Willow Lake Press
by Cat van Besoyen © 1997
Joy of X My eyes crossed involuntarily, as my brain decided to take a sabbatical, I watched, wide eyed, resembling the proverbial deer in the headlights, as the algebra professor stood at the front of the classroom, shadowed sharply by the harsh lighting. The chalk gripped fiercely in her hand, she scraped relentlessly on the blackboard. I slowly focused on the problem, which was beginning to resemble a dyslectic's version of War and Peace.

Of medium build, and slightly rotund, Mrs. Applewhite, with her pale freckled complexion, bore an uncanny resemblance to her name. An incessant smoker, never without a crumpled pack of Marlboros, she would hack roughly through fractions and factoring.

Abandoning herself freely to her miseries, she would valiantly continue her lecture through sputtering coughs. That she was virtually unintelligible at that point worried her not a whit. Regaining her composure she'd smile triumphantly, and hold up the chalk as in victory.

"Now are we OK with this people?" she'd boom, sharply clipping off the

With a toss of her red mane, suspiciously without a touch of gray, she'd give a brief pause, like a small burp interrupting her continuing tirade. Enthusiastically pontificating, she would lead her charges through a meandering maze of equations, thrashing the dry chalk against the blackboard in a sort of mania of mathematical fury. By the end of each class all that remained was a minute bit of chalk dust permanently embedded into the callused pads of her fingers.

I sat transfixed, eyes glazed, my head bobbing slightly like some toy dog sitting in a cars back window. Pivoting dangerously around her ancient desk, she faced the class with a benevolent smile. Reaching up to the podium she fumbled another piece of chalk from a well -stuffed packet, solemnly holding it up for inspection.

This is absurd, I thought. Why was I sitting here, in a college algebra class at thirty something years old? Had I suddenly been gripped by a burning desire to discover the joy of X? The ecstasy to be had in deciphering the identity of Y? My slight smile froze as Mrs. Applewhite looked inquiringly out over her diverse brood.

Slowly, she passed the chalk over each tightly bowed head. When she stopped suddenly on the top of my tightly scrunchied ponytail, my frozen smile began to twitch, tic-like. Her eyes flashing impishly, she called out my name, "Ms. van Besoyen, would you be so kind as to solve the equation for us please?"

Solve it? I wanted to sandblast the bloody thing permanently off the blackboard! Standing up, I felt oddly calm like I was watching myself in slow motion. I reached out timidly for the piece of chalk. Here it was at last, middle-aged humiliation among the hormonally challenged. I quickly evaluated my options. A sudden cramp, requiring immediate attention in the facilities of the campus nurse? Possible, but too involved, I mused. The dead faint with optional "female problems" was definitely called for here. I steeled myself with an actor's motivation, my jaw hanging down slackly, as I prepared to hyperventilate.

Mrs. Applewhite's voice piped cheerily, "Now do we remember the rules for multiplying binomials, people?" I fully expected her to continue, enunciating slowly and clearly, "Now can we all say Bi-No-Mi-Als?" As if we were in some sort of parody of Mr. Rogers visits Hell. When she took off at auctioneer's speed, reciting those elusive methods -{mn [24 + 2x] - (9m + 6y) + 4.5% } - 3x x 73y..... the rate of her delivery was beyond belief.

With diction crisp and clear, her voice booming resonantly, like some cow with intestinal problems. She had obviously missed her calling in life. I had begun to picture her as the auctioneer in a farm sale, her spittle flying about profusely as she praised the assets of a particularly fine specimen of Bull, when she finished her tirade abruptly. Cruelly jerked away from my mental diversion, and wound up in the tense excitement of the moment, I raised the chalk high above the wooden podium, and slammed it down forcefully. "Sold!" I cried gleefully. Bits of the broken chalk clattered around my feet, clanging down endlessly in the morgue-like silence.

Titters spurted from the back of the class. Generally apathetic, the students erupted into lusty laughter, sputtering with spasmatic hiccups as they fought valiantly for control. Adopting my most submissive posture, I held out the scrap of chalk, looked up, puppy like, at Mrs. Applewhite. She raised her head. Mrs. Applewhite smiled, although her left eyebrow stayed lifted stiffly while she gathered up some papers.

"OK people," she clipped, with a tolerant glance in my direction, "'This is your homework for tomorrow, please have it finished and be ready to discuss any problems. I'll see you tomorrow as 12:30." My arm popped up stiffly, automatically reaching for my homework.

Unfortunately, I had forgotten about the piece of chalk still held in my hand. The slivered pebble leapt seemingly self-propelled out of my fingers. It arched gracefully over Mrs. Applewhite's head, and came down firmly on her slightly upturned nose before slipping off into the merciless depths deep within the mountains of her bosom.

My homework papers drifted out of my shaking fingers, gently disturbing the ever-growing mounds of chalk dust covering the buckled linoleum floor. I gazed up at Mrs. Applewhite's contorted face. Her lips, normally full and animated, were locked together stiffly. I watched, horror-stricken, her jaws clenched so tightly that I was afraid I would witness the spontaneous fusion of her tobacco stained enamel. Aided by adrenaline, I gathered up my workbook and purse, and dashed out the door, single-mindedly seeking the nearest exit.

Flying down the stairs, I slowed down somewhat as an idea planted itself in my mind. My friend Michael ran up and turned me around, "Don't sweat it," he grinned,"everybody thought it was hysterical, and I'll help; you with the homework."

"Michael," I said forcefully as spittle threatened to escape my lips, "I believe I may have underestimated the career benefits of pushing burgers and fries, you can move up fairly quickly I hear, and..."

He patted me on the head indulgently, while I stuttered on. Bending close to my ear as if a about to reveal a great confidence, he whispered, "Don't you know what lies behind door number X my dear Kitty Cat?" When I remained mute, breathing heavily, he leaned back with a grin, threw his arms open wide, and exclaimed pointedly, "Why it's the MEANING."
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