She would become the most famous poet the world had ever known. Future generations would speak of her employing the same venerable, hushed tone with which they spoke of Shakespeare. Every fact about her life no matter how paltry would be dug up, endlessly speculated over, from her favorite color socks — purple — to what she liked for dinner — hot dog casserole or chicken pot pie when the crust was really dry, the inside thick, creamy…
“Vanessa, are you listening?” The teacher’s words cut through her fantasy; her stomach rumbled.
“No…” There were titters, but she wasn’t trying to be cheeky.
“I mean yes,” Vanessa said, sitting up straight, hiding her yawn behind a nose-scratch.
Mrs. Rose’s eyes looked doubly terrifying magnified behind thick lenses. Her eyes were more like thorns that pricked than roses. Vanessa had never seen a blue rose, but still…
Oh that’s good, Vanessa thought. She’d have written it down, but Mrs. Rose was staring.
Vanessa was sure she could be brilliant… at something. She always got in trouble for dreaming in class, but she just had so many ideas. If only she had the guts to share them, everyone would know how talented —
“If you’ll complete the problem then.”
Mrs. Rose held out her chalk. Vanessa approached the board walking as slowly as she could. She was the condemned. She heard the drums rolling, bowed her head penitently: “Madame la Marquise, you’re condemned to beheading until you’re dead without a head for the crime of… daydreaming.”
They’d just read A Tale of Two Cities in English, and it was the best of times as opposed to this: the worst of times. It wasn’t that she hated math, but Mrs. Rose was so sarcastic. Vanessa was more nervous about Mrs. Rose snidely commenting on her comportment than about balancing the equation incorrectly. She bit her lip, prayed there were no grass stains on her skirt, that she would not so much as lift one foot and earn last week’s reproof: “This is math not a jig”.
If x=3, then y… y…
“Oh dear, I think we have a poet in our midst.”
Vanessa whirled around. Mrs. Rose held Vanessa’s notebook.
She was smiling, thumbing through the pages.
“That’s private,” Vanessa said, surprising even herself.
Mrs. Rose only snorted derisively and continued to read, silently at least. The whole class hardly breathed; they were waiting for a show– a Mrs. Rose Special. Then something strange happened.
Mrs. Rose’s shoulders rose and fell. She breathed in deeply, shutting her large, pale eyes for a moment, looking just then like any tired morning commuter on the bus, Vanessa thought, standing there defeated in search of a seat. Vanessa steeled herself.
“Where did you copy this?” Mrs. Rose said, dropping the notebook back onto Vanessa’s desk.
“I didn’t copy it,” Vanessa said.
Mrs. Rose said nothing, her pale eyes inscrutable as ever behind those coke bottle glasses.
Nervous laughter filled the room, but there was an instant hush when Mrs. Rose turned around.
“All right, then, who knows what ‘y’ should come out to?”
After Mrs. Rose got her answer she only told her tagline joke — those who can do, those who can’t teach and those who really can’t do anything fail math — before letting Vanessa mercifully return to her seat.
But when the bell rang at the end of the endless hour, Mrs. Rose called out Vanessa’s name.
“So it’s a private show,” Vanessa thought, sighing, stuffing her notebook into her bookbag, wending her way to the teacher’s desk while the other students streamed out the door like refugees seeking succor from the blitz.
“Your PSATs are coming up next year, Vanessa. I want you to try harder to pay attention in class. To pay attention to details,” Mrs. Rose said in her sharp staccato, sorting a stack of pop quizzes. Then she added, looking up: “If you didn’t copy that, and frankly I don’t know if I believe you, you really have something special. That line… about sitting and praying in the wind.”
Her tone was almost soft. The sunlight from the window behind her shone so her glasses were like two white, glowing stones shielding her expression: “That explains why you’re always daydreaming, I suppose. But keep it for after math class, all right?”
She sounded tired and sad. Suddenly Vanessa wanted so badly to share with Mrs. Rose what she’d shared with no one — her hopes and dreams that she really was special, might one day be world-famous, revered, a Nobel Laureate. The next Shakespeare! That or a film star. But the “frankly I don’t believe it” was a chasm her words would fall into. No words would ever bridge the distance between them. She nodded, but again Mrs. Rose wasn’t looking at her, back to her famous pop quizzes.
“Yes, Mrs. Rose.”
She never took that notebook out in any class again.
In later years, Vanessa would read on Facebook how Mrs. Rose died of an aneurysm while home convalescing from flu. Vanessa was a journalist then, married with two little daughters who delighted in Dr. Seuss rhymes and fairy tales their mother made up for them about girls who “could be anything they’d like to be” — though so far the requests were only for princesses. She was surprised when teardrops formed after reading the short post one of Mrs. Rose’s math prodigies had written.
“Was Mrs. Rose one of those special teachers?” her husband asked her when she read it to him while he washed up their dinner things.
“Not really,” Vanessa said, dashing away the moisture with the back of her hand, pretending she was just yawning. “She wasn’t special. She wasn’t special at all.”
But remembering how tired, how sad Mrs. Rose had looked that once behind her mask and how she probably never had a chance to sit and meditate in the sun and wind, Vanessa did mourn in that moment for Mrs. Rose.
Izzy David writes, reads, occasionally acts and frequently tends to an ever-expanding family of animals. Her stories, essays and poetry have appeared in Everyday Fiction, The First Line Literary Magazine and Apollo’s Lyre. Her one-act play “I Wear My Sunglasses At Night” was recently featured in The Friend Me Festival at Centerstage in Manhattan. She lives in Brooklyn.