My dog and I are reading comic books.
Well, he cant read, and I dont read well, but
I know a lot of words and can point
to the pictures. When he pays attention
he sniffs them. His nose is what he sees with,
I guess. He has eyes but he smells better.
He doesnt have much patience. hes like me
at school: I listen to the teacher and
I follow her around the blackboard, which
is really green, and I nod my head for
yes and shake my head for no and just when
I think Ive got my multiplication
tables down or remember the square root
of 225, I think, Whats the use,
and they go out of my mind like an owl
out a barn off to swoop down on a mole.
Still, I manage to learn enough to pass.
I can ace third grade with Cs as well as
As. But Fathers a principal, and Mothers
a teacher. I hate to disappoint them
but I always do. I have a brother
and two sisters and they do good in school
but I dont have whatever they have. Like
brains. I just dont catch on. Grandmother says,
Perhaps your talents lie elsewhere, and smiles.
That means that she loves me but feels sorry
for me. And when I take report cards home
Im only bringing back bad news. After
dinner they want to see it. It gets passed
around the table. From Mother I get
What a pity. My brother belly-laughs.
My sister mumbles as she points at Cs
and Ds. Then father lights a True and stares
so hard at the marks that I think his eyes
will set it on fire, like Superman with
his heat vision. He reaches for his
pen—its in his jacket pocket, as if
hes carrying a concealed weapon. He
looks at me, or through me, then signs his name.
I just want you to know, he says, that were
very disappointed in you. Therefore,
he continues, youll get no allowance
for the next two months—not until you pull
up these unacceptable grades. I groan
—I get just twenty-five cents a week, enough
for two comic books and the penny tax.
I dont know what to say, and Im scared, so
I fall back on politeness. Yes, sir. Uh,
I say. Ill try to do better next time.
See that you do, he says, although you say
that every time you bring a poor report
card home. Mind you, not that youve ever brought
a good one. I can explain that, I say.
Please do so, Father says. Were listening.
They really are, all five of them. Theyre like
a thumb and four fingers and theyre squeezing
me with their anticipation. You see,
I say, Im not too bright but I work hard
but I dont get results but I deserve
some credit for my efforts. Like I say,
I try hard, I really do, and I learn
things but they sort of leave me. What you mean,
Father says, is that your retention is
poor. Thats it, I say. (Im eager now). And
whats more, learning just dont stay with me long.
Everybody laughs at me, together,
as if Ive just told a real humdinger.
Well, Mother says, brushing her laughter-tears
away, we love you anyway. Dont we,
everyone? No one answers. My sister
finally spouts, Oh, sure. Whats not to love?
Brother grimaces, then quickly says, Nope.
I look to father—I always look to
Father. But now I mean for his reply.
Well, he says, whats love got to do with it?
He lights another True. They have plastic
filters. I swiped one and dissected it
one time. If you look real close at the end,
the end that goes in your mouth, the mouthpiece,
I guess, it looks like the emblem on a
Mercedes-Benz. I almost tell him so
but hed ask me what Im doing looking
so closely at cigarettes. Im just
nine years old. I cant make the grade but I
think Im getting smarter. I say so: Well,
theres smart and then theres smart, I say. Thats right,
Brother says. And you aint neither. Am so,
I retort. Which, he asks—first or second?
Yes, I scream. Now hes got nothing to say.
After supper I hit the books. Science.
Albert Einstein. Special Relativity.
And so I read about the twins, one who
goes into space, the lucky bum, and the
other, who stays on earth, if not at home,
and greets his twin when he comes down to earth.
But his spaceman-brothers hardly older
than when he left, and his stay-at-home sib
is twenty years older. That dont make sense
but thats knowledge for you. No wonder my
gray matter cant remember anything
—its all too stupid. Its too much like life.
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