The blender whirred the tomatoes into a disgusting orange/red pulp; mom wiped her hands on her apron and looked over at me, wrinkling her nose. "I hate this part. Them tomaters always remind me of something alive."
"Yeah," I agreed from the stool at the edge of
the kitchen, near the living room. "They are gross."
[quoteright]Dad came in the front door, his shoes clomping on the linoleum, and kissed mom on the forehead. "Hi, honey. Whatcha up to?"
"Oh. Hi, Scott," Dad said to me.
"Hi, Dad," I said, munching on a potato chip. "How was work?"
Dad rolled his eyes, reaching for a chip. It crunched when he bit down on it, and a little chunk of it fell on the floor. "Still not going so hot. The computers in accounting don't want to share all their data with the ones in development. We've been trying to get an acceptable interface for a week now, and nobody seems able to foot the bill. Dave's got a sign up on his door: 'IBM compatible my ass!'" Dad laughed and shook his head, rubbing the back of his neck. "How were classes today?" He shifted feet, and a bit of potato chip crunched under his shoe.
"Oh, alright, I guess. Dr. Peabody wasn't there, so I didn't have poly-sci today. I went to the library and read."
"What about history?"
"Oh." I looked at a potato chip, ridged and heavy with grease, and chewed on my lower lip. "I'm going to drop that class."
"Oh? I thought you liked history."
Actually, I hate history. I can never get dad to understand that. "I don't like the way Warren teaches. He's not very good, you know?"
"That's hard to believe," Dad said, raising his eyebrows and shaking his head. "When I was at Sabre, there were only the finest teachers on the faculty."
I looked at him and said, "Yeah, well." He was glorifying his alma mater again. "Well, I just don't get along with the way he teaches, know what I mean? I guess he's good, but...well..."
Dad crossed from the kitchen into the living room and looked at the mail on the living room table. "Son, you're in college now. It's a lot different from high school."
I looked at the living room carpet, with its puzzle-like patterns of red, white, and green, and drummed my heels on the stool. "Yeah, I know. Maybe I should've taken the honors course. I think I would've liked it better."
"Well, maybe you can take it next semester. Let that be a lesson to you." Dad has a habit of saying, "Let that be a lesson to you," without making it clear what the lesson is.
Dad went into his and Mom's bedroom to change clothes; I stayed in the kitchen and watched mom cook. We talked about what it was like when she was in school. Mom never went to college, and she didn't care a whole lot about high school, but she sure regrets it now. She says. I like talking to Mom about when she was in school: the things she used to do, what she remembers about her classes, the things people used to get in trouble for. I kid Mom about how she had it easy because there was less history to learn and stuff like that, but I wish I had been going to school then instead of now. It seems so less complicated.
At supper my sister Jenny told us about her teacher's trip to China. Jenny is in the fourth grade, and actually seems to like school. But then, I guess I did too, back then.
Dad made a comment about how lumpy the mashed potatoes were, teasing Mom, and she threw a spoon at him. She was just being playful, she didn't mean to hit him.
The next day, Tuesday, I stayed home from school. Dad had already left for work, and I told mom I was sick and didn't feel like going to my classes. She said, "OK. It's up to you." So I stayed in bed, with the covers pulled up to my chin, and watched my black and white television. A guy won over $42,000 by guessing the most questions on "Jeopardy" and beating all the other contestants. "Donahue" talked about runaway teens with a sociology professor, a mother, and the president of some support group.
"Most of them run away because they simply cannot communicate with their parents," the professor, who had wild grey hair and a curly brown-grey beard, said.
"Right," the group president said. "They feel unloved and in the way, in many cases. They don't know what's going on."
"Is the caller there?" Phil asked, his arm raised.
"Yes," a staticky voice said. "Uh, Phil, I want to ask the professor how many of these runaways actually come back on their own?"
I snorted. "Only the stupid ones."
Later, I threw the covers off myself, and almost off the bed, too, and went into the kitchen. I asked Mom if she'd fix me some French toast, and she smiled and said she'd be happy to. It was delicious; Mom is a good cook.
At about two o'clock I got a call from Bill Larson. "Hey, boy," he said. "How come you wasn't in class today?"
"So Peabody was there, huh?"
"Oh yeah. You didn't miss much, though. He talked for forty minutes about the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation, and that was pretty much it. Probably won't even be on the test or anything."
"Oh, he said we was having a test Friday."
"Oh, great. Did he say anything about it? What it'll be like?"
"Hundred multiple-guess and true-false, on chapters four, five, and six. Bring a number two pencil. And you'll need to get some Scan-Tron sheets from the bookstore."
"Aw, man, I'm broke," I said.
"Hey, they're only forty-nine cents."
Mom fixed meat loaf for dinner that night, but I didn't feel like hanging around, so I went to Well Springs Mall and got some chicken nuggets at Chic-Fil-A. I ate them and walked around by myself.
That night I watched Carson and the Letterman show, and didn't get to bed until almost two.
Dad took Wednesday off from work, so I had to go to school or explain to him why I didn't. Dad got up early and watched TV; on my way into the kitchen he pointed the remote control at me and pressed a button. He laughed. I didn't switch channels, but the TV went from "Today" to "The Bozo Show." The light beam from the remote control must have bounced off my white shirt and hit the television.
My breakfast that morning was a cup of coffee with a lot of cream and sugar. Jenny had finished off the Trix before leaving for school, and I didn't feel like a bowl of All Bran. I sat at the living room table, watching the television over dad's shoulder, and blowing on my coffee. For some reason I never think to put an ice cube in it.
"Why don't you switch it back to 'Today'?" I asked after a few minutes.
Mom was walking through the living room with a basketful of dirty clothes; she smiled and said, "Bozo is more on your father's level."
I laughed, Dad changed the channel, and Mom went into the kitchen, dodging the magazine dad threw at her. I got up and went to get ready for school. In the middle of my shower Mom turned on the washing machine, and I was suddenly hit by freezing cold water. I screamed and said something I'm very glad Mom couldn't hear, and hurriedly finished showering.
Dr. Peabody didn't take roll that morning. Not that he does with any frequency or consistency, but I always seem to skip the days he does. There's a rule at Sabre that anyone who accumulates fifteen absences in any semester is dropped from the class, I don't know why, and Dr. Peabody is one of the few who actually enforces it, when he manages to catch somebody. Dr. Peabody is a good teacher, if a bit eccentric, but I think he enjoys dropping students with excessive absences. He has a mean streak in there somewhere, hidden among the flaming red hair and the shaggy beard and the five dollar ties. Once I went up to his office to talk about a test I missed, and we got to talking, and he told me that half the people in that university don't deserve to go to college, and he doesn't enjoy teaching them. And for some reason, maybe because I have a B average in his class and I don't sit in back and sleep or ask questions he has already answered, he considers me one of the ones who should be in college.
I could not concentrate on the lecture that morning. I have no idea what it was about or how long it was, I just know that at 10:55 I found myself on the top floor of the Milton Building, leaning against the door frame of my English teacher's office.
"Ms. Tyler, how long were you in college?"
"About nine years," she told me, looking up from her paper work. "Why?"
"Just wondering. Did you like it?"
"Some of it. Some of it I hated. You have to take the good with the bad."
"How old were you when you first went to college?"
"Twenty. See, I didn't get out of high school until I was nineteen, and I took a year off for personal reasons."
"Oh. Well, you were lucky."
"Why do you say that?"
I shrugged and looked at the floor. " 'Cause being a teenager really sucks."
She nodded. "I know. Believe me, Benson, I know." She rose and picked up her briefcase from the floor beside her desk. "Let's go, Scott. It's time for class."
"Oh, well... I'm not going to be in class today."
"Oh? Why not?"
"Well, umm..." I didn't want to lie to her. But I did. "I don't feel so good. I should've stayed home again today."
"Oh. Alright, then, I guess I'll see you tomorrow. I hope you get to feeling better."
I smiled and winked at her. "Yeah. Thanks, doc. See you later."
She shook her head, looking at me over the tops of her glasses and grinning. "Not if I see you first." We both laughed.
That was yesterday. Today I didn't go to school. Mom went off with one of her sisters, so she doesn't know. The phone rang three times before she got back, but I didn't answer for fear it would be Dad. "What are you doing home?" he would ask. Or worse, "How were classes?"
I spent the morning in the living room watching television and eating instant grits. It was kind of fun; I hadn't seen "My Favorite Martian" or "Mr. Ed" in years. But when Mom got home I came back here to my room, and I've been here ever since, watching my black and white set, trying to read, listening to loud music.
It's five o'clock. Dad's going to be home soon. I wish he wouldn't be. I wish he would never get home. How am I going to tell him I've decided to drop out of college? What is he going to say?
Dr. Peabody thinks I should be in college. So does Dad. I never asked for Peabody's appraisal.
I know Dad'll talk me out of it, and I know I'll go back tomorrow, and all of next week, except maybe Thursday when Mom's going early to Atlanta to visit her mother. But I don't want to. How can I convince him I don't want to go to college?
Hell, I don't know.
CHRISTOPHER BURDETT achieves publication here for the first time. He is a new Mensa member and writes us that he has twenty-eight teeth, loves the "Rocky and Bullwinkle Show" (as does any normal Mensan), and bowled a 214 once.
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