Standing outside of St. Julia Child Elementary and Middle School, I choked on the stink. Raw eggs covered practically every inch of the pavement in front of me. And some had started to rot.
It was absolutely sweltering, and sunscreen was sliding off my pale and easily burned skin. A heat wave had been roasting the entire town of Muffuletta for over a week now, so of course the Camp Egghead summer campers would try to fry eggs on the sidewalks in the courtyard. Normally, I wouldn’t go anywhere near the school during the annual Eggsperiment, because the sight and smell is beyond shuddersome. Unfortunately, that was also the day of my sixth-grade Eating placement test.
Back when my parents went to St. Julia Child, which was so long ago they didn’t even have microwaves in the classrooms, Eating placement tests were taken right before high school. But a few years ago a bunch of parents complained that their kids’ mouths weren’t being challenged, so the Muffuletta School Board decided to start dividing sixth-graders based on their Eating skill. Excuse me, please, but taking a test is not the nicest way to end summer vacation.
The placement test determines whether we get into the Gifted and Gourmet class, the Becoming a Real Foodie class, or the Remedial Eating to Change Habits class. (Pretty much all the students at St. Julia Child call these classes GAG, BARF, and RETCH, but only when the teachers or Principal Butcher aren’t around.) RETCH is what you get put into if you fail the placement test, and if you don’t pass out of RETCH by the end of the year, you have to go to summer school. That’s exactly the kind of embarrassment that would actually kill you very dead, no matter how much my parents try to convince me otherwise.
I shaded my eyes to see how far the Eggsperiment extended. Going around it would take too long, and I was already worried about being late. I was going to have to walk right through the oozing yellow minefield.
I slapped a hand over my nose and mouth, took a deep breath, and started leaping from one patch of clean pavement to the next. Maybe if I concentrated really hard on total egg avoidance, I could forget how nervous I was.
If it had been a test for any other subject, my stomach wouldn’t feel like it was being put through a meat grinder. I get Satisfactorys in almost everything except Math and Science (where I get Exceptionals) and Eating. Here and there, I might get a Needs Improvements, but if I’m unlucky, which seems to happen a lot, I get Pickys—the worst Eating grade. Even though teachers at St. Julia Child try to infuse all the subjects with food-related curriculums or examples—like, for Reading, making recipe collections of all the food that’s mentioned in a book, or in Math, learning fractions by cutting up a pie—Eating is the only subject at school that requires a placement test. An oral placement test.
I don’t try to get Pickys in Eating, but I’m just not as good at it as other kids. It’s boring and gross and hard.
There was this day in kindergarten when I didn’t want to make meatballs for a Touch! Make! Taste! lesson. I told Mrs. Courgette that the raw ground meat squishing and squelching between my fingers felt like the time I picked up a slug from the garden and accidentally squeezed it too hard.
The next day, Mrs. Courgette called my parents in for a chat.
“So,” Mrs. Courgette said to my parents, “Minerva is struggling in Eating. She doesn’t want to try new things, she disrupts the class with awful faces and gagging noises, and her food group sorting, well, just see for yourself.”
My parents looked over at the big display of paper plates on the class bulletin board. Using pictures from food magazines, we were supposed to fill the smallest section of the paper plate with things like chips and cookies, to show that they were less nutritious. And then we were supposed to fill the other, larger sections of the plate with the basic food groups—fruits, vegetables, grains, meat, and dairy products—according to how much we were supposed to eat of them per day. But in the small section I had glued magazine cutouts of all the foods I hated and labeled it “Iky Fud.”
The rest of my plate was filled with pictures of food I liked: macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes and baked potatoes (both with lots of butter), french fries, grilled cheese, pasta, cheese pizza, roast chicken, cheese, ice cream, cookies, pickles, and ketchup. I had drawn lots of arrows pointing to those foods and written “YUM!” I didn’t even bother to sort them into the proper groups.
My parents exchanged worried glances.
“It is very important that you work on Eating with Minerva at home as much as possible so she can catch up with the rest of the students,” Mrs. Courgette went on, picking up a neatly piled sheaf of flavored nori and holding it out. “I have some worksheets you can have her eat at home.”
My parents would have the same conversation every year with all my other teachers. And it always ended with more seaweed worksheets. Teachers think that sending worksheets home is the answer to everything. I think the only thing they answer is: What would it taste like to lick the wall of a moldy old dungeon? The worksheets come in flavors like onion, barbecue, and even bacon, which is supposed to help “expand your palate.” But I still taste dank dungeon walls.I hopped over another dark yellow egg slick. Getting across the Eggsperiment wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. In a few more seconds, I’d be home free.
I just needed to take one last leap.
Too late and in midair, I realized my leap wasn’t going to be long enough.
I landed hard. The heel of my flip-flop slashed right through the middle of an egg yolk and sent me skidding through several others.
“MOTHER EARRRRTH!” I hollered.
I windmilled my arms as hard as I could to stay upright, but I slipped and slid across the courtyard sidewalk before I finally splurched to a stop on egg-free pavement.
I leaned over my knees to catch some of my breath. That was the closest I had ever come to getting a concussion.
Last week my parents and I watched an interesting but also sort of scary television program all about the science of concussions. I had been reading a lot of books and articles about concussions ever since. I did the same thing after we watched a special on shark attacks. My parents don’t like it when I do this. They think it makes me even more anxious, but if you ask me, it’s good to be as informed as possible about the scarier things in life. That way it’s easier to avoid them. In my concussion research I learned that pretty much ANYTHING could give you a concussion: driving in a car, taking...