February 5, 2009

Vignette: Pen Toss

Picture an early evening in late September. The warm, aged air of summer mixes with a sudden chill that hints of the coming autumn. Spots of brown, fading leaves, speckle the green maple trees lining the walk to the library. A girl, fresh-faced and beginning her fourth year at college, moves down this pathway to the entrance. She heaves open the brown oak door to the library. Standing in the foyer, she sighs. A play of her academic stresses runs through her mind as she walks to the northeast corner of the first floor. She sits down at her favorite carrel, a deep pocket of worn wood and censor-worthy scribbles. It is just past six o'clock in the evening. The room is fairly empty. Most students are eating dinner or playing Frisbee on the lawn outside their dorms.

Before opening her theology book (purposefully ignoring all things related to her thesis), she braids her thick, tumbling hair and removes her sweater, a cotton lime green shrug. The late September light, a warm yellow, turns a deep grey-blue. The girl stares out the nearest window, watching the fast changes of light move across the library courtyard. Eventually, her own reflection appears more distinct than anything else.

The library holds a heavy silence. Here and there, it is interrupted by the low rumble of the air conditioner, the rustle of papers, the zipping of a backpack, and the occasional ringing of a cell phone that someone forgot to silence (ring tone: Barry White, "Let's Get It On). The girl switches to working on her thesis assignment but suddenly feels the encroachment of others on her study space, huffing softly to herself. At the desk diagonally behind her, someone throws down a heavy backpack and sniffs loudly.

She tilts her head back and stares up at the ceiling, hoping to find a brilliantly-written inspiration for the first chapter of her thesis. No luck. She glances at her thesis books piled in the corner of the desk. She picks one up to read a story from an early work with then intention of then reading a story from a later collection, hoping to draw all the obvious and ideally not-so-obvious conclusions into the greater argument of her project. She hears a faint noise like a small object hitting the floor every so often. She chocks it up to the quirks of the old building. Her intent lies solely in crafting a feasible submission for her 8 o’clock adviser meeting the following morning.

Forty-five minutes later, she has a page and half of something resembling coherent analysis and, as a reward, decides to pack up her things and head back to her dorm room. She puts her books and papers into her bag, staring into the distance and bouncing around an idea for how she ought to organize her thesis. She zips up her bag slowly, and then hears a “Psst,” coming from behind her. She turns to see one of the boys who lived in the suite down the hall staring at her from the carrel diagonally behind her, a quizzical smile on his face. "You have all my pens," he whispers.


"My pens. They're all in your bag." His dark eyes twinkle and his mouth spreads to a toothy grin.

"Excuse me?" She laughs, quietly, confused.

He stands up and walks over to lean against the side of her carrel. "I've been throwing pens at you for the past half hour and you haven't budged an inch. Then, you picked up all the pens and put them in your bag with your books."

She forgets where she is for a moment and throws her head back to let out a loud laugh. Heads lift from several desks, and one female voice hisses a "Shhhhhh!" She shrugs in a giggle and then looks squarely into his eyes for the first time.

She looks down quickly, suddenly nervous, and fishes the pens out of her bag and pours them into his hands. “Hah, well, um, I guess my mind was somewhere else,” she says, moving further down the aisle away from him.

“No worries,” he chuckles, one hand holding the pens and the other stuffed into his jeans' pocket.” It’s good to see a familiar face here. I was beginning to think that I was the only senior dumb enough to still care about work."

“No, that’s definitely not the case with this girl,” she points at herself, awkwardly. “If the frequency of studying correlates to a person’s lack of intelligence than I am certainly the dumbest person at this school."

They both laugh, and then she gestures goodbye and walks down the aisle to the exit. He sits down at his carrel, but then says, to no one in particular, “Pens? Really? You’ve got to have something better than that.”

To which he receives a chorus of “Shhhhhhhs” from around the room.

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