‘The child started reading and everything went along just fine until she got to that word. It was only five letters, but there might as well have been twenty there. She said it the way her father had told her, but she knew it was wrong because Miss Choi would not turn the page. Instead, she pointed to the word and tapped at the page as if by doing so the correct sound would spill out. But the child didn’t know how to pronounce it. Tap. Tap. Tap. Finally, a yellow-haired girl in the class called out, “It’s knife! The k is silent,” and rolled her eyes as if there was nothing easier in the world to know.
This girl had blue eyes and freckles dotted around her nose. This girl’s mother was always seen in the parking lot after school honking in a big shiny black car with a V and a W holding each other inside a circle. Her mother owned a black fur coat and walked in heels like it was Picture Day every day. This girl was like everyone else in the class, reading loud and clear, winning prizes. The child was the only one not to have won one yet. On this very day, Miss Choi added a red yo-yo to the sack. Had the child known what that word was, that red yo-yo would have been hers, but now it would remain locked in the top drawer of Miss Choi’s desk.
Later that night, the child looks over at her father during dinner. How he picks up each grain of rice with his chopsticks, not dropping a single one. How he eats, clearing away everything in his bowl. How small and shrunken he seems.
The child does not tell him the k in knife is silent. She doesn’t tell him about being in the principal’s office, about being told of rules and how things are the way they are. It was just a letter, she was told, but that single letter, out there all alone, and in the front, was why she was in the office in the first place. She doesn’t tell how she had insisted the letter k was not silent. It couldn’t be, and she had argued and argued, “It’s in the front! The first one! It should have a sound!” and then she screamed as if they had taken some important thing away. She never gave up on what her father said, on that first sound there. And none of them, with all their lifetimes of reading and good education, could explain it.’
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