Johnny stared at the stack of papers in his hands, the large, red, hand-written numbers scratched in the top right corner the only thing in focus. He had worked hard on this paper, spent two weeks and several long nights checking and rechecking his online sources and crafting, what he felt, was his best written effort of his senior year. But his grade was shocking. The red number repeated itself over and over in his head, throbbing bright to dim, pounding and mocking, feeding off his disappointment. “A 97? How could that happen? There has to be a mistake.” He was mumbling but it wasn’t going unnoticed by his classmates. When the bell rang he delayed, adjusting papers, organizing his backpack, waiting until everyone had left the classroom.
His teacher looked up from whatever she was working on, the look of resignation on her face a sign that she had been feigning business as well, but for entirely different reasons. “Yes, Mr. Busby?”
“About my grade on this report—“ Before he could continue she stopped him, holding her hand in the air and saying, “Let’s not go through this again, Mr. Busby. You made an A. It was a very well written paper, one of your best, frankly, and you have nothing to be upset about.” She tried to give him her best “and that’s the end of that” glare but, as usual, it failed.
“But it’s not 100%. You obviously felt something was wrong with it and I need to know what that was.”
Johnny sputtered, caught off guard by the question. “Well… because I do, that’s all. It’s important to me that I get it right. 100% right.”
“But it is right. It’s an A!”
“But it’s not perfect. I need to make 100%, not 97%. It needs to be perfect.”
“No one is perfect, Mr. Busby. Never has been. Never will be. Lots of kids in this class would have killed for your grade.”
“But they aren’t me. I need to get there. Please tell me what was wrong with it.” He was steadfast and was obviously not going to leave until he was satisfied.
Mrs. Dees stared at him, realizing the futile conversation would only continue if she did not give in. “All right, Mr. Busby. On page thirteen I felt the third and fourth paragraphs were a little unclear. I understood what you were trying to say but I felt you could have explained yourself better.”
He frantically transcribed her critique on to his paper, using a green pen and meticulously capturing each word verbatim. His look of relief was obvious and he thanked her several times as he hurried out of her classroom to continue his school day.
Mrs. Dee’s shook her head and mindlessly drew a smiley face on a scrap of paper on her desk. The corners of her mouth upturned as she basked in her secret. There was nothing wrong with any paragraph on page thirteen. In fact, there was nothing wrong with any part of the paper Johnny Busby had turned in. She had given him a 97 so she could see him sweat. “I wonder how long he’ll work on those two paragraphs?” she thought. And she laughed out loud.
This is one chapter in a series of nine, an experiment in weaving people’s stories into each other, showing cause and affect in how we treat each other regardless of how well we know each other. A casual comment to a stranger may trigger big things but we will probably never know…