Brianna walked into the cold classroom shivering beneath her sister’s red hand-me-down gingham dress, freshly pressed white socks and shiny, black, patent leather shoes as a pale man, sitting behind a small desk, looked down at her from above and pushed his glasses back up to the bridge of his sloping nose and said, “Tell me a secret, Brianna…” he crossed his arms and finished, “…and then tell me why you’re keeping that secret.”

She looked down at the shiny linoleum floor mirroring her terrified face back up at her; she scuffed the tip of her right shoe as she kicked her reflection in the face.

“Come now,” the man demanded, “Just one little tattle, and then you may go outside and play on the slide.”

Brianna took a deep breath in through her nose as her momma taught her and exhaled slowly through her mouth as her daddy begged her — then she shook her head and closed her eyes as she had learned herself.

“Then you’ll stand there the whole day long,” the man dismissively whispered through a puff of swirling cigarette smoke.

Brianna bit her tongue and tasted the red saltiness of her own life, and muttered, “My poppy touches me at night where my bathing suit fits.”

The man shifted behind the table and his chair squeaked and he growled down at her, “Go on, then; tell me why that secret is a secret; this is a test, you know.”

“It’s a secret,” Brianna said through choking sobs as tears glistened in her eyes, “Because poppy said if I told anybody, he’d kill my kitten.”

“Well, that’s it then, Brianna, you have passed the exam — your analytic thinking is quite fine, and we will move you right along to the fourth grade — please wipe your tears in the bathroom before you go outside to play.”

Brianna nodded and left behind a trail of reflective blood droplets shivering on the floor that had leapt from her mouth in a final, sacred, silent, scream to save the life of her cat.


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