Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Education of Fred - Realization

Another Round Table assignment:

...write a passage of 500-1000 words in which a character finally realizes something about him or herself that is obvious to everyone else.

The Education of Fred - Realization
Fred felt a little light-headed as he pulled into the parking lot at the country club. Paula kept up a constant stream of inane chatter that he was not making any attempt to follow, and she didn't seem to mind that she was the only one talking. Fred got out of the car and went around to open her door, but she was already out and checking her makeup in the rearview mirror. Fred shook his head in annoyance. He knew it was old fashioned to want to open the door for a lady, but he still thought it was the right thing to do.
"I haven't been here since Dirk and I broke up last month. I am SO looking forward to seeing him here tonight." Paula said. Fred's ears finally perked up at this comment.
"Why are you looking forward to seeing him here? I thought you hated him. After all of the bitterness and bile you have been spewing about him..." Paula rolled her eyes and sighed at Fred's utter naivete.
"I am looking forward to seeing the look on his face when I show up with YOU silly. He always said I was just arm candy, and that nobody would ever want to have an intelligent conversation with me. Now I am coming to a party at his own country club with the smartest man in the world. Who can't have an intelligent conversation?" She smiled at Fred, her perfectly aligned and whitened teeth gleaming in the dim light. Fred's eyes narrowed. He wanted badly to tell her that as far as intelligent conversation was concerned, that Dirk was spot on. Paula had nothing of substance to say about anything, and Fred had yet to have anything close to what he would consider a conversation with her, intelligent or otherwise. His brain screamed at him that he had plenty of meaningful and very stimulating conversations with April, but he shoved those thoughts back angrily. April could be here with him tonight, if she wasn't so unreasonable and jealous. He felt annoyed that Paula was so blatantly using him and his fame to further her own petty ends, but then again, his only reason for bringing her with him tonight was so that all of the other scientists would see him hanging out with such a beautiful woman.
Fred choked back his retort and held out his arm.
"Well, let's go show Dirk exactly what he is missing out on then." Paula graced him with another of her thousand-watt smiles and happily took his arm.
Once inside, they made their way directly to the bar, where Paula ordered something trendy and expensive, and Fred ordered the only domestic beer they had. It was still far too expensive and fancy for his taste, but it would have to do. Paula clung tightly to his arm, chatting up everyone around them with her constant stream of inane and meaningless small-talk while Fred scanned the room for familiar faces. He finally spotted his colleagues gathered around a cluster of tables on the far side of the room, and he pulled Paula away from a discussion on the merits of the various types of Botox injections and headed for them.
Glen spotted him halfway there and smiled and waved them in. Fred felt the shiver of anxiety he felt every time he saw Glen. For some reason his broad smile and cheerful banter had always felt just the slightest bit artificial to Fred, though he had no concrete reason for believing so.
"Freddy! Glad to see you could make it finally! No pressing mathematical mysteries to solve tonight eh? And who is this vision of loveliness on your arm?" Fred blushed and shook hands with Glen.
"Guys, this is Paula. Paula, this is Glen, Bill, Terry and Arthur. They work..." Paula interrupted him with her gushing, overly excited voice.
"Oh my gosh, you guys all work out at the University with Freddy don't you? I'll bet you guys are the smartest guys in the room! Right?" She asked, grasping Glen's hand tightly. Glen's eyebrows went up a fraction, then a smile spread across his face.
"Oh, well none of us is as brilliant as your Freddy here, but we can hold our own in a game of Trivial Pursuit." Glen's voice was taking on the acerbic tinge that Fred had come to associate with his sarcastic sense of humour and he felt anxiety grip his stomach. Perhaps bringing Paula had not been a good idea after all. April would have been more than capable of holding her own in a battle of wits with Glen, or anyone else at the table for that matter. But she had made her own choices hadn't she? The room was suddenly very hot and crowded and Fred felt an urgent need for a breath of fresh air.
"Hey Paula, I need to visit the little boys room. I'll be right back OK?" Paula barely heard him, as she had already launched a stream of patter at Glen and the others and was squeezing herself in at the table. Fred turned and pushed his way through the crowd. He finally found the men's room and burst through the door. He found an empty stall and locked himself in and sat down and held his head in his hands. He closed his eyes and forced himself to breathe slowly and evenly. What was he doing here? Who was he trying to fool? He was more comfortable in his lab with a grease pencil and a wall full of equations, or on a creeper underneath an old Buick than he would ever be in a crowd of people. Why did he care so much what these arrogant people thought about him anyway? And why couldn't he get April out of his mind?
At that moment, he heard two voices enter the bathroom that he immediately recognized. It was Glen and Terry, and they were laughing loudly about something.
"Did you get a look at her dress? She was so close to falling out, I have never rooted for gravity so much in my life!" Fred's face burned with shame as he realized that they were talking about Paula.
"But what is she doing here with Freddy? I thought he was more into the cerebral type like his little community college girl than a glamor girl like her. Do you think... I mean, did he have to pay her?" Terry left the question hanging in the air, but Glen understood his meaning perfectly. He guffawed loudly, his voice echoing harshly off of the tile floors and walls.
"I bet you are right man. Let's get back out there before Genius Boy gets back and make her a counter offer and see if we can get her to come back to the lab and play naughty lab assistant with us!" The men's laughter echoed after them as they walked back out of the restroom.
Fred felt his face burning with shame. It was absolutely true. All of the nice things that they said to his face were lies. They were exactly like the folks from town, only with more education. They were just as threatened by his abilities as the uneducated hicks back home. Their disdain and petty insults were simply more complex and less obvious. He was still the guy that everybody looked at as inferior, regardless of how many discoveries he had made and regardless of how many papers he wrote. Fred felt utterly alone and lost.

© 2010 Tyler Willson. All rights reserved

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Another Writer's Round Table assignment. A couple of days late, but at least I am writing again!

...write a passage of 500-1000 words where your main character nervously enters a place he or she has never been before.

The Education of Fred - First Day of School

Fred couldn't remember ever being this nervous. He could only vaguely remember his real first day of school, a fuzzy memory of new shoes and a box of crayons that he kept sniffing because he loved the smell. A smiling lady in a billowing flowered dress pinning a name tag to his shirt for some reason evoked a sense of embarrassment. Fred sincerely hoped there would be no name tags here tonight.

He walked up the steps of the community center, glancing briefly at the wrinkled piece of paper in his hand to confirm, for the thousandth time, that he was in the right place. Not that he could read much of what the paper said; that was why he was here tonight. He could read enough to find an address at least.

Pushing open the door, he walked into the harsh glare of fluorescent lighting. A smiling woman in a billowing flowered dress sat on a stool behind a counter, and Fred caught his breath for a moment. Then he shook his head and answered her cheerful greeting.

"Hello, I am here for the Adult Literacy class?" He said, uncertain of what reaction he might receive. Except for Molly, he had told nobody else of his ambition to learn to read and write. The knowledge that he was already a laughingstock for being unable to read had convinced him that it would only fuel the fires of ridicule for people to know that he was taking classes to learn how. The woman at the desk however gave no indication that anything was at all abnormal.
"Third door on your right down that hallway." She indicated with a hand heavily decorated with gaudy jewelry. Fred nodded gratefully and turned in the direction indicated. The woman's cheerful voice stopped him.
"You have to sign in sweetie... it's how we justify our funding from the county you know!" The bejeweled hand was now pointing to a sheet of notebook paper clipped to a clipboard on the counter in front of her. Fred swallowed back a wave of apprehension and came over to the counter. Of course he could write his own name and address, but he knew full well how juvenile his handwriting was and hated for people to see it. A pen was tethered to the clipboard with duct tape and kite string and he picked it up and started writing his name at the bottom of the list. The pen didn't work, and Fred scribbled in the margin trying to coax it to life.
"Oh, that darn pen! I don't know exactly why they keep quitting on me! Every time I put one out there, it stops working after two or three people use it! I must be cursed!" She laughed, a loud and awkward honk that startled Fred. He forced a smile and nodded, hoping that she would stop soon. She started scrabbling in a desk drawer for a replacement, and Fred looked at the pen. It was one of the cheap clear plastic pens that seemed to migrate at will through our civilization, and which also seemed to choose whether or not to work at their own discretion.
At least this time, Fred saw the problem. The duct tape which fastened the makeshift tether to the pen was covering the hole in the side of the pen designed to let air in as the level of ink inside went down. He may not know how to read and write, but Fred certainly understood the concept of a vacuum. He peeled the duct tape off the pen and scribbled in the margin again. Sure enough, after just a few scribbles the ink began to flow freely again just as the woman came over with a stubby pencil with teeth marks in it.
"Oh! You got it to work! It must like you or something!" Fred smiled and nodded, finishing his name and address on the sign-in sheet.
"I guess you just have to know which swear words to say." He said, handing the pen back to the woman. "And don't cover the air-hole with tape. Pens gotta breathe too." He smiled at her and she answered him with her loud, honking laughter.
"I guess you are right! Pens gotta breathe too!" She honked more laughter, as if this was the funniest thing she had heard in years. Fred smiled, and turned away towards the classroom.

© 2010 Tyler Willson. All rights reserved