Unless one of her students had learned to throw their voice across the room, that was not the usual postprandial burp from one of the boys. “Uuuuuribit!” Elise Southern slowly walked over to her filing cabinet and slid open the top drawer. There, blinking back at her, was an extremely fat bullfrog. A lovely specimen of low-pitched, full-throated, ribbutry. “Well. Hello, there,” said the teacher. She reached into the drawer and helped the frog out. “Who am I to thank for this lovely…gift?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.
Her students giggled, shaking their heads. “Not me!” they protested. “Nuh uh.”
“Shall we have a small detention party this afternoon? Is that it? You all like this class so much you’d rather stay inside than enjoy what’s left of this sunny afternoon?”
Their glee was dampened by the sobering specter of Mrs. Southern’s sentence. An hour of silence and additional homework. That’s what detention was, and they’d all had their fill at some point earlier in the year.
Joseph sighed. “It was me, Mrs. Southern. I did it.” It wasn’t like he had any plans after school. He could read his book, be left alone, in detention. While the other children laughed in turns, like a chorus of squirrels, poor Joseph stood, eyes downcast. He tried to make himself small. “I loosed the frog on the lectern, Ma’am, and he flung himself right into that file drawer. When you slammed it shut on him, he couldn’t help his querulous croaking, Mrs. Southern. He wants to go back out on that playground, I just know he does–”
“What a prosaic confession! You should ace the vocabulary quiz, Friday.” Elise sighed and looked around the room. “Enough, Joseph. You may sit down.” The boy’s contrition seemed genuine enough, but Elise knew them all better than they realized. She cradled the large bullfrog in her hand, then gently set it on top of Joseph’s desk. He pressed himself against his chair, staring at the amphibian in horror. “You may take it back to the playground now, but hurry back.”
The wide-eyed boy tried, but could not force his hand within five inches of the creature. The girls giggled. Simon guffawed. “He’s skeered of a frog!” cried Freddy, pointing and choking on laughter.
Jenny raised her hand. “Yes, Jenny?”
“May I be excused?” She wiggled a little, in her seat, for the appearance of urgency.
“Of course.” The teacher reached for a hall pass. Jenny took it, and as she passed Joseph’s desk, she adeptly scooped up the frog and slipped quickly from the room. It was a swift and subtle move; the girl had not even paused and the frog had not so much as flinched. During recess they’d named it Mr. Bojangles. She took it back to its hidey-hole behind the gym. The other children, thinking for a moment that Mrs. Southern had not seen this surreptitious exchange, started hopping up from their seats and yelping, pretending that the frog had leaped off Joseph’s desk and was now making its rounds from child to another.
“Oh!” Gary leaped up and squatted atop his seat, his eyes following a line straight to Carrie’s desk.
“Eeek!” cried Carrie.
“It’s on top of your head, now, Joseph!” shouted Ben, pointing and laughing as Joseph, who thought he was the only one who knew better, swatted half-heartedly at his own head.
“No, it’s on yours, Amy!” squealed Carrie, sparing Joseph further humiliation.
“I think I squooshed it,” said Hubert, in his most morose voice, as he made a dramatic production out of examining the sole of his boot.
Elise Southern stood at the blackboard, her back to the roomful of obstreperous children, and stiffened her spine. Lips pressed together tightly, Elise struggled to rearrange her expression. Having grown up with unruly twin brothers whose tall tales were as hilarious as their lies were pellucid, she was more than a match for this lot, but they mustn’t see her crack a smile, let alone laugh.
Sagacity won the moment; Elise managed to shove the rising giggles deep down where the butterflies had lived since her first week of teaching, three years ago. “Mendacious,” Elise said, letting the chalk scritch painfully across the smooth, green surface of the board as she enunciated each syllable. “Men-day-shus. Who can tell me what it means?”
The room fell silent.
“Joseph? Can you tell me what that means? Mendacious.”
“Simon,” muttered Joseph. “It means Simon.” Joseph’s innate probity made him the target of his classmates’ taunts, more often than not. Elise felt a tiny twinge of guilt, using it like this to ferret out the truth.
Simon shrank in his chair, as if that would rid him of two dozen eyeballs that were now glued to his face.
Mrs. Southern opened her cabinet, and brought out a large, cardboard box and laid it on Simon’s desk. “The Bellweather May Day bullfrog races aren’t until next week, Simon. I suggest you find a better training ground for Mr. Bojangles. IF you can catch him, again, after class.”
Walking slowly back to the chalkboard, Elise Southern wrote the word, “Parsimony.” “Who can use the word, ‘parsimony’ in a sentence?”
Jenny, returning to her desk, did not miss a beat. “Our teacher is not parsimonious with her mercy.” All the children nodded in hopeful agreement, sudden paragons of virtue and innocence.
At that, Mrs. Southern could no longer suppress a chuckle. “Very good. Class dismissed.”
This story brought to you by my imagination and the words: Querulous, Sagacity, Prosaic, Probity, Precocious, Pellucid, Parsimony, Paragon, Obstreperous, Mendacious, proposed by the lovely KathleenMK at Writing Prompt – Creative Copy Challenge #616. She made up for my omitting “torpid” in my last tale, by using “sagacity” twice in a row.