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The Principal’s Daughter: Chapter 1

Yonina Levine

Rivky follows a few paces behind, her loafers scuffed, her tights frayed. In her mind she calculates all the things that are wrong with her

Thursday, February 02, 2017

T his is how it happens.

Moments before the bell rings, the girls in Rivky’s class all look the same. They are tucked into tidy blue blouses and pleated skirts, their tights hidden beneath the rickety desks. Pencils fly across lined paper as Mrs. Schwartz speaks and paces the classroom, her arms waving in the air as she rushes to make her last point. The skinny hands of the clock inch slowly toward the twelve and the six, and Rivky watches out of the corner of her eye. She’s the only one wishing that the fateful meeting of the minute hand and the six will never happen, that the ticking clock will suddenly skip backward or suspend itself indefinitely.

But the hand reaches its destination, the bell rings, and everything changes.

The girls leap up from their desks and reclaim their differences. Malka’s uniform is cinched by a belt bearing a designer emblem at its center, and her tights lead to shiny loafers Rivky recently learned were special ordered from Italy. Aliza, who has been forced to sit in the front, now joins Malka, and the two lead their group down to the lunchroom. Rivky has no choice but to follow; once, when she tried to eat in the classroom, she was caught and scolded.

“Mrs. Schwartz made no sense today,” Goldie says, stepping over binders and notebooks along the floor of the hallway, catching up with Malka and Aliza. Rivky sees a bob of headbands form a tight circle in front of her, large flowers and feathers, like costumes in a parade.

“She never makes sense,” Aliza proclaims loudly, and the three laugh.

“What was with her sweater?” Shifra adds, while the girls make space so she can walk alongside them. “I think she got it at a gemach.”

Malka nods with appreciation. “Totally. I guess no one told her there’s a reason people give that kind of clothing away.”

Rivky watches the group of girls transform in front of her, no longer all the same as they were just moments ago. She follows a few paces behind, her loafers scuffed, her tights frayed. In her mind she calculates all the things that are wrong with her. Stringy hair that hangs like drying noodles down her shoulders. Creased shirt. A lunch bag toting a soggy egg sandwich and not much else. And then, of course, there was her mother.

As Rivky and the other tenth-graders drift into the lunchroom, shoes squeaking against the linoleum floor, Rivky spies her mother standing in the corner near the sinks, holding her ever-present clipboard. Rivky hates this moment almost as much as she hates making her way to a table where no one is sitting. No matter how her mother decides to acknowledge her — wave, nod, ignore Rivky altogether — nothing is right. The other girls see her mother and tuck their shirts in, check that their skirts are hanging at the right angle. They look for the table farthest away from the principal, and Rivky cringes thinking what they are saying about her.

Rivky senses her mother’s gaze, and she grimaces. The rest of the girls can give the day’s highlights to their parents at night and skip the rest; for Rivky, the worst part of her day unfolds every day in the cafeteria, right before her mother’s eyes. She longs to be back in the classroom, where the whisper of pencils against paper is the only sounds her classmates make.

Rivky clutches her lunch bag and makes her way to a table near the door where a couple of girls are sitting. They are juniors, and Rivky would ordinarily be too afraid to sit with the older girls, but today she feels the weight of her mother’s disappointment heavy on her shoulders. She cannot face another lunch break alone.

“Can I sit here?” she asks, and the older girls shrug as she hoped they would and indicate an empty seat.

She takes out her sandwich then looks over at the sink where her mother stands, checking off who is in the lunchroom and noting who is not. She imagines walking over to the sink and having to interact with her mother in her current role as Mrs. Markowitz and puts her sandwich down.

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