Cornrows accented with bright beads crowned the tiny ten-year-old’s head which bobbed up and down to the beat of the multiplication table rap being fed into her brain via earphones that seemed to be swallowing her entire noggin’. Alexa smiled and sang sweetly under her breath along with the well-worn cd. Three times four is twelve, three times five is fifteen… Alexa listened to the cd each time she earned classroom reward time. She bypassed the computer, puzzles, library, snacks, Legos, and crafts in order to work her tables. She was often still listening to her tables when her grandfather would come to pick her up after school.
Each night, after supper dishes were cleared and homework was done, Alexa would stand before her grandfather and recite her tables. Multiplication, like all things having to do with numbers, baffled her. She could “see” the order and usefulness every time she solved problems with her “cheat sheet”, but that was…well…cheating- despite the fact that her teacher had made sure her right to use such a device was protected in her Individual Education Plan.
Her nightly performance was rewarded with hugs and ice cream before bedtime. Grandfather understood her like nobody else. People whispered about how “slow” she was and “wasn’t it a pity?” Grandfather never allowed such talk when he was around, but people at church often looked at Alexa with sad eyes and clucked about what would become of “such a child” without her grandfather.
Alexa worked all year long to memorize her tables. She sang them, recited them, and prayed about them. Grandfather stocked the freezer with a variety of ice cream and listened with patience each night as Alexa stumbled over her tables, missing this one or that, rarely the same one each time. Grandfather would hug her, fix her ice cream, wait for her to brush her pearly whites, hear her prayers, and tuck the tiny girl in.
One night, in early spring, Alexa took up her place before Grandfather’s chair and smiled a giant smile. She made a huge to-do that included a curtsy and a bit of tap-dancing with a twirl of her skirt and the rattle of her hair beads. Grandfather took it all in and waited for her to begin. The sprite began at the beginning: 1×1, 1×2, 1×3… slowly and deliberately, Alexa’s voice rose with each new set. Excitement filled the air, Alexa’s feet kept time with the rap that resounded constantly in her head. …12×8, 12×9, 12×10, 12×11, 12×12… She had DONE it! She had memorized and recited the entire 1-12’s multiplication table!
As she looked at Grandfather, her face froze in horror. The years of work, all through the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades had come to an end. Suddenly, the nightly ritual was gone-just like THAT! GONE. Alexa crumpled to the floor and sobbed. Grandfather reached down, pulled the tiny child onto his lap and stroked her beaded braids. He whispered soothing little words until Alexa stopped crying.
When she had dried her tears and straightened her special twirly-whirley dress, Grandfather stood, took her tiny hand in his and walked towards the door. Alexa looked up at him with questioning eyes. Grandfather smiled and said, “Let’s go to the Dairy Queen.”
Beth is a freelance writer from Grayson, GA. Her work has appeared extensively in The Gwinnett Citizen and several ghost-written local publications as well as on her blog. She is currently a video editor and content writer for NightGlass Media Group. A Little at a Time first appeared on the Flash Fiction site, The Five Hundred and was published in the anthology, We Wrote a Book (2016).