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Authors: Lois Lowry

Tags: #Ages 9 & Up

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BOOK: Anastasia Has the Answers
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But Mr. Rafferty called on Jacob Berman, the biggest wimp in the class.

Jacob shuffled to the front of the room, stood there with his miserable posture, adjusted his glasses, took a deep breath, and said in his sing song voice:

"
The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair...
"

The visiting educators all smiled with satisfaction and nodded, recognizing the poem. Anastasia groaned inwardly, recognizing it also, because it was the longest one that anyone had been assigned. Jacob Berman was noted throughout the seventh grade for two things: his disgusting habit of picking his nose and his phenomenal memory. Anastasia was quite certain that Mr. Rafferty had called on Jacob simply because he
knew
that Jacob wouldn't forget a line of that endless poem.

Rats. Jacob droned on and on and Anastasia glanced at the clock. They'd never have time to get through the entire class. She hoped she would be next.

"'Ah, love, let us be true to one another!'" Jacob intoned. The class snickered. Jacob Berman saying "Ah, love, let us be true to one another!" was the most ridiculous thing
ever,
and if all those European guests hadn't been in the back of the room, the students would have fallen out of their desks, laughing.

Finally he was finished. Now me, thought Anastasia. Now me.

But one of the women, a gray-haired lady in a flowered silk dress, said, "Mr. Berman is it?"

Jacob nodded awkwardly.

"An admirable presentation. But let us look now at the reference to Sophocles in stanza two," the woman said in a clipped, no-nonsense British accent. "Let's consider why Matthew Arnold might have used that reference."

Anastasia could see Mr. Rafferty tense up and then relax as Jacob started in on one of the thoroughly boring explanations that he drew from his incredible memory.

"Well, Sophocles was a Greek dramatist, of course; I think there are seven great tragedies attributed to him in the fourth century
B.C.
," Jacob began. "So he was no stranger to human misery—which of course Arnold refers to a few lines further along." Anastasia could see the educators scribbling furiously in their little notebooks.

The heck with human misery, Anastasia thought. How about human
joy?
How about "O world! I cannot hold thee close enough"?

"—and if you compare Sophocles'
Antigone,
" Jacob was saying, "you'll find a surprising similarity of language, especially in line six of the Arnold poem..."

Mr. Rafferty was beaming and beaming and beaming. The educators were all hunched over their little notebooks. Emily Ewing was sulking at her desk. The other students all looked bored.

And then—Anastasia could hardly believe it, but she looked at the clock, and sure enough, it was time—the bell rang and the period was over.

11

"Boy, was I glad Rafferty didn't call on me," Sonya Isaacson giggled as they left the English class. "I know I would have goofed my poem up."

"I didn't even know mine," Daphne confessed. "I was going to memorize it last night, but I watched a movie on HBO instead."

"Anyway, of
course
he'd call on Emily and Jacob, those nerds," Meredith said. "Look at my gross gym suit. My mother ironed all these creases into it." She held up the folded blue gym suit and made a face.

"Willoughby'll love it," Daphne said. "Hey, An
astasia, have you decided what you're going to do for the gym demonstration?"

"What do you mean?" Sonya asked. "Anastasia has to blow the whistle while we all make fools of ourselves climbing ropes."

Daphne grinned. "Anastasia has a surprise," she said.

"What? What is it?" Sonya and Meredith turned to Anastasia. "What's the surprise?"

But Anastasia shook her head. She didn't want to talk about it. She was depressed about the English class. She had rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed that poem. She had overcome her normal self-consciousness to the point that she had desperately
wanted
to recite that poem, that day, to that class, in front of that group of visitors.

The warning bell rang. "You go ahead," Anastasia said to her friends. "I'll catch up."

"Don't be late," Meredith said. "We all promised Ms. Willoughby we'd be on time."

Anastasia nodded glumly. She wanted to walk to gym by herself. She wanted to think.

Probably, she knew, she shouldn't disrupt the gym class in front of all the visitors, maybe embarrassing Ms. Willoughby. She should just be a good sport and blow the whistle the way she'd been told.

If she'd only been allowed to recite the poem, probably she would be content to phweet the whistle. But now things were different. Now, if she didn't do anything about it, the entire day would go by and she would never be noticed. She would be a nothing. She would be a nonparticipant, a bystander, a nonentity, a nerd.

A month from now, back in Stuttgart or Brussels or Liverpool, or wherever, the educators would remember their visit to American schools, and they would think of—

Yuck. Jacob Berman. They would think, "That wonderful intelligent boy in a junior high school in a Boston suburb; that boy who quoted long passages from Sophocles, imagine that..."

And they would think of—

Barf. Emily Ewing. They would think, "That stunning girl with the perfect teeth and the smooth, shiny, long hair; too bad she didn't know much about poetry, but even so..."

But if someone, by chance, asked, "What about Anastasia Krupnik?" they would scratch their heads. They would furrow their brows. They would say, finally,

"WHO?"

Anastasia couldn't bear it. The worst thing in the world, she decided, was to be on the receiving end of a brow-furrowed WHO.

So she decided to disrupt the gym class. And she hoped that she could do it in a way that would make Ms. Wilhelmina Willoughby proud.

***

It was a different group of visitors in the gym, Anastasia noticed as she marched in with her classmates, all of them in their clean, starched gym suits, white socks, and newly washed white sneakers.

Jenny Billings had tried to get away with forgetting the white socks. "I'm sorry, Ms. Willoughby," Jenny Billings had said smugly in the locker room, "but I forgot my white socks. So I guess I'll just have to wear these striped knee socks."

"No way, José," Ms. Willoughby replied. "Be my guest, kiddo." And she held up a brand-new pair of white socks from the supply she had waiting. Jenny groaned, took the fresh socks, and went to change.

Anastasia glanced over at the guests, who were seated in a row in the bleachers, as she stood in her place in the lines of seventh-grade girls. Ms. Willoughby was making a little speech about the kinds of things they'd been doing in gym.

As usual, the educators were taking notes. This group included two Japanese—or maybe Chinese, Anastasia wasn't sure—gentlemen and a tall black woman in robes from some African country. There was also a woman in an Indian sari, with one long braid down her back and a red spot on her forehead.

Standing there with her legs—the skinniest legs in the entire world, she was quite certain—exposed, feeling half-naked and very unattractive, Anastasia wondered if the kids in those countries had to wear stupid-looking blue gym suits in their schools. She watched the foreigners writing diligently in their little notebooks.

"Tall girl with glasses at end of row six," she was sure they were writing. "Only girl in class wearing whistle on cord around neck. Skinniest legs in the world. Very awkward looking. Probably will be unable to climb rope."

Hah. Wait till I show them. All of them, even Ms. Wilhelmina Willoughby.

"Now"—Ms. Willoughby was concluding her speech—"I'm going to have this group of girls demonstrate rope-climbing. Anastasia Krupnik, there at the end of row six, has very kindly volunteered to direct the exercise. Anastasia, would you step forward?"

Anastasia felt a new surge of love for Ms. Willoughby, who had done her absolute most tactful best to make it sound as if she had been specially selected as director, rather than the truth: that she had to blow the whistle because she had never been able to do better than dangle eighteen inches off the ground.

Ms. Willoughby would be truly pleased by the surprise, Anastasia decided.

She stepped forward to the spot that Ms. Willoughby indicated; Ms. Willoughby went over to the bleachers and sat down with the row of attentive educators.

"
Phweet!
" Anastasia blew the whistle, and the first six girls moved forward to the ropes and began to climb.

Watching, it suddenly occurred to Anastasia that 108
rope-climbing was, after all, a pretty dumb exercise. How often would you need to climb a rope in real life? How many of the girls in this class would become mountain climbers? How many would need to escape horn prison? (Daphne, maybe, if she didn't outgrow her adolescent pranks.) How many would have to be rescued from a rooftop by a helicopter? How many would—

Thump, thump, thump, thump, thump, thump.
One by one, Sonya, Jenny, Erin, Edith, Marie, and Jill dropped from the ends of the ropes to the mats that were spread on the floor, and went back to their places.

Ho-hum. "
Phweet.
" It sure wasn't very exciting being the whistle-blower. But at least, Anastasia thought, her classmates were doing the rope-climbing quickly, so the period wouldn't end before her moment of glory.

She watched, trying to look interested and attentive, as Karen, Daphne, Melissa, Liz, and the Wilcox twins climbed the ropes.

Thump, thump, thump, thump, thump, thump.

"
Phweet.
" And the third row of six girls climbed.

Anastasia began taking some deep breaths. She wasn't actually
nervous,
she decided, but maybe a little apprehensive. After all, she had only climbed the rope in her garage once. And it wasn't as high as the ropes in the gym.

Thump, thump, thump, thump, thump, thump.

"
Phweet.
" The last row of girls—only four in this final group—went to the ropes. Meredith, Jessica, Bonnie, and Mary Ellen began to climb.

Anastasia glanced at the educators to be certain they were paying attention. One of the Japanese men was looking at his watch, but she decided that didn't mean he was bored. He was probably just admiring his watch, since it was probably made in Japan; Anastasia's father's watch was made in Japan, and it did so many digital things that Dr. Krupnik said he was surprised it didn't write haiku as well.

Thump.
Meredith landed on the mat.

Thump.
Bonnie landed.

Thump, thump.
Jessica and Mary Ellen eased themselves down from the ropes, and the four girls went back to the waiting lines.

Anastasia saw Ms. Willoughby rise from her seat in the bleachers and start forward. Well, it was now or never; she knew Ms. Willoughby was about to say thank you to the girls and to the visitors, and then everyone would be dismissed.

"
PHWEET!
" Anastasia blew very hard on the whistle. Ms. Willoughby looked startled. The lady in the sari jumped slightly in her seat. All twenty-two girls in their gym suits stared at Anastasia to see what was going on. Daphne formed the words "Go for it!" silently with her mouth.

Anastasia stepped forward and faced the small audience on the bleachers. Ms. Willoughby was starting to sit down, starting to stand up again, and finally sitting back down, puzzled.

"Ah," Anastasia began, "there's going to be one final brief demonstration, and it will be me."

No one was taking notes. But their hands, with pens in them, were all poised over their notebooks.

"I want to explain," Anastasia went on, "that the reason I was only blowing the whistle was because I couldn't seem to climb a rope.

"I tried and tried but all I could do was dangle because I couldn't get the feet part right, and then my arms would start to hurt.

"And, ah, Ms. Wilhelmina Willoughby, the gym teacher sitting there on your right—well, she kept encouraging me so that I began to practice a lot at home. She told me that one day I'd just keep right on going up the rope to the top. And I didn't really believe her, I guess, but I kept trying, and, ah, well—"

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