The Spitball that Missed

Charles Bins


Frank never missed. He could dot an ‘i’ on the blackboard from the back row of his 6th grade history class, no problem. But today was different:  It was April Fool’s Day, and Sammy had slapped Frank on the back just as he was about to launch the slippery wad from his Bic Special.

There was a collective gasp as the ball slid down the lens of Mr. Gruff’s horn-rimmed glasses. The wooly-haired teacher stood aghast, his face a ripening tomato. Finally, he took a breath and barked: “Frank, come up here!”

Head down, Frank took a sideways glance at the clock as he baby-stepped up to Mr. Gruff’s desk. Just then, the 3 o’clock bell rang. The class said a silent prayer for him as they left.

“Now, why did you hit me with that spitball, boy?” Mr. Gruff snapped, his nose scrunching up like he had to eat a rutabaga.

“Well…I really didn’t mean to, sir. You see, Sammy slapped my back just as it was coming out the barrel.”

“This stops today! Mr. Gruff snarled. Now, let me have it.”

Reluctantly, Frank pulled the Bic from his pocket. Mr. Gruff waved it like a dagger and whipped it into the trash with a clang. Then he grabbed his birch paddle and glared at the boy. “You can either take five licks right now – or-r-r, you can stay after school and do something for me.”

Frank paused to consider his options. Experience told him five licks would sting a while. “Yes, sir, whatever it is, I’ll do it.”

“Take a seat,” Mr. Gruff growled. He set an empty shoebox on the desk and then slapped down a stack of yellow paper. “Fill that box with spitballs — and you don’t leave until it’s full, ya hear?”

Frank nodded. He started tearing paper and loading pieces into his mouth until his cheeks bulged. He pumped out spitballs like cookie dough. Once the bottom of the box was covered, he started making the balls bigger. His mouth became parched, his tongue sticky. He badly wanted a drink, but the water fountain was down the hall. He pressed on, one yellow ball at a time.

At 3:53 p.m., he deposited the soggy box on Mr. Gruff’s desk. “All done, sir. Filled to the brim.”

Mr. Gruff took the box and dropped it into the trash with a thud, then looked at Frank squarely in the eye. “Now, I want you to promise me, son, you’ll never make another spitball in my class!”

“Yes sir,” he quickly responded. “I’ll never make another spitball in your class again.”

Mr. Gruff pointed to the door: “Now go.”

Just outside, the boy cracked the cover of his history book where he had placed a carefully folded airplane.

Frank’s laughter bounced off the walls as he ran down the hallway: He knew he had hit Mr. Gruff right in the nose.