A lesson from a caterpillar

A lesson from a caterpillar

The girls are mostly grown now, and according to Facebook they’ve become good friends, but I’ll change their names anyway, to protect the innocent. They were children, after all, by some reckonings the very definition of innocence.

By the beginning of May, just about the entire fourth grade had found a reason to let Shannon know that they didn’t like her. The consensus was remarkable. The less couth children groaned whenever they were partnered with her; the more polite kids signaled their displeasure more discreetly. Even the teachers (with varying degrees of tact and good intentions) let Shannon know that she was not, generally speaking, contributing positively to the broader elementary school community.

Because these were modern times, of course, outright rudeness to Shannon was strictly forbidden, no matter how much she had it coming, and so a lot of good kids got themselves in trouble when they finally snapped at her. I remember one especially delightful little girl who refused to apologize after saying something unexpectedly nasty–she turned to her teacher, trembling and teary, and said, “You don’t understand: she’s been in my homeroom since kindergarten!”

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1. In Which Our Heroine Learns a Terrible Truth

1. In Which Our Heroine Learns a Terrible Truth

It’s not that she forgot, but that she really wanted to forget and did her best to, so as eleven o’clock rolled around Erica went out of her way to find ways to get involved in her work, to find something that would sweep her up so completely that she would–whoops, would you believe it’s already twelve-thirty? I guess I missed my appointment! Oh well, I’ll reschedule for next year.

She tried cleaning out her inbox, but remembered too late that she’d already done that a few weeks ago when she was trying to forget about the dentist. So she called her mom, who was always exasperated about something Amelia was doing or had done or was talking about doing, but her mother was on her way to do “djoga” and couldn’t talk but would call her later to ask about her appointment, okay?

She went to the cafeteria but Marjorie wasn’t in on Tuesdays anymore and the lady who took her place didn’t speak any language Erica could fake so that was no use.

She reviewed Elizabeth’s vouchers but they were all in order, and Mr. Larson was going to be in meetings all morning. By about eleven-thirty she was getting desperate and decided to call Amelia directly. After all she had done for that little twerp over the years surely Amelia owed her at least this much, right?

“Ellie, what’s up?” her little sister said over the phone.

“Nothing, nothing,” Erica stammered. “Just…checking in. What are you up to?”

“I’m in the middle of class, dummy. Can I call you tonight?”

Shit. Now she probably would call tonight, and unload all of her craziness at a time of day that was entirely useless. And then her mother would call and insist that Erica repeat the entire conversation verbatim, and ask all sorts of speculative questions that nobody could answer except Amelia, and of course Amelia would never tell her mother those things. Where did we go wrong with that girl? she would finally ask.

So the evening was ruined, and it still wasn’t noon.

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