Testing in Progress (excerpt from “Exit Music”)

1958 (2012_08_18 15_01_40 UTC)

Soon finished with the English usage test the teacher passed out — just a couple of pages giving us sentences where we had to circle the proper choice of verb tense plus a list of words to be defined — I felt little kid ennui swooping in, and began to stare out the unopened windows to the right of my glyph-scarred desk. The desk could be interesting: backwards swastikas grooved into the wood by kids from the fifties, nasty words scratched through yet readable. I had a little time for myself.
Pencil-on-paper sounds tickle the quiet of the room until someone drops a pencil and every kid laughs. The teacher’s gone for a quick Winston at the lounge down the hall. The other students take longer with the test and some struggle and mouth the verbs to themselves, but I had no way of knowing if they struggled with (was/were) and (let/leave) or if they knew how to define travesty or apathy. It was all right, truly, just to stare out the window, eyeing bits of rain water that dripped down the limbs of cold leafless trees, hearing without seeing the hiss of a car moving past on wet asphalt, watching for big birds in the sky. Expandable spare time.
The door opens and closes as the teacher returns and today’s lunch menu is made olfactorily obvious. Spaghetti. Thoughtless, neck aching now, I continue to stare out at the world until it seems the saturnine overcast of morning has begun to chop itself apart. I do an inner, unspoken radio weatherman shtick in my head: WDYC, What Do You Care? Apathy Radio 666 AM on your dial . . . morning clouds will give way to — Shards of bright blue sky, yes! and the sun lashes the schoolyard for about four seconds (not entirely unlike the quick scary brightness of lightning at night) before another gigantic cloud returns to re-darken the morning.
Neil. Neil, have you completed the test?


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