The girls all put their books down, watching what would happen. They had been prepared to make threats of getting me in trouble, but seeing the consequences carried out was something else entirely. I gauged their expressions as I approached Hotchkiss’s desk. Some of them were ready to give in to this, uncomfortable with what they had become. The others sat resolute in the face of my destruction, determined to finally crush this boy that dared to defy their collective might.
Ms Hotchkiss didn’t have much patience for my surveying of the classroom. “Steve, have you been faking your reading this entire time? There is no way that you are reading a Stephen King novel. That’s way above you level.”
“No it’s not! It’s about a prison guard in a nursing home. It’s easy for me.”
“Steve, I think that you’ve been pretending to read and putting up fake numbers. A few of the girls mentioned that you’d checked out books from the fifth grade section, and they think you are faking your reading. Are you lying just to win? Are you just pretending to read?”
My voice cracked, as I was on the verge of tears. The girls weren’t satisfied with trying to stop my minutes, they wanted to wipe away everything I’d done, as if this whole time I’d been sacrificing my recesses for nothing. “No, I’m not! I can read it to you! It’s easy for me.” I was not going to let Ms Hotchkiss disqualify me from all my hard work. I opened the book and read quickly and confidently, putting Ms Hotchkiss through one of the most surreal moments of her life as a second grade boy read aloud the story of a botched execution of a prisoner via electric chair.
“Uh…nevermind, Steve. That was some good reading. Can we get you a different book?”
From that moment on, for the rest of my second grade career, Ms Hotchkiss would always have a hint of worried panic in her expression when she looked at me. She also called home to make sure everything was okay. Mom was furious with my uncle for letting me get my hands on the book, but it wasn’t his fault really. My uncle switched out The Green Mile for a couple of books from his Doc Savage collection.
TO BE CONTINUED IN PART IV….