story by EMILY ALFORD
I’m not the only one who raises a hand when Mrs. Honeycutt asks if anyone has read Keats. Two or three other girls, who are all equally blonde and almost identical in their Doulouse henleys and pleated skirts, raise their hands at exactly the same time I do, so I get a little flutter in my stomach when she looks past them at me.
“Madison,” she says like she’s not actually sure that’s my name. It’s only the second week of school, and all the teachers are still calling us by our names every chance they get and looking relieved for a second when we smile in recognition, like they’re crossing us off on a mental checklist. The Doulouse brochure, with its action shots of girls leaning attentively over our old-fashioned desks, girls who went on to Cambridge, New Haven, the other Cambridge, promised that we would form “long lasting, personal relationships with our professors and mentors,” that we might even be invited to “their personal residences, most right on campus.” My parents nearly peed themselves when they read that. Still, I can imagine Mrs. Honeycutt putting me on some private list of girls she likes, thinking, Madison, the bright girl who talks in class.
“And which of his poems have you read?”
Two things happen at once. I can hear Dr. Rogers telling me to take time out when I’ve lied, count ten, and see if I can’t fix it. As I hear that, I also hear myself say, “All of them. His collected works.”
And now it’s become a lie I can’t take back.
“Wow,” Mrs. Honeycutt says. She’s opened her eyes wide and is talking to me like I’m a four-year-old who’s said her father is the President. “And which is your favorite?”
I do count ten now. Dr. Rogers told me that when I get caught in a lie, it’s best to admit it, apologize, and try to move forward, but he’s never been in a classroom at a prep school three states from home, surrounded by staring girls he’s never spoken to, all waiting to laugh. I can do two things, say Kubla Kahn, since it’s open in front of us, and I have actually read it. But that seems too easy. I can shrug and do what Dr. Rogers told me. I could say, “I must have been mistaken. Sorry.”
I do neither. Instead, I say, “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner,” trying to sound super confident, like a contestant on Jeopardy. I did read that, some of it anyway, last year at my other school, and I’m almost sure it was by Keats.
Mrs. Honeycutt smiles at me again like she’s my kindergarten teacher and says in that same slow voice, “That’s Coleridge, Madison, but same time period.” Then she claps her hands once. “Good,” she says and turns to the board to write the word, “Romanticism.” I know she turned away because she’s embarrassed for me, just like I don’t have to be able to hear the whispers coming from the circle of blonde heads beside me to know what they’re saying. Liar.
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