Late Again: A Back-to-School Story

Stephen Raburn
4 min readJul 20, 2023

Margaret Smith’s mother came into the bedroom and pulled back the curtains.

“Maggie, get up,” she called. Margaret covered her head with the pillow.

“Maggie, I said get out of bed!”

From under the pillow, Margaret mumbled, “I don’t wanna get up.”

Sighing, Mrs. Smith allowed the bridge of her eyeglasses to slide down to the tip of her nose so she could peer out over them and give her daughter “the look” and yelled, “Margaret Catherine Smith, you better get out of this bed right now! You know today’s the first day of school!”

Margaret knew when her mother used her full name, it was time to respond. She threw the pillow from her face and sat up. “Mother, I don’t feel good. I thi — ”

“Well,” Mrs. Smith corrected. “I don’t feel well.”

“Then that makes two of us,” Margaret said in a hopeful tone.

Seeing the look of annoyance on her mother’s face, she started again.

“Mother, I don’t feel well, I’m too ill to go to school.”

Mrs. Smith started to laugh. Margaret, still sitting in bed, was disturbed by this outburst.

Finally, Mrs. Smith stopped laughing and regained her composure and said, “Oh come on now. You really have to get more original; you use that excuse every year.”

“Well it’s true,” Margaret whined. “I’m sick!” She flopped back onto the pillow and dramatically threw her arm across her face.

“Sick of school,” her mother mumbled.

“Yes, sick of school.”

“Well Maggie, you know you have to go. We all have to do things we don’t enjoy. Life’s just that way.”

Margaret sat up again and snapped, “Oh really, Mother!”

“Come on,” Mrs. Smith coaxed. “Get dressed and I’ll make us a good breakfast and pack you a special lunch.”

“Well…”

“That’s my girl, I knew you’d come around.”

Margaret got out of bed and shuffled to the bathroom. She took an extra-long shower and slowly brushed her teeth.

Several minutes later, her mother called from downstairs, “Margaret, stop wasting time. Your breakfast is getting cold.”

Margaret sighed, “Oh Mom, stop treating me like a baby.”

“Then stop acting like one and get down here.”

Sulking, Margaret stomped down the stairs where her mother had made her favorite breakfast. The aroma of French toast and bacon enticed her into the kitchen.

“Doesn’t that look wonderful?” Mrs. Smith gushed. “Let’s eat plenty so we’ll have energy for a full day.”

Margaret was tempted to ask her mother if she were joining her at school but decided that the humor wouldn’t be welcomed. Instead, she started eating. The meal did make the mood a little brighter, but still, she said, “I really don’t want to go to school! I hate that place!”

“Now Maggie,” Mrs. Smith sighed. “You don’t mean that. We have this argument every August. Once you’re there everything will be fine.”

“No, it won’t. I hate it there.”

Mrs. Smith rolled her eyes. Margaret got angrier at her mother’s familiar eye-rolling gesture.

“I hate my principal and I hate all the teachers and I even hate all the kids! And you know what? They all hate me right back!”

“Oh, Maggie, stop being so dramatic,” Mrs. Smith snapped. “You know that’s not true. I’ve had enough of this nonsense. Now, go on and finish getting ready so you can leave and get to school on time. You know you don’t want to be late again.”

Margaret got up, her belly full of French toast and bacon and dread, and hurried up the stairs. Five minutes later she stormed from the house. Once she was outside in the warm sunshine she slowed her pace. She kept wishing for one more week of summer, just one more week, each step forward a little slower than the one before. But all too soon the brick school loomed in front of her.

Too late for wishes, summer was officially over. There were no children playing on the playground beside the school building, so she knew she was late, and already in trouble. She tried to sneak inside without being noticed but just as she entered, one of the teachers leaving the office noticed her.

“Hey look,” he laughed. “Margaret’s back and she’s late again. Margaret, I thought you said that you weren’t coming back here ever again.”

Margaret ignored him and continued walking. When she got to her classroom, the principal was there speaking to the class. Seeing her enter, he said, “Well, well, Miss Smith, I see you’re tardy again this year. We will certainly talk about this after school.”

Margaret stared at her new shoes, her face hot with embarrassment, and said softly, “I’m sorry, Sir. It won’t happen again.”

Then she turned to the class, looked at the children, and said, “Good morning, students, I’m Miss Smith, your third-grade teacher.”

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Stephen Raburn

Stephen Raburn is a writer, daydreamer, activist, and father of two amazing daughters. He lives in Durham, NC.