I just finished edits on a new short story called The Red Circle. It is different from a lot of what I have been writing lately, but I like it a lot.
The Red Circle
I loved kindergarten. I was so smart. My classmates thought so, at least. They would copy my work, which I thought was a very good thing. Everyone wanted to lay near me during nap time, and Ms. Lane used my work as an example more than anyone else. I could read and write better than anyone else, and at the October school assembly, I read a poem I wrote about my fish and an inchworm that lived on its bowl. The principal sent my poem to the American Association for Young Writers, and they gave me an award for ambition and talent. I won an award at the district art show for my age group. At their parent-teacher conference, Ms. Lane told my parents she thought I was bright enough to skip first grade. I heard her say that to them, sitting between the two in a red plastic chair, but I pretended I didn’t and kept my gaze above Ms. Lane’s shiny brown hair on the number chart on the wall. I was trying to think of a way to slip into the conversation that I had them memorized up to one hundred. I never got the chance, but Ms. Lane did say that I was very prepared to take on the challenges of second grade, and I might be bored and unengaged in a first-grade class.
Every Monday, Ms. Lane brought in a chocolate chip cookie. It would be sitting on a napkin her desk when we filed into the classroom and took our seats in the morning, and at snack time Ms. Lane would give it to whoever she felt was a model student that day. I got it every week for the first four weeks of school, and on the fifth week, Ms. Lane took me out into the hallway. She said she had to give the cookie to someone else that day because it was only fair that other students got a chance to earn it. But, she said, she still thought I deserved something for my model behavior. She handed me a small pink eraser, shaped like a monkey’s head. I held it tight in my hand. It smelled fruity. Back in the classroom, I set it on the corner of my desk. It smiled at me, and I smiled back. I couldn’t stop smiling, in fact, and I was still smiling when I got off the school bus at home. The words _special_ and _favorite_ had been wringing in my head all day, words I knew Ms. Lane would probably never say out loud to me, but I hoped so hard she was thinking. I think it was almost like praying, the way I would rub my little pink monkey and hope, hope, hope that she saw how different I was, how much better I was. Of course I didn’t look down on my friends in class, I just knew they looked up to me.
I remember the day, early in November, when Ms. Lane had us cut shapes out of construction paper. She drew the shapes on the board in colored markers. I cut out a green square. Easy. I lined my ruler up with the edge of the paper and traced my line before cutting. The class saw this, abandoned their lopsided first attempts, and got a ruler from the supply cabinet. A Blue triangle. This presented a new challenge until I realized that folding the paper diagonally created two triangles. I gave one to a friend who was still struggling with her square. Next was a red circle. I took my piece of construction paper and started turning it in my small hands, cutting around and around. When I arrived back to where I started, I looked down at my paper and realized it wasn’t circular at all. I looked up on the wall, where a poster of the shapes hung. I looked from the shape in my hands to the smiling circle on the poster. They didn’t match. I didn’t worry though. I could see the uneven part, so I went back with my scissors and trimmed it away. When I finished I compared my circle to the poster again. Mine was still wrong. The smiling circle on the poster knew something I didn’t. Back again with my scissors, and the circle was still wrong. Again, I tried to trim away the irregularities, and the circle on the wall watched me, along with my class, and slivers of red paper fell around my hands, cutting and cutting the paper. My hands clenched down hard on the scissors. My vision blurred, and the smiling circle had started to scare me. It thought I was stupid. Everyone in class probably thought I was stupid. I cut and cut, going around and around. The circle got smaller and smaller. I could feel tears running down my cheeks, so I lowered my head to focus even closer on my cutting. I think my tears were becoming increasingly audible because Ms. Lane came to my side and started to speak to me. It’s okay, she said. My hands grabbed the kid scissors tight, staring at my oblong sorry excuse for a circle. Ms. Lane reached for my circle, but before she could grab it, I jolted upright, and the open blade of my scissors caught Ms. Lane across the cheek.
The classroom was silent. Ms. Lane’s cheek was bleeding. I started to sob and ran to the bathroom, knocking my monkey off the desk, throwing my scissors on the floor and grabbing my red circle.
I sat in the bathroom and thought about my monkey. Ms. Lane would probably take it away now, I thought. Everyone thought I was stupid. I was still crying, but the tears had stopped.
I took the red circle out of my pocket. It was the size of a quarter, maybe a little bigger.
And it was a perfect circle.
I smiled. I beamed. I stood up and walked out of the bathroom, circle in hand. Ms. Lane wasn’t in the classroom when I got back, but nevertheless, I held the circle above my head for my friends to admire. I looked over to the circle on the wall. Mine was identical. The circle on the wall smiled at me.
“Look at my circle you guys! It’s perfect!”