I don’t cheat.
I sit as if huddling, knees bent, chest leaning towards the table. My arms cradle my math quiz. I hover in a bit closer.
A furtive glance towards Kate’s desk collects the letters listed down the column of her paper.
A D A B C B D D A C.
In an instant I remember their order and bring them back towards my own sheet. Identical, except for the last: I had marked a D in place of her C.
That’s ok. The difference is not problematic. I don’t change my D. I don’t want to be the same as Kate. I want to see how, when and where we diverge.
I ease back into my desk chair. Around me, papers slowly turn over, pencils begin to rest, bodies start to squirm. The quality of the silence is uncomfortable, so I make small movements, adjusting my weight to one buttock, then the other. I shift my eyes towards the front of the room. Before I have a chance to look up, I feel Miss Templeton’s stare.
“Annie,” her voice is sharp. “Bring your quiz here.”
Something sharp digs into tmy thigh. I look down and see that I had been stabbing myself with my pencil. I rub into it and stand up. My body is reeled to the front of the room, where she waits. I try to swallow, to clear my throat so that I can answer her, but there is no moisture, no possibility of sound. Miss Templeton says only three words. She takes my quiz. She turns around and writes my name in the hot pot. It had never been there before.
I clear my throat again, attempt to try to explain that I was not cheating. But she has written my name already. The letters glare at me. I can’t erase them. I sit back down.
“I wasn’t cheating!”
My voice box remains closed.
As my head screams, I move, stifling my anger, back to my seat next to Kate. I cover my face in my hands, which are already wet from the warm, salty rivulets that steadily emerge, uncontrolled, out of my eyes. I hear papers move again around me. Stacks of six form on each table, Miss Templeton walks around, picks them up, deposits them next to mine on her desk. She moves to the chalkboard, writes out our homework assignment in her show-off cursive, her legs bouncing into her handwriting.
I hate her.
My face grows warmer. I can’t hear what she is saying anymore, but I know, from the look of liberation in her eyes, that it is time to get up, gather our belongings, leave for the day. Understanding what to do, my legs take me directly to the hallway while the others are still putting away their pencil cases and placing their chairs on top of their desks for the evening. I don’t stop to put on my coat. In one swift motion, I stuff it into my knapsack and continue down the hall.
Outside, movement continues. Involuntarily, legs undulate, grass waves. Thoughtlessly, I go. I run until the schoolyard is out of sight. Past the playground, through the woods, across Country Parkway. Into the meadow. Through the grass stand two sugar maples, and I sit down below their branches. Buds still haven’t emerged. I can almost smell the sap running up and down the trunk, a sweet nectar. The grass cushions me. I hear it telling me, softly, that it’s ok. Everything is ok. If my name is in the hot pot, if no one understands, the grass will still sway, the maple will still yield sugar water, spring will still come.
No one understands, but no one needs to. Here I feel at home. I relax. I breathe.