A fifth-grade friend and I trudged through a bitter cold night toward the railroad depot.
It was so cold that picking up a wrench would cause it to vibrate in your hand. So cold that our breath trimmed our cap brims in hoar frost. So cold that either of us might have whimpered had the other not been there.
Our toes rattled around in our shoes, like marbles. The sky was so clear that a million billion stars seemed no more than an arm’s length away.
We were on high tech business, on our way to the Northern Pacific Depot to visit the techiest fellow in town – the telegrapher currently on duty.
A fat bellied blue-gray puppy trotted along after us. We tried to drive it back with poorly aimed snowballs, yelling and false charges. Finally, we forgot the pooch and let him find his own way home.
A few dozen steps farther and we were smothered in darkness. Out of this void came a chorus of demons. It was our blue-gray pup. He broke the still of the night with a sharp “Yike!” followed by yips, moans and cries of pain.
We ran blind into the darkness, finding our way by the feel of ties beneath our feet. We were only halfway to the distressed pup when we saw a tall figure appear in a cloud of steam.
It was Widow Archer with a teakettle of hot boiling water.
The widow made soothing noises and told the dog not to be afraid. Careful application of the hot water freed the animal in seconds. In a wink, widow Archer was on her way home with a tea kettle in one hand and a puppy under her arm.
I don’t know what happened to the dog, but a day or two later his sad tale was in The Billings Gazette. My home town – Custer – like most small farm towns in the region, had its own chicken dinner correspondent, that is, a person who sent short items to the Gazette. Chicken dinners were often the topic of these pieces, and they seldom rose above that level in terms of excitement or color.
The next day at school, my partner in crime and I plotted an evil trick. We hoped to lure an eighth-grade girl into licking the steel pole at the center of the tether ball court. We chose that class and gender because they had a fiendish relish for beating the be-Jupiters out of fifth-grade boys like ourselves.
My buddy stepped up to the pole, made a face and a noise and backed away faking a world of pain. I was startled. I thought he had truly kissed the cold steel.
None of the spectators knew what happened. My partner knew what didn’t happen. And Miss Benson seemed to know what was supposed to happen. She dismissed the rubber neckers and invited me and my buddy into the school house. She proceeded to tell us what success would have cost us, sentenced us each to a week’s worth of cleaning chores, and ordered us to write 5,000 word essays on the perils of endangering others.
I, of course, was outraged. Always ready to take my punishment when caught fair and square, I did not think Miss Benson had much of a case.
Miss Benson had cheated. She did not KNOW what we were up to. She GUESSED.
There’s no justice in this world. And even less in junior high.