The Worst Day to Learn
By Perry Manwaring
(Written for Harriet who was very afraid of shots.)
But Harriet Milligan squirmed in her seat. She looked at the floor. She looked at her feet. She twisted her hanky. She twisted her ring. To herself she said, “Hmph, I won’t learn a thing. How does she think that kids can learn lots when today is the day that we have to have shots? Soon we’ll have to line up each one in our turn. Today of all days is the worst day to learn.
‘Look, Dick. See Sally,’ it says in my book. Pooh! All Jane can do is just stand and say, ‘Look.’ I wouldn’t just stand and say, “See Sally, see,’ if some little girl squirted water on me. If it was me standing there in Jane’s place, I wouldn’t say, ‘Funny.’ I’d slap her face. Oh, today is the awfulest day in the nation ‘cause I have to line up for that old vaccination.
And when we line up, I know how it will be. We’ll have to line up in a line A, B, C. At the head of the line will be Anna Mae Abbot, and next is Bob Bliss, and then Charlie Cabot. And right next to him will be Marilyn Chugg to the end of the alphabet—that’s William Zugg.
I have to line up beween Massey and Morrill, and ‘most every day we get in a quarrel. I wish Connie Massey was not next to me. Then I’d be standing by Steven MacKee. I like Steven a lot. His hair’s a neat red. But he doesn’t like me; he likes Connie instead. I wish when we march in a row down the hall, Connie would stumble—maybe she’d fall.
She could sprain an ankle; she might skin a knee. She might have to stay home for two weeks—maybe three. Then he couldn’t like her. He’d have to like me. Oh, today I feel mean. My stomach’s in knots ‘cause today is the day that we have to have shots.
Once in a while we start with the Z, but that doesn’t change things any for me. There’s one that is last and there’s one that is first, but I’m in the middle, and that is the worst. I’d like to be last. That would be fine ‘cause nobody looks at the end of the line. Then when we march in a row down the hall, I’ll bet I could hide just like nothing at all. I’d slip ‘round the corner and then run away. But I’m in the middle, so I have to stay.
At the head of the line you get through a lot quicker, but I have to wait and get sicker and sicker. The line always stops when I’m just in the door. I wish it would stop just a little before ‘cause right at the door there is always a smell. Well, the smell of that smell doesn’t make me feel well. Standing there at the door is awfully tough because on the table there’s bottles and stuff. And needles, and alcohol, cotton for blotters. And right at the end are a whole lot of shotters. If school is to learn and a place to be taught, why do they make it a place to be shot?”
Just then the door opened. A voice said, “Miss Slade, the doctor is ready for all the first grade.” “Very well,” said the teacher. “All right. That is fine. Now children,” she said, “we must get in a line. We usually start with the A’s and the B’s and once in a while we start with the Z’s. Now we shouldn’t every time just start with them, so today, for a change, let’s start with the M’s. I think we should make this a fun little game. We’ll see who of all has the middlest name. We have Massey and Morrill, MacKee and Mulhurst—Harriet Milligan gets to be first! She’ll lead all the class down the hall to room three.” Harriet gulped, “Do you mean me?”
Then stiffly she stood up and walked to her place. (She had quite a serious look on her face.) She opened the door; the door swung out, and the alphabet followed from the inside out. They marched in a line down the hall to room three. M, L, N were first, then K, O, J, P. The first in the line didn’t have time enough to stop and look at the bottles and stuff. Right by the table was Dr. Stover. A twist of the wrist—then it was over.
They returned to the hall, waiting there was Miss Martin with all of her class from the kindergarten. There in a line, all in their places, were thirty sober little faces. One little girl at Harriet stared and said, “Did it hurt? I feel awful scared.” “Hurt?” Harriet said. “It felt more like a touch. Well, it did hurt a little—but not very much.” She took Connie’s hand as they walked down the hall and said, “I was scared too when I used to be small.”