Domino Theory This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category.

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     I have had only two truly dreadful teachers in my life and we shall draw the curtain of charity over their names. This episode deals with one whom we shall know as “Madam X” (not “Pig Eyes” as I affectionately thought of her). All other names have been changed to protect the egos of those involved.

Madam X was a strange woman. The way her nostrils flared in such a delightfully unattractive way, the way her small, piggy eyes (hence the nickname) seemed to wander independently from her mind, and of course, her small (ney, very small) brain, as well as a marked propensity toward unimaginative thinking, all added up to a woman with the potential to destroy entire civilizations, or at least the minds of inventive students.

Madam X was a subscriber to the Bored School of Pedagogy. The theory goes like this: If you bore children enough, they will learn. There is one very interesting fact about this: It doesn’t work. I was in her class for a year and learned absolutely nothing except some valuable life lessons on how to deal with horrible people.

One day, Madam X had us building domino chains to preview a book we would read. The pretense was dubious, but the activity was a welcome relief from the usual monotonous lectures stretching off into the ether. The happy tones of the class chirped as Mark and I struggled to finish our chain, that, if I may say so, was excellent. It began in a tight spiral, swirled around an S curve, went through a self-destructing tunnel phase, and ended in a towering monolith that would come crashing down on cue from the preceding domino. It came time to place the last, most crucial piece, but we had run out of dominos. I wheeled around to Claire and Susan behind me. They had been slightly less ambitious, making a few modest swirls and a small spiral for the finish. A pile of extra dominoes sat at the edge of their desks.

Meanwhile, the happy tones of the class had been rising, and rising, and rising, finally warping into a high-pitched sound wave ricocheting around the room, while Madam X, oblivious to the noise, sat in her chair looking for someone to pick on.

I took one glance at Claire and Susan’s extra dominoes and tried to weave through the noise.

“Can I borrow one?” I asked, pointing at the dominoes. I caught a faint glimpse of the word “yes” through the din, which shattered my eardrums as I took a domino from the pile and placed it delicately into the monolith. As I looked at Mark, smiling, I caught sight of Madam X, with her mouth open and arms akimbo, staring at me.

“After class,” she screamed, and that moment will forever be frozen in my memory: Madam X, with a wave of sound surrounding her, singling me out for “stealing.”

The noise was incredible, and yet she ignored it, for she could not single out one person to pick on, she needed something more direct, and I was it. My stomach began a slow and unpleasant drop to my feet that lasted the rest of the class, which was punctuated by several extremely dirty looks from her, though our domino chain worked beautifully.

Thirty minutes later, the rest of the class got some inane busywork, and I was called up. I sat for what seemed like hours next to a woman speaking monotonously (think “Bueller, Bueller, Bueller”) in an especially brain-piercing New York accent, wearing an especially odoriferous perfume.

“How could you do such a thing?” she said. And every variation on that to the vanishing point, and through the vanishing point, and out the back in some kind of complicated Escher sketch, like the ones with the 54,000 fishes all interlocking in such a manner that to make sense in three dimensions, they would have to be shaped like sails with frills and flanges. At the end, she handed me a sheet of paper.

“Here,” she said. “I want an explanation of how you could do such a vile and horrid thing, and an apology. Two paragraphs minimum. Due tomorrow. Signed by your mum.”

I wasn’t about to go down without a fight, so I politely requested that she ask Claire and Susan to explain what happened. When they get here, it’ll all be settled, I thought, as I explained what had actually occurred.

Claire and Susan stepped up to the desk, looking perturbed and more than a bit confused.

“Claire. Susan. When Ben stole your domino (in her class, one is guilty until proven innocent, and sometimes even after that), did he ask?”

Claire and Susan looked at each other, and answered yes. I began to breathe again. “And when he asked, what did you say to him?” she asked. Claire looked at Susan, and they giggled, blushing and whispering in each other’s ears. Then slowly, carefully, Claire responded. “We said ... we said ...”

Susan butted in, “No.”

Oh, cruelest world! Oh, silly Claire and vile Susan! Oh, lament! Oh, protest! Now, Madam X thought I was lying, and that was a whole different story. Now, she was mad in full force, and the waves of her anger went shuddering around the room. In Korea, a woman turned up the heat because of an inexplicable cold draft, and a man at the Royal Weather Institute in London suddenly noticed the average worldwide temperature drop 12 degrees for a few seconds.

“Out!” she yelled at me, just as the bell rang. “Out!”

I ran into an empty classroom, tears running down my cheeks. After a few minutes of quiet crying, I composed myself, and stalking past her room, went out into the bitterly cold January day.

She was winning. I couldn’t let her win. She was wrong. I was right. Were the lines really that black and white? Or was there a gray space, however small, that might grow if nurtured? No. No. I must get these thoughts out. I was right. She was wrong.

I wrote the paragraphs, and handed them to my mother to have her sign.

“Did you actually do what she said you did?” she asked, looking puzzled.

“No,” I said.

When I explained what really happened, she sprinted to the computer to write a letter. After I gave it to Madam X, and Mark attested that I had asked and was told yes, she looked at me with conniving eyes, blinked, then glanced away. It was the last time she ever looked me straight in the eye. She would never again treat me with any pretense of respect, because I had committed the worst crime against someone as shallow and egotistical as she: I had proven her wrong, and for that she would never forgive me.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category. This piece won the June 2006 Teen Ink Nonfiction Contest.






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