I hurried to the desk.
“So,” he said, getting right down to business, “I met with your teachers before I came here today to learn where you were in your studies before you stopped attending school. If you’ll sit down,” he said, pausing. “I don’t like having to look up at students when I speak to them.”
“You’ll notice that I have marked each textbook where you should have been at that time. Under each book are the assignments to follow once you read the text assigned. I have also created a time line for it all. I understand you hope to take your exams at the same time as the students in your old school?”
“Yes, I would.”
“We’ll see,” he said. “You have to be ready.”
“I’ll be ready,” I said. “I have not much else to do but my schoolwork.”
“I don’t imagine so. You’re not the first prospective teenage mother I’ve had to tutor. In fact, these days, it seems like an epidemic.” He dropped the corners of his mouth even deeper into his cheeks.
I felt my whole body tighten and close like a fist, but I said nothing. I dropped my gaze to the books.
“Well, then, I’ll leave it all with you and see you next Wednesday. We’ll go over what you did and see what you didn’t understand.”
He rose. His waist was as wide as his shoulders, and he wasn’t much taller than I was. Didn’t he want to tell me anything else or ask me anything?
“I was always a little ahead in all of my classes,” I said, “even though my grades weren’t perfect.”
“That should make things easier, assuming, of course, that you knew what you were doing. You’re right about your grades. They weren’t all that impressive,” he added, bending over to whisper. His breath smelled like sour milk. “This is not going to be a walk in the park. I’m a private tutor since retirement, but I’m not for sale. I have my standards, and I don’t compromise them to please my employer.”
“I don’t think you should, either.”
“Good. Then we have an understanding. I left my telephone number if you have any problems that can’t wait until next Wednesday.” He nodded and walked out.
I looked at the books and the assignment sheets. He was right. I hadn’t done as well as I could have in the public school, but that was because I was very depressed and unhappy after we had returned from Mexico. I would do well now, I thought. I wanted a future.
I sat and looked at the doorway through which Mr. McCarthy had just walked. He was very different from the pleasant teachers I had at the private school and the public school and not very encouraging. But beggars couldn’t be choosers. Perhaps all of these challenges, the lonely world I was living in, were of my own making and not just the work of some evil eye that had chosen me for torture and unhappiness.
I always had trouble blaming God for our misfortunes, always had difficulty believing that he kept track of every little thing that happened to us or whatever we did. We wrote our own stories. I wasn’t pregnant because of some unexplainable accident. I had wanted to make love with Adan. Deep in my heart, I wanted his child, a child who would be our child.
And so I was here and would have to do whatever was necessary, walk over whatever hot coals I had to walk over. If I kept feeling sorrier and sorrier for myself, I wouldn’t have the strength or the will to get to a brighter future for myself and for my child.
As mi abuela Anabela would say whenever she heard or saw someone full of self-pity, “Gato llorón no caza ratón.” A crying cat catches no mice.
I will not be a crying cat, I thought.
Almost out of anger as much as out of ambition, I set forth to attack the work Mr. McCarthy had detailed for me. I vowed to myself that I would do it so well that I would wipe the smirk off his marshmallow face.
Marking off the days designed for me on Mrs. Newell’s schedule was like counting drips of molasses falling into a bucket. Even though I followed her orders and kept myself busy with my schoolwork, the monotony began to wear on me.
In fact, the days became so dreary that I actually looked forward to being taken to Dr. Denardo’s office for my tests. As promised, he stopped by every other week to check on how I was doing and get a report from Mrs. Newell, but he did very little and was very happy with what he saw. He never failed to compliment Mrs. Newell on how well she was managing my pregnancy. They discussed me in front of me as if I were invisible.
“How is her appetite? How is she sleeping? Does she have any unusual pains?”
It made me feel like some controlled laboratory animal.