Disclaimer: I don't own nothin'
"Thanksgiving, after all, is a word of action."
The man who invented the timepiece was surely the devil himself. If I am sure of absolutely nothing else, I know that there is no worse sound on the face of this humble earth than the sadistic ticking of the clock.
Granted, in my own particular office there wasn't a traditional clock in sight, all of my personal timekeepers were digital, glowing, and most importantly, completely silent.
But just outside my door hung one of those monsters, the pallid face shining smug and arrogant, counting the second, the minute, the hour, the day, the year, the decade. Each tick is one more beat stolen your heart and with every tock hordes every one of those thefts, like one of those evil and twisted lawyers one only sees in Hollywood movies. The kind that puts the innocent in the slammer and lets the sinners walk free into the sun, head held high and pockets stuffed.
Oh yes. The clock is an evil thing indeed.
And it's no secret either; everyone knows it, even if they aren't consciously aware of or acknowledge this, be it from denial or naiveté. But still, everyone, everyone knows that the ticking of a clock signifies nothing good. That's why they hang them inside police stations and principal's offices just like mine. It's early intimidation to prepare the suspect for the interrogation soon to come. The longer they sit there, the better. The longer to brood, the longer to sweat, the longer to cower, and all the while with the tick-tick-tocking drum in their ear. Reminding you that you could be doing something a hell of a lot better than sitting on a hard plastic chair the color of rotting pumpkins.
Now, let's get one thing straight here: putting one of those nasty things outside of my office was no idea of mine. Lucille, our secretary claimed that it helps her concentrate or something like that. (Plus, the thing had hung on that wall for over fifteen years now, and I had only been principal for three years. It had seniority over me) Anyway, it wasn't my idea. I don't fancy the notion of torture. I always felt a bit of sympathy for the youths that came to sit before me, waiting alone outside the office, listening to the clock's twisted song, wondering what would become of them. Detention? Suspension? A dreaded phone call, where the misdeed would follow them to the their doorstep? Or something even worse?
However, none of these scenarios seemed to bother the child that sat before me now, on this eighteenth afternoon of November. No fear reflected in his eyes, no guilt, no apprehension, no remorse, no awkward shuffling in his seat. He just swung his left foot back and forth, occasionally kicking the right leg of my desk and staring at the corny I Hate Mondays poster above my bookcase.
I supposed that his behavior made some sense. After all, when one comes through my door as often as Joseph Wheeler has I guess our visits had become routine. At least once every two weeks he saw me. And most of the time he came in shoulders hunched and marching in like some political prisoner and quickly began to either simply deny everything or begin to avidly defend his case, claiming everything from being framed by his classmates, to his teacher and/or coach and/or crossing guard and/or bus driver and/or crossing guard and/or librarian were all secretly plotting against him in some sinister morbid conspiracy complete with aliens and mole people, the whole while waving his little arms about like an overzealous televangelist that's had way too much coffee.
None of that today, though.
He just sat there, kicking the desk, beating out a faint rhythm and stared at me with those large dark brown eyes, expressionless and silent as a mime in a morgue. I folded my hands and stared back in the classic authoritative manner and adjusted my glasses. Since apparently Joey had no intention of starting the conversation, I decided to take it upon myself to do so.
"Not very chatty today, Mister Wheeler? I'd think that you of all people would be trying to stay as far away from my office as possible. After all, I don't think you want to spend the first day of your Thanksgiving weekend here. Not very festive at all, and besides, my cooking's terrible. You should ask my wife."
Silence. Nothing but ticking from the outside.
I frowned and picked up the cause of Joseph's trouble: a light brown piece of construction paper cutout from a hand tracing made out to be a turkey. One large googley eye rolled about on the thumb, giving it a slightly insane look and a glittery red waddle hung just below the tiny yellow beak. Dozens of identical turkeys wallpapered the school cafeteria, each one with a message scribbled across the turkey's obese stomach describing what each student was thankful for and why. It was the classic symbol of Thanksgiving weekend, a simple assignment that didn't require much thought on part of both the student and the teacher.
However, the paper fowl that I now held in my hands had one significant distinction: it was completely blank.
According to the note accompanying the unadorned bird was a note explaining that young Joseph had refused, despite all coaxing, prodding, and threats, to complete this last assignment of semester. After trying to explain for the fourteenth time that this was an easy A and could make the rest of the day go a lot easier for the both of them, only to be met with staring his exasperated teacher sent him to me.
"Joey," I sighed "Would you care to share with me why you're here?"
"That's obvious, ain't it?"
Well that's better than staring and silence, anyway. "True. Well then, how about telling me why you don't want to do the assignment? It's not like it's hard."
He shook his head, "Yeah…"
"Neither of us is getting out of here without an answer, you know."
Joseph scowled at the paper turkey before him, "Can't."
"We gonna talk in single syllables all day or are you going to give me some details?"
The tiniest shadow of a smirk flashed across his face "Maybe."
"Look. It's getting late. You don't want to be here, I don't want to be here. How about he make a deal?"
A blond brow arched up, "What sorta deal, Farkas?"
"If you can at least tell me why you so tenaciously rebuff your assignment, you may take your leave without any repercussions."
Wheeler adopted a bamboozled expression "And English, that would mean…?"
I grinned, "Fess up why you won't fill out the bird, and you get outta here without a scratch. No strings attached."
The boy peered apprehensively "Why?"
That logic seemed to work well enough for him, because he suddenly seemed less tense, more like his usual self. Which was good news; that solemn stare was beginning to give me the creeps. For such a young kid, he certainly knew how to stand his ground and intimidate. I feared to think what he would be like in ten years as a teenager.
"These turkey things… I can't wanna do 'em."
Tell me something I don't know… "Why not?"
He shrugged, "'Cause my father didn't raise a liar," he said (Which was a lie in itself).
"Oh? What makes you say that?"
"You're 'sposta to fill out what your thankful for and I'd have to make something up. That would be lyin'. I don' have anything."
I blinked. "Sorry?"
"To be thankful for."
"But surely there most be something you're thankful for?"
"What about your family?"
"Divorced. My sista's the only real family I got and she ain't here no more."
Ahhhhh. "I see. What about the fact that you've got a home? There are people on the streets right now you know and New York can get cold this time of year."
Joseph frowned leaned a foot on the desk, "Mista Farkas, I got a house. Got that? House. Not home. There's a difference. A home's got something' worthwhile in it and that left with Serenity. An' don' go givin' me all stuff that about a nice Thanksgivin' dinner because I don' know what yours is but all I got is leftover pizza an' olives an' a can of peaches that's been in the basement since before either of us was born."
There was silence in my office, then as I let all of this sink in. Not only the reason as to why the assignment could not be done, but the fact that an eight year old repeating second grade could make a point so clearly.
The school bell rang for the final time that Friday, blaring loud and victorious as the signal for an entire week of freedom and the hysteric sound of stampeding feet ruled the hallways outside. Then, as quickly as it had come, the commotion fell silent. Joseph Wheeler and I sat there and looked at each other for a while, the sound of the pretentious clock tick-tick-ticking echoing in the walls.
"So Farkas, anything else?"
"No, that'll do for now."
"…and this won't do nothing' to my grade, right? No call to my folks or nothing' like that?"
"I'm a man of my word, Mr. Wheeler."
"Awesome." The boy slid out of his chair and made for the door.
"There's a catch, isn't it?"
"No, nothing like that. I'd like you to take this with you."
A suspicious expression crossed his face as I handed him the turkey he came in with. "But I already told you-"
"Yes, I know. But take it anyway. Maybe sometime later you'll think of something and you can give it back to me, eh?
He shrugged, "I guess."
That was about twelve years ago, I think. Around Christmas I received word that Mister Wheeler had returned to Japan with his father. Which I assumed pretty much vetoed any chance of getting that turkey back.
So you can imagine my surprise when I found an envelope in my mailbox with Japanese postmarks. Inside there was no letter, just a single brown cutout of a hand tracing, the googley eye was missing, but the waddle was still there, though rather faded with time. In the middle was pasted a small photo of a group of unknown souls, apart from for a familiar face with a mop of blond hair nearly covering his eyes leaning against someone dressed in black with the wildest tri-colored hair I'd ever seen.
On the back, written in blue ink a small note read:
You were always pretty damn cool to me.
Heh. After twelve years, he still doesn't put a "Mister" in front of my name.