PAY DAY • by John McLain

“Billy’s done it again! The Woodley girl’s dress is just ruined. Ink all over their carpet. I don’t know what we’re going to do with the boy, Howard. But you’ve got to do something.”

Gladys sat down hard at the kitchen table, hands folded tightly in her lap, awaiting her husband’s typical nonresponse when it came to disciplining their son. As usual, he didn’t disappoint.

Howard dropped his briefcase on a chair, peeled off his topcoat, and held out a long white envelope in his hand. “Know what this is? My raise, dear. The big one. Been a long time coming.”

Gladys, peeved beyond words, crossed her arms, pressed her lips together and sat expressionless. Not even glancing at the envelope, she said, “Hello. Excuse me? Howard, we’re talking about your son here. Remember him, Mr. Practical Joker? The one kicked out of school a whole week for that cherry bomb in the vice principal’s office? The one who got poor Mr. Philips to eat those sugared earthworms in his yogurt?”

Howard propped the envelope against the napkin holder on the kitchen table, sank into a chair and sighed. His mood darkening sufficiently in hopes of meeting Gladys’ expectation, he said, “What’d our dear little monster do now? Where is he, by the way?”

“Sent him to his room, Howard. Told him to remain right there till you got home,” she said. Howard peered up the shadowy staircase toward Billy’s room. “He sprayed Melissa Woodley with that old fountain pen of yours.”

Squinting up the stairs, Howard thought he could just make out the dirty white tips of two scruffy tennis shoes poking over the topmost step.

For effect, mainly to appease Gladys, Howard boomed: “That does it, young man! No TV tonight, and what’s more you’re grounded for a month.”

Gladys, a sudden warm feeling welling up she couldn’t quite define, merely smiled her satisfied smile. Maybe now she wouldn’t have to push so hard to get Howard to act in the future.

“Consequences, Howard,” she said. “The boy’s got to learn that actions have consequences.”

Howard fairly exulted in his newfound strength. That night after dinner, he ordered Billy to do his homework at the kitchen table until bedtime. Howard and Gladys watched TV in the den as Billy opened his spelling book but just sat there, gripping his pencil and staring holes into the napkin holder and the long white envelope propped against it.

“Singleminded purpose,” said Howard. “It’s the only way to change the boy, dear. Be firm. Stand your ground. That’s the trick.”

“Uh huh,” Gladys said without looking up from her crocheting.

At 10 p.m. Howard wandered into the kitchen and said to his son, “I’m off to bed. You finish up here and do likewise, young man.” Billy grunted, avoiding his father’s passing stare. At the top of the stairs, Howard heard Gladys say, “Don’t forget to deposit your check at the bank tomorrow.”


When Howard strode into First National at noon the next day, he carried himself a bit taller, knowing full well that his usual teller, Millie, would notice the big raise. After waiting impatiently in line for several minutes, Howard stepped up briskly to Millie’s window, aching to see her expression as she pulled the check and deposit slip from the envelope.

But Millie wasn’t there. Instead, Howard found himself looking into the pimply face of some tall, scrawny new kid in a loud necktie.

“Millie off today?” Howard asked.

“Moved to Montana somewhere,” said the new kid. “Husband transferred or something like that.”

Almost reluctantly, Howard handed over his pay envelope and stood there as the kid started to tote up the numbers when they both noticed the folded slip of notebook paper tucked behind the check.  Howard’s eyes followed the kid’s hands as he unfolded the paper and read aloud the childish-looking pencil scrawl:

This heres a bank hold up. Keep your hands rite
where I can see them and don’t go pressing no
alarm buttons or I’ll blow your dam head off.

John McLain, a former journalist and magazine editor, is author of a novel, The Reckoning, and a nonfiction book, How to Promote Your Home Business.

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