The Dog Ate My Homework!
JC Esse “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” Sara sighed and looked down, ashamed. “Oh? Let’s see about that,” Ms. Rosenburg challenged. She leaned forward in her swivelly chair, and her luminescent green eyes peered over her copper wire-rimmed glasses. “If I must… Well, I waited until last night to do my homework, even though you assigned it a week ago because I had just thought of the best idea for my story. I wanted to put in cartoon drawings at the end, so I asked my brother Sam to bring in Macy, my dog, with her favorite toy, so I could draw her. Instead, he brings her in by holding a treat and waving it around like a maniac, so she jumps up and down all over him. Sam suddenly realizes he doesn’t want to be near Macy if there’s a chance she might bite the treat and his fingers, so he hurriedly throws the treat behind his shoulder. It just happens to land on my paper. Macy leaps onto it and consumes the treat along with the paper itself! I try to pry her off, but she gobbles it all faster than I can see.” Ms. Rosenburg’s defiant glare pierced me. “Sara, you can do better than that. Right, class?” A chorus of giggles arose. “I think that’s a yes,” Ms. Rosenburg continued. Sara shifted from foot to foot nervously and whispered, “Ma’am… Can I have it done by tomorrow?” “Yes, I suppose I can excuse it this once.” __________________________________________________________________________________________ The next day, a beaming Sara rushed into school with her homework. “Ms. Rosenburg! Ms. Rosenburg! I finished my homework!” She handed the neatly folded papers to a pleased teacher. Sara bounced in her seat until she got her graded assignment back in an engraved envelope. Sara eagerly ripped it open to find an A+ next to the title, “The Girl Who’s Dog Ate Her Homework– For Real– And Her Excuses.” Did I think this was a good idea? Why did I think this was a good idea? This was a bad idea. There was silence in the room. I could feel my face burning as Miss Snoe just stared at me, dusty grey eyes wide and frozen. The only noise in the room was a few giggles and snickers from those who were still standing, but Miss Snoe hadn’t even moved. She still sat against her desk, arms crossed over her chest, with lifted eyebrows. Then the face quickly changed into angles, a look of serious disbelief on her features as she quirked her lips. “Seriously, Jhen?” The woman asked as I uselessly drifted my arms beside my hips. “Is that really the best you could do?” “But it did happen!” I insisted, but Miss Snoe has already turned around, writing something on the board. I resisted the temptation to throw a tantrum. It’s not fair. The one time – the one time I forget my homework, I don’t lie, and I still get dismissed. Unbelievable. “Miss Siad, you are in top set English.” She commented, her back still turned to me. Rude. “I believe you can come up with a better story than that, correct?” The look she gave me when she finally turned around was slightly narrowed and, I realised soon, challenging. I’ve never been one to back down from a challenge. If you know anything about me, Jhennifer Siad, is that you know I’m stubborn. I don’t take kindly to teasing and I will prove myself. You’re joking about how weak I am? Punch to the face. Easy solution. I’m confrontational. That’s one of the reasons the dog ate my homework. Ah, yes. The dog. Dog. Stupid, impotent, daft, greedy idiotic, useless dog. The dog. It wasn’t me who got the dog. Gosh no, why would I ever get that beast? His name is Bax. I call him Box. Box is a… problem dog. With me, only, that is. Oh, he loves little Mariana. It was her birthday present, after all. She’s taught him all kinds of tricks and everything, sit, lay, bark. In other words he does something as simple as sit down to lick his legs and she coos all over him and gives him treats to make him even more fat. But is he nice with me? Oh, no. No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Box isn’t allowed in my room, I always close the doors yet somehow he manages to get in and chew something up. I’m the one getting barked at when we’re eating, and I get told off by Mum and Dad even though I didn’t do anything. It wasn’t too long before I was going to leave school. We were packing our things into our bags when I realised my English homework wasn’t in there, a page-lengthed essay on whether Frankenstein decision to create The Monster was beneficial or not. I ran upstairs to check my room and walked in just as Box was jumping against my beside table. Before I could do anything he knocked it over, sending all of the papers flying all over the ground and grabbed a few and sprinted down the stairs. The chase began. And then it ended, with me slipping face-first into the floor as I rounded the corner into the kitchen. That scared Dad, apparently, who was just coming in through the garden door with grimy boots, enough to make him all over and Bax ran into the garden, ripping apart the pieces of paper – one of which was my English homework – as well as shoving it further into the mud. The whole class stared at me, and I stared right back, determined. I was not getting in trouble for telling the truth. I would fight the entire council if it meant no detentions! If the teacher doesn’t believe me, I’m ranting all the way home. Miss Snoe stood still for a second, staring at me once more, something akin to shock or surprise on her face. Like she hadn’t expected a legitimate explanation of the whole ‘my dog ate my homework’ thing. Then she rolled her eyes and turned. I’m still not sure if I was imagining her trying to fight back a smile. “That’s enough, Miss Siad.” She said as she crossed the classroom to her desk and laptop. She sat down. I stood there, glancing around awkwardly. Were we done? Do I still get detention? Why wasn’t she saying anything. The woman glanced up once more, as though only now realising I was still standing tall and straight in the middle of class like an elevator. You know, if elevators could turn blinding right and glance from side to side rapidly. A smirk appeared on her features. “You can sit down now, Jhennifer.” She commented naturally. I blinked. As I slowly descended to my seat, still very aware of everyone staring at me with large, taunting grins, Miss Snoe peeked up once more. “And tell your dad I hope he gets better.” I couldn’t wait until Mrs. Ferelfreckle reads my paper. It’s my best work yet. I placed the essay on the kitchen table for Mom’s review and then read my group’s writing submissions. I came back in to find napkins all over the floor and my paper missing. Anxiety skyrocketed when I saw the open window. My heart jumped seeing my masterpiece stuck in the branches of a tree on the far side of our fence. I dragged the picnic table near the tree. But it wasn’t high enough, so I balanced a lawn chair on top of that. As I peered over the fence, a large flat face with red beard and mustache, a wide nose, many hanging chins and beady black eyes stared back at me. Fear forced the chair to wobble precariously and it tumbled to the ground, leaving me covered in grass stains and humiliation. As bravery returned, I reset the chair and climbed back up. A quick glimpse told me the face was that of an orangutan. That wasn’t as abnormal as you may think since the other side of the fence belongs to the Cootybinkle Zoo. With one eye on my essay, and one on Rudy Orangutan, I balanced on the chair. I can almost reach it. Tippy toe…. Just as fingers tickled paper’s edge, Rudy Orangutan swung from branch to branch. His loud “Woo, woo, woo” pierced my ears. As he snatched the paper, I performed a death-defying, life-preserving dive. A cautious glance revealed Rudy swinging from tree to tree, paper tucked under several chins. It fell and floated into a mud puddle. A swan waddled towards it, her downy white feathers turning brown with muck. She read my paper and with a squawk of approval, grabbed it and took flight, droplets of mud spattering zoo-wide. The last I saw of that essay was when Sweeney Swan dropped it at the nether end of an elephant who proceeded to lift his tiny tale and dump precious cargo. The only part that could be read was the title, “Expect the Unexpected.” A heart filled with tears, I trudged back to my bedroom for a complete rewrite. The good news in all this was the second draft was even better than the first. With renewed vigor, I read the draft to Mom on the way to soccer practice. As I reached the bottom of the page, the wind (who has something personal against me) drew it out the car window. It floated directly into a… car wash. Retrieving my prize, I grasped it, stood up, and received a shock: a firm ‘Fa-twap! Fa-twap! Fa-twap!’ across the face. An octopus named Mr. Soapy had escaped from the zoo. The wind was strong. The priceless essay was secured against my body. I raised a hand to swipe hair away from my eyes, only to lose my paper once more. It flew into the open door of a trade school. Determined, I went in after it. It was plastered against the face of a blue-haired man. I removed the paper to expose the face of a red-nosed clown. Inspection of the paper revealed white, orange and blue clown make-up stained my essay. Leaving the building, I looked back to read the sign, “Tina Bopper Shimmersham’s Clown Academy”, and slammed right into the ice cream man dressed in white clothes carrying a small cooler. Blood seeped from the cooler and soaked the sidewalk. The only part of the essay legible were the words, “Life in the Windy City.” Deep depression did not deter me from writing the essay of all essays. A few spins of the hour hand and it was finished for the third time. And call me a monkey’s uncle if it wasn’t even better than the first two. Walking into the kitchen, I proclaimed, “It’s finished!” Mom and Dad beamed up from the table. They were so excited to read it, they both reached for it at the same time, and “Rip!” Just like that, it was in two pieces. My lower lip trembled as Mom taped it together. We ate our hamburgers, the paper placed safely on top of the refrigerator. I thought nothing of my three-year-old sister’s tantrum until that juicy hamburger, pickles, ketchup, onion and extra tomato flew high in the air. It could have landed no other place than… on my paper. This morning, essay presentation day, I found my brother flying a paper airplane off the second floor landing to the living room below. As Peter’s plane landed expertly on the carpet below, our English sheep dog Pandemonium, pounced, the plane settling squarely between two front paws. The last part of the essay he ate was the title, “How to Be Succinct.” And that’s why, Mrs. Ferelfreckle, I told you the dog ate my homework. I thought about what I would say to mrs.Jackson. She was was the second most disliked teacher in the whole school, I personally think she is a horrid monster disguised as a human. I thought and thought of what to say. “I’m waiting Mrs.Miller” she said with a strong tone of discipline. Soon enough I could feel all the eyes of my classmates staring at me, then I had the greatest yet most simple excuse of all time “Well ma’am… I worked so hard on my writing BUT my cat seemed to disagree with my opinion on modern technology… so he kinda sorta ate it” I said with a confident look. Just then I realized how weak and dumb my excuse was. You know that feeling when you just know something AWFUL is going to happen and you get SO mad but you really just simply can’t do anything about it, yeah that’s the feeling I had. “Teony I went to college for four years then participated in student teaching, then just to add on that I have been teaching for eight years and you think I am so redundant that I would believe an excuse such as that” she exclaimed with a bitter tone. I said nothing and hoped for a miracle to happen that some how in some way I could avoid this predicament, and just go back in time and put my essay on my desk instead of leaving in the floor for Chewy to chew up. Mrs.Jackson laughed and signaled for me to take my seat. “Though I have had experience teaching I’ve also been a student, and Teony use the I was sick excuse next time it works much better” she said very giddily. After that she wasn’t that bad of a teacher anymore. “Your paper was eaten by the poodle?” Mr. Martin asked. “Yes sir,” Doug answered humbly. “The whole kit and caboodle?” Doug puzzled, but nodded yes. “Well, well, well, Mr. Kramer,” Mr. Martin replied clearing his throat for emphasis. “I’m afraid that this is not a good enough excuse. The class is going to need a bit more.” Doug slumped in his desk. The whole class was staring, the silence was palpable. Mr. Martin raised his hands up as he spoke. “Stand up, Mr. Kramer.” Doug complied looking to be anywhere but where he was currently at. “I want you to recite your report anyway,” Mr. Kramer smiled. “What did you learn?” “Umm,” Doug said. “What?” “Well, we’re not off to a good start.” Mr. Martin walked to his desk with the stack of reports and sat them down. He then walked over to the dry erase board. “Right, Stonewall Jackson,” he said as he wrote the name boldly in blue. “Is that his real name?” “Uh, no sir,” Doug answered. “What was his real name?” Doug seemed preoccupied with the frayed edge of his navy-blue hoodie. “Mr. Kramer,” Mr. Martin coaxed, “we’re waiting.” Doug swallowed uncomfortably, and for a moment it appeared to Mr. Martin that his fears were confirmed, that this was merely an excuse for not doing the work. “Thomas Jonathan Jackson,” Doug finally answered. His eyes were downcast. “He earned his nickname at the First Battle of Bull Run when he rushed his troops forward to close a gap in the line and held it.” Mr. Martin smiled to himself as he wrote it down on the board. “Okay, what other things can you tell us about him?” “Uh,” Doug stalled. “What was he known for?” “He was considered one of the greatest military minds in history,” Doug told him with a growing enthusiasm. “He was killed by friendly fire in the Battle of Chancellorsville, and Robert E. Lee had explained that part of the reason the South lost the war was due to Stonewall Jackson’s accidental death.” The mood in the class changed from one of boredom to genuine interest. Mr. Martin continued his pursuit of the report by encouraging Doug. “And perhaps you can explain the term friendly fire.” This time there was no hesitation, “Friendly fire is when you are shot by your own side.” “Well done,” Mr. Martin said. “They amputated his arm, and he died from pneumonia a few days later. He was a terrible teacher, he ate his food standing up because he thought it aided in digestion, and when he started at West Point, he was the very worst student, but soon became the hardest working cadet ever to walk the halls.” Doug’s energy was up, and he couldn’t seem to speak fast enough. “So, your poodle ate your homework,” Mr. Martin said. “Yes, sir,” Doug answered, shoulders slumped. “Please rewrite it, and send it in tomorrow. You won’t be marked down for tardiness.” “Thank you, sir.” “Thank you, Mr. Kramer. You may take your seat.” Doug sat down, his face flushed and he couldn’t contain the smile on his face. “Okay,” Mr. Martin said clapping his hands. “Ms. Acuna, you’re up.” I can say there were a million reasons I regretted letting Ross adopt Tim the dog we’d found in the street about a week ago. But if you told me to pick just one, it was Miss Lydia’s breathe. “You’re trying to tell me, Rick, that the dog are your homework?” She stared at me, eyes wide with mock surprise. “The dog ate my homework ma’am.” I lowered my head. This was to both act sorry and keep the smell of rotten onions out of my poor nose. “Do you realize what your saying? Do you realize?” She shifted her weight onto another foot, leaned against the wall, smiled and said, “Back. Go to the back of the room right now, young man. And explain yourself to everyone.” So then I did. “I’m a Stym. Styms aren’t human. We’re hunted by animals and were born in human families. And that’s not a problem. Except that my little brothers a Stow. Also not human. And Stows love animals. We both live in the streets. We don’t have parents. Stows and Styms generally don’t. Their parents leaves them at a young age for…umm… reasons. So I’m like a parent for my brother which means I have to make some sacrifices sometimes and when he got attached to a dog last week I let him keep it. The dog hates me. I hate the dog. I was doing my homework yesterday when the dog called me a fool. I called him a dog and he ate my homework.” I finished. I looked up at my teacher. “No parents?” She asked her expression suddenly softening. I nodded wearing a sad smile. “Interesting. I thought the lady at the parent teacher meeting looked quite like you.” “Oh. Her?” I laughed nervously, “She uh…” She nodded her head sternly. “Out!” “No, really, the dog ate it.” My teacher for creative writing just looks at me with a withering stare of disapproval. “Class, how many of you believe Mr. Morley’s story about his dog?” The class snickers and she continues. “Since this is a creative writing class, please expand upon your premise. Should I find your submission worthy, I may count it instead.” I don’t have a dog. Not really. I do have a nitwit younger brother, though, and I have argued ferociously with my father about having him chained to a tree in the backyard. I think that should count. And he did eat my homework. With ketchup. The whole time he just glared at me, munching happily on my prettily penned prose. I should have been more biting in my critique. Perhaps that would have forestalled my paper’s demise. Or given him indigestion. I put quill to page and tried to come up with a clever way of telling Ms. Smartypants what really happened. I had survived first semester and numerous assignments in this class with nary a problem. My bothersome brother had been all about my Calculus homework. He told me my answers were hopelessly derivative and then cackled gleefully chomping down on my trig functions in radian measure. He had a thing for Pi. And cakes and cookies and all the rest, too. She wasn’t going to believe me. No one ever did. Not until they met the little monster. Then they sang a different tune. Of course, their singing would drive him to howling and I would inevitably end up arguing over that chain and tree approach with dear old dad. Ugh. He left my history papers alone, though. Something about not wanting them repeating on him and he stuck his finger down his throat to force a gag. Good thing my Driver’s ed course is over. It was tiresome having him chase me around the house, chomping at my heels. He never ate my Chem homework. He would tear it in half and then stand on a kitchen chair, on one foot, with a half in each hand. “See? Balanced.” I hated it. I was going to college next fall. Or the Army. Somewhere. I had to get out. I put this all in my essay and gave it to Ms. Smartypants.at the end of class. I hung my head in well-accustomed shame and turned to leave, surrounded by silence. When I got to the door, I turned to ask her if she thought it was acceptable. My mouth fell open in flabbergasted disbelief. She had rolled my paper and was dunking it in a glass of milk. “Oh, don’t give me that look. You right so sweetly, dear.” Okay, here’s the conclusion. Again, sorry if this is abusing the system, but some things just have to be written. Ugh, the cliche. If anyone want to catch up on this without going through old prompts, it’s on my website, ianegonzales.com, under the Are You Happy category. Are You Happy 3 “What does it say?” Ellen trembled. “It’s Occitan,” I said. “And I don’t think it’s anything good.” Taking her hand, I made for the stairwell. With a screech of tortured wood, the desk slid across the floor. I grabbed Ellen and dove through the doorway, just before the heavy desk hit the frame, sending splinters flying. We stumbled down the stairs, Ellen silent with shock. We had to get away. At the bottom of the stairs, the door slammed shut. As I grabbed the handlewords appeared on the panel. They blossomed from the wood, like ink dripped on a page. “Where are you going?” I gritted my teeth, yanked the door open. As we hurried down the hall, more words appeared on the walls, the letters large and clumsy, as if written in haste. “You know she’s why you’re unhappy.” I ignored the words, kept moving. Around the corner, more writing waited. “Let her go. Give her to me. I will set you free.” There was the front door, still open. I took a step toward it, and a strange darkness began to spread across the floor, flowing from the gaping doorway. Words swam in the fluid darkness. “Yes, this way.” I spun away from the doorway, feeling a rising panic. “Frank,” Ellen said, her voice cracking. “What’s happening?” I looked at her, at the fear on her face. “I don’t know why, Ellen, but something wants to hurt you.” I shook my head. “I can’t let that happen.” Then the darkness began to run down the walls, coalescing into words that bled. “Why not? She doesn’t love you anymore. She never did.” Still holding Ellen’s hand, I back away, moving into the kitchen. I risked a glance over my shoulder; the way to the back door was clear. We started for the door, when I heard a rattle. My eyes sought the source, and saw the knife block trembling. “Look out!” I dove to the floor, tackling Ellen, as a fan of knives sliced through the air, burying themselves in the wall above us. “Stop this!” I cried. “Leave us alone!” More words, creeping along the floor like ivy. “You don’t need her. You don’t love her. Let me take her away. Let me make you happy again.” “You’re wrong,” I said, tears of frustration in my eyes. “I do love her. I need her.” I looked down at my wife, to find her staring up at me. “She’s everything in my life. I could never be happy without her. Find someone else to haunt.” For a moment, tendrils of shadow writhed along the floor and walls. Then they formed into words. “I believe you now.” The darkness withdraw, vanishing as abruptly as it had appeared. “Frank?” Ellen was looking around, eyes wide. I caught her up in my arms. “Don’t worry. We’re safe.” I sighed. “It’s over now.” * It had been about three months since… it happened, since something I couldn’t explain nearly killed me. Frank saved me. I don’t know how, but he did. Our lives slowly got back to normal. We turned a corner, and things started to get better. I started to think that maybe we would make it. I sat at my computer, trying to work, but thinking about Frank, about us. The blank screen stared at me, the cursor flashing. Then, suddenly, a brief sentence appeared. It was in some language I didn’t recognize, and I thought it might be a message from Frank, some sweet little nothing. I brought up a translator, and words I could read came up. “Are you happy?” Mr. Hunter looked down at his student quizzically, one brow lifted, snug smirk twisting his face. “Uh… My dog ate it.” Nick said without looking up, sitting scrunched over his open notebook. “Really? Come on. We do this every day. Can’t you come up with something better this time?” Mr. Hunter was right. This daily routine of picking at his worst student to make himself look high and mighty was getting old but still got him some giggles from the girls, giving a nice perk to his ego. Not a bad start of the day. Still looking down at his folded hands, Nick gave out a sad sigh and spoke slowly in a soft voice. “OK. I’m sorry I lied. There is no fooling you professor. The truth is I couldn’t do it. The topic is too private. I can’t share it with you or the class.” “What do you mean? What’s so embarrassing about a person you admire that you couldn’t share it with us?” Mr. Hunter spread his arms wide to include the whole class, incredulous that the boy would be so insecure with something so trivial. Everyone was engaged now; the fight is on, our hero center stage, prepared to crush the squiggling, delinquent worm. “Well it’s someone very close to all of us. Someone in this room actually…” Nick finally raised his head and looked his teacher dead in the eye. To Mr. Hunter’s surprise there was no hesitation in the boy’s steady gaze. “I thought and thought about the person I admire the most and couldn’t help but realize that it’s you Mr. Hunter!” The boy spoke faster now, as if unable to hold back any longer. A bright red blush covered his entire face and neck. The class erupted with hoots and howls of laughter. The confession was unexpected, but still good fun for all, except for one dumbfounded professor. Nick has somehow gotten a hold of his hand and was clutching at it fervently, eyes ablaze, begging him to believe in his earnest affection. “Really, Mr. Hunter, I just kept thinking how smart, handsome and confident you are. How hard you try to get me to do my homework, how witty you are with your remarks. How much you care about my grades slumping this semester. I got so carried away in my emotions that I couldn’t write any of this down. But now that you asked me it suddenly all came out. Please be my mentor, Mr. Hunter, teach me some more!” Nick went down on one knee before his beloved sending the class into an uproar. Mr. Hunter realized that he was losing the hang of the situation and decided to cool things down a bit. Tearing his hand out of Nick’s clutches before the boy had a chance to plant a passionate kiss on it, Mr. Hunter turned to the class: “Now, now everybody! Quiet down. You all know this is just a joke. Right, Nick? Say you’re kidding.” Mr. Hunter was begging for help now, but the young lover was beyond reach: “How can you say that? After all the attention you have given me, how can I not be affected? My feelings are real. How can I prove them to you?” Nick was holding Mr. Hunter by the shoulders now, eyes boring into his feverishly. “Eh… Look, I never meant it like that. I was just trying to teach you principles of hard work ethic…” said Mr. Hunter looking away from those eyes and tearing the grabbing hands off him. “But you have! I will work hard to please you now! Just say that you love me too professor, won’t you?” The class was dead silent now. This was too good to let even one breath pass unheard. Mr. Hunter pulled his composure together and said in the steadiest business-like voice he could muster: “You don’t have to do anything for me, Nick. Just go back to your seat and be quiet. You’re disrupting my lesson.” “And the homework?” Nick looked at Mr. Hunter with a coy smile. “You’ve shared enough. That was an A plus performance.” Mr. Hunter turned away from the class and began hastily writing notes on the black board. The dog kept diligently eating Nick’s homework every time Mr. Hunter asked for it but that didn’t bother him that much anymore. Perhaps he decided to err on the side of caution and give the boy the benefit of a doubt for once. “I don’t even know what implications are, ma’am.” “Well, then. Let me explain.” She steepled her hands. Junior’s spirit sank a little. It never was a good sign when a principal did that with their hands. “To start with, it is a poor excuse. It is akin to saying you voluntarily threw it in the garbage.” “But Ms. Rosenfield—-” “Please wait. You see. In order for the dog to eat your homework, you must leave such homework in a place where the dog could readily get at it. Or you must put it on, near, or slathered in something that the dog considers delectable.” “But really, Ms. Rosenfield—-” “Hold on. Let me finish my thought. This is important. Not only must you leave such homework where the mangy cur—- “Candy Calliope isn’t mangy.” “—can get at it, you must also render it desirable for such said dog. ANND you must also leave it. Deliberately set it down and leave it.” Junior Parker’s shoulder wilted. “But, Ms. Rosenfield ma’am. He really did eat it.” “Did he? Oh, did he?” “Yes, ma’am with Grey Poupon and a shot of whiskey.” D&mn the dog The old man across the way, behind hastily drawn curtains, already here when I descended into this h3ll, was again called ‘hon’ in that voice that makes me, a peaceable person, want to find a blunt object. “Hon”, she crooned, “just let me get your temperature and blood pressure while I’m here.” He’s installed on a bedside commode. ‘Hon’ indeed. This night is about over, I know because my iPad tells me so, there are no windows, no air, no light but that overhead, turning us into sickly shades of what we think we were. Patient is now my name. What were they called, all those others, bleeding, crying in chairs, in gurneys in the halls, as I was wheeled past? Patients? Later they told me wait time was up to fourteen hours, no patience there. I was lucky I suppose, emergency blood transfusions cannot abide a fourteen hour delay. I am a stranger in a strange land, no privacy, no control, but, thank God, no ‘hon’ as yet. I can make my own way, blood bag trailing, to a room with a door. I am lucky. Where is that dog that took my carefully crafted script, the outline of my life? D&mn him, anyway. (Note: just a bit of a surprise. I’m told I’ll be home sometime today, better than ever.) “So yeah”, I explained. “It’s like this…” Ms. Manlulu waited patiently, her eyes weighed and measured. She had every ounce of her twenty one years of teaching behind her to handle any excuse. She cleared her throat politely. I looked at her. I can feel a trickle of sweat roll from my temple down to my jawline, causing a light itchy sensation that I was yearning to scratch, but it would have committed to the nervousness I was already feeling. I didn’t want to show the weakness I was feeling. “You’re not going to believe this,” I started. “I didn’t believe the first excuse,” she countered. “I’m sure the second isn’t going to do much better.” I swallowed deeply and nodded. “My dog ate my homework,” I explained. “As I already told you,” she said. “That is too cliché to be allowed as an excuse. Do you have anything better?” “What could be better than the truth?” I asked. “Would you like for me to make something up? Okay. My homework was deemed a risk to national security and promptly seized by the FBI. After this I have to go to their station downtown and give a statement and take a polygraph.” “I don’t believe you,” she repeated. “Of course, not,” I snapped. “Because MY DOG ATE MY HOMEWORK!” “I don’t…” Is there a problem? Yes, there’s a problem, this here is a prompt based on an assumption that some idiot teacher won’t believe the truth so we’re supposed to come up with a lie? Seems to be the case. Seems to be a stupid concept. I’m just trying to wrap my head around the concept of a kid traumatized by the fact that when they wake up in the morning, they come to find that their homework has been eaten. Then they go to school and the teacher doesn’t believe them. This is a chance to stretch your wings and fly. By portraying a kid who can’t convince the teacher they are telling the truth so they go and fabricate a lie? Well yes. I’d believe him. Your life would depend on it. If he was forced to keep manufacturing deceptions, someone could lose an eye. You’d think, in his case, that the teacher would believe him since his nose wouldn’t grow when he first told her the excuse. Well that would shorten the prompt. It would, indeed. Nah, let’s just talk about something else. Like what? Wasps!!! And we should explain why. Why because of the PSSS PSSS sound you make at the end. There’s no person on earth who can say that word in a cool way. Even if they say it in a panic, it still comes out funny. It’s even better when they say WASPS NESTS!! Oh so fun to say aloud. Huzzah!!! The Dog That Ate My Homework Arthur leaned back in his seat, tapping a pen against the surface of his desk. “Okay, Leroy, you say you have a good excuse, let’s hear it.” “Well,” the young man standing before him shifted his weight. “You see, a dog ate my homework.” The pen stopped tapping. “Excuse me?” “That’s right. A dog ate it.” Arthur sighed. “Leroy, I know you consider Ancient Greek Mythology to be a throwaway class…” “No, wait, let me explain,” Leroy adjusted his sideways cap, hiked up his low-hanging pants, all to the jingle of metal from the multiple chains hanging around his neck. “See, I was on my way to school this morning, had my assignment done, on paper, just like you asked.” His expression said what he thought of that. “I pass this dark alley off First Street, and I hear this growl. Now, this wasn’t your normal growl; this was like a Cat with a clogged intake.” Arthur pursed his lips. “I assume this is going somewhere.” “Oh, yes sir,” Leroy nodded, adjusted his cap again. “Then, out of the dark, I see these two red eyes. Now, I’m thinking dog already, but the problem is these eyes are like ten feet off the ground. And there’s four of ‘em.” If only he could put this much effort into his work, Arthur thought. “Leroy…” “I’m just getting to the important stuff,” Leroy said. “So, out of the alley comes this dog, only it’s a huge dog. Its fur is black, all filthy. And there’s this smell, like a whole carton of eggs went bad and got stepped on. Strangest thing, though, is it’s got two heads.” Arthur raised his eyebrows. “Two heads, you say?” He only just kept the sarcasm under control. “Yeah, two heads.” “Look anything like this?” Arthur pulled out the class textbook, flipped it open to an illustration, one depicting an immense, two-headed dog. “Uh-huh. Just like that.” Arthur sighed again. “That’s Cerberus, the hound that guards the underworld.” “Really? Geez, that’s one scary dog,” Leroy said, missing the implication. “Anyway, it comes at me, all snarling and growling, and all I can think is that I’m gonna die.” “So what did you do?” Arthur asked, eyes wide. “Well, I threw my bag at it and started running. I tell you, that thing snapped up the bag, just started chewing on it. Guess it worked, ‘cause I got away.” Arthur leaned forward, tossing the pen on the desk. “Leroy, let me make this as clear as possible. That assignment was make-up work. It was not optional. Now, I want you to redo it, and turn it in by the end of the day.” He pinned the young man with his gaze. “Or else.” Leroy heaved an immense sigh, rolled his eyes. “Sure thing, teacher. I’ll just drop everything else in my life.” “See that you do.” Arthur returned to his work, mentally dismissing his errant student. “Uh, teacher?” He looked up, to see Leroy standing in the open doorway, a strange expression on his face. “You smell that?” Arthur sat back again, drawing in a breath to calmly convey his desire for Leroy to stop bothering him, when the stench hit him, one that he recognized as sulfur. Where could that reek be coming from? Then, from out in the hall, he heard a low, deep rumbling, like a dog’s growl, only much too loud. “Leroy?” he whispered, since it suddenly seemed like a good time to whisper. “Are you sure you got away?” Are You Happy 2 My key hit the lock, didn’t fit at first, and I swore under my breath as I fiddled it into working. The door opened and I went through in a rush. “Ellen!” My frantic shout went unanswered. Immediately the worst possible reasons began playing through my mind. Where was she? Her car was in the drive, so she had to be home. Then I remembered. I turned down the hall, saw the attic door was ajar. I took the steps two at a time. At the top, I found her. Ellen sat at an old roll-top desk, computer open before her, stacks of reference books scattered across the surface. Ellen herself was typing away, mile a minute, clearly on a roll. Her earbuds were in, her head nodding in time to music that was loud enough that I could hear it. I hurried over, grabbed her shoulder, so relieved to find her that I wasn’t thinking about anything else. She started violently. Swatting away my arm, she lurched to her feet with a curse. Then she saw it was me, and her expression changed, moving swiftly from fear to relief before settling on that annoyed, frustrated look that she’d taken to wearing whenever I was around. “Frank, what are you trying to do, give me a heart attack?” “Sorry, I’m sorry,” I said, not even realizing that was the first time I’d said that to her in a long time. “I was just worried about you.” “What?” she stared at me, eyes narrowing. “Why would you be worried about me?” Why, indeed? It had been something like six months since we’d had anything resembling a conversation that hadn’t turned into a fight. But, no matter how we felt about each other, I still couldn’t bear the thought of her getting hurt. Or worse. “Listen, something… strange has been happening at work,” I said, casting a nervous glance around the room. It was dim in the attic, the corners deep in shadows, the only light coming from the dormer window at one end of the room. I didn’t like how vulnerable I felt there. It was always Ellen’s place, her little retreat, and I hadn’t felt welcome there in quite a while, if ever. “Someone’s been leaving these weird messages on the classroom whiteboard. I think it might be someone who’s… obsessed with me.” She continued to stare at me. “Obsessed. Well, that explains a lot.” I bristled. “It’s not what you think. It’s not like that.” “Okay,” she didn’t sound or look convinced. “Then what about these messages?” “They’re just creepy,” I took a shaky breath. “And there’s something about them that’s not normal.” Her look softened, just a bit. “How long has this been going on?” “A few days. It’s just… I find a message in the morning, and I erase it, and then there’s another one the next day. But, today, when I erased the message, another one just appeared.” “Appeared.” “I know how this sounds. But I’m telling the truth.” She ran a hand through her hair. “Look, Frank, I know we’ve been in a rough patch, and you’re under a lot of stress…” “I’m not going crazy, Ellen. This happened.” I gently took hold of her hand, another thing I hadn’t done in a long time. “We can debate my mental health later. For now, I think we should get out of this house. I think whoever was leaving those notes, knows where I live.” Ellen frowned, nodded. I turned to leave, when a shadow passed across the light coming through the window. Ellen shouted, shied close to me. I whirled back around, to see words slowly forming on the glass. “So, this is Ellen.” I sat in detention for not doing my homework (again) pondering what I would write my creative writing assignment on. The short story was supposed to make up almost half of your grade for the entire semester. It was one of the few assignments that I had actually done. Sadly, the night before the due date my evil little brother decided to cover my paper in peanut butter and feed it to the dog. When I tried to explain the situation to my teacher she got this weird, almost constipated look on her face. ‘You can do better than that,’ she’d said before handing me the detention slip. It almost seemed like she already had one prepared for me. “I can do better than that, indeed,” I muttered under my breath and began writing. ‘Peter glanced over his shoulder and kept running. He was trying to get to the safe house on Main Street. It was of the utmost importance to keep his cargo safe. It could change the world, but only if Peter delivered it to the safe house. He ducked into an alleyway to catch his breath and check again for any followers. There was still no one on his tail, but he could just make out the sound of the monster that was set loose to hunt him down. It was huge and blundering, but surprisingly fast. Its shaggy brown fur hung in big mats as big as Peter’s head. If it found him, Peter knew, it would eat the cargo. Peter took off down the street again, running as fast as his legs would carry him, but the beast still caught up. He could see the secret entrance to the safe house not ten yards from where he was cornered, but he had no hope of getting past the monster. He could only watch in horror as the evil beast devoured his precious cargo. The creative writing assignment that Peter was entrusted to protect was no more. Without it the world would eventually fall into terrible darkness, but no one could help now. Peter trudged into the safe house defeated. And that, Mrs. Westerfield, is what happened to my homework…’ Perfect! I thought as I turned my newly rewritten paper in. Evan tipped his head back and dropped another juicy strip of bacon into his mouth. Munching contentedly he reached for another piece then noticed the grease splattering the sheet of math equations in front of him. He swiped futilely at the globs successfully smearing them across the entire page. Jumping to his feet he ran to the sink and grabbed a soggy dishcloth. He turned back in time to see Buddy, his black paws on the table, engulf the entire page into his mouth. “No! Buddy!” Evan ran towards him and Buddy dove for cover under the table. Evan stooped down. Glistening innocent eyes stared back at him and a tale thumped uncertainly on the wood floor. “Evan, the bus will be here any minute.” Evan’s Mom called. ………………… “Evan Lindstrom I don’t see your math homework here.” Mrs. Grady thumbed expertly through the papers on her desk. “Umm. Actually Buddy, that’s my dog, ate it.” Evan’s noticed Aimee two rows over looking at him and his face turned red. “Please. You can do better than that young man.” Mrs. Grady’s eyes stared accusingly over pince-nez. The classroom went quiet. Evan fingered the note in his jean pocket that his mother had hastily written explaining Buddy’s bacon paper snack. It did sound lame. He didn’t want to be seen as a Mama’s boy either. He glanced over catching a little grin on Aimee’s face before she looked away. Evan leaned his stocky frame nonchalantly against his desk. “Mrs. Grady let me explain.” Evan cleared his throat. “Last night my parents and little sister had settled in for a long winter’s nap when around three in the morning Buddy – my dog – started barking. I went downstairs to check things out. And that’s when it happened.” Evan paused for effect, every eye in the room on him. Mrs. Grady pursed her lips skeptically. “Buddy was crouched by an easy chair, snarling and growling and there was this weird green glow swirling around the room. The hair stood up on the back of my neck.” Evan paused again. “That’s when I saw the creature. A sight to behold Mrs. Grady.” Mrs. Grady planted her hands on her hips, her lips tightening to a thin line. “It looked like a giant green onion – a big white head with a long green body and spaghetti arms and legs that sort of waved around like it was swimming. The creature’s mouth was open but no sound came out. Buddy was totally freaked.” Evan continued. “Then the creature floated out of the chair holding something in his hands. My math paper. I couldn’t believe it. I demanded he give it to me. And you won’t believe this.” Evan glanced around at the rapt students then back at a stern faced Mrs. Grady. “He floated out through the wall of the house. I never saw that paper again.” ……….. Hustled down the hall by Mrs. Grady, and now white knuckling the chair outside of Principal Mr. Drummond’s office, Evan figured whatever punishment would be worth it. To see the admiration shining in Aimee’s blue eyes and hear her laughing along with their peers – yeah, so worth it. “Mr. Brooks glad you could make it today, though you do realize class started 15 minutes ago, yes? I’ll tell you what though, I woke up on the right side of the bed today, I will still accept your homework”. Joe slowly turned back to the front of the class and met eyes with Professor Brown. He had meant to slip to the back of the room without being acknowledged, but had overlooked the assignment he was supposed to deliver to his professor. This wasn’t the first time he was misdirected into this situation, of life not panning out in the way he anticipated, the way he envisioned it. In fact, his life had taken a devastating blow just recently, and depression had enveloped his mind. Joe’s life trajectory had been set in motion by his challenging from an early age by his challenging, but earnest, loving father . He spent his childhood traveling the country, working with the best coaches, and finding the best competition that was available in his sport. He spent not months of the year, but the year itself, developing his skill set and with that, honing his skills to the point of excellence; certainly there were few in the world that could compare to his talent. He did not loathe his struggles that naturally came with a life of competition, of the workload that came with the grinding pressure associated with the acts of constantly bettering oneself, he embraced it, and all of the weekend parties, the get-togethers, the relaxed exploration of all of the joys to be found in life that was characteristic of most boys his age, Joe did not envy. As he grew up public recognition and praise grew. Thus his identity was shaped accordingly, and he exemplified the behavior one would expect from a handsome, witty young man in his position. Calm, relaxed, funny and with subtle swagger — that was Joe’s demeanor. Then came college, what was supposed to be the next great step in his life, but destiny had a contrivance — a career ending injury. His self-image was shattered and his mind collapsed in on itself. For what else is to come of a man when his purpose in an illusory world ,created by men for the sole reason that, collectively, maybe they can accomplish something great, and in doing so stave off the insanity that perpetuates when the insidious idea creeps into the mind that what we are doing here really has no meaning? “I don’t have it. Dog ate it”. Joe responded lifelessly to Professor Brown (but nonetheless with the congenial humor that ingratiated him to those he crossed paths with). The class laughed. Professor Brown though, was disturbed out of his peace by the look in Joe’s eyes. Something in the look they shared betrayed the exterior that Joe was presenting; the sadness, the hopelessness, the agony that was apparent in Joe’s eyes to a man as astute as Professor Brown was deceived by something deeper that he saw. Was it a flicker in the eyes, the burrow of the eyebrows, the double-blink that tipped off Professor Brown? The discovery that Professor Brown found in Joe was a willpower, a silent scream from a mind tormented by its current state, a plead for help. For what Professor Brown undoubtedly saw lacked in Joe was a sign of resignation, of surrender, and for a mind to be tormented and cease to yield to the power of agony that was collapsing in on it, must be a powerful will. “Not that easy son. You’re gonna have to come up with a better excuse than that. Hell you give me a good enough story, and let’s say that you’ve learned the lesson I wanted you to learn!” Joe turned back once again to meet eyes with Professor Brown. Suddenly Joe felt himself forming a slight smirk. “Was that a challenge?” Joe thought silently. Quickly, Joe let his mind go idle, and let his instincts take over, because this was a competition and, well, wasn’t that what he was trained to do? “The dog ate your homework,” said Mrs. Blankenship, skepticism shining in her eyes like X-ray vision. Where did I find that old chestnut? It was so old, so obvious! Truth to tell, I didn’t even have a dog. My sister was allergic. We had a rabbit named “Bugs,” and if he–or, as it turned out, “she”–ever ate anyone’s homework it would take a week. Mrs. Blankenship. She was Captain Bligh, Nurse Ratched, and King Henry the Eighth merged into the persona of a fourth-grade teacher. I was vaguely aware in my pre-adolescent way that she was pretty, but like the wicked queen in Snow White it was a cold, hard beauty that could reduce the class bully to tears just by furrowing her brows. I turned to my classmates. No help there. They were suddenly busy at their desks. Their message was clear: you’re on your own. “Yes,” I mumbled. “That’s the story you’re going with, is it?” she said, her words ringing like the voice of Zeus from Mount Olympus. And it was then that something changed. I was no longer just the Boy Who Forgot His Homework. I was Everyman . . . or, rather, Everyboy. For thousands, maybe millions of years, young men stood here on this spot, confronted with the full, white-hot flame of authority that stripped their flesh and left their gleaming bones in a pile on the ground. They had tried everything: lying, crying, inventing wild stories, claiming religious exemptions from homework, and the nuclear option: throwing up. Nothing had worked. And now it was my turn. Perhaps Mrs. Blankenship saw something in my face as I looked up. My jaw was set. Perhaps the ends of my lips curled slightly in an ironic smile. “No,” I said. The classroom shook with the sound of thirty kids gasping at once. They couldn’t believe it. Then there was silence as thirty kids held their breath, waiting to see what would happen next! “No?” said Mrs. Blankenship. I’d done it! I’d surprised her! The puzzled look on her face was worth any retribution that might be forthcoming. I shook my head. “I don’t have a dog. I just forgot.” You wouldn’t think a child’s lungs could hold any more air, but my classmates gasped again. It was unprecedented! He told the truth! Nobody ever told the truth to a teacher before! Time slowed down and a moment stretched toward the infinite future and back to the distant past where all those boys who came before me were saying, “Good for you, Stan!” And then Mrs. Blankenship, I swear, seemed to give me a little smile. “Okay, Stan. Thank you for telling the truth. Go back to your seat now.” No emperor returning in triumph ever stood taller in the eyes of the crowd than I did walking back to my desk. I sat down . . . . . . . right on the chewing gum Eddie Mancheck left on my seat. My teacher had that mocking smile that said, ‘Only a poor fool has such a well-used excuse.’ She said nothing, which hurt even more. The class was giggling. As the new kid on the block, I had wanted to make an impression. That was over. ‘Bring your homework and a decent excuse, in writing, tomorrow.’ Tomorrow, I volunteered to walk the dog. That ridiculous spaniel hat already shamed the family. The first time my brother’s fiance had come to meet the folks, she had stayed over, and the next morning failed to find yesterday’s knickers. Springer had passed them, on the lawn, shortly after breakfast, so I went armed with a plastic bag and tweezers. I watched his bowel movement and there was an undigested essay on the the English civil war. My homework and a good excuse, without having to write a word. “Oh Alaina we all know that your dog didn’t really eat your homework, you probably just left it in your locker,” said Alaina’s teacher Ms. Huntson. She sighed, it was true though! When she had come back from school she took it out of her bag than.. BAM!! Her dog Maxwell took it to who knows where. A few people giggled at the back of the classroom. “Well to make it up, if that is you still want full credit and the ability to get your homework from your locker, or redo it, tell us how you lost your homework.” Ms.Huntson replied, she seemed amused. Alaina pondered about it, fair enough, she thought. She breathed in ready to give her “story”, “When I got home, I found a fairy in my house,” Her neighbor Amy raised an eyebrow. “But,” Alaina continued. “It wasn’t a fairy tale story fairy, it was my little sister dressed up and all,” “BUT YOU DON’T HAVE A LITTLE SISTER,” shouted a boy from the back. “Hush,” Ms. Huntson said. “And she took my homework and gave it to my dog Maxwell who was dressed as a monster and ya done,” Ms.Hunston was not impressed, but gave Alaina the privilege to her re-do anyway. Alaina pressed her hand close to her chest in relief. Until she realized she didn’t have her notebook. I take my desk roughly two minutes after the bell rings. Find my Vonnegut novel that makes hardly more sense than my profession. Soon they start trickling in, slow, casual, all with that strut and a laugh. The shield that masks the fear that is their lives. They take to the phones. Rows of glows, a blast of greenish light on brown skin. When I began in the fall, twenty years ago, I thought it would be rough. And it is, it’s soul-sucking and thankless and there’s no money or help and it’s only getting more hopeless every year. I’ve tried. I’m tired. Now I’m asking friends about jobs. I start to get up, to begin class, which means shutting the door and getting back to my desk when Quentin barges in, all wired up and making a fuss. “Hey Tartar.” I nod in acknowledgement. Tarter sauce. It was too funny to fight, so I ran with it. I’m like Desperate Minds, but lazier. Now Q is just standing there, part of his routine. Every day it’s something with Q. “Yes Q?” “I didn’t do my homework.” “I don’t remember giving any.” “Oh,” his bright eyes flash around the room, only a few heads are paying attention, but that’s enough for Quinten. “Can I tell you why?” I rest my head in my hand, tap my cheek in thought. “Dog ate it?” He feigns astonishment. “Well, yeah.” “Okay, the dog ate your homework. That’s the reason you don’t have the homework I didn’t give?” He shoots me a look that says, “Come on, play along.” I’m a sucker. But Q’s my favorite, hands down. His file shows a kid who’s ADHD. Dad dead. Mom in jail. Brother just got arrested. But the class shows a kid with a stadium smile on his face, pulsing to please. Yeah, I’ll play along. I set the book down and set my feet on the desk. “Let’s hear it.” He licks his lips, wipes a hand over his head and points out to the class, one-part rapper, one-part philosopher. “A fortuitous thing happened to me this morning.” “Remedial English, Q.” Quentin nods at me, tongue poking his cheek. Then he’s back, slam poetry day in Mr. Tartar Sauce’s room. Q clears his throat. “A fortuitous thing happened to me this morning. You see, I’ve been embossed by these halls, frosted by this smog, but today, I was accosted by this dog.” An applause of yawns greets my go-getter. He plows ahead. “This dog was a pit, with ears like burnt plastic, growling and spastic, not ecstatic or fantastic, but ugly as Miss Haslett.” I shoot him a bemused look, but that’s all the defense I have for our fearless principal. He shrugs. I nod and he continues. A few oohs in the class. Some phones hit the desk. “This dog though…with a chest like a boulder, and he had Serena Williams’ shoulders…” Q hops up on my desk. Thunk. A few drops of coffee bounce onto my leg. I’m okay with it, I’ve worn these pants all week, and that last line has me cracking up. “And this ugly dog…he could talk, with eyes that were…gleamish, voice that was….steamish?” “No making up words, Q.” “Dr. Suess did it.” “Point taken.” Q smiles, dives back in. “Dog said, ‘give me your homework, I’m hungry for English, I’m a pit bull terrier, so don’t be so squeamish.’ So, I handed it over, this dog was funny, and let me tell you Tartar, that dog called you a dummy.” The class is into it now. Anytime you insult the teacher you get props., and now Q’s taken on the principal and the teach. He’s got their eyes now, phones down, looking my way for the first time in weeks. “The dog’s like, ‘This manuscript! Man you sick! Where can I get more? I demand you sit.’” Q drops his arms, and I find myself rooting for him to continue. He puffs out his cheeks. “That’s as far as I got. And that dog was on a roll,” he says, hopping off my desk. “But he had to bounce, because of animal control.” The class groans. But I see a few smiles out there. Q walks to his desk, slapping palms on the way. I get to my feet. “Well, Q. That was something. I uh,” I wipe at my pants, feeling, inspired? The class is still looking. Waiting. I pounce. “Here, take out your books, turn to page…uh…” More groaning. More phones. I look him in the eye. “Yes, Mr. Olmstead, I swear I’m not making this up.” He shakes his head, still smiling. “You can come up with a better excuse than that. What really happened?” I slowly smile as it finally dawns on me: he wants me to improvise. I take the stage. “There I sat, on my porch, proofreading my nearly finished paper for the final time, when lo! I was distracted by the mailman! I greeted him as I do every day that he comes, and he kindly gave me my mail. I tucked it beneath my arm, but alas! My grip was too lose and my mail slipped to the ground! All would have been well had not an ill wind risen up and carried my essay away! For mile upon mile I ran, ever reaching out yet never able to grasp what was mine. Growing weary and short of breath, I made one last, desperate lunge…only for my essay to catch on a passing truck, never to been seen again.” I look at the rest of my class expectantly. Mr. Olmstead stands and begins to clap. The rest of the class follows. Mr. Olmstead points at me, chuckling. “That was a fine monologue, Rachel. Just for that I’ll let you off the hook and give you until Monday to write another paper.” I grin wide. “Many thanks, good sir.” (I took a college improv course. While this didn’t happen, it was the easiest, most enjoyable A I ever got. Good times.) “The dog ate your homework,” said Mrs. Blankenship, skepticism shining in her eyes like X-ray vision. Where did I find that old chestnut? It was so old, so obvious! Truth to tell, I didn’t even have a dog. My sister was allergic. We had a rabbit named “Bugs,” and if he–or, as it turned out, “she”–ever ate anyone’s homework it would take a week. Mrs. Blankenship. She was Captain Bligh, Nurse Ratched, and King Henry the Eighth merged into the persona of a fourth-grade teacher. I was vaguely aware in my pre-adolescent way that she was pretty, but like the wicked queen in Snow White it was a cold, hard beauty that could reduce the class bully to tears just by furrowing her brows. I turned to my classmates. No help there. They were suddenly busy at their desks. Their message was clear: you’re on your own. “Yes,” I mumbled. “That’s the story you’re going with, is it?” she said, her words ringing like the voice of Zeus from Mount Olympus. And it was then that something changed. I was no longer just the Boy Who Forgot His Homework. I was Everyman . . . or, rather, Everyboy. For thousands, maybe millions of years, young men stood here on this spot, confronted with the full, white-hot flame of authority that stripped their flesh and left their gleaming bones in a pile on the ground. They had tried everything: lying, crying, inventing wild stories, claiming religious exemptions from homework, and the nuclear option: throwing up. Nothing had worked. And now it was my turn. Perhaps Mrs. Blankenship saw something in my face as I looked up. My jaw was set. Perhaps the ends of my lips curled slightly in an ironic smile. “No,” I said. The classroom shook with the sound of thirty kids gasping at once. They couldn’t believe it. Then there was silence as thirty kids held their breath, waiting to see what would happen next! “No?” said Mrs. Blankenship. I’d done it! I’d surprised her! The puzzled look on her face was worth any retribution that might be forthcoming. I shook my head. “I don’t have a dog. I just forgot.” You wouldn’t think a child’s lungs could hold any more air, but my classmates gasped again. It was unprecedented! He told the truth! Nobody ever told the truth to a teacher before! Time slowed down and a moment stretched toward the infinite future and back to the distant past where all those boys who came before me were saying, “Good for you, Stan!” And then Mrs. Blankenship, I swear, seemed to give me a little smile. “Okay, Stan. Thank you for telling the truth. Go back to your seat now.” No emperor returning in triumph ever stood taller in the eyes of the crowd than I did walking back to my desk. I sat down . . . . . . . right on the chewing gum Eddie Mancheck left on my seat. “Yes,” I said. “That’s it! No flowery dissertation or nonsensical excuse?” “If I tell you the truth… you won’t believe it,” I said. “You’ll guess I’m either slightly crazy or plum crazy or somewhere in-between, but it still equals CRAZY.” Mrs. Culpepper placed both hands under her pointed chin and planted both elbows deep into her wooden desk, her eyes drilled through my protective aura and straight into my soul. “Try Me.” “OK,” I said. “But you’d better brace yourself.” The other students shook their collective heads as they filed past my position in front of the teacher’s raised platform. The boring eyes continued as I made my case. “I finished the assignment two days ago.” I began. “It was, by far, the best story I ever wrote; worthy of an ‘A’ Plus.” For a moment, her eyes lifted toward the ceiling, then she lowered them back to a straight ahead locked position where they continued their soul penetrating burrowing. I blinked and rolled my head to clicks to the right then I stretched my neck, wiggled my shoulders and wiped my sweaty palms down the sides of my pants before continuing. The excuse: “I was sitting on my front porch,” I said, “reading the final draft – of what I was sure was a completed, and might I add, brilliant story – when my mother came out and said she ordered pizza from the new Pizza Tech store.” I Clicked my eyes back to the left to see if she nodded in cognizant recognition. Nothing. “You know,” I said, “Pizza Tech is the one that delivers fresh pies to your doorstep via drones? I thought it would be super cool to see, so, I waited and waited, but the drone didn’t come. I set my assignment down on a small table next to the chair I was sitting on and hurried inside the house to talk to my mother. I asked her how do we pay the drone. She said they only accept credit card payments for drone deliveries. It made sense, so I scurried back to the porch. When I opened the front door, dust and dirt were flying everywhere. The drone had landed. I covered my eyes until the drone departed. The pizza box was on the table where I left my assignment. I took the pizza to my mom and then went back to get my story… it had disappeared into the heavens.” Mrs. Culpepper smiled. “Well, well, that’s a mighty tall tale, Phil. So… what was the title of this missing fable?” My dog is lovingly referred to as “the paper shredder” around our house. He grabs paper with his teeth and uses his claws to shred it into linear pieces. Sometimes Dad will throw junk mail over the doggy gate just to watch Shredder go. It’s so amusing that it’s worth sweeping afterwards. In the old days, a dog like Shredder would’ve been quite a problem for a student like me, but I live in the age of technology where most assignments are online. Unfortunately, my English teacher assigned a handwritten essay. We tried to convince her that she was killing trees, but our protests only added three pages to the assignment. Begrudgingly, I worked on my essay all week and even picked a topic that would voice my opinion of handwriting it. As soon as I finished my final draft I ceremonially threw the rough one over the puppy gate and watched Shredder reduce it to a mushy pile. The next morning in class I reached into my backpack and was shocked to find my rough draft. I must’ve thrown the wrong one to Shredder! I raised my hand and informed Mrs. Cox that my dog ate my homework. This was probably the first time in the history of homework that a dog actually ate it, but somehow the truth wasn’t going to cut it. “Come on now,” she said dryly. “You’ve can do better than that.” “Okay,” I said, wracking my brain. “The truth is, after I finished my essay I took a nap. I had the craziest dream! There were thousands of trees around me, so close that I couldn’t fit through them. I tried to climb over but I was stuck. It was thundering and getting dark. Suddenly I realized the trees had eyes and mouths. They stared at me! The tallest angriest tree said ‘James, you killed my family to write an essay about how living green saves the environment! You’re murdering us one page at a time!’ The other trees wailed and grabbed at me with their branches. It was scary! I woke up screaming! I just can’t use paper Mrs. Cox. If you have to fail me, fail me. But my essay will be just as good if I type it up and turn it in online. Save the trees!” I threw my fist up in the air for effect. After several seconds of tense silence, Mrs. Cox smiled and said, “Well, you just earned ten bonus points for standing up for what you believe in and practicing what you preach. Type it up and submit it by sixth period.” Whew! That was close. Overall, having my homework eaten by Shredder worked out just fine. It proved that “my dog ate my homework” isn’t a good excuse even if he did, and that teachers can be flexible when you put enough heart into your excuse. Next time I give Shredder something to shred I’ll look at it twice first. Oh and save the trees! MISS TIGHT Bob Buckworthy looked chagrined as his teacher chided him about his dog eating his homework. Little did she know how much he admired her and fantasized about loving her. ‘Okay, Miss Tightbutt wants another excuse than what happened, well I’ll give her something to think about.’ “Miss Tight,” [he dropped the ‘butt’ as a courtesy], “I’m ashamed of what she did to me.” “Someone hurt you Bob? Did you call the police?” “Not exactly hurt. I’m so ashamed.” “Who was she Bob, a stranger?” “No, my mom’s best friend, her name is Dothis Donethat. She came over to sit my house when Mom traveled to Seattle on business.” “If she didn’t hurt you, what happened?” “She stepped behind me like this and put her arm around my waist like I’m doing.” “Bob you don’t need to be graphic just tell me.” “I can’t talk about it Miss Tight. I have to show you.” Miss Tight slumped slightly, Bob squeezed her waist tighter. “Then she blew in my ear and nibbled it like this.” He felt her whole body quiver, her breath came in little gasps but she remained silent. “Miss Tight, you alright?” “I‘m not sure, what happened then?” “This is the worst part, she placed her mouth on my neck and licked it, like this.” Miss Tight started to collapse, her eyes rolled back and she waited. “And then Miss Tight, she turned me around and did this.” He kissed her passionately, darting his tongue in and out. She closed her eyes in silent passion. Bob picked her up and placed her in her desk seat. Miss Tight, Miss Tight? “Yesss, yesss“ “And that‘s why I never did my homework, I‘m afraid to go there. Do you understand now?” “What? What? Oh I guess so, whatever,” “Do you want to know what else she did?” “Bob, I don’t think my heart can handle it, don’t worry about it, you’ll get an A++. Do you want to stay at my house tonight.?” “I don‘t think I can Miss Tight, Mom‘s coming home around five this afternoon. Can I go now?” “Yes. Yes, please do Bobby dear.” “I’ll see you in the morning Miss Tight.” “That’s good, that’s fine I guess, I don’t know what’s the matter with me.” “Do you need me to take you to the teacher’s lounge?” “Good God no, go home before I take you’re A++ away.” “I’m sorry to have upset you Miss Tight.” “Not a problem Bobby, goodbye now for God’s sake.” Bob left her in a state of disarrangement, his step was lively as he walked home, “I bet the next time I tell her my dog ate my homework, she’ll believe me.’ ‘Perhaps but them maybe not.’ Confucius say. . “You won’t believe me if I tell you,” Molly sighed to Ms. Kellybrooke. “Try me,” Ms. Kellybrooke huffed, her mossy green eyes peered over her purple glasses like frogs peeking out from under lily pads. “Well it’s all my brother Tommy’s fault really,” Molly said quickly. “We were sitting at breakfast and I was reading my collection of haiku to everyone so they could tell me which one I should recite in front of the class today.” Molly stopped for a second, scrambling her thoughts together like a hungry hippo game. “Go on, Molly,” said Ms. Kellybrooke. “So…as I was reading the haiku Tommy snatched the papers out of my hand. He said that he wrote the haiku and I was trying to take all of the credit. But it’s not true! Tommy is in Mr. Kilkenny’s class and they have the same assignment. Tommy never does his homework. Anyway, he grabbed the papers and I tried to grab them back, but when I yanked them from Tommy’s hand I fell backwards and crashed onto the table! Plates were flying, cups spilled all over and my papers got stuck to the syrup and bacon covered plates. Before I had time to grab my papers our dog, Captain Munch, was already eating his way across the mess. He ate up my best haiku with a side of crispy bacon and half a buttered biscuit. He’s a grouchy old git that will eat anything so long as a piece of meat is stuck to it. And that’s the honest to goodness truth Ms. Kellybrooke.” Ms. Kellybrooke stared at Molly through her purple cat-eye glasses. Her lips were pursed so tightly Molly couldn’t tell if Ms. Kellybrooke was trying not to scream, or laugh. “It’s the truth Ms. Kellybrooke. My mom was too angry about the mess to bother writing me a note. But it’s as true as the freckles on my face,” said Molly. Ms. Kellybrooke took a deep breath. She was about to bark at Molly to get back to her seat along with her tall tales when she noticed a large clump of Molly’s hair stuck together and matted to the side of her head. “It’s from crashing onto the table,” Molly said sheepishly as she held her hand up to her syrupy tangle of hair. “I landed headfirst onto my dad’s plate of biscuits and syrup. I was so afraid of what they were gonna do I forgot to wash it out.” Ms. Kellybrooke let out a deep sigh, and as she did the corner of her eyes crinkled into a rare smile. “You take yourself on back to the water closet and freshen up young lady.” “Thank you Ms. Kellybrooke!” Molly beamed as she puffed her chest. She turned on her heel and jogged quickly down the hall to the girls restroom. Grateful that for once Captain Munch saved her skin instead of nipping at it.