I sat there for a moment, feeling the support of the two tiny legs of the red stool. Before that day, I’d never been relegated to the corner. It’s not that I was a “goody two-shoes” – a phrase which came over to this country along with my parents’ generation and is not native to this land, mind you – I was just never paying attention enough to be doing the wrong thing, hence never getting into trouble. I never really considered that I was doing myself a favor by keeping my lack of interest to myself, I just preferred to think about other things. The sound of arithmetic only made me think of the word tick, so I was out from the get-go. Tick made me think of Bartholomew Tick, a man that had literally written the book on colonization in this new land, or at least the most dogmatic one. That’s why father admired him. However there was, as I saw it, an ebb and flow to the words in his pages that could only have been written by a man loyal to the land of our forefathers. He may have written it for the colonies, but he was as royal as the jewels on King George’s crown. That’s why I admired him. The wool wasn’t over his eyes, and I prided myself on believing the same. They were just words on a page, but I could hear him speaking to me as I imagined, always with that received pronunciation that I cherished. As he wanted, no one in the colonies had ever crossed paths with him. He was a man shrouded in mystique. Although, if you were to stumble into the camps at night you would hear tales of the lucky ones who had supposedly met him.
That was the first lesson Bartholomew Tick taught me; that in times of incertitude and wander, people need a shepherd, even if his true allegiance lies elsewhere. He taught me that words, like deities, are immortal and are thereby a foundation of faith. He must have came over with the generation before my father’s, laying the trail of gunpowder throughout the colonies his whole life, only to set it ablaze on his way out. I always thought he was the kind of man who wouldn’t turn to watch it catch fire, confident in its chemistry. Father approved of my interest in his work, believing I was educating myself on how to be the most patriotic American boy I could hope to be, but I found comfort in the subtle foreignness of his words. I felt like there was a special message in the spaces between that which was just for me, and somewhere he was nodding in approval. It worked out well, because father would buy me books just as fast as I could read them. Tick’s ruse on the colonists was not unlike mine on my father. I did know that the air carried with the knowledge of failure and history, and that they’re one in the same. I knew then that the world is a damn big place, and that I wouldn’t see it all. Not even close. Maybe not even outside of what were then the twelve colonies. I may have been seven-years-old at the time, (and internalizing this information much less profoundly than I am now in reflection), but I knew what I was doing. I was growing up. I was learning every day. And it wasn’t that it surprised me, but every time I learned something, or failed at something, I would get that same jolt in the left side of my neck and the top of my right foot as if I had been genuinely surprised. Frankly, I looked forward to it and eventually could see it coming. My neck would thank me later for saving it the jarring.
By this time in my tangentially weaved stream of consciousness, I would sense Mr. Barrow’s head browse to my side of the classroom. Here we go, I thought. “Blake.” Yep. “Could you please tell the class the answer to question number seven?” Mr. Barrow was always sure to harden his vowel sounds, but he really brought the artillery this time upon speaking the word “class”. It wasn’t even the kind of hard “a” that goes with “apple”, but more like that of the sound made right before the exhale of a cantankerous sneeze. Bartholomew Tick’s voice was ringing in my head saying “clawwsse”. Like a woman’s best night dress, much more elegant and less strung-up. Without moving my arm, I thrust my eyeballs towards the square paper laying cockeyed on my square desk and thought that maybe somebody had discovered the diamond shape by laying on their side and looking at what was once just a square. I batted my eyes up to him in a flash. “Two-hundred and thirty.” He repositioned. “Very good. Now, let’s move on to question eight. If you will, children, remember the lesson we learned about subtraction last Thursday. What was it?” It was something about carrying numbers and moving them and this is when my wrist started to go numb so I switched arms and eased into daydreaming position. As I did so, I felt the corners of my lips begin to droop and imagined that I looked like the bloodhounds that roamed around the camping grounds.
I remembered a day the summer before when Audri I were climbing the sycamore trees at Fort Khoover that would beg to differ. We had found a new tree that took us an hour to climb and made it back down with just the right amount of scrapes and bruises. Audri fell asleep momentarily in the tall grass, and I watched her for a moment before looking around the campsite. Lou, the oldest bloodhound of the gang and whom was thought to be on a daily routine that consisted of only eating steak and taking long naps in which he would dream about eating steak, was galloping youthfully through the grass around the perimeter of the camp. He was chasing a butterfly and with each step his ears would flap up and then smack each other under his droopy muzzle, looking like a bird preparing for takeoff. As soon as he got within a nose length of the butterfly, it would dash at a random angle, causing him to reassess. Finally, it flew straight up and over the tree Audri and I had just conquered. Lou skidded to a halt, thumped his bottom on the ground and pushed himself upright with his front legs. His balls were drooping to one side and he was happily panting. I chuckled at his goofiness. I knew that they were well-respected for their hunting, but I couldn’t take him seriously in this moment. He looked at me and I knew he was smiling. He smiled a smile that required no bearing of teeth, for that would have been selfish. He simply stared at me with that grin on his face and I thought I saw him shake his head slightly. I could tell the resonating barks had woken Audri up from her resting, she always became very still when she woke up, not wanting to admit to her drowsiness. I continued watching Lou prance happily back to camp, knowing his old legs were in dire need of a rest. I turned back to Audri and she was looking in the general direction of the campsite. “Was that old Lou?” I waited for a moment while the laughter built up inside me and then let it burst out. She started slowly, but was soon just as hysterical. She never could fool me.