Everyone in class held their breath as Mr. Purdy dangled a squirming cock-a-roach over the brand-new resort he'd made for Manly Stanley.
Manly Stanley was our class pet, a centipede.
A large centipede.
Rubin could hardly stand it. "Drop it, Mr. Purdy, drop it."
Manly Stanley's new home sat on Mr. Purdy's desk. It was an old, cleaned-up fish aquarium. Inside, a big craggy rock and a branch of twisty driftwood sat on a beach of white sand. There was even a marooned pirate ship for Manly to explore.
I could see him looking at me through a cannon port. "Calvin, my man," he seemed to say. "S'up?"
I'd captured Manly Stanley in my bedroom and brought him to school, and now look at him. What a setup.
"Centipedes are predators," Mr. Purdy said, looking down at Manly Stanley. "They use their claws to capture and paralyze their prey."
Yow! I hoped that cock-a-roach could run fast.
But it was hard to imagine Manly Stanley as a predator. I mean, all he did was hang out. He slept. He looked at you. He scurried into the pirate ship when he wanted some privacy.
The crowd squeezed in around Mr. Purdy.
"Move," someone said. "Let me see!"
"Look how Manly's checking out that bug."
"How come you're putting that poor little cock-a-roach in there, Mr. Purdy?" Shayla asked.
Shayla's mouth fell open. "Eew, sick!"
"It's what centipedes eat, Shayla. Spiders, too, and earthworms."
Julio scoffed. "Not yuck, Snoop. Yum. You don't remember when you ate that worm?"
I spurted out a laugh. Julio called her Snoop right to her face. But Snoop fit, because she was nosy. And the story about her eating the worm was true, but she only ate the head. Back in kindergarten, some kid brought a soup can full of compost worms for show-and-tell. At lunch, he stuck one into her tuna sandwich when she wasn't looking. Shayla chomped it down. All us guys thought we were going to die from laughing so hard.
Shayla squinted razor-slits at Julio.
Mr. Purdy dropped the roach.
It must have sensed danger, because it sprang toward the rock. "Dang," Rubin whispered. "Look at him run."
"Okay," Mr. Purdy said. "Back to your seats. Time to get to work. Nothing's going to happen to that roach anytime soon."
"Aw, man," Julio said. "I want to see Manly eat it."
Mr. Purdy clapped his hands. "Let's go! Chop-chop!"
I plopped down at my seat in the first row by the window. Manly Stanley's resort was right in front of me.
I looked out the window, remembering a pet I once had, sort of. A dog named Chewy, a beagle who liked to shred rubber slippers. But Chewy was really my dad's dog, and when my dad moved to Las Vegas to be a famous singer, Chewy went with him.
At least now I sort of had Manly Stanley as a pet. But he couldn't shake hands like Chewy, or run down a tennis ball, or curl up by my feet at night.
Sometimes I really missed Chewy.
And my dad.