The Math Teacher Portion
My next moves are like working through a series of verbal math problems all the while knowing my answers will result in a flunking grade no matter how I fill in the blanks. When I attend the teacher appreciation night, Pete will be there and that makes my skin feel itchy. If I don’t attend, Calista will call me, or text, or worse yet, take me aside before the next board meeting and use her smoky breath to insist that, “A good board member needs to be there and be present at these events.” She’s already instructed me that I need to move and second more, take on assignments, volunteer for the busy work the board performs to keep the district humming.
Question: Assuming there are seven new hires and seven members on the Board of Education, what is the probability that the teacher you’re assigned to introduce at the Meet & Greet is the one you secretly have a crush on?
I wonder how much grief I would have gotten if I had switched with another board member. That answer is unknowable because I didn’t ask because I had no valid reason to switch, so I consider the next problem.
Question: You’re down to six dresses, three skirts, seven blouses and one lightweight sweater. What do you wear?
I iron my whitest blouse, pull on hose and take the time to make sure my deep green pencil cut skirt is exactly centered. My desire is to look hot and cold at the same time. I’m seeking equilibrium as I tack my hair into a loose bun, apply mascara and wish I were ten years younger and twenty pounds lighter. Or vice versa.
Question: If it normally takes you eight minutes to reach the school and you need to be there by 5:00pm, at what time do you leave, assuming it is now 4:39.
Answer: I leave at 4:55.
Bonus Question: What, if anything, do you hope to gain from attending this event?
I let the answer percolate as I drive. I walk into the media center, spot Pete, want to hide, then head toward the punch bowl.
Calista dive-bombs like I’m a fresh carcass. Her, “There you are!” sounds so happy to those who don’t know her well.
I say, “Hey, Calista.”
She says, “I was just talking to Pete and he said you didn’t call him.”
I stare at her, completely flummoxed. How in the world am I supposed to decipher her subtext? She’s posed a riddle Zen Masters would envy for its simple complexity. Eventually, tepidly, I smile and ask, “Was I supposed to?”
“Oh, that’s right. I think I may have mentioned it at the last board meeting just before we adjourned.”
I blink twice. “Mentioned what?”
“Well, I thought it would be great fun to have a story or something whimsical to say about the teachers we’re introducing so I told everyone to call their teachers or have coffee to get to know them before tonight.
Calculate, quickly, in your head how many minutes you could have spent in public with Pete that have now been squandered. Do not show your work or Calista will puncture you with her freshly applied French tips.
“Oh well.” I grab a plastic glass cup of punch. “I’m sure what I wrote will be fine.”
“No, go on, you have time to talk to him. Tell him what the problem is and I’m sure he’ll give you a quick quip. He’s really smart. Did you know he turned down Mensa?”
Question: If you have to talk to Pete in a small, public setting, how much of the time do you think it’s going to be apparent to onlookers that you’re flirting with him?
Answer: All of it.
“Speak of the devil, here he is.” Calista smiles and I turn my head. “Pete, this is Tara. Have you met?”
When he says, “Yes;” I say “No.”
Calista’s mouth forms an O. She is watching for the crack, something she can use to pry open Pete’s bones and suck out the marrow so she can feed her sanctimony.
He says, “I mean, I saw her in the store but we haven’t been properly introduced.”
“Which store?” She asks, brushing back a lock of bleached blond hair with black tips away from her neck.
He stares at me. “The Wal-Mart.”
“Oh,” I say, “That’s right.” I nod. I had no idea he noticed me there while I was noticing him, but that explains quite a lot.
Calista peers at us. My perceived indifference is satisfactory. She keeps her eyes on Pete; he doesn’t blink. Soon, she loses interest and backs away. I feel her hovering.
“So,” Pete says. “You want to interview me?”
“No. I wrote a brief statement from your resume. I’m sure it will be fine.”
“I suppose.” He looks around then pulls a sheet of paper out of his pocket. “But this might be better.”
I unfold and read it. The long paragraph ends with a jokey bit. I say, “Thank you.”
He nods and hands me a pen. “Calista will never believe you wrote that if you don’t at least pretend to be writing something down.”
We walk over to the bookcase that forms a partial wall and I begin to draw on the paper. While I stare at the page, Pete crosses his arms, stands close, acts like he’s my bodyguard. “She isn’t fond of you, is she?”
“I beat her crony in the election.”
“I talked to some of the other new hires at orientation.” He covers his mouth and coughs. “I was really looking forward to your call.”
“Had I known.”
“That’s what I figured.”
Calista appears. “How’s it going?” Her voice drips with pretend concern.
“Great!” We’ll start when you’re ready.”
“I thought I was going last.”
“Oh, no. Whitney thought starting with the newest board member and proceeding to John who’s held a seat the longest would be more meaningful.”
Calista slinks away, asks people to find a seat.
What percentage of the evening will you find utterly embarrassing? How much will merely be uncomfortable? Using a pie graph, shade in the amount that will be seared into your brain as the epitome of the worst “Meet and Greet” ever.
I wear out my No. 2 pencil blacking out the entire page.
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T. L. Sherwood
T. L. Sherwood is the Assistant Editor of r.kv.r.y Quarterly Literary Journal. At Literary Orphans, she serves as a fiction reader, book reviewer, and interviewer. Her most recent work appeared in New World Writing. She is the 2015 Gover Prize winner and her blog can be found here: http://tlsherwood.wordpress.
10 thoughts on “The Math Teacher Portion”
Clever structure–lots of interior reflection and spot on dialogue displaying the agonizingly self conscious protagonist. A couple of suggestions: the use of “move” in two different senses in the first paragraph was confusing, and it might help to know early on the protagonist’s gender. Another thought…should Pete’s revelation of interest in her have had a clear imapact? But a grade of A is awarded! AGB
Thank you for the read and review. I’ll definitely change the second move in the rewrite!
A very fun read, with terrific introspective snark. Loved this line: “something she can use to pry open Pete’s bones and suck out the marrow so she can feed her sanctimony.” If I were a plagiarist, I would claim it as my own. Nicely done.! 🙂
Thank you SO much CJ. Threat of plagiarism is a huge compliment!
A good tale but I have no idea as to what a pencil cut skirt is.
A typo? Thanks for the read!
So enjoyed the self quiz dispersed throughout the story. Good read.
Thank you, Paul. That means a lot to me, coming from you. 🙂
Your characters live in my neighborhood. Great work.
<3 <3 <3 Thank you Mary Jo! <3 <3 <3