Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: The Editor (05/27/10)
- TITLE: My Zoolander Blue-Steel Eyes
By Sally Hanan
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“Wound, Tulia, wound.” Gramma dropped her glasses down her slip-n-slide nose and frowned at me.
I tried to stare into her with my Zoolander steel-blue eyes, but they had no effect. Gramma was an editor, and when it came to grammar, she was The Immovable Rock.
She was also a genius at changing the subject. “Let’s make some chocolate muffins, shall we?” Without waiting for me to agree, as always, she began to tap the side of the flour packet on the top shelf of the pantry. She gave up and stepped back so I could reach it.
This I could do. My look of smug satisfaction when I set it on the kitchen island must have irritated her, but she didn’t let it show. I guess that’s what years of annoying people do to you—over time, you give up reacting. You’d think she’d have given up on correcting me after years of hearing bad grammar, too. . . .
“Gramma, why does my grammar matter so much to you?” I leaned over the opened cocoa can and inhaled. Big. Mistake.
It’s a good thing Gramma’s eyeballs were attached to her sockets, because they should have fallen out right about then. Her hands felt their way to the edge of the tiled countertop and turned white. Her lips pursed just like Zoolander’s (which is strange, because I thought she was too old to have watched that movie). I thought she was in shock because I was coughing like a demoniac, but no—she didn’t care about my lungs. She didn’t care about the mother ship that was launching from my nose. She didn’t care about me. It was the grammar question that stabbed her heart.
“Why, Tulia?” I could have sweared her body started to shake, too. “Why does it matter so much to me?” She shook her head from side to side and tears spurted into her eyes. “Oh, Tulia, it’s not just that it matters to me. It’s a global issue.
“Not being able to put a period in the right place, not capitalizing the first word of a sentence, and especially not knowing the correct tenses of one’s verbs . . . this lack makes one appear brainless. When I hear bad grammar, I instantly hear the words uneducated, lazy, and stupid alongside it.
“If you want a good job, if you want to marry up, and if you want people to acknowledge you are smart . . .
"You will learn correct grammar, even if it kills me.” Talking about grammar always charged her spirit. She punched the lid back on the cocoa so hard and fast it propelled a nimbus cloud of powder up her nose. The wheezing that ensued was ok, for a moment, but then her face started to turn a shade of purple I had never saw before. Her spidery finger pointed to the phone, so I ran to it and called Mom. Wrong. Thing. To. Do.
Mom called 911, but by then it was too late. I killed Gramma the day I questioned her faith in grammar.
Gramma’s been gone a few years now. I went to her grave the other day and followed the trail of her epitaph on the white tombstone. Mom let me pick out the words. She felt the same way I did about Gramma’s affection for grammatical rightness. We’re both so proud of all she’s taught us, and we wanted to reflect that in something permanent. We wanted anyone who came to her grave to read our words and know that Gramma died doing what she loved best. I reread our words and smiled—one of those warm smiles that comes from deep inside.
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