“Rickey, stop staring out the window.”
I turned in my seat so I was facing front once more.
“Yes ma’am,” I said.
The whole morning there had been a steady rain falling from a dismal gray sky. It was our teacher who had called out to me. I was afraid it would be followed by a request. I didn’t have long to wait.
“Now that I have your attention, Rickey, I’d like you to recite the times table for six.” She smiled at me. “Or maybe you’d rather come to the front of the room and write it on the board?”
Either way I was in trouble. I looked around at my fellow classmates. I could see the relief in their eyes. They weren’t on the hook. I was. I could hear a light tittering of laughter from two or three of them.
I rose from my desk. My book caught on my belt buckle as I slid from the seat. It was dragged over the side landing on the floor with a loud boom which brought the laughter up a notch.
“Let’s have none of that,” said my teacher.
I picked up the book then walked to the front reaching for the chalk she held out to me.
“The six table?” I asked.
I turned to the blackboard raising the piece of chalk to its surface.
That’s as far as I got for a minute. The chuckling behind me began to grow audible.
“Shh!” said my teacher. “Give him a chance.”
I began to write.
6 x 1 = 6
6 x 2 = 12
6 x 3 =18
6 x 4 =
I started adding 6’s in my head. Of course that isn’t what we were supposed to be doing. These were the multiplication tables and it was our assignment to memorize them. I hadn’t gotten to the sixes yet. Actually I hadn’t gotten past the two’s.
“You are supposed to have those numbers memorized by now, Rickey. The whole purpose behind the exercise is to make you so familiar with these numbers that you don’t have to think or add them in your head. You should be able to write them down without any effort at all, especially since you have had so long to do it. Please take your seat.”
My cheeks lit up like Rudolph’s nose. I handed her the chalk as I turned to go.
“Iris, would you care to show Rickey how it is done?”
Iris arose from her seat a grin from ear to ear firmly on her face. We passed each other as I returned to my desk.
I sat down as Iris began to write where I had left off. She took less than three minutes to get to 6 x 12 = 72 at which point the teacher praised her and requested she return to her seat.
Iris grinned in my direction as she walked back. I crossed my eyes and stuck out my tongue in her direction.
“That, children, is how you should all be able to do it. I know it’s hard to learn but it is essential that you do because next year it will be expected.”
Next year, I thought. Who cares? I faced the window again. The windows were frosting over. I could hear the rain tapping the panes as it began to turn to ice.
A sixth grader opened the door to the classroom.
“Mrs. Riecke, I’ve been sent from the office to let you know that school will be let out early. The roads are expected to ice up and the buses need to leave within the hour. If you can get your students ready to line up for the buses soon it would be good.”
“Thank you, young man. We’ll get ready now.”
He closed the door and the teacher put the chalk down.
“Alright children, we’ll begin with the first row. Go one at the time to the coat room. Get your coat and galoshes then return to your seats. That’s right.”
I was in that first row. When my turn came I grabbed my coat and put it on as I returned to my seat. My book bag was beside my chair. While the others made their trip in I stuffed my books and papers into my bag then pulled the cinch tight. As the last row made its way into the coat room I slung my bag over my shoulder and sat waiting to depart. The excitement of half a day away from school was building inside me. Looking around I could see the same excitement was inside everyone else.
“I see everyone is ready. Let’s line up single file at the door.”
The noise accompanying everyone’s rising sounded like happiness to me. We were leaving. In the middle of the morning!
“Alright everyone follow me to the buses. When we get there each of you go to your bus and take a seat.”
When I came to the door I continued straight out, right in line with the back gate.
“Rickey! Follow us to the buses!”
“I walk to school, Mrs. Riecke. I don’t ride the bus.”
“Well then you be careful walking home. The roads will be icy.”
“Yes ma’am.” I waved at her and the kids looking my way. Another of the kids took out after me. He lived close by the school too.
“Whatcha gonna do with your time off?” asked Brian.
“I don’t know. Whatchoo gonna do?”
“Guess I’ll see after I get to the house and get rid of these books. Maybe I’ll come over.”
“OK.” I leaned into the tiny ice beads that beat against my coat. My breath billowed out in front of me in great clouds. I faked holding a cigarette as I exhaled. My hands began to freeze so I jammed them into my pockets.
As we passed through the gate I turned left and he turned right.
“See you later,” he called out.
“Yeah, see ya later.” I didn’t think we would be getting together since it was getting worse.
I always cut across the golf course on my way to and from school. The fairway was free of golfers as I trudged toward Maybank Hwy. The closely cropped grass was coated in ice that crunched beneath my feet with every step. I danced around to hear the crunching. My feet turned the gray green of icy grass to a mish mash of wet green shapes. The icy rain began to come down harder as I played.
I picked up my pace. My breath began to form a thin layer of ice over my upper lip. When I reached the tenth green I began to run. At the corner of Maybank I looked both ways. Nothing was coming so I sprinted across the road and onto the seventeenth green as I made my way across. I reached the trees that lined the road and cut through the short path to Lindberg St.
My teeth were beginning to chatter when I got to the porch of my grandmother’s house. I stamped my feet and jumped up and down on the mat to get rid of the ice layer that had formed on my jacket. I whacked my book bag to rid it of ice as well. Then, and only then, did I enter.
“Hey, nef, watch the ice, huh?” said Clyde who was lying on the couch watching TV.
“When did you get home?”
“Me? I never left. I listened to the weather report last night. They said it was going to be bad. “
He smiled at me.
“Why didn’t you tell me to stay home?”
“There wasn’t any official word about staying home. That’s why.”
“Does grandmother know you didn’t go?”
“She was already gone to work when I decided not to go.”
“You don’t think you’ll get in trouble?”
“No. You’re home early. How’s she going to know I never went? Unless you plan to tell her.” His look was menacing.
“Heck no. Why should I? We got most of the day off anyway.”
He settled back against the pillow on the couch.
I put my books aside and carried my coat back to the bedroom. Next, I found myself in the kitchen opening the refrigerator door.
“We got milk!” I yelled up to Clyde. “Would you make us some hot chocolate?”
“I’m watching TV. You make it,” he yelled back.
“I can barely see the top of the pot on the stove!” I yelled at him.
“Gimme a break, nef. Get the stool.”
It was under the counter. I found the pot and put it on the burner. I stepped onto the stool to see if I could look into the pot.
“You want some?” I yelled again.
“Yeah, with marshmallows.”
I grabbed the bottle of milk from the refrigerator. The door slammed behind me as I took the stopper from the bottle. I upended the bottle into the pot splashing milk over the stove top as well. Standing on tiptoes I watched as the milk came within half an inch from the top then I restoppered the bottle and returned it to the shelf inside the fridge.
I studied the switches on the stove but couldn’t figure which one controlled which burner.
“Which switch do I use?”
“I don’t know, nef. Just turn it on and it’ll turn red.”
To save time I turned them all on. I pulled the pot over the biggest burner splashing milk over the stove as I did.
“Where’s the chocolate sauce?” I yelled up front.
“In one of the cupboards,” Clyde yelled back.
I started with the nearest slamming each one shut until I came across the can of Hershey’s. Now I had to find a church key to open it. I ransacked the silverware drawer. It was under a large spoon. It gripped the rim of the can. I tilted it forward and it punctured the top of the can into a triangular opening. I did the same to the opposite side. When I turned back to the stove there was smoke rising from the open burners which were all red.
I reached for the switches and burned my forearm.
“YEOW!” I screamed and dropped the can of chocolate sauce which I had in my other hand.
Clyde came flying into the kitchen.
“What the…! You alright, nef?”
“No I burned myself.” I screamed.
“Why do you have all the burners on and what’s that smoke…”
The milk had come to a boil and was bubbling over the sides accompanied by a hissing sound with every wave of milk hitting the burner.
“Get outta the way!” yelled Clyde pushing me to the side and stepping to the stove. His shoe hit a patch of chocolate syrup that had spilled from the dropped can. His feet whipped out from under him and he landed on his back with a thud in the chocolate slick.
I tried to reach over him to move the pot.
“STOP!” he yelled. “You might spill it on me.”
I moved away. The milk continued to bubble out of the pot. Clyde slipped again attempting to regain his footing. He thumped back to the floor. The smoke from burned milk continued to rise to the ceiling. The stink of burning milk pervaded the air.
Clyde grabbed a drawer handle and eased himself from the floor. He held the counter while moving the pot from the burner. The bubbling liquid settled back into the pot. He reached over to the switches and turned them all to off.
The can of chocolate on the floor sent its last gout of sauce from the tiny triangular opening. I picked it up.
“Do you think there will be enough for our hot chocolate?” I asked holding the can in front of him.
“I don’t think we’re going to have hot chocolate, nef. The milk is burned. The chocolate is on the floor and the stove is covered in a sheet of black tar.”
“There’s more milk in the bottle,” I said hopefully.
It may have been the smoke from the burned milk but I could have sworn it was coming from his ears like in the cartoons we watch.
“I think you need to find something to clean the chocolate off the floor while I see about the stove.”
I found a towel in the hamper. I dropped it on the chocolate syrup coating the floor and commenced scrubbing. I managed to spread it into a larger area without really cleaning much.
“Is that the best you can do?” asked Clyde looking away from the stove top he was struggling to clean.
“You think I need some soap and water?”
“Yes, I do,” he said with some disgust.
I took the towel back to the hamper. Grabbing a face flannel and a bar of soap I headed back to the kitchen.
As I leaned into the sink to turn on the faucet I heard a car door near the garage.
“Uh oh,” I said. “Grandmother’s home.”
Clyde’s look told me all. He looked at me then the floor and the stove top. It was going to be his fault no matter what. Whether he had done it himself of he had let me do it, I was too young to be messing with the kitchen.
It was my turn to smile with a glint in my eye. He was caught and he would catch it.
“Oh my goodness. What happened in here?” My grandmother stood at the screen door surveying the kitchen.
She looked at Clyde then at me. She looked at Clyde. She looked at me.
“Rickey, why didn’t you ask Clyde to make hot chocolate? I know he would have made it for you. Now you know why I tell you that you are too young to mess with pots and pans and the stove. Well, get something to help clean this up. You should have come in as soon as you heard a pot go onto the stove, Clyde. Oh, Rickey, what am I going to do with you?”
I stood unbelieving. I was blamed. True it was my fault but…
Clyde’s grin was accompanied by that ever present glint in his eye. He came out smelling like a rose, as usual.
My grandmother just gave me a lecture and had us clean up the mess. When we were finished she made us hot chocolate, with marshmallows. We were warm and snug inside while outside the rain turned to snow which meant we would have another day off from school and another chance to get in trouble.