His ball playing had tripled the attendance to high school games over the past four years. Everyone wanted to see his talents as the best slugger and runner. He proved he was a big league contender year after year. The audience cheered every time he flipped his bat at the opponents after a home run. Teachers granted superior grades when his winning charm set them up for the best seats.
That’s why it was hard to stuff the counselor’s pale pink notice deep into his breast shirt pocket. Pink notices were warnings. He tapped it flat, not wanting other students to question him about the mid-term grade. If he had had more time between classes, he would have burned it.
He chided himself for thinking this thought as he slid his derriere onto the oak desk seat in his College Preparation English class. The note was about the fact that the English teacher, Mr. Sini, had listed him with a D grade. Professional agents were scheduled to see James perform this weekend and if he were offered a scholarship, there was no way around it but to inform them of this failing grade.
He took off his ball cap and stuck it into his rear pocket. He swallowed his gum. Both items were okay for other classes but forbidden by the school board by unanimous vote. Sini was the only teacher to still wear a suit and tie and the only one who rated everyone by these standard rules and regulations, as though he were preparing his students for life and death positions such as astronauts or cold war spies.
James pulled out a pen and sheet of paper from his notebook. The last bell of the day had rung but Sini wasn’t in the classroom. He would predictably appear after the students had started work on the essay topic which was written on the chalk board before them. Any student talking or ignoring the task would earn detention, or worse yet, warrant a pop quiz for everyone. James had seen a student cry in the cafeteria when he received a failing English grade and lost an athletic scholarship.
His armpits sweating, James wrote a sentence. He read it back to himself. Then tore the paper up and tossed it to the waste basket. He started again, this time shaking his head. He set the pen down and rubbed his face with both hands. Encouraging words from his coach filled his ears. Replays of great catches in right field and seconds of safely touching a base before the call whipped behind his eyes. He rubbed his eyes and then looked at the clock. He had only a few minutes left to finish the assignment. He squirmed. Sini was the only pitcher in his life he couldn’t read. He threw fast balls that James couldn’t return.
He began again and instead of giving up, he made himself keep writing.
Sini entered the room like a player running home from third base. He dropped a stack of papers onto the surface of the desk set before the chalk board but no one looked at him, all heads focused on their work. He stood with both hands on the desk top and scanned the quiet room. He nodded approval. He announced there were an additional five minutes until the papers had to be turned in for today’s grade. He then sauntered between the rows of desks, pausing while he read someone’s paper, sometimes commenting and then moving on to the next student. James shook his head, fearful there might be enough time left for Sini to peer over his shoulder.
Once the time was up, the papers were passed up the rows to the front desk where Sini picked them up. He marched them to his desk and put them into a drawer for grading later.
James put his pen back in the notebook. He knew the rest of the hour was spent with Sini criticizing student work. In the past, one of his papers had been used as an example of what not to do. He had described one of his characters in an essay as “nauseous.” Sini had displayed the hand written paper on the classroom wall using an overhead projector. It enlarged the 81/2 by 11 inches to the size of a billboard on the wall. He had circled the word with a thick ball point pen.
“James,” he said, “this word means sickening to contemplate. I think you meant to write “nauseated. This means sick to the stomach.” I nodded to him that he was right. He added with a harrumph, “Do not, then say your character felt nauseous unless you were sure he had that effect on others.”
The fellow students laughed at the remark which had created red spots on the center of James’ cheeks. He had wished he had a dugout to escape the embarrassment.
Today James braced his knees against the support bars of his desk. So far several papers had demonstrated good use of language. One writer had written “He knew he could do it.” Instead of “He knew that he could do it.” Sini praised another writer for only using “he said” and “she said” instead of “he said consolingly” or “she relied grumblingly” because a writer should let the conversation disclose these manners or conditions.
The muscles in James’ legs relaxed as the minutes rolled by, he was convinced he would be released without shame from this hour. But within the last five minutes, Sini turned to look upon James and smiled. James tightened his grip on the edges of the desk top.
“We have a beautiful use of metaphor in the next paper. James,” he said, “what is a metaphor?”
The ball player’s tongue stuck like glue to the bottom of his mouth. He cleared his throat and whispered, “It’s a comparison.”
Sini beamed. “Dear heart you are so right.”
James eyes widened at his use of this endearing term he usually saved for the favored few.
There on the wall was his cursive scrawl but circled with a wide arc were the words “the violin was a melodic figurine between her arms.”
On to top of the page was the letter grade of “B.”
James rolled his head back and roared with relief.