Special Relativity
Gale Acuff

My dog and I are reading comic books.
Well, he can’t read, and I don’t 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 doesn’t have much patience. he’s 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 I’ve got my multiplication
tables down or remember the square root
of 225, I think, What’s 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 C’s as well as
A’s. But Father’s a principal, and Mother’s
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 don’t have whatever they have. Like
brains. I just don’t 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
I’m 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 C’s
and D’s. 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—it’s in his jacket pocket, as if
he’s carrying a concealed weapon. He
looks at me, or through me, then signs his name.
I just want you to know, he says, that we’re
very disappointed in you. Therefore,
he continues, you’ll 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 don’t know what to say, and I’m scared, so
I fall back on politeness. Yes, sir. Uh,
I say. I’ll 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 you’ve ever brought
a good one. I can explain that, I say.
Please do so, Father says. We’re listening.
They really are, all five of them. They’re like
a thumb and four fingers and they’re squeezing
me with their anticipation. You see,
I say, I’m not too bright but I work hard
but I don’t 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. That’s it, I say. (I’m eager now). And
what’s more, learning just don’t stay with me long.
Everybody laughs at me, together,
as if I’ve just told a real humdinger.
Well, Mother says, brushing her laughter-tears
away, we love you anyway. Don’t we,
everyone? No one answers. My sister
finally spouts, Oh, sure. What’s 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, what’s 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 he’d ask me what I’m doing looking
so closely at cigarettes. I’m just
nine years old. I can’t make the grade but I
think I’m getting smarter. I say so: Well,
there’s smart and then there’s smart, I say. That’s right,
Brother says. And you ain’t neither. Am so,
I retort. Which, he asks—first or second?
Yes, I scream. Now he’s 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-brother’s hardly older
than when he left, and his stay-at-home sib
is twenty years older. That don’t make sense
but that’s knowledge for you. No wonder my
gray matter can’t remember anything
—it’s all too stupid. It’s too much like life.

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