I stand next to my father and he sits comfortably in the armchair. I stand to his right, my head a little above his. He is dressed in a suit – white shirt with cufflinks, a tie, matching jacket and pants with a sharp crase. His hands are fleshy and broad. He wears a thick gold wedding band and a thin expensive round watch with a shiny sligator strap. My father likes hi things – his cufflinks, his watch, his wedding band, which never looked for a moment like anything to do with romance. My father’s wedding band was a bade of stability, of all-rightness, a middle-class man, educated, tasteful, married.
He told me to come to his room because my report card has come in the mail. I am not concerned. I am 9 years old and I’ve had plenty of report cards and they’ve always been very good and school has never been hard.
It is a Saturday. That’s why my father is home. This is his room. We don’t use it for anything else. When he is not here it stays empty. It is a green room: dark green drapes and a dark green spread on the single bed. The house came with these things. These are not things we have had before – drapes that go all the way to the floor and close with a cord, matching bedspreads. This dark green room looks like it’s the man’s room.
My mother’s room in this house is pink – clearly where the woman is supposed to go though there is nothing pink abut my mother. They had someone else in mind when they prepared this room, placing inside it not a desk and armchair like in the dark green room, but a glass-topped, kidney-shaped vanity with a stiff pink-and-white-striped skirt. My mother doesn’t sit at it though I wish she was the type who would.
This is the house we have moved into. It is a rented house with all the furniture inside, but it is small, like a doll’s house.
My father holds the white sheet of paper that is my report card from the school I started a few months ago. I like the new school. I like that I don’t have to come home, that I can live there. I like my friends there. I like all the playing we do and the fat letters we have started writing to each other during this Christmas holiday.
My father starts to read the report card out loud. He reads very slowly so that I can hear each word. He doesn’t look at me. The first teacher is saying that I am not doing well, that I need to try harder, that I am careless.
I wish I could leave the room and never come back, but I can’t. I can’t go until he says I can. My throat is hurting now like when I see a really sad movie.
My father starts to read the next part from the next teacher. This teacher also talks about how I am lazy and that my handwriting is sloppy.
I didn’t know my handwriting was sloppy. We write with fountain pens at this new school. We fill them up from the ink pots in our desks. I liked buying the new pen the nuns said I had to buy. I chose the red one.
Now and then my father lifts his gaze to see if I am paying attention. His eyes are sort of laughing, like he is making fun of me, but he keeps reading, sometimes stopping to ask me something like why hadn’t I done better on my exams.
I don’t know. I hadn’t thought about it.
The math has been hard, but math is always hard. At the new school they were doing fractions and I’d never done fractions. Once when I was doing my homework the teacher came up to me and was shocked because I was trying to find the answers by drawing pies and cutting them up into halves and quarters.
I want to cry and cry. But I must not. I. Must. Not. Cry. I must pretend this is all right, that we are having a normal conversation. I tighten up everything I can, and I know I am not hiding it perfectly. I wish I could hide it perfectly, and I fight and fight to hide everything, but I know he is winning, he is stronger. He can just sit there and keep reading with a bit of a smile on his face, and he can read all the way to the end and tell me I must find a way to do better, that this is not acceptable. He doesn’t yell. He says it in the same even voice he always uses so that my tears that keep wanting to burst out seem absolutely wrong and out of place.