"The problem with you," her teacher mumbled, "is that you haven't got any endurance."
She stood at the front of his desk and twisted the hem of her cotton dress in her hands. "I know, sir," she said, hoping more than anything that he would leave it at that.
"Yessir, the problem with you is that you just don't have any endurance at all." He was leaning over his desk, languidly swishing at the air with a limp hand as he drawled on. "Not an ounce." Straightening the papers on his desk-- but failing to straighten his back-- he released her from his steady gaze for just an moment. She took a deep breath, and when he looked at her again, she was still, save the nervous wringing of her fingers.
"Do you have any idea why I asked you to stay after class today?"She shook her head. Even if she had her suspicions, he would want to work all the way through it, plodding on in that slow, ambling voice. He wasn't one to listen, really, just one to talk.
"It's because of your essay. You were doing really well up until about halfway through, and you just kind of quit. You were doing really well. And then in the third paragraph, you've got a story. What was that story about, hmm?"Fixing her eyes on the edge of the desk, she bit the inside of her lip briefly. She wanted to leave, and she wanted to leave right now.
"It's about my uncle, sir."
"You're right, it was about your uncle. And why was a story about your uncle in an essay about the Ancient Egyptians, hmm?"
She knew he was patronizing her, even if she didn't know that was the word for the way he was talking to her. Even if he didn't realize he was doing it. She wasn't stupid.
Before she could answer he waved a hand. "You know what, don't answer that. Don't even answer it. It doesn't matter why it was in there; what matters is that it shouldn't have been." He folded his hands. His long fingers slipping together reminded her of the way a snake coils up on itself, smooth and liquid.
He said something, but she didn't hear it. "What?" she asked, timidly.
"I said that your essays would get better grades if you would stay on course. You started out so strong, and if you had just stayed on course, you could've had a really nice essay about the Ancient Egyptians. Try to keep your uncle's anecdotes out of your essays next time, all right, unless he actually has something to do with the Ancient Egyptians, all right?"
She didn't know what an anecdote was, but she did know that her uncle had everything to do with Ancient Egyptians. That story, the one in her paper, he had told her while they were riding home from visiting the Met, and they had just been all over every Ancient Egyptian artifact in the building. He had told it to her because she was nervous about her essay, and she hadn't got any ideas, and he said it was always good to think of a good story before trying to write a paper, because it got your juices flowing, and you were bound to get an A+, which is what she had wanted. It was about a man he had met on the tube, a man in a bowler hat who had a tiny little dog and a funny mustache who only wanted to discuss cheeses. It was a fantastic story, she had thought-- a great story to get the juices flowing, bound to get her an A+.
And when he had dropped her off at her apartment, where her mom had cookies and milk waiting for both of them, she started off writing that essay perfectly. But about halfway through, she realized that whatever she could write in her paper was not half as fascinating as the story her uncle had told her on the metro, and so she decided to share it instead. It had everything to do with the Ancient Egyptians, see? They were coming back from the museum to write that same essay. She wasn't running out of endurance. She was gaining it, if only he would stay around and listen to her story she could go on about the Ancient Egyptians without losing any steam. Somebody can only talk about the Ancient Egyptians for so long before having to think about their uncle, or a man with a bowler hat and a funny dog, or somebody anyway, to get their juices flowing again.
But of course she didn't say any of this to her teacher, because he was already telling her where she went wrong, and how right where she went wrong was where that silly story about her uncle was.
He waved his hand again. He was always waving those large, limp hands around, just like a very bored and utterly boring conductor. "You're free to go, of course. But try to stay on point, hmm? This paper would have been perfect, if you had just kept up your endurance."
"Yes sir," she said, ducking her head. She snatched her paper and started for the door, but she paused right in the frame. "Sir?"
He looked up, eyes tired. "What is it?"
"Respectfully, that story about my uncle wasn't silly, and I think it was the best part of the whole essay, sir."
Before he could say anything, she darted out the door and was gone, the sound of her shoes pattering on the empty hall floor as she ran toward the door.
He smiled a little and rubbed his eyes with a hand. "The problem with you," he mumbled to himself, "is that you haven't got any endurance." Turning back to his papers, he picked up his red pen again, and the slamming of the school door echoed down the hallway.