Every Tuesday, Mrs. Skinker gave her introductions and got out her chunk of stacked papers plopping them on the table. She had blonde hair that tiptoed on her shoulders and her wardrobe consisted of skirts with tights and different colored cardigans. She sorted through her papers until she found the paper that pleased her. She’d pick up her reading glasses, prop them on the tip of her nose and turn around to the chalkboard.
Every Tuesday, she had one paper in her left hand and one hand reaching down for a piece of chalk. Her hand stopped and her lips turned into a pursed frown. She would walk the stretch of the chalkboard, leaning over to find a piece of Godforsaken chalk. There was never a piece of chalk.
She would mutter little profanities under her breath and she’d leave the room. She walked to the room directly across the hallway and repeated her procedure. When she came back to the classroom empty handed, she stared at her students and said, “Well. There’s no chalk.” She’d take off her glasses and stare at her paper. “You can all go home.”
Every Thursday, Mr. Ping gave his introductions and got his chunk of stacked papers plopping them on the table. He had brown hair that he spiked in the front and he always wore black rimmed glasses. His wardrobe consisted of long sleeved button ups with sweater vests. He sorted through his papers until he found the paper that pleased him. He would sit down on the table-- never a chair, always the table—and would begin his lecture.
Every Thursday, he got ten minutes into his lecture, waving his hands around like a composer to a choir when he conveyed an idea that was really noteworthy. He stood up and walked towards the chalkboard. He leaned over and stared at the empty tray that stretched the length of the room. He reached into his jean pocket and out came a piece of chalk. “I took the chalk out of this room the first week. Guarantee you it wouldn’t have shown up again. Stuff is like gold.”
Ten weeks into classes, Mrs. Skinker ripped her pleasing paper in half and asked the three remaining students in class for a permanent marker. She wrote a note on the paper and duct taped the note to the table.
She sat in her office with no papers to grade. She propped her feet up on the desk and cracked open The Takeover. Her students hadn’t turned in a single assignment all semester. The phone rang.
“Yes, Professor Skinker. This is Dean Rivers. I’m afraid I don’t have time for a face-to-face meeting today, but I’d like to talk with you briefly over the phone.”
“How can I help you?”
“I’ve noticed that you haven’t submitted any grades for your students this semester, and we are five weeks from finishing things up. Could you please take the time today to submit grades?”
“Sorry, I have no grades to submit. There’s no chalk in my room.”
“Yes, there’s no chalk in my room. I cannot write on the board what my students need to learn, therefore, I cannot assign homework, which in turn would mean there would be no way for me to submit grades.”
“You’ve gotta be kidding me, Professor. Why have you not brought my attention to this?”
“It is not my job to supply chalk in the room, sir. Maybe you should address the man responsible for stealing the chalk from the room. Then my students would be turning in homework, and there would be grades to post.”
“Well, who’s responsible?”
“A man by the name of Mr. Ping.”
“Mr. Ping? Can’t you two work this out? You two are the head of this English department. I can’t have you fighting.”
She took her feet off the desk and leaned forward.
“I think he needs an intervention.”
The tenth Thursday of the semester, Mr. Ping came to class with his stacks of papers. He didn’t even bother to scan the tray for chalk. As he straightened his papers on his desk, a gray object caught his eye. He shifted his eyes to the paper and read the words, “Please do not take chalk from this room.” “Please” was underlined three times. He looked up at the students that sat at the edge of their chairs, straining their ears. “That’s funny,” he smiled. “It says ‘Please do not take the chalk from this room.’ They even taped it to the table. Duct taped it. I took the chalk the first day of class. Didn’t know it was pissin’ somebody off.”
Ping ripped his paper in half, chuckling all the while as he took a red pen and wrote a note, scotch taping it to the table. He even left a little object. “It’s a peace offering,” he thought, “This will win ‘em over.”
The eleventh week of the semester, Mr. Ping finished up his class, and went to his office. He opened the door and flicked on the lights.
It felt like Leatherface had popped off every single one of his fingernails with a screwdriver, letting the bloody skin mingle with the oxygen in the air. That’s how badly they scared him.
“You must be the one that takes the chalk.” His husky voice bellowed.
“Oh my god!” Mr. Ping caught his breath.
“Are you or are you not the one that takes the chalk?” Dean Rivers scowled.
“Wait a second,” Ping continued, “are you the one who wrote that note and duct taped it to the table?”
Professor Skinker stepped aside from behind the Dean and said, “No, I am. Are you the one that replied? With this?”
She held up the white paper with red scribbles; in her other hand, she held up the EXPO marker.
It read: ‘So sorry, hope this makes it up.’ Sorry was underlined three times.
Mr. Ping laughed, expectant of them to have a sliver of light-hearted fun. If anything, they scowled even harder.
He said, “Did you get the full joke? You know-- the marker on the chalkboard?”
“You left a rude note with an EXPO marker on the chalkboard like this is some kind of game? I hate to break it to you, but this is college, Ping. It isn’t some kind of game where you joke around,” Professor Skinker grimaced.
“Are you kidding me? Why is a little piece of chalk making you two so mad? I don’t even understand how this can be a concern.”
“Mr. Ping,” Dean Rivers began, “This entire semester, you’ve been stealing the chalk from this room, yes?”
“Well, I wouldn’t call it stealing. It’s pretty hard to find, so I took it the first day. It’s always a problem.”
“So, yes, you stole the chalk. Since there was no chalk, Professor Skinker here hasn’t been able to teach her class. Her students have already paid for the class, but there are no grades. Therefore, their current grades are unavailable. I suspect many problems will be coming to me soon from parents and the students themselves regarding their incomplete grades. We can thank you for that.”
“I don’t understand why this is going on,” his face became hot, “I honestly didn’t mean to cause problems here. I just needed some chalk. Can’t you just go get some chalk from Student Services?”
“That’s not what this is about, Ping,” Dean Rivers bellowed.
“Then, what is this about?”
“Well, it’s about… it’s about… well, chalk! Of course it’s about chalk!”
“You’re meaning to tell me now that all these ridiculous problems are arising from a little piece of calcium carbonate?”
“Calcium what?” the Dean narrowed his eyes.
“Chalk. All these problems are coming from chalk.”
Mr. Ping pulled a piece out of his pocket and handed it to the Dean.
Mr. Ping swears he saw Skinker grin.
“You can’t just quit! It’s the middle of the semester, Ping!” he yelled.
“I’ll deliver a box of chalk to you for Christmas!” My. Ping waved as he walked down the hallway.
The Dean turned around to Skinker with his mouth wide open.
“Good God, why are you smiling?”
Her face cleared as she looked at him, “What?”