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Sister Carol Flaherty knew the chip was a problem the moment she bit and it slid into the crevice between her lower molar and gums.
She first brought a hand to her mouth and tried dislodging the chip with the chewed nail of her thumb. When that didn’t work she stood from her chair, leaving the brightly colored chip bag open so orange dust powdered her desk. She walked out of her classroom and into the dimly lit hallway toward the ladies room. Once inside, she pressed her open mouth to the mirror and tried to assess the damage. She thought she detected ground zero within the soft tissue, but not because a chip was showing. The only visible sign of the chip attack was the red, swollen tissue surrounding the tooth.
“Dammit,” said Sister Carol.
Just then a flush. Sister Carol’s eyes widened. She was not alone.
The stall door opened. It was a student. Eight-year-old Susie Herrera stood, her dark hair glossy under the fluorescent light.
Sister Carol was not sure what was more discomforting: the chip from hell or the recent memory from before lunch recess. She was in the middle of her lesson on Isaac tricking his brother Esau into giving him their father’s inheritance when she detected a student passing a note to Susie. Susie held the folded binder paper for a while, perhaps debating whether passing it to the next student for her neighbor was prudent, and then proceeded to give it to the boy in front of her. Sister Carol quickly gave all three lunch detention and a referral. Susie must have been allowed to leave detention to use the restroom.
“You said ‘dammit,'” Susie said.
Sister Carol eventually heard herself mutter, “Yes. Yes, I did.”
The little girl nodded. She eyed her teacher. “Why are you holding your cheek like that?”
She has me in the palm of her hand, Sister Carol thought.
“My tooth hurts.”
“Oh,” Susie said. Then she walked into the hallway.
Sister Carol rushed out the restroom and watched as Susie opened a door and reentered detention.
For the rest of the afternoon, the pain in the gums had not subsided; if anything it had gotten worse. Sister Carol winced and glanced furtively at Susie, and Susie’s eyes bore into Sister Carol’s soul.
Sister Carol had no idea what the girl would do. Tell Sister Toland? Tell her parents? Judge her teacher for the rest of the year?
Eventually the bell rang. The students filtered out the room a little more noisily than usual, aware Sister Carol was off her game. Susie did not follow her fellow classmates. She walked directly to her teacher and stood rigidly.
Sister Carol had to stop from flinching. What did this little girl have up her sleeve? What horrors awaited?
“Here,” Susie said, holding up a business card. After a few moments, Sister Carol took it, and Susie left the room.
Sister Carol looked at the front of the card, which read: “Dr. Victor Herrera, D.D.S.”
On the back, Susie had written, “He’s my dad.”