The Paper Eater
Ronald Haverstruck had either eaten the milk carton he’d carried into study hall or made it disappear as if he were some sleight-of-hand expert. I was five weeks into teaching high school, and here was my first serious discipline issue because there were fifty-nine other students in the room, and half of them were laughing and pointing at the freshman in a Kiss t-shirt with an empty desk.
“Ok,” I said, mustering up some volume, “it’s all over, people.” Miraculously, they quieted, at least into a sort of hum of whispering. I was sure everyone had toned down because they wanted to see more from Haverstruck, that they hoped he’d brought something else along, maybe an algebra book he could make disappear, all the Xs and Ys vanishing while they cheered.
Ronald Haverstruck just smiled for a half hour, but when the bell rang and the students filed out, I noticed that nobody ran up to him to give him a high five or ask how that slick cardboard tasted. That night, when I told the story to my pregnant wife while our two children, ages two and five, played together peaceably for once, she said, “You mean he took a bite out of it, right?”
“No,” I said, “the boy ate the milk carton like an apple.”
“No, he didn’t.”
“You’re right,” I said. “It wasn’t quite like an apple because he ate everything. It was like a giant seedless grape. There wasn’t a core left over. After there was nothing at all is when I started thinking he’d put one over on me and hidden it somehow.”
“Well,” she said, “a sick boy he’ll be.”
“This boy is fourteen years old and he’s new in school,” I said. “Ronald Haverstruck has been sitting there with nothing in front of him since school began, and now this. It’s not a good sign.”