Mrs Dodds was this little maths teacher from Georgia who always wore a black leather jacket, even though she was fifty years old. She looked mean enough to ride a Harley right into your locker. She had come to Yancy halfway through the year, when our last maths teacher had a nervous breakdown.
From her first day, Mrs Dodds loved Nancy Bobofit and figured I was devil spawn. She would point her crooked finger at me and say, ‘Now, honey,’ real sweet, and I knew I was going to get after-school detention for a month.
One time, after she’d made me erase answers out of old maths workbooks until midnight, I told Grover I didn’t think Mrs Dodds was human. He looked at me real serious and said, ‘You’re absolutely right.’
Mr Brunner kept talking about Greek funeral art.
Finally, Nancy Bobofit snickered something about the naked guy on the stele, and I turned around and said, ‘Will you shut up?’
It came out louder than I meant it to.
The whole group laughed. Mr Brunner stopped his story.
‘Mr Jackson,’ he said, ‘did you have a comment?’
My face was totally red. I said, ‘No, sir.’
Mr Brunner pointed to one of the pictures on the stele. ‘Perhaps you’ll tell us what this picture represents?’
I looked at the carving, and felt a flush of relief, because I actually recognized it. ‘That’s Kronos eating his kids, right?’
‘Yes,’ Mr Brunner said, obviously not satisfied. ‘And he did this because…’
‘Well…’ I racked my brain to remember. ‘Kronos was the king god, and –’
‘God?’ Mr Brunner asked.
‘Titan,’ I corrected myself. ‘And… he didn’t trust his kids, who were the gods. So, um, Kronos ate them, right? But his wife hid baby Zeus, and gave Kronos a rock to eat instead. And later, when Zeus grew up, he tricked his dad, Kronos, into barfing up his brothers and sisters –’
‘Eeew!’ said one of the girls behind me.
‘– and so there was this big fight between the gods and the Titans,’ I continued, ‘and the gods won.’
Some snickers from the group.
Behind me, Nancy Bobofit mumbled to a friend, ‘Like we’re going to use this in real life. Like it’s going to say on our job applications, “Please explain why Kronos ate his kids”.’
‘And why, Mr Jackson,’ Brunner said, ‘to paraphrase Miss Bobofit’s excellent question, does this matter in real life?’
‘Busted,’ Grover muttered.
‘Shut up,’ Nancy hissed, her face even brighter red than her hair.
At least Nancy got in trouble, too. Mr Brunner was the only one who ever caught her saying anything wrong. He had radar ears.
I thought about his question, and shrugged. ‘I don’t know, sir.’
‘I see.’ Mr Brunner looked disappointed. ‘Well, half credit, Mr Jackson. Zeus did indeed feed Kronos a mixture of mustard and wine, which made him disgorge his other five children, who, of course, being immortal gods, had been living and growing up completely undigested in the Titan’s stomach. The gods defeated their father, sliced him to pieces with his own scythe, and scattered his remains in Tartarus, the darkest part of the Underworld. On that happy note, it’s time for lunch. Mrs Dodds, would you lead us back outside?’
The class drifted off, the girls holding their stomachs, the guys pushing each other around and acting like doofuses.
Grover and I were about to follow when Mr Brunner said, ‘Mr Jackson.’
I knew that was coming.
I told Grover to keep going. Then I turned towards Mr Brunner. ‘Sir?’
Mr Brunner had this look that wouldn’t let you go – intense brown eyes that could’ve been a thousand years old and had seen everything.
‘You must learn the answer to my question,’ Mr Brunner told me.
‘About the Titans?’
‘About real life. And how your studies apply to it.’
‘What you learn from me,’ he said, ‘is vitally important. I expect you to treat it as such. I will accept only the best from you, Percy Jackson.’
I wanted to get angry, this guy pushed me so hard.
I mean, sure, it was kind of cool on tournament days, when he dressed up in a suit of Roman armour and shouted: ‘What ho!’ and challenged us, sword-point against chalk, to run to the board and name every Greek and Roman person who had ever lived, and their mother, and what god they worshipped. But Mr Brunner expected me to be as good as everybody else, despite the fact I have dyslexia and attention deficit disorder and I had never made above a C- in my life. No – he didn’t expect me to be as good; he expected me to be better. And I just couldn’t learn all those names and facts, much less spell them correctly.