“Isabella, not Isabelle,” she snaps at me. She's wearing a velvet skirt and her dark hair is cut to her jaw. “What?” she snarls, stepping closer to me. I don’t respond. I never do. Instead, I retreat to the corner where three kids squeeze Play-Doh. We avoid eye contact with each other and roll the clay into long snakes before squashing them with our fingers. We don’t mix the colours.
I complain to Liam that people tended to mock my surname. "It sounds like the word 'lake,' " he says. I tell the teacher that Liam made fun of my last name, Laycock. Her eyes go wide and she raises her eyebrows, pushing her neat, auburn wig higher on her head. She scolds Liam and asks him where he learned 'the word'. "
he says. "No, the other word—."
She purses her lips, looks at both of us, and returns to her desk.
Mrs. Hamilton explains to us that our small reading group is made up of the advanced kids. Our classmates prefer the term 'nerds'. In our teacher’s mini office, we read a book about a girl who misses her favourite treat of salty duck eggs. The rest of the students read books with morals back in the classroom. Mrs. Hamilton gives our group a piece of gum each and makes us promise not to tell the other kids.
Michael, the class clown, stumbles into the classroom. Madame rolls her eyes at him and orders everyone to sit down. The third grader girls giggle and ogle the older boys in our split class. Madame points at the plastic stoplight, which shines a bright yellow. If the noise increases enough, it rises to red, and we have to stay in five minutes after class. Michael cracks a joke and the class erupts in laughter. Madame pops two Advil into her mouth, letting the angry red of the stoplight display her decision.
In the game Around the World, we use math flashcards to stimulate quick thinking, test multiplication skills and increase the heart rate. My hands sweat and pulse quickening as my turn approaches. I stand. The answer catches in my throat: it's twenty-four! Twenty-four! Six times four equals twenty-four! My opponent beats me, pointing his finger at our teacher's face as he screams the answer. He receives a quick chastising, but moves on. I sit down and wipe my palms off on my pants. I watch as my classmates count with their fingers behind their backs, hiding their crude math methods.