Groundhog Day at Chain Gang Elementary

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chain_gang_elementaryFrom Chapter Sixteen:

Groundhog Day was sunny. Anxious to escape the school’s shadow that Friday afternoon, Richard eschewed routines and chitchat while picking up his son. As he rounded a hall corner with Nick in tow, he nearly ran into a large black woman who was busy chewing out Donzella James. The woman had straightened hair and wore a dowdy black suit. Her eyes were flamethrowers.

“He needs to get over his father,” the woman said, repeatedly poking her index finger at the psychologist’s chest. “I don’t need you diggin’ into his brain and pullin’ up that old stuff. His daddy’s no good. More importantly, man’s gone. I don’t want you talkin’ to the boy. I got a minister I can go to. I don’t need a bureaucrat who never met me haulin’ my boy out of class and givin’ him the third degree about none of your business.” Her arms rested on her hips. She seemed not only to dislike every feature of the smaller woman who faced her, but also appeared ready to rearrange them all.

“He told me you whipped him,” Ms. James said. “I can report you.”

Richard stopped in his tracks. The words chilled his blood, but they had the opposite effect on the outraged parent. “So what if I do?” she huffed. “Spare the rod and spoil the child. That’s what the Bible say. I guess you wouldn’t know about that.”

“Go out to the front and wait for me,” Richard told Nick. The boy hesitated, but his father vehemently shooed him away. The counselor came out of the office to join the psychologist. Ms. Hardwick did a double-take when she saw Richard standing in the hall.

“I’ll tell you both. Stay away from my boy and leave him be, you hear?” the woman said.

“Mine too,” Richard said.

“You just failed the attitude test, Mr. Gray.”

“Is that what happened to Stan?”

Both educators fixed him with icy stares.

“They the ones flunkin’,” the angry parent said, waving them off with a pointed finger.

“You got that right,” Richard said.

The woman turned on her heel and walked away with a grunt of disgust. Richard followed. What could they do to him? He was made of stronger stuff than Stan, with better cards to play and more game. Bring it on.

When he went outside, Nick’s nose was bleeding profusely and Mrs. Leland was stanching it with a Kleenex. The nosebleeds had become more frequent. Nick’s pediatrician said they were nothing to be alarmed about, but the boy had to carry tissues in his pocket to school, and Richard now carried a small pack of Kleenex, too—a sorry substitute for his magic yo-yo.

On the way home, Nick asked for advice on how to deal with “someone who shall not be named,” who was cheating in school and demanding help on tests and homework.

“Give him the wrong answers,” Richard quipped. “That’ll fix him.”

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