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"I can't believe this. It's a joke, right?-
Around the classroom, students scratched their heads in confusion. The speaker, a young man of southeast asian ancestry, stared in disbelief as the teaching assistants marched down the aisles, reams of paper cradled in their arms. He gazed blindly at the stack of sheets handed to him, automatically taking the top one for himself and passing the rest on.
"It's got to be a joke. Who would give a pop quiz on April Fool's Day?-
Someone else called out, "So, do we all get a hundred?-
The professor merely giggled.
No one knew, did they? No one suspected.
To any outsider, you appear to be the average, well-adjusted guy, though perhaps a little on the weird side. Tall and imposing, clad all in black, you cast an impressive figure as you stride down the street. Most of the time you're quiet and aloof, burying yourself in your studies and other intellectual pursuits. Only with your fellow musicians do you freely display your odd sense of humor, combining your bizarre facial expressions, random comments, and the things other people say; before long, everyone is laughing.
Even then, little do they know...
Flashbacks to winter.
Snow blankets the ground on a quiet city street, muffling all sounds. Big fluffy white flakes fall in clouds beneath the streetlights, whirling their unique dance to some silent music unheard in the wind. The sky is that strange, purple color, dark and yet still pale, that accompanies harsh hibernal nights. The area's urban denizens are grateful for the warmth their homes provide.
The girl standing alone at the window looks out over the desolate scene. Inside, the strains of E.S. Posthumus' "Cuzco"cover the whistling of the wind as she silently contemplates loneliness in her isolation.
The two of them made their way down the street, clearly in no particular hurry, but not dawdling, either. The tall, angular boy, clad in a dark leather jacket, bent his raven head as he listened intently. His companion, a shorter, somewhat stout, fair-haired girl, chattered away happily as the pair flowed towards their destination together. As her hands fluttered this way and that, sketching out pictures in the air, the boy grinned and laughed aloud.
Across the street, a woman watched them from the shadows. She sighed contentedly, with some relief; it was good to see him smile again.
Staring up at the sky, the child sighed and returned to his contemplation of death.
A serious matter for one so young, no doubt, yet he could not help it. The curiosity was ingrained, part of his being. To deny it was to deny himself.
Humans define their world by their own existence. Reality is subjective. Man knows, in an abstract sense, that the world will continue without him, but man cannot fully grasp the idea. Stretching a hand up towards the sun, the child squinted. Try as he might, he could not quite understand...
What happens when we die?
The world lost a great leader last weekend.
Pope John Paul II reached his hand out to help so many people in need, regardless of gender, ethnicity, or religious beliefs. He spoke out for peace and freedom in times when it seemed that no one else would truly champion those causes. He gave hope to the hopeless, and so much more.
Farewell, your excellency. May your journey be filled with the peace, light, and love you strove to promote and protect. The world mourns its loss, and the absence of your calming presence will be felt for generations to come.
Putting the balloon to his mouth, he inhaled the inert gas trapped within the latex bubble. The sphere shrank discernibly in front of his face; only his eyes were visible above its gray curve, glancing about from here to there and back again. Having had his fill of helium, he pinched the leak shut and lowered the balloon from his lips.
"Get back in the dishroom." Distorted by the lighter-than-air gas, his voice sounded like an audio cassette on fast-forward. "Get back in the dishroom, now. Go. Now.-
How did he manage to keep a straight face for that long?
Staring down at the verses on the paper, the girl sat back, stunned. The words there had stolen her breath. She had no idea what to say. No one had ever given her a flower (unless it was after a concert in which she'd played), much less written her a poem. Certainly not one as beautiful as this. After all, she was the girl whom no one else paid attention to, let alone spent time with. But suddenly, here were these gifts sitting in her lap, gifts someone had given specifically to her.
And she couldn't understand why.
How do you do it? What's the secret?
During rehearsals, things fall apart. The music doesn't stay together, it's out of tune, it's terrible. It isn't a symphony; it's a mess, and a poor excuse for one at that. Morale sinks down to previously unexplored depths, as the final glimpse of hope vanishes. All around, there is only despair.
And yet somehow, at the last possible second, during the performance itself, things come together. And they sound right, as the composer intended them to be.
Oh children! Somewhere out there, there is a concertmistress who is very proud.
Grass fibers twisted and tore as the blade was plucked from its resting place, releasing the scent of its innards upon the air. Carefully sandwiching it between her narrow thumbs, the girl placed her lips on her knuckles and blew.
Nothing. Not a sound.
Furrowing her brow, she readjusted, tried again, slightly harder. Still nothing. The slender sprig refused to release the high- pitched squeal characteristic of grass-whistles.
Sitting on the fence above, a dark-haired boy grinned as he said, "That grass is too thin, I think." The girl looked up, meeting his gaze, then threw back her head and laughed.
The train opened its doors, and a veritable flood of humanity poured into the box. People from all walks of life squashed themselves like sardines against the walls of the subway car until the wall seams threatened to burst. Caps, jackets, sports jerseys, and t-shirts bore the local sacred insignia, and screamed with the names and numbers of the city's heroes. Excited chatter filled the car as the doors barely squealed shut and the train began to move. The air was charged with energy so that it almost audibly crackled, an energy that could only come from one thing.
Everything was ready. The girl glanced nervously at the clock as she hastily threw her things together, running through a brief mental checklist. She was almost going to be late. The lab report was finished, printed and crammed between the cover and the first page of her carbon-paper lab notebook. The notebook and the lab text were laid out on her bed. The goggles were on their usual shelf, until she crammed them into her bag. Packing complete, she headed out.
It wasn't until she set foot in the chemistry building that she realized that she'd only brought the goggles.
Not good enough. It's simply unacceptable.
You keep repeating that you're worthless, that you're horrible, as if challenging someone to prove otherwise. You fail once at something self-crucial, and immediately give up, telling yourself that it's not worth it. Lying to yourself. You know you care, and that hurts you. You've managed to convince yourself that you'll never be happy. Maybe you've succeeded at deluding yourself, but the rest of the world isn't fooled. It's like you don't want to be happy, like you're afraid of happiness and what it might mean. Stop clinging to the lie.
Stop hurting yourself.
Picking up the weights, the girl paused, then shook her head and set them down again. Focus, she told herself. Closing her eyes, she sighed, then bent to lift the weights one more time. But no matter what she did, the same thoughts came back time and again to haunt her, intruding on her consciousness and shattering her concentration.
Another betrayal. One more for the list of so-called friends who had ulterior motives. She dreaded that it would end badly, as it had every time in the past. Yet there seemed to be nothing she could do to prevent it.
How to do it?
He sighed dejectedly.
He knew he had to. He liked her, that much was for sure; when she had asked him if the feeling was mutual, he hadn't been lying when he'd answered in the affirmative. The gifts were a nice touch as well. But something about it just felt wrong. Something wasn't right, and he couldn't identify it, specifically.
He knew she would ask why. He knew she would argue, try to reason with him (who can reason with love?). It would hurt her, yes. But the alternative, lying to her, would hurt far more.
From the morning, the day looked all right, if a bit boring. Perhaps somewhat lonely, yes, but sometimes solitude was necessary. One of the things she lacked most right now was alone time.
Then a single phone call shattered it.
Not in a bad way. When she heard her sister's voice, the tinny voicemail recording played back over radio waves, she was surprised. She had expected a different caller, a different message. This was not unwelcome. A night with family, especially family she hadn't yet estranged, would be welcome. She smiled and hummed to herself as her fingers dialed home.
Nervous chatter filled the hallway outside the lounge as people lined up. All eight musicians slouched around, dressed in formal black attire. Skittish banter flew back and forth as they awaited the applause which would signal that it was finally time.
One of them danced nimbly around the others, making a last-second trip to the bathroom.
"Uh-oh, Jason's throwing up,"someone cracked.
All tried to soothe jangled nerves. Adrenaline threatened to drown some, only just held at bay.
"Remember, guys, enjoy yourselves. And feel free to headbang all you want. I know I will." A half-grin danced around her lips.
Changes. Awkward at first, not knowing what to say, not having seen each other for such a long time. But not uncomfortable awkwardness, a sort of mutual chummy silence. Poking. Watching the Neverending Story. Climbing the dormitory, throwing a broken CD player against a wall. Smash.
Running to the top of the hill for an epic three-way battle with boffing swords. Taking turns when one breaks. Going two against one when another breaks. Shouting. Laughter.
Meeting new people with similar interests. Lying back on the grass, staring at the sky, just talking.
There aren't many people who can do that.
Early evening. Spring warmth dissipates slowly, sifting down through moonlit trees.
A couple sits on a grassy slope, watching a voice recital through the broad windows of the music building. The dim golden light from inside is reflected in their eyes, creating a glow like that of beach sand on a hot day. She leans against him, his tall, thin frame effortlessly supporting her weight. He drapes an arm tenderly about her shoulders and pulls her in closer, so she can rest her head on his shoulder. Together, lost in the moment, they enjoy the soft music and each other.
"Okay, before we start the discussion, I want to add one thing." The professor clapped his hands together as he stood at the front of the classroom. The students saw themselves reflected in the lenses of his glasses.
"I am making an executive decision,"he continued. "There will be no vote today. We are relocating outside.-
The classroom rang with a few cheers and exclamations of "Yes!" Several students applauded before bending to gather their things. The beautiful eighty-degree weather outside had been beckoning all afternoon, and no one wanted to miss taking advantage of it. Not even the professor.
Run up the hill, swords in hand. The grass flies under feet, legs hungry for more. Go faster, go farther. Rush past the treesÃƒâ€šÃ¢â‚¬â€or do they rush past her?Ãƒâ€šÃ¢â‚¬â€she looks down for an instant. There, at the foot of a lonely pine, a clutch of bright blue flowers (forget- me-nots?), each blossom no bigger than her thumbnail. The small spray hangs still, then is jerked into motion, falls behind, bobs in her wake. She looks up, squinting at silhouettes of people. The world is bathed in golden sunset behind the hill, as they celebrate laughter and joy and existence.
Curled in the comfy chair in the corner, shot glass in hand, the girl did her best to ignore the pounding of the music emanating from the speakers to her left. Instead she focused on the behavior of the partygoers before her. Clad in Hawaiian shirts and sunglasses, the beach-themed revelers clustered around the table, talking, laughing, and drinking. Especially drinking.
It seemed to her that alcohol made people suddenly become the best of friends. There was much back-slapping and going around, for reasons she could not discern. This would require further study, she mused, and sat back to observe.
She doesn't know what she really wants.
She has no idea who she is, what she wants, what she needs. And that scares the living daylights out of her. It's one thing to be confused, or indecisive, but to not know is another matter entirely. She can't stand being alone, because that would mean having to figure it out, having to look into that internal mirror that everyone has and seeing herself for who she really is. She's afraid of what she might see.
She's afraid of herself. But she can't let anyone know. That would be admitting a weakness.
"Get over it,"he typed. She was being naive, and stubborn about it.
"On the one hand, you complain that the world sucks, that people suck, and that no one loves you. Everyone hates you, everyone is out to get you. But on the other hand you sits there and do nothing about it. You don't try to go out and meet new people. You secretly hope for some magical knight in shining armor who will come and prove you wrong. That only happens in fairy tales.-
He sighed. He hated it when people didn't try. And she definitely didn't.
Sighing over her keyboard, she fails to bend her mind to the task. This is one paper she can't focus on, and she doesn't know why. The class is interesting, and one of her favorites, but concentration has gone out the window.
A soft chuckling noise comes from the bed. At first, nothing, but then the covers seem to move on their own. Eventually a small fuzzy head pokes itself out of a fold in the comforter, masked face looking around.
"Oh, my dear ferret,"she thinks to herself, "you are definitely my best friend.-
Animals don't judge, or betray.
Chatter filled the laboratory as students went about their business. It was the last organic chemistry laboratory of the semester, and most people were pleased. No more staying on-campus late on Tuesday nights, finishing some frustrating little detail of a chemical experiment or figuring out what went wrong in the reaction.
There was one who openly admitted sadness at the prospect of meeting again. For him, it was a bittersweet parting; yes, there would be no more irksome mistakes or failures to explain, but there would also be no more late-night conversations, no more witty banter flickering through the air.
It was cold for a spring night. Rainy as well. The air was thick with fog, to the point that it was almost possible to see individual drops of moisture suspended in the atmosphere. Each lantern in the park was ringed with a rainbowed halo on its tall cast-iron post. The light didn't fall far from its sources; all figures in the distance were shrouded in whitish mist, rendering details almost invisible. It was as if someone had taken an eraser and smudged the lines and colors into grayish faintness.
She grinned, as she strode through the murk. Ãƒâ€šÃ¢â‚¬ËœTwas perfect.
Work was certainly awkward. He couldn't even look in her direction, and any chance meeting of their eyes was qyite out of the question. The whole time, he kept his head down, never looking at her directly, avoiding being in the office as much as possible. It was hard enough to sit at the same table, to be in the same room. He didn't know if she was aware of the tension or not, but it was glaringly obvious to him.
When he caught himself practicing hangman's knots in a stray shoelace, he realized it was worse than he thought.
Is it possible to feel the breakdown of the body with age?
The human being is such a finely-tuned organism. So many different organs, performing specific functions, working together as a whole. Humans are not as strong as they think they are; one imbalance in their delicate equilibrium and they wilt, wither, die. The search for the cure to old age, the antidote to time, is far older than recorded history. Is there such a cure?
And is it possible for a person to feel each complex system shut down, one by one, until whatever remains collapses in on itself?
At least it was over.
She sighed. The exam no longer mattered; she wasn't bothered by the fact that she couldn't remember what had been on it, much less what she'd done wrong. Such a memory lapse was normal, at least for her. She leaned forward and rubbed her eyes tiredly.
If this was normal, then what was it that didn't feel right? Why was she so restless? Was it just the spring, getting to her, or was it something else?
Maybe a walk would help her clear her head, and figure this out. Absent-mindedly, she reached for her keys.
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