Reservoir Avenue School was a red brick, two-story building for students in grades kindergarten to fifth. Miss Moore taught second grade, and everybody knew about Miss Moore. Miss Moore once got mad at a boy and choked him around the neck so hard that blood came out of his mouth, and he died. That’s what they knew. That’s what all the kids knew.
There was no escape.
There was no other second-grade teacher. Miss Moore’s desk was in the front of the room, with the students’ desks arranged in rows facing her. Wooden desks they were, with the chairs attached. The desktops had a space for an inkwell in the upper right-hand corner, although students were not allowed to practice their penmanship in ink until the third grade. The desks were hinged; books were stored inside. One of these books was the second-grade speller, a small — probably 5 x 8 — paperback with a buff-colored cover and bound with string.
During spelling period, in unison and in loud clear voices, the class would attack a column of words, syllable by syllable, before spelling them. It was boring work. One day, She noticed that the string binding was starting to fray. She picked at it a bit, and it frayed a little more. Soon that stitch had parted. The next day, She picked a little more and by the end of spelling period, another stitch had come loose. By the end of the second week, not a single stitch remained intact. That day the whole book came apart in her hands.
She had not expected that to happen. Fortunately, the class was about to move onto reading. She stuffed the speller in her desk. Somehow — She does not know to this day how it happened — the pages decided to wander. When Miss Moore called out the page to be worked on, She would frantically rummage through them to find the correct one. She would put it in her lap and recite from that position. The only way She was able to accomplish this without detection was that her desk was the last one in the second row.
She knew that eventually she would be discovered. She had visions of Miss Moore choking her until blood dribbled down her chin, maybe even until her neck was broken. She did not know what to do. She crossed her fingers on both hands and wished as hard as she could. Nothing happened. She watched for signs. If there were three red cars in a row . . . If it rained hard on Monday and then there was a rainbow . . . if she jumped backwards all the way to the corner and didn’t land on a crack in the sidewalk . . . If any of those things happened, then the speller would become intact. Alas, the three red cars and the rainbow never materialized. She twisted her ankle jumping backwards half-way to the corner. The speller remained as disconnected as ever.
She’d heard of miracles, so she started praying for one. Apparently, God had more important things to do, and nothing changed. Finally, in desperation, She told her mother what had happened. “Bring home all the pages,” her mother said. When She did, her mother rearranged them in their proper order.
“Just bring this to Miss Moore,” her mother said.
“But I can’t. You do it for me.”
“Nonsense, I‘m too busy. You’ll have to do it yourself.”
No amount of pleading would change her mother’s mind. Not even, “But Miss Moore might kill me,” which generated an exasperated sigh and, “I’ve heard just about enough of this.”
The matter was settled. The next day, just before the first class started, She crept up to Miss Moore’s desk.
“This is broken,” She whispered, holding out the speller, now intact but for its missing binding.
She watched Miss Moore examine the book, expecting at any time that the hands holding the book would shortly be around her neck. She stepped back, cringing.
Miss Moore looked up. “I’ll get you another one,” she said.
And then a miracle did happen.
Miss Moore smiled.