“I’m Mrs. Bruner, your new teacher. And what’s your name, little girl?”
“Welcome to Sunday school, Patricia.”
I’m glowing when Mrs. Bruner calls me that. My new name magically transforms me. Patricia’s hair glitters with golden fairy dust. Her voice, when she sings, is a sparkly silver ribbon. She leaps and twirls about the room with help from filmy wings. And beneath her flying fingers, the crafts bounce together by themselves.
Mine do not. My crafts are glue sliming my fingers like snail-ooze. Scissors slashing leak-holes straight through Noah’s Ark. Crayons leaping outside the lines of Joseph’s rainbow-colored coat. They are smudges from erasers that turn everything stone-gray. Tulip bulbs that sprout nothing but tumbling dirt. And paints that splatter everything except my drawing paper.
But my new teacher, Mrs. Bruner, doesn’t need to know that. Nor does she need to know the many things that frighten me. The bathroom fan that roars like a rudely-wakened lion whenever anyone switches on the light. Ruthie’s bossy bellow when I accidentally slip across to her side of the room: “Get out of my house!” The bangs that punch my ears whenever Stewart pounds the piano. The third finger missing from the left hand of Mrs. Pringle, my old teacher.
Mrs. Bruner still has all ten of her fingers. She uses them to pull Stewart away from the piano, to reprimand Ruthie when she grows too demanding, to flick off the bathroom light and send that lion back into slumber. And right now she’s using them to show us how to make a cross—by gluing one Popsicle stick sideways against another.
Ruthie nudges who she thinks is me. “That’s wrong, dummy! You made an X, not a cross!”
I would normally shrink into myself, tears burning my eyes as they rolled out to snake down my cheeks. But today, I remember, I’m Patricia. “It’s not either one,” I say calmly. “It’s a spider. A spider with only four legs.”
“Oooooh! You’re not s’posed to make that! I’m telling!” Ruthie’s hand is spinning through the air. “Mrs. Bruner, Mrs. Bruner…”
“Just a minute, Ruthie. Wait your turn, please…. Johnny, that’s a terrific job!” Mrs. Bruner is distracted by Eric eating glue, and next she must stop Stewart from smearing it all over Bobby. She never does get round to me. Today I am Patricia, and the spider clutched inside my hands remains something right and beautiful.
It’s Memory Verse Time. “Let’s recite it all together, boys and girls. ‘I was glad when they said unto me, “Let us go into the house of the Lord…”’
Up goes my hand just as soon as we’ve all finished reciting.
“What does God do with all that lettuce?”
Mrs. Bruner frowns. “What lettuce, dear?”
“The lettuce that goes into the house of the Lord!”
I’m glowing inside. It doesn’t matter that the whole class is laughing. Or that Ruthie’s calling me dummy again. Or even that I miss most of Mrs. Bruner’s explanation. I’m Patricia! And Patricia can’t do anything wrong. When she spills her punch at Snack Time all over her dress, the stain spreads in a perfect red rose. When Mrs. Bruner takes her to the bathroom to wash up, the faucet-spray is watering the rose. The light flicked on in there is sunshine warming it, and the lion roaring inside the fan doesn’t frighten her.
Nothing frightens Patricia!
“There you are, honey!” Mommy’s wrapped her arms round me tight, and I’m still glowing. Today I can tell her that I liked Sunday school, because I got to be Patricia….
“Goodbye, Patricia!” Mrs. Bruner waves, and her smile is sunshine warming me. Until—
“Why, her name’s not Patricia! It’s Katie!”
“No! No, it’s not! It’s Patricia….” But my sobs can’t sprinkle fairy gold back into my mud-brown hair.
I stumble out the classroom with a punch stain—not a rose—smeared across the front of my dress. Questions about lettuce still whirl unanswered through my brain. The craft clutched in my hands is no four-legged spider, but simply an X. A cross made wrong. And next Sunday the bathroom lion will once again wake up and send me screaming from his roars….
Until, unless, I again become Patricia.
I’m praying that next week we get another new teacher….
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