“The Swing Set” by Niles M. Reddick

 

“It’s not fair,” she yelled at Ms. Yvonne, the third-grade teacher. Ms. Yvonne snatched Sandy off the ground, little dust clouds rose around her, and pulled Sandy toward the principal’s office. Ms. Yvonne looked back at Mark and told him not to move, that she was coming back for him. Sandy sprayed blood all over Ms. Yvonne’s dress, blood from a busted lip and a missing front tooth, and within fifteen minutes, Sandy’s mother was in the office demanding justice from Mark and his parents and pulling Sandy to the car for a quick trip to Doc Johnson for a stitch or two.

 Ms. Yvonne was sick of Mark, was sick of his bullying kids in class and on the playground, was sick of his smart-aleck comments in class about what he had already learned at some fancy private school up North, and she didn’t care if his parents were part owners in the mill. She was going to take pleasure in witnessing the principal paddle him. She’d make sure he hit him hard, hard enough that Mark’s heals on his shoes would rise up off the floor, hard enough that his behind would have imprint of the paddle and its holes, and hard enough that it would beat the meanness out of him and the Southern hospitality into him. 

“We just can’t have this,” she told the principal privately in the office with the door closed while Mark sat outside and sulked in a straight back chair next to the bulletin board with cut outs of cheery cardboard kids playing ball, and learning math, all leading to a futuristic scene with graduation hats and diplomas. 

“But you know who his parents are, right?”

            “I don’t care who his parents are. They probably could use a paddling, too.”

            “You and I both know that’s not gonna happen.”

            “We’d do it for every other student, so we can’t treat him any differently and besides, he deserves every lick he gets.”

            “I know. I’ve heard from all of you. We’ll get it over with then. Bring him in.”

            “Mark, you understand the significance of your behavior?”

            “I guess. Well, face that wall.”

            Mark was whimpering before the principal pulled the paddle from the side drawer in his desk. “Can’t you suspend me instead?”

            “Certainly not. You’re not going to stay home and play. You’ll go back to class right after the paddling. Put your hands on the wall.”

            “But I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to.” Before Mark knew it, the principal had whacked him once, his heals lifted off the ground, and he began to cry. The principal did it two more times, and Mark rubbed his bottom through his Levi’s

            “Now, get back to your class.” Mark scurried down the hall, and Ms. Yvonne followed happy to have him finally punished and hopeful that he might change. He stood by his desk, the other kids gawking at him, and he continued to rub his bottom.

            “Sit down, Mark,” she barked.

            “I don’t think I can.”

            “You can and will,” she snapped.

            Mark sat in his desk and moved around and around. “Let this be a lesson to all of you that you shouldn’t bully anyone in or out of class, especially little girls.”

            Mark’s parents complained to the superintendent, the principal got a reprimand and decided he would move to the city system the next year and leave the county school system to deal with its politics. Sandy returned to school the next day with two stitches in her upper lip and all the students oohed and aahed and asked if it had hurt, and Mark whispered to her, “You call me a loser again, I’ll get you after school on your walk home, and there won’t be a paddling.”

            “I’m sorry, Mark,” Sandy said. “I’ll push you on the swings at recess.”

            “Okay,” he said.

            At recess, Sandy pushed Mark higher and higher, pushed the other empty swing in front of him, and he crashed to the ground. He didn’t breathe, but his eyes darted around. Sandy yelled to Ms. Yvonne, “Mark fell” and bent down to Mark. “Don’t mess with me again, boy.”

            “Mark, do you need to see the nurse?” Ms. Yvonne asked.

            “I don’t think so,” he said.

            “You be more careful, hear?” 

            “Yes mam.”

            Ms. Yvonne turned toward Sandy. “Thank you, Sandy, for letting me know even after Mark was mean to you yesterday.”

            “Yes mam,” she said, her tooth missing when she smiled and a stitch poking out like a fleck of food from the lunchroom left unwiped.

           

 

 

Niles Reddick is author of a novel, two collections, and a novella. His work has been featured in seventeen anthologies, twenty-one countries, and in over three hundred publications including The Saturday Evening Post, PIF, New Reader Magazine, Forth Magazine, Citron Review, The Boston Literary Magazine, Flash Fiction Magazine, and Storgy.

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