|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets a Life.||Rowena's Life, Part 6|
Rowena dumped her project onto her kitchen table. She was already tired. “I can't believe I got sucked into this,” she said aloud. “I'm out of school. Right? I'm - not - in - school - any - more!”
She glared a moment at the assorted papers and books, then fixed herself a bowl of soup and a cup of tea, grabbed some bread, and began.
“Stupid job,” she muttered. She wasn't supposed to have to do things like this. She didn't get paid enough anyway.
Around eleven o'clock she fixed another cup of tea.
Around twelve-thirty she fixed a third cup of tea. She had her fourth cup at two; and at a quarter to three she put her head down. She had her notes together, at least, but what about Visual Aids? And how was she going to explain all this as if she knew what she was talking about, and was relaxed and confident and all that? And what about—
“How can they give me all this at the last minute?” she demanded. “What am I doing, staying up all night? I'm not a doctor, and I'm not in school any more!”
She closed her eyes a moment. Just a moment, she told herself, and she would get right back to work. Right away. Immediately.
She ran and ran; she was late for her Finals. She ran faster and faster but she wasn't getting anywhere; the scenery around her never changed; the same tree remained four feet ahead of her. She dropped her books and they scattered; as she stopped running the books picked themselves up and, flapping their covers, flew away, their pages hanging down like fan-shaped tails.
Then she was sitting at a desk in a large lecture hall. The professor, a broad-faced man with a very wide mouth and a round belly, said, “Your grade will depend entirely upon one problem, which I shall put up on the blackboard. Please copy the problem onto your paper and show all your work.” He walked to the board. “Those of you on the left half of the room, work the problem I put up. Those on the right, work the TA's problem.”
The TA looked exactly like the professor. “Nohow!” he said. “I want to do the problem on the left.”
“Contrariwise, I am already putting the problem up,” replied the professor. The TA grabbed an eraser and charged. There was a scuffle. Rowena and the other students sat quietly. Eventually the contestants got up and dusted themselves off. They walked back to the blackboard, one on the left and one on the right, and silently wrote their problems. Then they walked to a low table and sat down, side by side, and grinned at the class. Rowena still couldn't tell them apart.
She looked at her problem: 1/2 + 1/3 =
She couldn't believe she was getting off that easily. This was supposed to be college. She wrote down the problem, and the answer, then filled in the work she was supposed to show. She looked over at the other problem, just out of curiosity.
Calculate pi to 42 places.
Rowena looked at this, then back at her own problem, which was 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/4. She looked at this, hard, then back at her paper. 1/2 + 1/3 = 5/6, her neat but unnecessary work underneath. Luckily she'd used pencil. She erased = 5/6 and most of the “work” and then wrote in + 1/4 = and glanced up at the board, which now read 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/4 + 1/5 =.
Rowena sensed trouble. She made the addition and looked back up; sure enough, 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/4 + 1/5 + 1/6 =. Rowena made the change and quickly escalated to + 1/7 in hopes of staving the thing off; on the contrary, when she looked up the problem was up to 1/8. Rowena scribbled her way up to 1/13 before glancing up again; sure enough, there it was—1/14. The problem had spilled to the next line. Rowena put her hand up and the professor came over—or was it the TA?
“When is it going to end?” she asked. “Could you tell me where it's going to end?”
“Nohow,” said the TA.
“Well, I can't do anything with it until it stops.”
“That's your problem,” said the TA, and snickered. He went away. Rowena looked at the blackboard: 1/15. Rowena wrote that down, and looked again—at 1/16. Apparently the thing had waited for her while she talked with the TA. Rowena considered. Keeping her eyes carefully on her paper, she worked her problem as if it ended at 1/17, but did not write 1/17 anywhere on the sheet. This done, she looked up carefully to see, at the far edge of the bottom row: 1/37.
Rowena took a breath. She scribbled over the work she'd done and looked back at the board: 1/39. Thirty-nine? As she watched, the numbers began ticking over; when they got to the bottom of the board, they started again from the top.
Rowena went back to her piece of paper. She drew a large infinity sign and circled it. Where she was supposed to show her work, she drew little flowers and butterflies. At one point she looked at the right-hand problem, which had not changed. The problem on the left—hers—whizzed by faster and faster and faster.
Rowena tried to push her way to her next class, but the students crowding the walkway kept shoving her in what she thought was the wrong direction, though she couldn't be sure. Suddenly she was turned right around and shoved with some force through a doorway.
“Sit down,” said a slow deep voice. “We've been waiting for you.”
Rowena sank meekly into an empty chair. “This is an oral exam,” the professor continued. His eyes were large and cowlike. “Are you ready?”
“Yes,” said Rowena, without conviction.
“Very well.” He glanced at a sheet of paper in his hand. “Recite Paradise Lost in its entirety.”
“Ummmm . . . it's . . .”
The professor folded his arms and looked at her. “That—that would take a long time,” Rowena faltered.
“Then begin now.”
Rowena cleared her throat. There was no other sound. She tried to remember how the poem began, but only one phrase came to her, and she was sure it was wrong. She closed her eyes and started talking.
“It was a dark and stormy night, and the first
Of Penny Platypus' little tykes
Bought beans and kumquats at the corner store
With lots of chortling and—”
“Tsk-tsk-tsk-tsk-tsk.” Rowena opened her eyes. Her professor was looking mournfully down at her and shaking his head. “Wrong,” he said. “Wrong, wrong, wrong. I shall have to fail you.”
“Oh, please,” said Rowena.
“She got seventeen percent of the words right,” somebody said. “Of course, they were mostly articles and things.”
“Failure,” said the professor.
“I did War and Peace,” said somebody behind her. “Verbatim.”
“I did the complete works of Voltaire,” said somebody else. “Three different translations.”
Rowena jumped up and clapped her hands over her mouth. “French!” she yelped. She'd forgotten her French class—forgotten she'd had a French class, hadn't attended once. She grabbed her pencil and dashed out the door.
Rowena puffed up to her French class and crept through the door as quietly as she could. She found a seat and sank into it. She looked up at the instructor.
Her mother shook her head. “You don't call,” she said. “You don't write. And you don't even come to class.”
“You can give me your excuse later,” said her mother. “You are interrupting the test.” She strode off and addressed the class. “Now, where were we? Minette! Préferéz-vous le café ou le thé?”
Rowena was dumbfounded. This was easy! This was beyond easy! This was—
This was her mother, she reminded herself, and her own question was still to come. She sat quietly while her mother interrogated her classmates one by one, asking them whether they had any brothers, when their birthdays were, whether they liked noodles with butter. Finally it was her turn. Rowena braced herself.
“Où est ta chatte?”
Rowena sighed audibly; she relaxed so much she slumped in her chair. Simple! Where was a good place for a cat to be? “Ma chatte est sous la chaise,” she said. Her mother stared at her, shocked. Rowena was taken aback. What had she said? Only “My cat is under the chair;” she was sure of it.
“Rowena! I am surprised at you!” her mother said, in English.
“What?” asked Rowena.
“Lying like that. I happen to know perfectly well you don't have a cat.”
“I will not tolerate lying! And to your own mother!”
“Just wait till your father finds out! Flunking and telling a falsehood. I'm ashamed.”
“Next!” cried her mother over Rowena's head. “As-tu tué le Jaseroque?”
From behind Rowena came her sister's voice, sullenly. “I didn't know this was gonna be a class in talking French,” Maralynne said.
Rowena woke with a start. “Oh, God,” she said. “What a dream.” She was sitting at her kitchen table, papers strewn before her. Light streamed in through the window. Rowena jumped up and peered at the clock. As reality set in, she recognized from the bedroom the sound of her clock radio, softly, dutifully playing. It had, of course, been playing for some time.
Rowena ran to the bathroom. No time for breakfast; no time to lose at all. Talk about a bad start, she thought. She got herself together as quickly as she could and dashed out the door.
She scooted into Rorschach & Schmed twenty minutes late. No sign yet of Eloise. She all but skidded when the receptionist called out to her.
“What?” asked Rowena. She felt doomed.
“Are you giving a report today?”
She'd left her report at home.
“Doomed,” Rowena moaned.
“Good heavens, look at you,” said Rosalie. “Relax; I've got good news. You don't have to be here for another forty minutes.”
“Mr. Schmed told me to tell the people who were attending the meeting that they didn't have to be here until it started. Go get a cup of coffee or something.”
“Wish I could have told you earlier, but this whole thing has been—”
“It's okay,” said Rowena. “Thank you. Thank you very much.” She turned and headed for the door.
“Oh, and he said not to worry too much about the presentation. He knows you guys haven't had much time.”
Rowena thanked her again and left. She was no longer worrying about the presentation at all; it was finished enough; she only needed to have it. Just as she needed to have scrambled eggs. Scrambled eggs—she would have scrambled eggs. And a muffin. And orange juice. And coffee, Rowena decided, starting up her car; she would have coffee. She had had enough tea.
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