Price kept one test from the stack passed to him and sent the rest on to the students to his right in the auditorium. His stomach turned a bit sour as he read the first question on the midterm test on the US Civil War. How could he keep all those battles straight, how many were killed and how many wounded. He flipped through the pages – Oh Jesus, a map.
Price exhaled an audible groan. Students glanced his way and then returned to their tests. Price looked at the instructor and the graduate assistants, all of whom were glaring at him, including one walking up the aisle closest to his seat. Quickly he looked again at the test, his eyes searching for words with meaning.
This was a survey class, American History, 100-level. It was supposed to be easy, and yet, his stomach churned with sour bile, sweat beaded just about everywhere, his mouth was dry, his hands had gone clammy. The syllabus stated this test was 30% of the course grade.
These professors! Always nitpicking the smallest details! The war was the North against the South. It was simple! Price understood the importance of learning the names of the major battles, the generals, even. But why so many details? Why the exact locations of each battlefield?
He set his pencil down on the tiny, hinged piece of Formica that served as a desk, and wiped his hands on his jeans.
“Focus!” he whispered.
“Sshhh!” hissed the response of the graduate student monitoring the end of his row.
Price rolled his eyes and reached for his pencil, which careened off the Formica and onto the slightly sloped floor of the auditorium. It rolled toward the stage.
Price stood, and the graduate student glared. “Sit!” he hissed, a bubble of spittle flying.
“I need my pencil,” Price stood. From all around came more “sssshhh” requests. Despite them, Price clambered over knees extending into the narrow row. He needed that pencil. The graduate student handed him one, which he might have appreciated if it had an eraser and fewer teeth marks. Regardless, the clock was ticking, and Price had not marked a single response. He sat, his thoughts swirling like the bile in his stomach. Most of them had nothing to do with American history. He tried to focus, closing his eyes. He tapped the pencil against his temple, tap… tap… tap…. Slowly, his mind began to quiet itself. He became conscious of a steady scratching noise, at regular intervals, from his left.
He opened his eyes and looked for the sound’s source: the steady scratching of a #2 pencil. The student to his left was prepared. She was blonde and chubby, in a way that he liked because it meant a larger cup size of bra. She was fairly attractive and answered question after question, barely hesitating. Although he couldn’t see her face, she seemed familiar. What he could see, though, was her scantron. She was a lefty and didn’t block his view of her answers.
Squinting a bit, he tried to see them. It wasn’t cheating exactly, not like some of his frat brothers did – crib sheets or memorizing tests from the boxes in the attic. It was a glance, an opportunity – like when girls bent forward and you could see their glorious cleavage. Yes, he decided. It wasn’t cheating exactly. He was simply taking advantage of an opportunity.
The pesky graduate student who had given him the pencil was focused on students elsewhere. It was now or never. Price noted the first five answers with light ticks on his scantron. He could go back later and bubble them in, but he needed to get all the responses he could before this blonde finished.
He squinted again at her test. Would it kill her to move her arm a bit? Ah, a few more answers. Swiftly he marked those and looked up for more. The blonde flipped through the pages of the test booklet, then finding the front page, placed it on top of the scantron.
“No!” Price was positive he hadn’t said it aloud, but the proctor had heard it.
“Sssshhh!” he spat.
The blonde raised her hand, then stood, handing the test to the proctor. Price felt himself deflating as student after student followed her lead.
“Five minutes!” the proctor announced.
Price bubbled in the answers he’d ticked, making them dark and complete. He had 43 more to go. Without referencing the test booklet, he began bubbling a random pattern. He wiped his sweaty hand on his jeans, then continued bubbling. It had to work, right? Some of the answers were bound to be correct.
A student jostled him, trying to get by. It disturbed his train of thought. He lifted his elbow to mop his brow and became conscious of a strong odor from his armpit. He’d shower as soon as he got home, but hadn’t he put on deodorant that morning?
“One minute!” the proctor announced, staring at Price.
There were only two other students in the auditorium, and one was standing up now. Price frantically marked answers, each a little more malformed that the previous.
“Hand it over.” This was a different graduate student.
“But I’m not done.” Price continued bubbling.
“Let me fin----“
But the graduate student had hold of the scantron. Price’s pencil made a line down the length of it as his struggle to keep control of the paper was lost.
“But----“ Price called out as the proctor walked away with the unfinished scantron. His hand clenched the chewed pencil, and then before he realized what he was doing, the pencil was flung, clocking the graduate student right where a small bald spot was forming on the top of his head. Without waiting for the reaction, Price vaulted over row after row of seating, until he reached the aisle and could run. Winded, he made it to the door, his breath coming in short rasps. It was over.