But, those facts put together were still not enough to deter assumptions that he was, in fact, Karl with a K.
Their teacher, a Mrs. Shuster, when reviewing colors with the class, would inevitably get to red and glare most obviously at Carl Marx. But, Carl's favorite color was blue. So, he glared right back at her. The class would watch them glare, some assuming it was a struggle representing democracy and communism and some assuming it was a struggle representing oppressive authority figures and children. Allister always assumed it was a staring game. Carl Marx, when asked, had no idea what was going on. The bell would ring and the lesson in colors and political prejudice would be over for the day.
Carl Marx could always be found in detention at the end of the day. Usually, this punishment was given to him for defiantly writing his name. The defiance was questionable, of course. But, between teacher and assumed communist leader, the lean went to the teacher.
This is how it went, day in and day out…
Then, the spelling bee happened.
One by one, students were given a word and, one by one, they sat down defeated. In the fight between the English language and Mrs. Shuster's first grade class, English was winning in an almost embarrassing fashion. Carl Marx, however, was one of the only bright lights. Red as it may have been assumed, Carl's light knocked down words likebolshevik, Motherland, and Leninism.
By the end of twenty minutes, the English language had triumphed over all the class but two, Allister Cromley and Carl Marx. The final round was all that a final round should be. Seat neighbor against seat neighbor.
And Allister could feel the competitive clutch of…well…of competition.
But, that was all.
He did not feel a struggle for political supremacy. He felt no pressure to save democracy from a rabid and hungry red terror. He felt only the need to crush Carl Marx in spelling. And, he assumed that Carl Marx felt the same. In fact, it seemed the only one who injected the spelling bee with anything beyond sincere spelling bee thoughts was Mrs. Shuster.
And the words were fired like bullets from Mrs. Shuster and deflected back by Allister and Carl:
Allister and Carl were so engrained in the world of letters and how they connected to form sounds and words that they did not notice for some time that the words selected for them seem to come with a message.
To Allister, the words seemed to be handed gently-passed by way of whisper. To Carl, the words were shouted and thrown like a molotov cocktail. And, again, this took time for Allister to see. So engrained in competition was he. In fact, the first awkward moment of awareness that he felt was not in the manner that the words were presented to the boys. No, what Allister noticed first was that the words were beginning to come with a drastic difference in level of difficulty.
And, so, Allister halted the bee for a moment to present Mrs. Shuster with the issue. He said they should be presented with words of the same level. Mrs. Shuster claimed that this was already being done and Allister responded that she was mistaken. Mrs. Shuster told Allister that she was the teacher, that she was in charge, and that Allister was wrong. And Allister, in a standard six-year-old defense, said, “Nu-uh, you’re wrong.”
To which Mrs. Shuster said, “Allister, your next word is ‘wrong’.”
And Allister, dutifully spelled ‘wrong’. “Wrong,” he said, “R…O…N…G”-which is wrong-which Mrs. Shuster said. “Allister, you are wrong.”
Now, I do not know (because Allister never told me) whether or not Allister knew how to spell wrong, whether or not it was a six-year-old stance or if it was, indeed a six-year-old’s mistake. But, Allister sat down, leaving Carl Marx with the final word of the spelling bee.
And Mrs. Shuster said, “Carl Marx…”
“Your word is perestroika.”
Carl plainly repeated, “Perestroika.”
And Carl stared blankly. He was six, remember. He stared blankly with his six year-old eyes that were brown, not red. He stared into Mrs. Shuster’s eyes and tried to say that he was six. That he did not understand why. But, Mrs. Shuster had decided long ago who was wrong (and that she was right).
Carl did not know where to go. The eyes of the entire class were upon him. Brown, green, blue, hazel. No one knew the meaning of the word Carl was faced with. They knew only that it was a hard one. That it was meant to hurt Carl.
And, so, Allister stood up from his seat. He walked over to Carl. Mrs. Shuster commanded him to sit down. He did not. He whispered something into Carl’s ear. And Carl nodded and said, “R.”
Caroline stood up next and Alice and Rose and Leon and Ricky and Toby. Soon, the entire class stood around Carl and conferred. This was a hard word and it had gone beyond a simple spelling bee round. Mrs. Shuster was turning the words against her class. And, though they were only mostly six-year-olds (some were seven), they understood that this was not good.
And so they spelled as best they could. And, when the conferring was done and a decision was decided upon, Carl spoke clearly, “Perestroika.”
The class stood with their chests swelled with pride.
And, Mrs. Shuster told them that they were wrong and that the spelling bee was now over.
But, the children knew that they were right. Maybe not in the spelling. But, they knew they were right in something. It was only years later that Allister discovered that they were right in the definition.