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An Abundance of Sons
“Mr. Boulder?” Dr. Sanchez was tense as he phoned his long-time friend. Dr. Sanchez’s hesitant tone tipped Mr. Boulder off. After many years of dealing with disgruntled parents, babysitters, and custodians, he was able to determine many things based off Dr. Sanchez’s voice: he seemed more apologetic than angry which meant that something extremely bad or extremely unfair could have happened. Mr. Boulder realized that his colleague was calling him as a parent rather than as a friend.
Mr. and Mrs. Boulder had three sons. Thankfully, the Boulders were specially equipped to deal with children, Mr. Boulder being a high-school teacher and Mrs. Boulder being a social worker.
In the town where the Boulders lived, the high school and the middle school were across the street from one another. As such, Mr. Boulder had been able to personally oversee much of his sons’ behavior as they passed through his class. Frankie, the youngest by far, had yet to reach high school.
As Dr. Sanchez related to Mr. Boulder the “incident” that had occurred that day during lunch, Mr. Boulder’s mind wandered off to all of the different holes that his sons had dug themselves into in the past.
There was Theo, the oldest, who didn’t create much trouble, but the few incidents that he was in tended to be enormous. Theo’s stoic personality and rather imposing frame frightened almost everybody around him. His family and some rather foolishly courageous individuals were the only people brave enough to stand up to him. One such unintelligent soul had decided that it would be “fun” to annoy Theo by kicking his chair during class. After Theo’s first warning to stop, the boy unknowingly continued.
In a fit of anger, Theo dramatically threw down his chair before he whipped around, pulled his arm back for effect, and punched him. The students around them gasped in surprise and the poor substitute tiredly wrote up the incident and sent the papers to the office. The next day, the day of the trial, the substitute was gone (on a long-needed vacation) and the students who had witnessed the event had been sworn to secrecy. To the gob-smacked boy that he had punched just the day before, Theo stated “Listen, if I deny it and if you deny it,” he clapped his hands loudly together as the other boy winced, “this entire thing’ll disappear.” A “capiche” at the end would’ve made his statement something straight out of a mafia drama. And so, no one was ever punished for the incident until some younger siblings of the original students told Mr. Boulder years later. By then, Theo was a junior in college and not as afraid of his father as he was many years ago. All of those years away from his father caused Theo to forget his father’s wrath. When he came home for winter vacation that year, heads rolled when Theo rediscovered his father’s fury. Theo returned to college humbled and much less eager to defy authority.
Tim’s, the Boulders’ second son’s, shenanigans caused his parents much grief. There was that one time when he decided that he would block off the seventh graders from the rest of the school by piling up the benches on either end of their hallway. For that, Tim received a nice round of head smacks and a grounding. There was that other time when he decided that he would skip classes on Halloween and run around the school all day dressed as The Flash. By the end of the day, he was such sweaty exhausted mass of skin and bones that his parents took pity on him and only took away his bedroom door for a month, so that his convoluted plans would no longer remain shrouded in mystery (who would’ve known that he was capable enough to sew such a convincing costume?). There was that last time when he graduated without any clothes on underneath his billowy robes. Because it was a last hurrah for their son, the Boulders only gave him judging looks as they watched him walk up to grab his diploma. They were just thankful that the robes never came off.
All of these instances Frankie watched with earnest fear. Early on in life Frankie had decided that he would do everything humanly possible to avoid his father’s anger and his mother’s sharp tongue. The incident at lunch that day had Frankie extremely worried about the consequences.
Mr. Boulder was a man who was very sure of himself. He was descended from a long line of gruff and tough man’s men. He believed in intimidation over violence and his sons were extremely intimidated. When dealing out punishments, he had a clear formula that never failed him.
But now, Mr. Boulder was at a loss. When he replayed the incident over in his mind, he couldn’t help but think that he would’ve done the same thing as his son.
“Normally, in instances like this, I wouldn’t hold your son responsible but he broke the rules and I have a staff of custodians who won’t be happy unless someone gets punished. So I’m suspending him for the rest of the day and he and his…accomplice are going to have to clean the lunch room tomorrow.” Dr. Sanchez had closed his eyes and squeezed them shut as he anticipated Mr. Boulder’s angry retort, even though he was in a completely different building. Mr. Boulder’s response, however, surprised him.
“Okay. I suppose I should try to leave faster today so that Frankie doesn’t get chewed out by his mother. It’s better that she yells for two hours rather than for three. Thanks Rob,” Click. The line went dead and Dr. Sanchez let out a breath that he didn’t realize he had been holding. He looked across his desk at the two sheepish boys in front of him and let out a great sigh as he pondered why he had ever given up teaching to become a vice principal.
When Mr. Boulder came home that day, it was to a scene that was both familiar and unfamiliar to him. His wife was screeching at one of his sons but, for once, it was Frankie. Frankie had always been the good child, the one who gave his parents hope that they would have one normal son. He wasn’t totally sure how to conceive the sight in front of him. Mrs. Boulder, once she spotted her husband said, rather tiredly, “Oh good, you’re home. He’s all yours,” before she went to their large bathroom and started to draw a long and relaxing bath.
The “incident” which Dr. Sanchez had sent Frankie home for had, as stated previously, occurred that day during lunch. That day, chicken noodle soup was on the menu; Frankie had been looking forward to this day for a week. Just as he was about to dig in, his friend projectile sneezed right into his soup. In retaliation, Frankie had coughed on his friend’s Bosco sticks while he tipped over his chocolate milk. And then, madness let loose as someone tossed their salad into the air and a food fight erupted in the cafeteria. The aftermath was terrible. Pizza sauce and chicken noodle soup pooled on the floor and covered the walls along with many other unidentifiable fluids. Though neither Frankie nor his friend (who had caught a cold) truly started the fight, they ended up taking the blame.
Mr. Boulder, not sure how to convincingly punish his son, waited until his wife’s retreating form was out of sight and he heard the tell tale sign of the water running in the bathtub. He exhaled as he turned to look at his son. Frankie winced as he felt his father’s hand fall onto his shoulder.
“Son, I’m not going to punish you.” All of Frankie’s words fell out of his head at this statement and he merely stared up at his father blankly. “There are a few things in a man’s life that he has to protect: his girl, his family, his buddies, and his food. You maintained your dignity and didn’t let anyone push you around,” looking at his son and hoping that the statement had sounded as cool to Frankie as it did in his head, Mr. Boulder continued “I can’t say that I’m happy about what happened today, but you defended yourself and I won’t punish you for that.”
Frankie smiled with relief until his father began to speak again. “Of course, we can’t tell your mother about this, so I’ll be sending you to your room without dinner tonight and tomorrow night,” Frankie’s face fell as he thought of his missed lunch and his poor, poor stomach. Mr. Boulder quickly amended his statement, “Don’t worry, you’ll still be eating.” Mr. Boulder had thought of a lucrative solution.
That night, Frankie sat in his room drinking his chicken noodle soup as quietly as possible since Mrs. Boulder’s hearing had not lagged despite her nearly thirty years of dealing with screaming and moody children. He contemplated how he could possibly clean the entire cafeteria in two hours and wondered when his mother had become the enforcer. Or had it always been that way?