Mrs. Naughton said, “I want each of you to stand up and say your name and one thing you did this summer.” Wavy felt it building all around her. The curiosity, the watching, like butter bubbling on the skillet before she poured Kellen’s eggs in.
Down the rows they went, following the alphabet. That was how Mrs. Naughton arranged the desks, so that Wavy was near the end. Maybe something would happen before they got to her. Maybe the fire alarm would go off. Or maybe there would be a tornado like there was in the spring. They had all gone into the dark hallway behind the gymnasium and lots of kids had cried. Wavy liked it. The darkness and the strange huddling, waiting for a tornado to come and tear the school away.
Nothing like that happened. It never did when you wanted it to. Just like Mama was only Good Mama when she wanted to be. Not when you wanted her to be.
Then it was time for the girl next to Wavy to stand up. Her name was Caroline Peters and over the summer she visited her grandmother in Connecticut. And her grandmother had a Persian cat with very long white fur. And and and …
“That’s enough, Caroline,” Mrs. Naughton said. “One thing.”
Wavy saw what kind of trick it was. She had something to say. She had several things to say. She had gone to visit her cousins in Tulsa. She had learned to adjust the idle on a Harley-Davidson Softail. She had gone into the meadow and watched stars with Kellen. Her little brother had learned to walk and how to say her name. She had cooked dinner for Kellen when he was tired and he had let her take care of him. While he was asleep she had kissed him.
That was the trick. To make her want to say something, even though it wasn’t safe. Mrs. Naughton was looking at her. Frowning.
“Go ahead, dear. Stand up and say your name and one thing you did this summer. Don’t be shy.”
Shy. Like she was afraid to speak. That was a trick, too. Like the kids on the playground daring each other, saying, “What are you, chicken?” Wavy wasn’t chicken, but she wasn’t stupid enough to fall for that trick.
“Mrs. Naughton,” said Caroline Peters.
“You’ve already had your turn, Caroline.”
“That’s Wavy Quinn. She can’t talk.”
“She most certainly can talk. She chooses not to talk. And if she persists with that behavior in my classroom, it’s going to earn her a mark on the board.”
Mrs. Naughton walked to the chalkboard and wrote “Wavy Quinn” in the upper right corner. Later in the day, she put a little mark next to Wavy’s name. After recess, she also wrote “Michael Ames” and “Jimmy Didier.” Jimmy got a mark next to his name, too, but that was for talking too much.
Every day it was like that. Wavy’s name wasn’t always the first one of the board, but it always went on the board. If it hadn’t been on the board before lunch, it went on the board after lunch, because Mrs. Naughton said she had to eat lunch. Or else a mark on the board.
One day, Wavy came back from lunch and wrote her own name on the board. She liked the way her W looked better, with the pretty arches on either side and the elegant loop in the middle.
“That is not your job. I am the teacher and you are a very disrespectful little girl,” Mrs. Naughton said through clenched teeth as she erased Wavy’s name. She rewrote it with a plain W and put a mark next to it. Not eating lunch. Being disrespectful. That was what Wavy’s grade report said at the quarter. A list of every day Wavy’s name had been on the board and why.