by Robert Pope
AS A BOY, I was judged aggressively left-handed. When my third-grade teacher Miss Jones tried to get me to use my right, I became paralyzed. My arms might have been wooden, put on with screws. I had no idea why the nature of my own body had altered.
Miss Jones put me in the last seat in the row nearest the windows and told me to stare out all day if I wished. If she could not change me, she could get me as far away as possible. That’s when I started my column: Where I Sit! I wrote as many as three in one day, normally one or two. They were short, I am told, and took abrupt turns in the last sentence.
I wish I could offer you one here, but they were confiscated by Miss Jones who took them to the principal, Mrs. Hoot. My parents came in during school hours for a conference with Mrs. Hoot, Miss Jones, Mr. Hacker (vice principal in charge of discipline), and a policeman. My mother says she does not remember the policeman.
Produced as evidence by Mr. Hacker, none of my columns were more than four sentences with many misspellings, and were, as Miss Jones pointed out, grammatically appalling. I tried to stand up to see them, but father set his hand on my knee. I could not remember anything I had written, but I knew it must have been awful.
Enumerating my faults, Miss Jones mentioned I persisted in writing with my left hand no matter how she encouraged me to give the right hand an opportunity to express itself. Someone mentioned deplorable handwriting. Most of my columns, they agreed, were illegible. I whispered to mother I had to pee and piddled my pants. I burst into tears, pummeling myself with my left hand. I don’t remember anything but pain. Mother says I hit myself in the head with my left fist several times. When my left hand took possession of my mouth, the policeman joined the fray.
They pressed my back to the floor. Reverend Butts entered, his pompadour slicked back from his widow’s peak in his blindingly blue suit carrying a large Bible. Mr. Hacker whispered updates in his ear. The pastor’s face came close. Mrs. Hoot held my left arm. Are you troubled, Jimmy? Are you sore at heart? He sat cross-legged on the floor beside me but set his big Bible on my chest. He smiled with his eyes half-closed. Jimmy, he said.
My left shoulder started twitching, trying to get that arm free enough to hit someone. I was a child, powerless before masterful adults. Something told me pretend to be calm, compliant long enough to get at someone’s eyes. I’m not sure when the school nurse appeared, sinking the long hypodermic needle in my upper arm while I screamed.
Reverend Butts explained I was not a bad boy, just possessed, a demon he knew by name, which name he would not repeat more than once, as it would provide anyone who didn’t require it a lifetime of anguish. We can thank Miss Jones, he said, who first became aware there might be a problem, and here we are, trying to control an unruly third grade boy. Ear plugs, please. I am going to say the awful name, Jimmy, one you will not want to hear and will never forget.
I don’t care, I said. Please help me. I started coughing and choking.
Reverend Butts leaned close, whispering the demon’s name in my ear then shouted in my face. I shouted back, so I am told, and suddenly, whoosh, I was free. I can’t explain it. Gone. I was no longer left-handed. You cannot imagine the rush of joy. Deep down, I knew I was really right-handed all along. Had I been right-handed in second grade?
That would explain Miss Jones’ odd behavior concerning my left-handedness. She had discernment, saw evil spirits. Once freed, my right arm demonstrated considerable artistic talent. I became Miss Jones’ star pupil. Sometimes she took me in the cloak room, kneeled in front of me to comb my hair, and asked me to whisper the name of the demon in her ear.
I only smiled and whispered, Maybe later.
Robert Pope has published a novel, Jack’s Universe, as well as three collections of stories, most recently Not a Jot or a Tittle (2022) and a chapbook of flash fiction, Shutterbug. He has also published stories in journals including The Kenyon Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, and Fiction International, and anthologies including Pushcart Prize and Dark Lane Anthology.