1 | 2 |
3 | 4 |
5 | 6 |
7 | 8 |
9 | 10 |
11 | 12 |
13 | 14 |
were in rows, me in the back row, and before long, only three of
us were left. It was then, looking at the other two contestants
Allison Witherow and Sammy Finley, a long shot that I realized Mary
Beth was no longer on stage. I hadn't seen her stumble. The school
principal, Mr. Ridgeway, had been throwing the toughest words at
us, going up and down the lines, hitting each student with a sinker.
He was a tall man, bald, smelling of cigars, and he sounded so bored,
so uninterested, that each word he pitched seemed to drop on the
floor with the spittle that flew from his thick, wet lips. "Sorry,"
he would say flatly before moving on to the next student.
at Mother. She was so close now, and clear, that I could see the
half-dollar buttons on the front of her dress were bone white, not
pearl white or alabaster, not plastic shiny, but bone, bone white.
Her eyes were so close that I saw how they caught each of Mr. Ridgeway's
words and reflected them back to me clean as a cue card.
Allison was out, and then Sammy Finley. "Sluice," a short, easy
word, but Sammy couldn't see it. He forgot the "i." I saw it a long
trough of water and remembered the "i." For the longest time I stood
there expecting I don't know what, perhaps for Mr. Ridgeway to toss
another word, before I realized that I was the only one left and
that all of the clapping was for me.
ushered offstage and made to wait in the dark for what seemed like
forever. What happened to Mary Beth? Where was she? It wasn't until
I was brought back on stage with the winners from the other two
contests -- seventh and eighth grades -- that I realized we were
to be pitted against one another in a final spell-off. I thought
we were going back for our prizes. Mary Beth had never mentioned
a spell-off. What would we have done? Before I knew it, I was in
line with the other two winners, and Mr. Ridgeway was pitching words
audience was still. Mother looked enormous. She nodded ever so slightly,
as if she had read my thoughts and agreed. I hadn't a prayer in
hell; the other contestants were older. Yet 11 words later it was
between me and the eighth grader, a gawky boy with horn-rimmed glasses
who looked like he could spell the dictionary backward and forward.
"Argillaceous," of or having to do with clay, clay-like. He forgot
the second "l." I didn't. Iris Gonzales. My name sounded through
the loudspeakers, and the stunned crowd looked as if they were expected
to rise up in unison and spell it back. Mr. Ridgeway handed me a
certificate and then slipped a silver medal strung with blue ribbon
over my neck. When I turned and found the other contestants standing
at the edge of the stage, I saw that they were looking at me just
as Mr. Ridgeway was: with disbelieving eyes. You'd think a Martian
had landed right in front of them, and her name was Iris.