“We love him, because he first loved us*” This new school master read a lot more Bible than the other had.
“We should try to be like Jesus. He loved us even though we didn’t love Him, and we should love, even if people don’t love us.In fact, The Bible says that we should love our enemies…” What a drag.
“Stupid school… I was happy on the farm in Spruce Hill.” My mama and my sister and I were living a mile from town, for the sake of our education. Spruce Hill’s school had up to sixth grade, but we left before I got out of fifth.
“That’s one of the best ways we can let our light shine…”
“Uh, huh, Mr. Benard,” I thought. My little sister Paula quietly sat across the aisle, her tiny, white hands folded. I looked forward. Young, lanky Mr. Benard wrote on the chalkboard, his head leveling with the top. His rosewater slicked hair, starched white shirt, and contrived mannerisms screamed ‘city’.
“…our memory verse,” he said, writing first John four-nineteen* in perfect, limestone letters.
That day, Mr. Benard was buttery-sweet and polite all day long. It was daunting. After lunch break the lessons went rapidly. Mr. Benard assigned homework and sent us walking home.
“He liked my alphabet, Ernie,” Paula chimed. “I’ll memorize that verse by tomorrow. I want him to like me…”
I sneered. “He’s a Mush face,” I thought. “That’s silly,” I said.
I was sick of Mr. Benard by Tuesday, and bored. I had always thought it amusing to test people’s limits.
I left my books…
“Where’s your books and slate, Ernest?” I ‘forgot’ them. He smiled naďvely, and I smiled back. The expression melted. “Are they lost?”
“Go get them. Quickly.” He squinted. “You’ll be back before lunch.”
I stayed home…
Paula was upset to have walked home alone. I told Mama he sent me home because of the books. She believed me.
“Why didn’t you come back?” he asked Wednesday morning. I had ‘forgotten’ again. I smirked, and threw in an ‘apology’.
“You’ll have extra homework, then,” he said frowning.
I skipped it…
“What do you think you’re doing sloughing off and disobeying?” he snapped. “Do you want to be disciplined in front of everyone?”
“No, Mr. Mush face.” – I didn’t want to go that far... Now for the ‘discipline’…
Later, he gave a note for Mama to Paula.
I was ‘reformed’ on Friday…Somebody else got in trouble for talking about their sick dog.
“Why do you hate Mr. Benard?” Paula asked on the way home.
I was distracted by a large dog stumbling down the road.
“ Aww, it’s sick…”
“Rabid…” It noticed us and turned. “In that tree, quick!”
I instinctively helped her up. The dog was jogging. I grabbed a young branch and pulled. It snapped, dropping me to the ground. Paula screamed.
I heard a gurgling growl, it was right there. I gave it a face full of leafy branch and struggled to get up. It was infuriated, but occupied. I looked into the tree; all the branches were too high! I whipped the dog again. Its lunging backed me against the tree.
The greenery was quickly stripped. The dog turned its attention to my face. It wanted to jump up on me. Its spittle climbing the branch, I swung furiously. Becoming overwhelmed with panic, I was either going to keep fighting--or faint. The dog leapt…
There was a roaring howl.
The next thing I knew I was in the tree. I looked down, there was Mr. Benard. Paula wailed piteously. The dog lunged. Mr. Benard raised the branch, bringing it down axe-like on its neck.
Farm-raised, I knew it was dead… but I gripped the tree, watching the senseless thrashing.
“Everybody alright? Ernest, here…” Mr. Benard took me down. Paula was crying. He took her out of the tree and held her. The carcass was still. Mr. Benard stepped into my line of vision. I gasped, pointing.
“It bit you!” There was a blood stain on his gray pant leg.
“No, that’s his...” The branch had torn up its gums; there were stains on my clothes too. I looked up at Mr. Benard, holding Paula, who sobbed into his perfect white shirt.
Mr. Benard put hand on my shoulder, and I broke down. I knew he wasn’t acting now.
“I’ll take you home.”
I started paying more attention to Bible…
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