There is no reward for this.
There is no trophy for putting herself through the mitigating process of writing a paper only to be given anything other than a decent grade. There is no applause, no standing ovation, and goddamnit, there certainly isn’t any cash prizes for being a college student. The diploma wasn’t going to be enough if it didn’t come with magical strings attached to a career. If anything, it apparently was not going to be a writing career, according to this particular English class. The bright red seventy eight - at the top right of the sheet, in fresh ink with the indentions left from a heavy hand and sharp pen - just stared back up at her, uninterested in Liadan’s frustration born notions of recompense. All around her, her fellow classmates were packing up their binders, pencils, notebooks and textbooks, equally as unconcerned with her troubles as her grade.
“Don’t forget to read chapters four and five!” Her professor was announcing to the class as most of them began to pour out of the room, Liadan only just beginning to pack up. She usually sat in the middle of the classroom, so as not to seem like a teacher’s pet, but close enough that she could still listen. Her freshman mind had conceived the sentiment that her education is part and parcel with how her classmates perceived her, though realizing that she was a community college student maybe hadn’t been a factor. The classroom wasn’t set up traditionally; it was long tables lining the walls and two long ones in the middle. Computers were set up at each one, for the various math labs that the room doubled for. Students faced each other or faced the wall. In the current class, she had chosen to become friends with the wall, though the wall was likely in agreement with the vivid numerals on her paper.
“Oooh, ouch,” came a voice from over her shoulder, and she turned to see her classmate, Madison, leaning over to read the grade off her paper. “I had a grade A essay, and I got a C, too. It’s so wrong.”
“At least you passed,” Liadan mumbled, still staring at the paper as if she willed it enough, the grade would change. She threw her notebook and textbook in her bag.
Madison shrugged. “So did you.” She gave Liadan an incredulous look. Madison was a curvy, befreckled young woman with warm light brown skin. She liked to say exactly what she was thinking but with no concept of tact. Besides the wall, she was Liadan’s closest friend thus far at the school, but sometimes Liadan wondered if it was because Liadan was one of the few that humored her.
Liadan didn’t respond to Madison, just pushed a strand of unruly dark hair behind her ear. Madison waited a beat and then frowned at her and turned and left. Sighing, Liadan threw her bag over her shoulder and made her way to the exit, too, the last remaining students passing her by as she moved slower than a honey jar, and soon the long room was deserted, leaving Liadan, her teacher, and rows of empty tables and chairs. She tried not to think about the grade, but her mind kept going back to it. C’s get degrees, but A’s are the few morsels that make getting a higher education seem worth all the debt. Or achieved bragging rights. Or maybe made her feel like choosing to be a writer wasn’t a poor choice. Soon, the honey jar that she was began turning into a tea kettle that was about to start screaming.
Liadan walked up to her professor’s desk, knowing she wasn’t going to get over it until she knew why she kept failing. Her professor, Maximillian Craven, had his attention not on the classroom but instead looking at the whiteboard behind his desk. He was an older gentleman, his still-full-head of hair completely white. He was of average height and build for a man his age (which Liadan guesstimated to be somewhere in his mid-sixties), with a thin frame, but a small bulge in his middle section that indicated he had enjoyed many meals in those years. His choice of clothing quintessentially indicated English professor; today it was a pair of ironed tan slacks and a brown patched blazer. He was very neat and orderly, and his desk only furthered that image. Pencils sat neatly in a cup at the corner of the table, and his copy of the textbook lay open in the very center of the desk. A stapler sat at the corner of the table opposite the pencils and just below it was the stack of in -class homework that had been turned in for the day.
“Okay, why?” Liadan demanded. Yep, she was a tea kettle now.
“Excuse me?” Her professor turned to look up at her, blue eyes curious behind his spectacles. His voice was calm, as if a student coming up and raising her voice when there hadn’t been another sound in the whole room was something he was accustomed to.
“This.” Liadan thrust the essay towards him. Arm fully extended, holding only the top of it with her thumb and forefinger. Someone take this kettle off the stove. “It’s the second test of the semester I’ve failed.”
“Hmm,” Professor Craven took the essay, an exasperating serenity to him. “A seventy isn’t a failing score, need I remind you, Miss Ryan,” he said, one hand lowering his glasses, the other holding her paper. He’d briefly mentioned in the beginning of the term that he’d had a limited foray into writing and when that had turned up little profit, he’d gone back to school to become a teacher because the one thing he’d ever shown a skill for was helping others. What he was not supporting was the worth of her collegiate career. Liadan forced herself to take calming breaths; she could feel the dangling peace sign earrings on her neck as she tilted her head downward to stare at her teacher. Perhaps he could feel the simmer she was trying to force her mood to be.
“Well, Miss Ryan, it looks like a fine essay altogether,” her professor said, sitting down in his desk chair. He didn’t react to her more of a glare than a stare. “But I can see why you got the low score.”
“And?” Heat was rising. She was not simmering anymore. She was beginning to boil again, not because she was getting over it, oh no, that would be too easy. Instead, the internal shriek of her metaphorical tea kettle was sounding because the professor’s stapler had begun floating over his desk. She watched it, unnerved being an understatement, as the stapler rose into the air. It was a wobbly rise, almost like it was imitating a see saw. This way and that it went, rising almost two feet above the desk. Liadan glanced at Professor Craven; his focus was still on her paper. He might even have been talking, but the pounding in her ears was blocking out other noises. She glanced at the stapler; it was still floating. She began to squeeze the strap of her book bag and looked back at her professor. Stapler. Professor. Stapler. Professor. Stapler.
“….and see down here? You wrote ‘actually’ twice, and then you refer to the issue of whether or not you feel the school should use the money for extracurricular courses as ‘it’ at the beginning of a paragraph and the computer isn’t sure how to read that. What is ‘it’?”
“Oh. Right.” Liadan replied, but not actually taking in what he was saying. Was he still talking about her essay? Had it been that bad? Focus, Ryan.
Liadan’s eyes maintained a steady switch between the stapler and then to the professor, sending all her energy into hoping he wouldn’t look up and see what was happening to it.
“But you’re a good student, so I’m going to let you retake the test, because I don’t really think computers grading papers is very fair, anyway,” Professor Craven raised his head taking his glasses off, and in one lack of thought except desperation Liadan’s hand shot out to swat the stapler out of the air. It fell to the ground with a clatter, hitting the desk as it went. Liadan went down with it, the wind of her hurried descent causing her long dark hair to fly behind her. As soon as she was on the ground and out of sight, she gripped the hand that had hit the stapler with the other, letting out a completely silent moan of pain; it had hurt a lot more than she’d expected, hitting a stapler with her bare palm. Her professor stood up, alarmed.
“I’m so sorry,” Liadan said in one breath immediately afterwards, hoping it seemed like an accident of simply bumping the stapler off. She scooped it up and placed it back on her professor’s desk, an awkward twisting movement because she was trying not to use her still stinging right hand. Behind her she heard a crash - followed by a succession of slightly smaller crashes - and looked back in enough time to see that the window blinds had pulled themselves up, and one of the pictures on the wall was now hanging lopsided.
Liadan’s mouth opened to an O shape. Alarmed, she quickly scanned the whole room, her earrings hitting her neck with every rapid turn of her head. She rose to her feet, whirled like she was trying to use an invisible hula hoop, and quickly grabbed her paper back from Professor Craven.
“Thanks, Professor,” she said in a hurry and then left the room before anything else went haywire.
The scary thing was that wasn’t the first time that had happened to her.