The Life Cycle of Shoe Maggots, Place Values, & Other Lessons from Second Grade

Cindra Spencer


Mom wanted me to go to a decent school, but we were poor, so she got a library card with a fake address. It’s easy to lie to the library but not a decent school. The school skeptically enrolled me off the fraudulent card, probably because at least I liked books.

When you lie to a decent school, you have to walk a long way. I had to walk alone because other kids had cars or bikes or two parents, privileges like that.

One morning, while walking to the school mom said I deserved, I saw a cat cross the road and get hit by a car. The car didn’t stop. I stopped. And the cat stopped. But not the car.

It must have already been dead, but twelve pounds generates a lot of adrenaline when assaulted by a four-door sedan. It got up and darted across my KangaROOS tennis shoes and into the blackberry bushes. Mom saved up for the shoes and made me hide a dime inside the zipper, in case I ever had an emergency when walking alone. Like getting abducted. If that happened, I was supposed to escape and use the dime and call her straight away.

Its guts left a thick, dark smear across the toe of my left ROO. The cat collapsed in the blackberry bushes. We’d learned about Stranger Danger, but not what to do if a split-open cat smeared guts on your shoes. But the decent school would call mom if I was late. She’d think I was one of those abducted kids on the news, so I just kept going. Like the car.

On the way home, I checked the bushes. The cat was still there, but dead. All the way dead, no more adrenaline. Its eyes glossed open, staring out at the street, like, wait, hold on, I had things to do today. I squat down to pet it, but it didn’t feel much like a cat. It was not comforted by my touch.

Each morning and each afternoon I observed the metamorphosis of the dead cat. How its eyes went missing. How it bloated up, then sunk in, emaciated. The blackberry blossoms fell off and the berries came in, green at first, then dark and ripe and juicy.

One warm morning, a maggot crawled across the open, fleshy part of the cat. On the way home, I looked to see if the maggot was still there. It had multiplied to thousands, maybe a million. Maybe a million billion. We hadn’t learned multiplications yet. Just place values. The lesson only went to ten thousand. The decent school hadn’t reckoned a need to estimate maggot values exceeding ten thousand.

It was incomprehensible that, in the course of a single decent school day, the dead thing in the bushes had transformed into more maggots than cat.

I didn’t want to wear my KangaROOS after that even though mom saved up for them. I fretted shoe maggots would populate out of the thick blood smear. We hadn’t learned about the life cycle of shoe maggots yet. It stood to reason shoe maggots could develop just that fast, too.

I hid the KangaROOS under my bed then secretly borrowed mom’s shoes and wore them to school. Her shoes were much too big and clop clop clopped. It took longer to walk to the school I deserved to attend, and even longer to walk back. I got blisters. I worried every morning and every afternoon about getting abducted and not having my dime. But, there was no danger of shoe maggots sprouting up on my feet.

I had to borrow mom’s shoes in secret because she’d get upset if she knew I got cat guts on the KangaROOS she’d saved so hard for. And, I wasn’t allowed in her closet anyway because guns were in there. Rifles too. But she was already at work by the time I got up for school, and still at work when I got home. She worked a split-shift. So, it was no problem to sneak her benign shoes.

The problem is that my teacher was deeply offended by them. After a week of wearing mom’s shoes and preventing a decent school maggot outbreak, Mrs. Parodi had enough. When I clop clop clopped to the pencil sharpener she grabbed my arm. She pulled me aside. She said under no uncertain terms may I wear those shoes ever again. She squeezed my arm harder and demanded to know why I didn’t have shoes that fit.

In a decent school’s second grade classroom, being pulled aside meant you were just a few feet from all the decent students sitting at all their decent desks. My face turned the shameful color of dead cat entrails. The decent school hadn’t yet held sensitivity training on the clop-clop disruption of a bookish girl admitted off a phony library card.

Intuitively, more intuitive than a cat crossing a busy road, I knew that any explanation involving shoe maggots would not fare well. I shrugged and hid my hot entrail face behind my hair.

I told mom I didn’t want to go to the decent school anymore. She argued that I deserved to go. I begged with her, explaining I only learned about Stranger Danger and place values. I didn’t mention the self-study on cat decomposition. But I did tell her how I had to hide in the bathroom at lunch recess and eat my sandwiches in the stall.

Mom’s split-shift job didn’t promote concepts like ‘present a problem, present a solution.’ At mom’s job, if you had a problem you went to smoke out back to bitch about it.

Mom lit up a cigarette. Damn that sucks, she said. She smoked and thought it over, inhaling, exhaling, giving my plea thorough consideration. She tapped ash into an empty tuna can and nodded, decided. She said no. She said I deserved to go to that school.



Cindra Spencer lives in Colorado. She has an affinity for dark mysteries so she is often on the road inspecting health facilities. She occasionally dusts off her keyboard and pretends to be a writer.