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Fiction #444
(published July 23, 2009)
Spelling Bee
by Terry Pearce

"Can you give me a definition?"

"Evenness of mind, especially under stress"

I am equanimity. My hands shake; I stop them. The lights glare; I shut them out. I perspire; I conjure waves of cool ventilation to help evaporate the beads on my forehead. I am become the word, I will spell the word. I can spell any word. I use words my elder brothers didn't know existed.


I know I am right even before the pronouncer tells me so. Applause washes over me. I'm numb—there is a film of lubricating shield between me and their reaction. I see lights and shadows; no faces. I sit, and my mind wanders. My spell is working.

They have to call me twice before I realize I am up again.


Is that right? It seems too easy. Go through the process; this has been drummed into you. Close your eyes. Become the word, feel the word. Become affection. Who gives you affection? I picture Dad, fumbling, trying to muss my hair and waking me up as he comes in, trying not to let me smell his breath. Can I . . . No, I can't get there from that. I close my eyes and try to picture Mom. It's hard. She gave me affection, surely. I can't remember anything . . . except . . . she's telling me something, saying goodbye . . . her face, a blur . . . it seems so sorry, like when my teacher told me about Sammy being run over.

"Affection. Do you need a definition?"

They are waiting for me. I picture Sammy when he was alive and warm, his tongue lolling out as I fall into a heap with him. I don't need a definition. I stroke him. I am affection.


I return to limbo. Limbo has three definitions: a place or state of restraint or confinement, a place or state of neglect or oblivion, an intermediate or transitional place or state.

I am called to the spotlight again. I don't like everyone looking at me.


I have become disobedience before. I don't want to think about it. If I am disobedient again, will it happen again? I don't want to find out. It occurs to me that to become disobedience I should refuse to answer. I feel disobedience starting to course through me. A sudden flash—the shed, my belly rumbling and rumbling, going to pee in the corner—no, I won't. I can't. I'll have to . . . do this one on my own. I open my eyes. The lights glare. They're still looking at me.


I'm stalling.

"Refusal to obey."

"D-I-S-O-B-E-D-I-. . . "

I stop myself. The audience seems on edge. I nearly said A. It's hard when I don't visualize. I think of what Dad will say; what Dad will do, if I don't win. I can't look in his direction.


I feel such relief. My hands are shaking, I feel faint. I am no longer equanimity. I step down, try to find limbo, try to find equilibrium.


I ask for the definition to give myself more time to find my firm ground.

"Renounce or give up a position, responsibility or function."

I must visualize. I must find abdicate. I can't afford any mistakes or missteps. Who has renounced or given up their responsibility? Who do I know? A teacher left in the middle of term recently. This doesn't seem quite enough. I try to think. Who has abdicated? Abdicated what? Kings abdicate their thrones. We don't have a king. How could I abdicate? What could I abdicate? I don't have title, functions or positions. Responsibilities? I'm just a kid; a kid too clever for his own good.

And then I have it. But to be abdication, to visualize that, to abdicate that . . . would mean . . .

I start to shake. The opportunity, the prize, glints. I could . . . but I'd have to . . .



For all this to be gone; for that pressure not to be there . . .


To not have to have these lights shining in my face . . .


To not have this shaking . . .


This sweating . . .


These dry palms . . .


This headache . . .


To not have this worry hanging over me, about what Dad will say if I don't win. Or worse, what he'll expect if I do win. If I win, if I keep winning, he'll want more and more. To not have the expectation . . .

". . . Q."

Terry Pearce lives in London, and is a moderator, regular participant, and occasional winner of the weekly flash fiction competition at ShowMeYourLits.

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