By Shirley Jackson
The day Laurie started kindergarten, he renounced corduroy overalls with bibs and began wearing blue jeans with a belt; I watched him go off the first morning with the older girl next door, seeing clearly that an era of my life was ended, my sweet-voiced nursery-school tot replaced by a long-trousered, swaggering character who forgot to stop at the cornerand wave goodbye to me. He came home the same way, the front door slamming open, his cap on the floor, and the voice suddenly become raucous shouting,
“Isn’t anybody here?”
At lunch he spoke insolently to his father, spilled his baby sister’s milk, and remarked that his teacher said that we were not to take the name of the Lord in vain.
“How was school today?” I asked, elaborately casual.“All right,” he said.
“Did you learn anything?” his father asked.
Laurie regarded his father coldly. “I didn’t learn nothing,” he said.
“Anything,” I said. “Didn’t learn anything.”
“The teacher spanked a boy, though,” Laurie said, addressing his bread and butter. “For being fresh,” he added with his mouth full.
“What did he do?” I asked. “Who was it?”
Laurie thought. “It was Charles,” he said.“He was fresh. The teacher spanked him and made him stand in a corner. He was awfully fresh.”
“What did he do?” I asked again, but Laurie slid off his chair, took a cookie, and left, while his father was still saying, “See here, young man.”
The next day Laurie remarked at lunch, as soon as he sat down,
“Well, Charles was bad again today.” He grinned enormously and said, “Today Charles hit theteacher.”
“Good heavens,” I said, mindful of the Lord’s name, “I suppose he got spanked again?”
“He sure did,” Laurie said. “Look up,” he said to his father.
“What?” his father said, looking up.
“Look down,” Laurie said. “Look at my thumb. Gee, you’re dumb.” He began to laugh insanely.
“Why did Charles hit the teacher?” I asked quickly.
“Because she tried to make him color with red crayons,”Laurie said. “Charles wanted to color with green crayons so he hit the teacher and she spanked him and said nobody play with Charles but everybody did.”
The third day—it was Wednesday of the first week—Charles bounced a seesaw onto the head of a little girl and made her bleed and the teacher made him stay inside all during recess. Thursday Charles had to stand in a corner during story time becausehe kept pounding his feet on the floor. Friday Charles was deprived of blackboard privileges because he threw chalk.
On Saturday I remarked to my husband, “Do you think kindergarten is too unsettling for Laurie? All this toughness and bad grammar, and this Charles boy sounds like such a bad influence.”
“It’ll be all right,” my husband said reassuringly. “Bound to be people like Charles inthe world. Might as well meet them now as later.”
On Monday Laurie came home late, full of news. “Charles,” he shouted as he came up the hill; I was waiting anxiously on the front steps, “Charles,” Laurie yelled all the way up the hill, “Charles was bad again.”
“Come right in,” I said, as soon as he came close enough. “Lunch is waiting.”
“You know what Charles did?” he demanded, following methrough the door. “Charles yelled so in school they sent a boy in from first grade to tell the teacher she had to make Charles keep quiet, and so Charles had to stay after school. And so all the children stayed to watch him.”
“What did he do?” I asked.
“He just sat there,” Laurie said, climbing into his chair at the table.
“Hi Pop, y’old dust mop.”
“Charles had to stay after school today,” I toldmy husband.
“Everyone stayed with him.”
“What does this Charles look like?” my husband asked Laurie.
“What’s his other name?”
“He’s bigger than me,” Laurie said. “And he doesn’t have any rubbers and he doesn’t even wear a jacket.”
Monday night was the first Parent-Teachers meeting, and only the fact that the baby had a cold kept me from going; I wanted passionately to meet Charles’s...