Saddle Oxfords ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
Mrs. Minnick parked her old green Ford in a no-parking zone. She fluffed up her hair with both hands in the rearview mirror and shimmied out underneath the steering wheel, all three hundred pounds of her, flicking her cigarette away into the grass. She covered the sixty yards to the door in a matter of seconds, as if on a matter of great urgency, and was wheezing by the time she was inside the building and had found her way to the principal’s office.
The principal’s birdlike secretary (her nose a beak), a Mrs. Weejacks, sat behind a counter just inside the door with her finger in her mouth. She had just spread her chewing gum over her front teeth and hated to have to speak before she had a chance to get the gum back into a wad inside her jaw.
“May I help you?” she asked in her monotonous voice, her upper lip unmoving.
“I got a call,” Mrs. Minnick said.
“I got a call saying I needed to come for a conference with the principal, Mr. What’s-his-name.”
“And your name is?”
“And you’re a parent of a student?”
“All right. If you’ll have a seat, I’ll see if Mr. Delmar is free to see you.”
Mrs. Minnick took a deep breath of impatience and sat on a pink plastic chair while Mrs. Weejacks came out from behind the counter and disappeared into an inner office. In a moment she came back and gestured to Mrs. Minnick to enter the inner chamber.
Mr. Delmar was a small man sitting behind an enormous desk. As he stood up to welcome Mrs. Minnick, she saw he was no bigger than a twelve-year-old boy. He had dark, wavy hair combed over a balding pate, glasses, and a wrinkled face.
“What is this about?” Mrs. Minnick asked, ignoring Mr. Delmar’s pleasantries.
“Please, have a seat, ma’am, if you will.”
“Did something happen to my little girl?”
“No, she’s fine.”
“When things like this happen, we always ask the parents, both if possible, to come in and have a little chat with us.”
“Some things are just too serious to give the student a little slap on the wrist and send him or her on his or her way.”
“What are you talking about?”
“When money is taken, it’s a more serious matter than most of the mischief that ten-year-olds get themselves in to.”
“If you don’t tell me, right now, what this is about, I’m going to stir up a little mischief of my own!”
Mr. Delmar cleared his throat. “I can see you’re a very forthright woman, Mrs. Minnick,” he said. “There’s no other way to say this than to come right out and say it.”
“Tootie stole some money from Mrs. Gorgonzola’s desk, some eighty-seven dollars and thirty-eight cents. It was money students had raised for an operation for one of their classmates.”
“You’re saying she stole money?” Mrs. Minnick said as if she wasn’t hearing it correctly.
“It seems that at least two of Tootie’s classmates saw her take the money and put it in her pocket.”
“I don’t think she did that,” Mrs. Minnick said. “I think it’s a mistake. I think those kids that say they saw her are just out to get her.”
“Mrs. Gorgonzola wanted to call the police, but I hoped we could settle the matter ourselves.”
“Where is she now? I want to push her face in for her!”
“Oh, she’s teaching her class,” Mr. Delmar said, holding up his hands in a stop motion. “We couldn’t disturb her now.”
“And where is Tootie?”
“She’s in detention,” Mrs. Delmar said.
“You mean you’ve got her locked up?”
“No, no, nothing like that! Detention is just a pleasant little room with a window where a student can sit and reflect quietly on his or her misdeeds while a matter is being looked into.”
“Did you ask her if she stole the money? She’s always been a truthful child.”
“Of course she denies it.”
“Has the money been found?”
“No, but if Tootie returns the money and apologizes, we’ll let her off with a three-day suspension since it’s a first offense. If she repeats the offense, though, she will naturally be expelled from school.”
“A three-day suspension? Just like that? Without finding out who really took the money?”
“Mrs. Minnick, I think there can be do doubt that it was she who took the money.”
“I want to talk to her myself!”
He reached over and flipped a switch on a box on his desk. “Mrs. Weejacks,” he said into the box, “go get Tootie Minnick out of detention and bring her here to me.”
In two minutes Mrs. Weejacks tapped on the door, pushed Tootie through and retreated, reclosing the door with extreme tact. When Tootie saw her mother there, she looked alarmed.
“I didn’t do anything!” she said. She took a couple of cautious steps toward Mr. Delmar’s desk and stopped.
“These people say you took some money,” Mrs. Minnick said.
“I didn’t! I swear!”
“I was just telling your mother, Tootie,” Mr. Delmar said, “that if you confess to taking the money, return it and apologize, we’ll forgive you this time and everything will be all right.”
“I didn’t take any stupid money!”
“I’ve always raised you to tell the truth,” Mrs. Minnick said. “I won’t have a child of mine a liar and a thief!”
“Ruth Cassidy took the money! I saw her do it!”
“Ruth Cassidy is not the one who was seen taking the money,” Mr. Delmar said. “You were!”
“Anybody that says that is a liar!”
“Just tell us where you put the money.”
“I haven’t got it!”
“You can make things easy on yourself.”
“I haven’t got it!”
Mrs. Minnick had been studying her daughter. “Take off your shoes,” she said.
“I said take off your shoes!”
“I don’t got to!”
Mrs. Minnick stood up and advanced toward her daughter, her fists doubled up. “Do you want me to smack you clean across this room?” she said.
Tootie sniffled and sat down and unlaced her saddle oxfords. When she pulled them off, Mrs. Minnick picked them up and looked inside each one. In the toe of one was a wad of bills. She counted them out, thirteen dollars, and placed them on Mr. Delmar’s desk.
“Where’s the rest of it?” she asked.
“In the pocket of my jacket in my locker,” Tootie said. “Locker number one thirty-eight.”
Mrs. Minnick pulled Tootie to her feet and slapped her across the face, once and then twice. Tootie gave her back a look of pure hatred.
Mr. Delmar stood up and came around the desk. “Here, here!” he said. “There’s no need for violence!”
“Shut up, you!” Mrs. Minnick said. “You’re no good at all, you little pipsqueak!” She put her huge hand over his face and gave him a push. He reeled across the room, fighting to regain his balance, and fell in a sprawl, his head banging into the wall.
Mrs. Minnick grabbed Tootie by the wrist and pulled her all the way outside.
“Let me go, you crazy bitch!” Tootie said, but Mrs. Minnick only held her all the tighter.
When she found her car, after some difficulty, she opened the back door and pushed Tootie inside. There was a parking ticket on the windshield, which she wadded up and threw on the ground. As she drove off, she made sure to squeal her tires good and loud to let everybody know what kind of person they were dealing with.
Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp