shark and tell

Mrs. Lewis sat behind her desk, staring at us third-graders with contempt.

She did not like how show-n-tell was going even though she had dictated our theme. Instead of stuffed animals and spelling trophies, she demanded we bring a piece of our pet. Not the animal itself or any seething scraps but something that symbolized Rover or “whatever” we owned.

“I don’t want to see anything live in here,” she said.

Her voice was like gravel eating itself.

“Nothing that crawls and if it sheds in any way, you get an F.”

Mrs. Lewis hated teaching. Mrs. Lewis hated us.

“Bring something worth looking at or we won’t be doing this again,” she hissed.

We knew it was true. Mrs. Lewis never lied and Mrs. Lewis never laughed. Our teacher, built like a wall of angry polyester, never moved without venom and a cigarette.

The last time she took a smoke break and told us not to get out of our desks, we all suffered. Timmy Leach decided to moonwalk from his dunce corner to the chalkboard. Mrs. Lewis returned just in time to see him backslide into our tilted globe.

She made us stand on our chairs for fifteen minutes while she skimmed Reader’s Digest. Laura Stickler cried and then we had to write “I will not disobey Mrs. Lewis” one hundred times in cursive before we were allowed to go out for recess.

Now after Suzanne Stambough had shown the class Mr. Sneezy’s hand-knit Christmas sweater and Marcus Stein had passed around Ken the Wonder Weasel’s ashes, it was my turn to present a pet-related relic.

I stood at the front of the class. Pigtails, flared Wranglers, Tom McCann buckle ups. I took a deep breath and reached into my back pocket. I pulled out a shark’s tooth as big as my fist. The great white that lost it must have been twenty-feet long, six-feet wide cheek-to-cheek. A leathery man in cutoffs had given it to me on the shores of Honolulu after I asked him if he had ever seen a shark. He had closed his eyes and patted his heart as if he had survived a beating from the beast. He handed me the tooth without words and walked away.

I considered the tooth my greatest gift. I held it up over my head so everyone could see my piece of a predator. No one moved.

The classroom was silent except for Laura’s choking tears. Mrs. Lewis looked at me like I had blown my nose in her ashtray.

“Jesus,” she said. “If there was something bigger than an F, I’d give it to you.”

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