The Principal Verdict

by Douglas Lee Mort

Now we're husband and wife, she said. Pretty soon we'll have babies.

A tall order. They were second-graders, Mary and the boy. They sat next to each other in Mrs. Hanover's class. For the past week they had strolled around the blacktop and through the hallways at recess and lunchtime, holding hands and enduring the taunts and snickers of fellow students. They shared lollipops and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that she brought from home. But now she had corralled him into the spaceship jungle gym and before he knew what was happening he found himself married. Having a stark and terrible idea of what this meant, he began to tremble.

Uh-uh, he said. I take it back.

Mary furrowed her eyebrows. Whadayu mean you take it back? She wore her usual: a well-worn white dress, dirty white socks that climbed to mid-shin, and shiny-black shoes that were scuffed up at the toes from kicking at boys and missing and hitting unintended objects. Around her mouth was a stain-ring from the strawberry Kool-Aid she brought to school each day. The boy had a matching ring.

Uh-uh. I don't wanna do that.

Mary's eyes caught fire. The hand that held his clamped down; the other balled into a fist at her side.

Okay, the boy said, I was just kiddin. But when she softened her look and grip, he broke free and turned and lunged for the bars that encaged him.

No! Mary cried and caught one of his feet.

Kids were everywhere in the playground, swinging like lunatics, running around the tan bark and kicking up dirt and dust. For some reason the two drew no attention at first.

Let go! the boy said, gripping the bars with all his might.

She yanked and grunted. You said I do!

I didn't mean it! Let go!

Finally she pulled him loose. He landed on his face in the tan bark.

He stood up and dusted himself off. She batted her eyelashes, smiled and curtsied, her blonde hair disheveled from the tussle. I knew you'd come back.

Feeling he had no other option, the boy tried to drive her away with insults. Floppy Fish, he said. Tongue Sandwich.

She glared at him. These were the names that the other kids called her, names that tended to make her cry and holler that she had a medical condition, something the doctor said she didn't have to be embarrassed about. It was the reason the boy had become her friend at first—because he had felt sorry for her—because he knew about women being treated badly.

Now he made like he was choking on his tongue, grabbing at his throat and garbling nonsense. Right before he fell to the ground to do some flopping-about, however, Mary pulled a fast one.

I know you don't mean that.

So he resulted to violence. He held out his hand; and when she took it, he locked on