PART A (The Psychologist) — 14

One of Johnston’s Business professors was a wiry fellow named Spek.

Spek’s lazy style, creepy wink, and wizardly appearance were to Johnston hallmark trappings of pure, irreversible failure.

Spek seemed most proud to revel in never having conducted any business of his own.

Now Spek’s apathy for actual instruction was costing Johnston his night.

Occupying two big tables at the library’s farthest edge, Johnston macheted eyes and fingers across several laid-out pages to triple-check his work.

Waves of confusion fell like gunfire behind twin twitching eyelids, interfering in their drawn-out war against droning, heavy fatigue.

The formulas were easy.

So why were they not working?

Had he not just re-reread the chapter?

Yet somewhere along the way, solving practice problems had become attempts at cleaning running engine parts that would dirty themselves six times faster than their edges could be wiped.

A moment’s empty silence almost brought to mind several realities remaining: the older brother and noises down the hall, a transcendent carpet multiverse, and even that same disgusting scrub brush . . . supposedly all springboards to catapult Johnston onward and upward.

But not yet.

Not now.

Not really.

The thought of Spek’s smug face made Johnston snap a pencil, the waste immediately providing his rage a clearer target than injustice.

Wasted thoughts.

Wasted time.

Wasted money.

Wasted lead.

He was startled to notice a girl a few tables over, young and all alone.

How could he have missed her?

Had she seen him break the pencil?

It felt odd not to bounce his eyes back from her at once to resume their doomed undertakings across the desks.

He could not be more aware of his choice to allow her image to hover at the corner of his vision.

So soft.

So bright and pretty.

So defenseless.

He could approach her easily, of course, and comment on the fact that they alone seemed studious enough to brave the college library this late on a Friday.

He could ask about her major, and dazzle her with the sheer vastness of his superior knowledge and ambition.

Johnston was, after all, what every girl wanted: a good-looking go-getter with a future so bright he might just burn all others to nothing with it (starting, of course, with Spek and every other useless teacher).

If powers that be could just set Johnston free, and let him go, and watch…

There she sat, a finger circling the clear little clip that held her sandy hair.

“What a big brain you have!” she would exclaim as he wowed her with his wit.

Yet should he not return his attention to more unsolvable problems at hand?

Business Statistics was a silly class, though important (like the rest).

Spek’s favorite line jostled to mind, the one repeated most often: “Business assignments are the easiest of all to fudge; and they usually turn out better when you do.”

It had to be a test.

What teacher would encourage students to not do their absolute best?

There she sat, staring into a subject-less volume opened to a colorless page.

So warm and happy.

So carefree.

He could hear her now, spouting pleasantries as he revealed the utter depths to which one would plummet to then rise and win the world.

She would see him matter amongst the matter-less as he crushed the sorry likes of Spek with inarguable value, carrying what forefathers and heroes had once been known to cede their very lives, lands, and freedoms to—the drive to grasp at facile existence and bend it fast to human whims.

And if they, why not he?

There she sat, a breathing bag of indentations and curvatures, pretending not to notice him.

Who would dress like that to go study?

Unless…

Johnston shook himself from the thought, relieved to no longer be shaking himself from every lapse of calling slumber . . . but both shakings being really just ways of recoiling from different shames and troubles adjoined to getting caught.

There she sat.

What could he give her?

What might he do?

Would he pretend for her?

If asked, would he find and offer his brother’s nasty drugs?

Would he really act the lowly, stupid fool?

He pulled a fresh pencil stiff from its case, and wrote somewhere:

Will you do anything for *? LYA?LM?TI?LYA? THANK YOU!

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