Paul likes to sit in the back of the classroom farthest from Mrs. Jewls, which he thinks is the very best seat. While Mrs. Jewls teaches the class about fractions and pie, Paul is totally distracted by the long, brown pigtails in front of him, which belong to Leslie.
All Paul wants in life is to pull one of those pigtails. They are temptation personified. But if he pulls one, he'll lose his prized anonymity: "Leslie would tell on him, and he'd become the center of attention" (10.11). Which is not the point of sitting where he sits.
Try as he might though, he just can't ignore them. "There they were, just dangling in front of him, waiting to be pulled" (10.13). He decides not to pull them.
Paul's arm, however, has other ideas, and decides to pull one without consulting Paul. Leslie screams and Mrs. Jewls writes Paul's name under discipline and makes him apologize.
Even though Paul feels bad, he's conflicted—he still hasn't gotten to pull the other pigtail. He imagines the pigtail speaking to him directly: "Pull me, Paul. Pull me" (10.29).
He gets into a long, imaginary argument with the pigtail, and the pigtail finally convinces him to pull. Leslie screams, and Mrs. Jewls asks Paul if he pulled her pigtail again. "No," Paul says. "I pulled the other one" (10.51).
He tells Mrs. Jewls that he was just trying to be fair. "Pigtails are meant to be pulled," he explains (10.56).
At last Paul is satisfied. He has pulled each of Leslie's pigtails, and he only has two strikes against his name. He decides he'd be happy to do this every day, because it means he won't go home on the early bus.
Out of nowhere, Leslie screams again—and Paul gets sent home early because "Nobody would believe that he hadn't pulled Leslie's pigtail again" (10.62).
Oops—that's the one flaw in Paul's plan that he hadn't anticipated. Bummer, Paul.