Like Clockwork
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Fifty-nine times I am told to write, “My behavior aggravates everyone around me,” on the green chalkboard after class. This task is manageable, but swallowing pride is not something I do without a fuss, so when Mrs. Williamson leaves the room to go clean paint brushes and smile at Mr. Brown, I substitute "aggravates" for other words – I am a top-notch speller – my behavior acknowledges, agrees with, and appeals to everyone around me.

Fifty-nine represents every second it took me to get back in my seat after Mrs. W. told me to spit or swallow. “No gum-chewing in fourth grade.” That’s a rule Mrs. W. said the first day smiling. She always smiled, just like a ventriloquist’s dummy, even when her temper seethed. After I told Grandma the rule, I noticed a piece of Dentyne at the bottom of my brown lunch bag; like clockwork, a little pink slice of spice was my reward after my liverwurst sandwich. I’d chew the gum upon leaving the lunchroom until I was face-to-face with Mrs. W.’s seething smile, then swallow and mimic her grin. The next morning when I’d see threads of pink laced through my feces, I knew my body was functioning at its full potential. I’m what Grandma calls regular. This is a good thing, she says. Lots of people take medication to assist them with this task – my behavior assists everyone around me.

I think Mrs. Williamson is fifty-nine years old, and she might need some regularity in her life. When she comes back into the room after flirting with Mr. Brown (she’s way too old to be flirting), she looks at my handwriting on the board, thirty-three lines into completion, and with the eraser goes to town, pushing me aside.

“Just who do you think you are, Mary Jane Charltan?” she says, emphasizing each syllable of my name with the stroke of the eraser. Within seconds, less than fifty-nine, she erases all of my sentences. Mrs. W. tells me to get my homework and go home. When Mrs. W. turns to put the paintbrushes in the coffee can, I hide the eraser under my sweatshirt and walk back to my desk. Funny thing, I can still faintly read my sentences the further away from the board I stand. My behavior acknowledges everyone around me, I read. “I am my grandma’s pride and joy,” I say as I leave the room.

I head home, but on the way I stop at Blackie’s Bar on the corner of our street. Grandma is sitting in the back booth playing seven Bingo cards. She has seven bottles lined up next to her ashtray with seven butts. “There’s my pride and joy,” she says to me as I slide in next to her. “Gotta be quiet now. Grandma’s almost got a winner.” I tuck my head under her arm and listen for her steady beat. I feel regular and right. For that moment in time, all that defined aggravation is erased, and I smile.

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