â€œDo you boys hear me,â€ Mrs. Shipman snapped, â€œsay it right! Stand up straight!â€
â€œYes, Miss Shipman,â€ the troublemakers said, voices filled with something like remorse.
Mrs. Shipman scowled. She was not about to put up with these little ruffians and their tomfoolery.
â€œThe one thing I wonâ€™t stand for,â€ she frequently told Mrs. Lane, the second grade teacher, â€œis disrespect for our country. Donâ€™t you agree, Mrs. Lane.â€
Mrs. Lane always did. It kept Mrs. Shipman from raising that one vicious eyebrow in displeasure or disagreement. Mrs. Lane found agreement the safer path.
â€œOf course you do, Mrs. Lane,â€ Mrs. Shipman always went on, â€œwhy would anyone doubt you? Your background is impeccable.â€
Mrs. Shipmanâ€™s background was impeccable, too, of course: old, wealthy family; innumerable charitable acts; thirty-eight years devoted to education. Mrs. Shipman had only one problem â€“ or two really.
The first problem was that she was tall and skinny, like an ungainly bird, and that created the second problem: she was an old maid. She had never married. It was a source of some discomfort to her but a great point of interest to her colleagues and students.
â€œWhat she needs,â€ Coach McKenzie would argue, â€œis a good, well, you know what I mean.â€ Principal Wheeler knew exactly what the coach meant.
â€œSure, Tom,â€ he laughed, trying to match the coachâ€™s easy masculinity, â€œand I suppose youâ€™re the oneâ€™s going to give it to her.â€
â€œNope,â€ the coach answered, â€œnot me. Sheâ€™s too old and ugly. Besides, she needed it fifteen or twenty years ago. Just too old and ugly.â€
â€œNot like Mrs. Lane, huh?â€ the principal snickered, nudging Coach McKenzie in the ribs.
â€œWhatâ€™s that supposed to mean?â€ the coach frowned.
â€œOh, uh, ha, ha,â€ the principal laughed nervously, â€œnothing. Nothing at all. Sheâ€™s just a pretty woman, I think, thatâ€™s all.â€
The principal would have liked to pursue the subject further, but Coach McKenzie was too intimidating. He had big biceps, was balding, and had hair on his back. Actually, Wheeler didnâ€™t like the coach much more than he did Mrs. Shipman.
â€œVery well, class,â€ Mrs. Shipman demanded of her charges, â€œbegin again. Anyone who deliberately says it wrong will get ten swats with the `Regulator.â€™â€
There was a low groan from the class. The Regulator was Mrs. Shipmanâ€™s very own paddle, her special one. It had small holes drilled in its wide flat head and a long thin handle. The holes made welts on your behind through thick jeans and the handle gave her considerable leverage.
Mrs. Shipman used the Regulator as often as she felt was needed, which was relatively often. It was quite effective on children between the ages of six and ten. The respect Mrs. Shipman got from her students diminished in direct proportion to the increase in their age.
â€œI pledge allegiance,â€ the class began again with renewed seriousness, â€œto the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands. One nationâ€¦â€
Mrs. Shipman turned her fierce look directly, and by chance, upon a skinny little boy midway back in the classroom. The boy felt his knees give way and his face redden.
â€œâ€¦invisible,â€ he said, instantly grimacing. â€œIndiâ€¦Indivisible with Libertyâ€¦.â€
â€œStop, class,â€ Mrs. Shipman demanded, her voice like grating metal on the soft paper of the boyâ€™s consciousness. â€œStop at once.â€
She headed straight for the boy. Several of his classmates giggled fearfully. Mrs. Shipman stood directly in front of the perpetrator. He looked at the floor. She aimed her finger at him as if it were a gun.
â€œWhat did you say, young man?â€ she scowled terribly.
â€œIndivisible?â€ the skinny little boy whispered.
â€œYou know very well you did not say that. Donâ€™t you?â€ The boy was mute. â€œWhat shall I do with this bad boy?â€ Mrs. Shipman asked the class.
â€œSpank him,â€ a little girl in the front row said. â€œSpank him hard. Heâ€™s bad.â€
â€œYes, Darlene,â€ Mrs. Shipman smiled at her prize pupil, then grabbed the boy by the collar and drug him to the front of the room. He anxiously watched the teacher reach into her desk and draw out the dreaded paddle.
The boy tried not to cry when the paddling began. He didnâ€™t want to act like a baby in front of the other kids. But before his five swats were up, the tears and his bladder flowed unrestrained.
â€œI hope youâ€™ve learned a lesson here, young man,â€ Mrs. Shipman said, putting away the Regulator.
The boy sniffled. Mrs. Shipman looked down at his stained pants. She silenced a brief twitter from the back of the room with an icy glare.
â€œYou get to the bathroom this minute, little mister,â€ she ordered. â€œAnd hurry up. Make sure you clean yourself good.â€
The boy raced out of the room, nearly running into Mrs. Lane in the hallway. Red-eyed and embarrassed, he looked at her briefly then hurried on to the bathroom. Mrs. Lane looked up to find Mrs. Shipman standing in the doorway fixing upon her a hard, cold look. Mrs. Lane dared not meet those narrow eyes with her own.
â€œThey get what they deserve, you know,â€ Mrs. Shipman said. Mrs. Lane glanced at the older teacher but didnâ€™t say anything.
â€œTheyâ€™ll appreciate this later,â€ Mrs. Shipman went on. â€œLater theyâ€™ll understand. Then theyâ€™ll thank me, and so will their parents. The last thing they need is mollycoddling. Donâ€™t you agree?â€ Mrs. Lane thought of Joshua and his wet clothes.
â€œI donâ€™t know, Mrs. Shipman,â€ she began, â€œIâ€™m not sure.â€
Mrs. Shipman cut Mrs. Lane off by spinning haughtily away and stalking back into her classroom. She pulled the door firmly shut behind.
Mrs. Lane stood there a moment dismayed, then turned to go. As she did, she heard, faintly through the closed classroom door, Mrs. Shipman leading her students in a resoundingly correct versioin of the Pledge of Allegiance. Mrs. Lane quickened her step and was soon out of earshot. The empty hallway echoed her receding steps.