Seven Eight Nine
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~
(This is a re-post.)
Milly Pogue was the guidance counselor. She walked with a limp because she had an artificial leg. She came into fifth-hour study hall where Penny Costello was looking at a magazine and told her she wanted to see her in her office. Without questioning the command (there would be time for that later), Penny stood up and followed Miss Pogue down the hallway to her office. Clunk, clunk, clunk went her artificial leg.
They went into the little windowless office and Miss Pogue closed the door.
“What did you want to see me about?” Penny asked. “I was busy.”
“You were looking at a magazine,” Miss Pogue said. “Sit down.”
Penny sat in the metal chair facing the metal desk and already she looked bored.
“You’re not living up to your potential, Penny,” Miss Pogue said.
“What do you mean?”
“Your math and reading scores are the lowest in your class.”
“I can’t help that! I’ve been sick!”
“You’ve missed too many days of school.”
“When you’re sick, aren’t you supposed to stay at home so you don’t spread your germs around?”
“The school nurse says there’s nothing wrong with you.”
“What does she know? She’s a crackpot. She’s not even a real nurse. She flunked out of nurses’ school.”
“Where did you hear that?”
“My mother heard it in the beauty shop.”
“It’s not true. She’s a fully accredited nurse.”
“Okay. That’s what you wanted to see me about?”
“I met with Mr. Bumpus this morning.”
“Was it good for both of you?”
“He asked me to have a private talk with you.”
“You won’t be passed on to the ninth grade.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means you’ll be repeating eighth grade next year.”
“In view of your low scholastic ranking, you’ll be required to repeat eighth grade again when the new school term begins.”
“Could you put that in plain English?”
“You flunked eighth grade. You’ll have to do it all over again.”
“In these cases, we find it’s better to inform the student privately beforehand. That gives you time to adjust to the idea of repeating a grade. You’ll have time to talk it over with your mother and father before anybody else has to know about it.”
“Are you saying that when school starts up again I’ll still be in eighth grade, while everybody else in my class is in the ninth?”
“It can be a difficult adjustment, I know, but I’ll be here as your guidance counselor to help you in any way I can.”
Penny began to cry as the truth of what she was being told took root in her brain.
“I can’t repeat the eighth grade!” she said.
“It makes me look so stupid! Everybody will laugh at me.”
“No, they won’t!”
“Am I the only one?”
Miss Pogue looked down at her paper. “There’s one other person.”
“Are you going to tell me who it is, or do I have to ask?”
“It’s really none of your business, but if you think it’ll help, I’ll tell you. It’s Hermie Malchick.”
“Hermie Malchick! Why, he’s retarded! He can’t even write his own name!”
“I’m sorry, but that’s the way it is.”
“Do you think I’m retarded?”
“No, Penny, I know you’re not retarded. You have the ability. You just don’t use it.”
“Everybody will laugh at me for being such a loser. Me and the retarded boy are the only two that didn’t pass the eighth grade! That must mean I’m retarded, too!”
“No, Penny. It doesn’t mean you’re retarded. It means you have to try a little harder in the future.”
“I can’t repeat eighth grade! I won’t!”
“Penny, I don’t think you have much choice in the matter.”
“We’ll get a lawyer! They’ll make you pass me on to ninth grade!”
“Can your family afford a lawyer?”
“No, but we’ll get one, anyway!”
“It wouldn’t do you any good.”
“As of this moment, I’m quitting school! I won’t ever be back! Not to this school or any school!”
“You’re too young to quit school, Penny, and you know it. You have to be sixteen, and even then you have to have your parents’ permission.”
“There’s a very good reason I won’t be coming back and it’s not only because I’m flunking eighth grade.”
“What is it?”
“I’m going to have a baby.”
“Oh, Penny! Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
“Who’s the boy?”
“You mean the father of the baby? He goes to a different school. He’s a senior.”
“Oh, Penny, that can’t be! You’re just a child yourself.”
“I know, but it sometimes happens.”
“Whoever he is, he could be facing legal issues. You’re a minor.”
“He knows all about that and he doesn’t care. You see, he’s in love with me and I’m in love with him.”
“What could you know about love at your age?”
“I know plenty. I’m not stupid.”
“Have you told your mother and father?”
“Sure. They know all about it.”
“And they approve?”
“They know there’s nothing they can do about it.”
“Oh, Penny! This is tragic. There’s no other word for it.”
“I’ll get over it. In about seven and a half months.”
“You can go on back to study hall now.”
“Hell, no! I’m not going back to study hall! I’m going home! I’m done with this place once and for all! No more school for me! Ever!”
When Penny was leaving Miss Pogue’s office, she almost ran into Hermie Malchick coming out of the boys’ restroom. She and Hermie were a matching pair. Two of a kind. Two cards from the same defective deck. If she had had a knife in her hand, she might have stabbed him in the throat with it.
Before she left school for the last time, she went up to the third floor and emptied the contents of her locker out onto the floor. One last act of defiance.
Walking home, she had to laugh at how readily Miss Pogue believed the lie about the baby. The only person she knew of who was going to have a baby was her own mother. She was an expert at it. She had had seven.
She was all smiles that evening, that school was finally out for the summer and she had three long months of vacation before she had to go back. If she had told her parents that she was never going back, it would not have gone well. There would have been a big scene, and either her mother or her father would have ended up slapping her. They would find out the truth when school took up again and she stayed at home in bed.
Her mother had her baby in the middle of June. It was a boy and they named him Skippy. Her mother had a difficult time with lasting effects. The doctor told her she’d better not think about having any more babies. Seven were enough. Any more would be excessive.
Throughout the summer, Penny began thinking of Skippy as her own child. She fed him, bathed him, got up with him in the night, and took him all over town in his perambulator, while her mother lay in bed and complained.
Old ladies looked at her with Skippy and turned up their noses, as old ladies do. It’s such a shame, they said, that a girl of such a tender age is already a mother. What is the world coming to? If she was my daughter, I’d keep her busy scrubbing the floors and cooking the meals. She wouldn’t have any time for nonsense with boys.
Copyright 2023 by Allen Kopp