Singled out

I finished my picture and smiled up at my teacher as she came over to look at my work.

“It’s a fairy,” I told her.

“Then it’s not quite finished”, she said. “You’ve forgotten to draw the wings.”

“Fairies don’t have wings,” I said.

Miss Hansen tilted her head and frowned at me — and I knew I had done something wrong.

“Oh, I assure you,” Miss Hansen went on, “fairies have wings. Now draw them in please!”

I picked up a pencil and stared at my picture — not quite sure what to do. I could feel Miss Hansen’s anger bearing down on me.

“What’s the problem, Alene? Just draw the wings!”

“I don’t know what they look like,” I admitted. “I’ve never seen a fairy with wings.”

A gasp went around the classroom — and I realized all the other children had stopped drawing to stare at me. Miss Hansen looked at me as though I were being deliberately difficult.

“Please don’t make up stories, Alene,” she snapped. “We all know fairies have wings, don’t we?”

She looked around at the other children. They all nodded in agreement — and continued to stare at me with gleeful malice.

“But the fairies I know don’t have wings,” I protested, trying my best not to cry. Miss Hansen had no time for cry-babies.

“Then they are not fairies!”

“But they said they were,” I explained, “and they’re ever so good to me!”

“Then they tell lies,” barked Miss Hansen, getting still angrier. “And you are a very wicked little girl to believe what they say. You are wicked to even listen to them. Fairies without wings? Whoever heard of such a thing!”

“But if they don’t need to fly, why would they have wings?” I pointed out.

Miss Hansen glared at me with unconcealed hostility.

“Always the disruptive one, aren’t you?” she yelled.

I was sent to the principal’s office. My parents were called. And that was just the start.

The Hard Lesson, by William-Adolpho Bougeureau, 1884


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