By grade 11 she was confident in her abilities with numbers and formulas. She had an adequate reputation for being the best female in mathematics, a skill that came naturally or was inherited from her father.
Gabrielle and others were freaking out about stiff-lipped Mr. Osborne’s dramatic announcement of an oral math exam. He’d recently stated how discouraged he was by kids today and their lack of concern for his beloved mathematics.
Rumors swirled Mr. Osborne had hit a mid-life crisis and was sick of teaching. He was crusty and some said had become a secret alcoholic. The fact that he’d assigned the final as an oral math exam was his cruel revenge against the students.
The hard truth was Mr. Osborne had been correct in the first place. No one aspired to use math in their future. They planned for enough wealth to employ a computer calculator for every mathematical requirement. Why would anyone need algebra in the real world?
Eunice found playing a smart ass in class, especially at the risk of punishment kept her in good standing with Terrence and Gabrielle’s respective cliques. Secretly she was delighted the final math exam was oral. With her competitive nature she seriously aimed for the top score.
Osborne’s previous take-home had been a no brainer! Once she saw his formula patterns she’d whipped through it in seconds flat.
On the day of the exam students were clamoring and erratically gabbing about everything except algebra.
“Terrence is doing a sit in protest up in Birmingham commemorating the church bombing Saturday, are you interested Eunice?” Josh asked.
“Definitely! What time and where?” she asked.
“A field near Lizard Loop at Ruffner Mountain. Three o’clock and don’t tell a soul. Last time, the prep spot was discovered and the cops called it off before it began,” Josh said, not looking very nervous about the algebra exam.
Eunice hadn’t told her parents about Saturday. She’d need a reason that wasn’t a protest. She could say she was taking the girls to Cedar Point to check on mothers old friend Aunt Cathy. Martha or Angela usually visited her but mother wasn’t travelling these days and Angela was back in Oakland.
Eunice spun around to Gabrielle seated behind her, “Listen you guys wanna go to Cedar Point beforehand? I need to visit one of my mom’s friends. She was a Freedom Rider from Nashville. I promise you’ll love her. If anyone can get you fired up about injustice, it’s Cathy [Brooks-Burks].”
“Yea, sure, as long as we get to the Loop in time,” Gabrielle said.
“Aunt Cathy told us they were scared when rocks got hurled through the church windows…okay it’s starting tell you later.”
“Alright, everyone, take your seats. If you’re not ready for the exam you will never be ready,” Osborne said. Eunice smiled at Josh then motioned thumbs up to Gabrielle.
“Here we go. I don’t need math do I?” Gabrielle made a sucked-in cheek fish face.
Eunice was perfectly calm. She had an ace up her sleeve. She’d rely on her knack for seeing formulas take shape in front of her eyes like dancing holograms. It didn’t matter what variables Mr. Osborne threw up she was confident she would see the formula.
Lindsey went first. She was related to Sam Hood somehow. She had turned up at one of their Columbia street barbecues. Lindsey stood at the board shiny from perspiration.
As Osborne spoke in a dull voice, Lindsay scribbled along the whiteboard in green marker her bracelets made clicking sounds as they went. Right away Eunice could see Lindsay’s hologram formulas in the air.
When she was done Lindsay stopped to look for Osborne’s approval. He was first neutral then said, “Good job. Clearly Lindsay has practicing her exercises. Remember, algebra is like music, the more you practice the more it becomes a talent,” Osborne said.
The boys snickered from the back. They constantly made fun of his passion for math, “Oz probably gets a semi as in semi-erection with his passion for math. “Yea! Watching us squirm for orals is gonna make Oz blow his mind!”
The boys laughed nervously.
By the time two thirds of the class had gone, Eunice’s holograms stopped dancing. The live action animation had turned into plain old classroom. She wasn’t familiar with what Sam was writing. There weren’t too many ways to do algebra and he wasn’t doing it her way. They were mostly simpleton calcs! So simple she couldn’t see a logical pattern. Hell on wheels! There must be some tricky mistake on the assignment but no one else noticed it either. Osborne was really screwing with them.
Sam got his marked correct.
Josh went up next. He was probably the brightest of them all.
“That’s right Josh, I was completely betting against you at mid-term but you squeaked it out. Fine job,” Osborne said.
The class groaned.
“Who’s next?” Osborne looked at his sheet, “Eunice Johnston!”
“Wait Mr. Osborne,” Gabrielle said in a weak voice, “I can’t take the pressure anymore. I’m gonna barf. Let me go next please?” Gabrielle asked.
What the hell?
It was an alternate universe if Gabrielle was volunteering for anything.
“Gabrielle let’s do this!” Osborne said.
As Gabrielle wrote out formulas, she exaggerated her handwriting and added extra zeros for the classes entertainment. Osborne was quiet looking disheartened they weren’t passionate about math. Gabrielle was moderately successful in other subjects but it was only mildly shocking she bombed the exam.
“Okay Ms. Johnston. You’re up,” Osborne said.
He recited the equation. Thank God! The variables danced in the air above his opalescent skin and red hair which did not make for an attractive man. She’d often thought of style alternatives to make him remotely date-worthy. A haircut and maybe some base foundation to even out those blotches. Some ugly just couldn’t be fixed.
She scribbled out the formula in blue marker with gusto. No brainer! Her goose wasn’t cooked after all!
Her marker moved across the board like mother knitting a baby jumper for the church bazaar. She was a math genius like Jeff Goldblum in Jurrassic Park until there was a snag. Eunice foresaw two steps ahead that her solution would fail. It just wouldn’t add up.
How rude? There was no hologram.
What happened to her perfect confidence?
Perspiration broke through at her forehead. She had cultivated an analytical persona to combat being thought of as a stupid mulatto laughingstock. The class was quiet except for Osborne’s gloating grunt but she could tell the back row was dying to razz her.
“Uh, uh, uh, no, no, no Eunice. That’ll never work out. What are you playing at? Making drama for your classmates?” Oz said, with a laugh indicating even he didn’t expect her to fail.
She was frozen stiff. The energy had drained from her fingers as she couldn’t think of any mathematical recovery. Moments passed. She stood dumbfounded the blue marker dangling from her hand.
“Ms. Johnston are you quite alright. Do you need a moment?” he asked.
She knew a moment would just prolong the agony. She was completely blank. She dropped the marker to the floor.
“Unbelievable! Even your best girl Gabrielle got closer than that. It’s unprecedented,” he was gleeful. He had a reputation for destroying his students so it was her turn.
She wanted to disappear as the class erupted in chatter, followed by peals of laughter that deafened her ears. She could hear Terrence and the boys in back, noisy like crows on a wire.
Eunice turned to the unruly class, curtsied and sat in her seat. She immediately escaped to the safe spot inside herself, barely hearing Osborne’s Shakespearean soliloquy of doom, “Let this be a lesson to you all. You need to keep on top of mathematics. Each lesson builds upon the last. You can’t skate through math! No sir. Look at Eunice. Isn’t it shocking what happens when you stop trying,” he paused and looked at Terrence, “staying out late instead of keeping up with your exercises will result in failure, just as I was certain it would.”
As she ruminated on Osborne and the others reveling in her demise she thought of ways she could avenge herself from utter humiliation. Who did this pasty cracker think he was making an example of her? She was absolutely sure what he did was wrong. The motherfucker would get his!
The period end bell sounded.
By the time the bell stopped ringing she had buried her resentment as if none of it had ever happened. All’s well that ends well. In the coming weeks she successfully retook the exam in Osborne’s office with a good old fashioned pen and paper. There’s always a silver lining.
At Lizard Loop, Eunice found girl power in the form of compadre’s Gabrielle, Juliet, Patty and Arisbel. The ladies would eventually become the first members of her girl posse.
The boys were forgiven. Terrence and his chums made fun of everyone and had never given a flying squirrel fuck about Eunice’s analytical talent. It would end up an anecdote, ‘remember those grade 11 exam orals?’ and simply go down in the lexicon of high school memories.
Eunice was more concerned about losing all she had gained in popularity during the school year. Mother had told her she was going to a music camp summer as a semi-punishment for letting her grades slip. It was a punishment that would change her life’s path.