N inety-seven.

The number wouldn’t go away.

Riva dashed down the steps of the school building, trembling. She halted by the school gate. Furiously, she flung the flap of her schoolbag open and pulled out a blue folder. Swallowing hard, she opened the folder and there — right there was the spelling test. Fresh waves of anger and shame welled up inside her. Mrs. Markowitz had returned her test paper last. “Great,” she had said. A 97%, great. Ha! Who was she kidding?

Why? Why? Why would anyone in their right mind spell “interest” I-N-T-E-R-E-S-T? There is no TER in interest! And three points for that!

Riva ran.

Phooey. Phooey on spelling tests. Phooey on school. Phooey on silly rules that said test papers had to be signed by mothers and shown to the teacher the next day.

For a daring moment, Riva considered forging her mother’s signature. But that was a ridiculous idea; her mother would ask to see the test. She would demand to see it. And then she would crease her forehead, tsk-tsk dramatically, shake her head from side to side, and say, in a soft, quiet, deeply disappointed way, “Where did you go wrong, Riva?”

Okay, she probably wouldn’t say it, but she would think it, which was even worse.

Dumb girl. Everyone said this was the easiest, shmeaziest spelling lesson. Only stupid you couldn’t get it right.

After all her studying, after memorizing every letter of every word for two hours straight, she would have to face her mother and show her how poorly her daughter spelled. For shame.

Her house appeared before her eyes. She couldn’t stall any longer.

Ma was cleaning the guest room closet for Pesach when Riva walked in.

“Hi, Riva! How was your day?”

“Okay,” Riva muttered. She opened her schoolbag and took out her spelling test.

“Ninety-seven,” Ma said. “Very nice.”

Very nice, right. Riva knew exactly what her mother was thinking. Why 97%? Why not 100%?

Three points…

Her mother turned back to the closet. She didn’t say anything more, but Riva knew exactly what she was thinking.

Something went off in her chest, and Riva blurted, “Goldy got a 91%. She misspelled three words.” (Excerpted from Teen Pages, Issue 704)