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Prentiss Peckinpaugh Prefers Pornography

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Prentiss Peckinpaugh Prefers Pornography ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Miss Sullivan belched quietly into her handkerchief; the hamburger steak with onions she had for lunch didn’t quite agree with her. With the handkerchief over her mouth, she looked out over the thirty-two lost souls in her care until five minutes to the hour. They were all fifteen years old and most of them she would happily strangle if she could. She had been in the teaching profession for too long and was overdue for retirement.

Since it was Friday afternoon and everybody was waiting to be unleashed and unfettered until Monday morning, this group of ninth graders was engaged in what was called silent reading. Everybody must know that silent reading was serious business. You couldn’t write or giggle or daydream or think about what you were going to do when you got home or work on your algebra problems (it wasn’t study hall) or pass notes or whisper or gaze out the window or thumb through a magazine. You had to read a “good book,” preferably one from the reading list or one that Miss Sullivan herself had approved. You had to put the fifty-five minutes to good use, reading every word on every page, and absorbing what you read as if you would be tested on it.

Halfway through the hour, Miss Sullivan launched a surprise attack, suddenly standing up from her desk and walking the aisles between the desks, down one aisle and up another. If anybody was doing anything they weren’t supposed to be doing—reading a comic book or concealing a paperback of some kind behind a library book—she would catch them before they had a chance to hide it.

Prentiss Peckinpaugh was an odd boy from an odd family. He lived on a farm with his family; he had many brothers and sisters. His clothes always looked too big for him as if they had belonged to somebody else before he wore them. He always kept the top button of his shirt done up, even in warm weather. He walked with a cautious, forward tilt as if he had something wrong with his back.

Prentiss was sitting in the row of chairs against the wall. Miss Sullivan came upon him from behind, from the left, and her eyes fell upon the book he was reading, a paperback with a pink cover.

“What is that you’re reading?” she asked.

He closed the book so she could see the front cover. The title of the book was The Passionate Orphan.

“Where did you get that book?”

He shrugged his shoulders.

“May I see it?” she asked.

He handed her the book and she flipped through the pages and read several passages, standing there in the aisle between desks.

“You’re reading this book?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Prentiss said.

“It’s ‘yes, ma’am’.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“How far along are you in the book?”

“Almost to the end.”

“Do you know what this book is about?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“What is it about, then? Would you care to tell me?”

By now everybody in class had their attention focused on the conversation between Miss Sullivan and Prentiss Peckinpaugh.

“I don’t think I can say it,” Prentiss said.

“Don’t you know this book is not appropriate reading material for ninth grade English?”

“No, I didn’t know.”

“Who gave you this book?”

“Nobody gave it to me. It’s my book.”

“You don’t know where it came from?”

“No.”

“Did you steal it?”

“Why would I steal it when it already belonged to me?”

“Did a grown man give it to you? Maybe a friend of your father’s?”

“No. I already said nobody gave it to me. It’s my book.”

“Do you know the meaning of the word ‘pornography’?”

“No.”

“Well, that’s what this book is. It’s pornography and if somebody in this school gave it to you, we need to know who it was. This is a book that certainly doesn’t belong in a school, in a classroom, where other people can see it. Do you know what I’m saying?”

“I don’t see anything wrong with it.”

“How about if we go downstairs and show the book to Mr. Ball?”

“I have the feeling I don’t have a choice.” Prentiss Peckinpaugh said.

“Right you are,” Miss Sullivan said.

Miss Sullivan put the class in charge of Mavis Blaylock, a know-it-all, holier-than-thou toady who would stop at nothing to gain favor with the teacher and would take down names of those who misbehaved. Mavis smirked with superiority and took her place at teacher’s desk.

After an admonition to the class to continue their silent reading, Miss Sullivan escorted Prentiss Peckinpaugh down the three flights to the principal’s office.

Principal Ball was engaged on the phone, so Miss Sullivan and Prentiss had to wait for about five minutes until he was free. When at last they were ushered into the carpeted, wood-paneled office, Mr. Ball took one look at them, frowned and said, “What’s this?”

“Well, we’ve been having silent reading this hour,” Miss Sullivan said, “and I found this boy reading this book.”

She handed the book to Mr. Ball.

“Just what is this?” he asked.

“Well, as I was just saying to him…”

“What’s your name, boy?” Mr. Ball asked.

“Prentiss Peckinpaugh.”

“Say ‘sir’ when you’re speaking to me.”

“Prentiss Peckinpaugh, sir!

“I was just saying to Prentiss here that this book doesn’t belong in school and should never see the light of day,” Miss Sullivan said.

Mr. Ball laid the book on the desk and turned over several pages, reading as he went.

“Who gave you this book, Mr. Peckinpaugh?” Mr. Ball asked.

“Nobody gave it to me. It’s my book.”

“Where did it come from?”

“It didn’t come from anywhere. It’s my book.”

“Don’t you know that a book like this is not allowed in school?”

“I don’t see anything wrong with it. Nobody sees it but me.”

“Do you have other books of this nature?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know.”

“No, sir.”

“Well, we’ll let you off with a warning this time because you’re young and you didn’t know, but I want you to know that if you ever bring pornographic material into this school again, we will take disciplinary action that will include a three-day suspension. Now, do you understand what I’m saying to you?”

“Yes, sir.”

“When you’re on your own free time at home, you can read whatever you want, but in a school like this with hundreds of other students, you must follow our guidelines for what is acceptable and what is not. Am I getting through to you?”

“Yes, sir!”

“Take him to the library, to the fiction section, Miss Sullivan, and have him check out Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. That’s a good book and, more importantly, it’s an appropriate book.”

“I’ve read it,” Prentiss Peckinpaugh said.

“Well, read it again!”

“Are you going to give me back my book, sir, that you took from me?”

“No! I want to absorb it more thoroughly. I need to know what the students in this school are up to.”

The library’s one copy of Of Mice and Men was checked out, so Miss Sullivan suggested The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway.

“I’ve read it,” Prentiss Peckinpaugh said.

“Well, read it again! And after you’ve finished, I want a solid book report on it.”

“Okay.”

“That’s ‘yes, ma’am’.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

During study hall next hour, Prentiss Peckinpaugh went back to the library and checked out Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence. He wanted to choose for himself what books to read. He liked The Old Man and the Sea fine, but he didn’t want to read it again.

While reading Lady Chatterley’s Lover, he could easily hide it behind The Old Man and the Sea and nobody would ever know the difference.

Copyright © 2020 by Allen Kopp