The avocado clock on the wall seemed to tick louder and slower as the seconds passed, echoing through the empty classroom.
A few hours earlier, the room had been alive with the noise and chatter of adolescents who had been rounded up, forced into plastic chairs, and branded with the title “middle school students.” Now, however, the creatures had been freed, and the only living being left in the room was a middle-aged man with thinning hair and thick, coke bottle lenses.
The man sat hunched at a desk, where moved in an almost robotic fashion, taking a paper from the stack on his left, scratching at it with a red pencil, and then placing it in the stack on his right before repeating the whole process. His movements soon fell into syncopation with the ticking of the avocado clock, and the sounds echoed off of the scuffed linoleum floors and bare, yellow walls.
After a few more rounds, the man seemed to deflate. He groaned, yawned, and took off his glasses, throwing them onto the desk where they landed with a heavy thunk among the crumpled papers and Styrofoam cups.
The man rubbed his eyes, yawned once more, and then slowly reached for the next paper on the desk.
He froze, staring at the paper while his face flushed. He reached for his glasses, put them on, and squinted at the paper again, mouth agape in astonishment.
Just then, the classroom door swung open, and the man jumped. Standing in the doorway was a tall, thin woman in a rumpled blouse.
“Hey, Gary. I’m going to go grab some takeout from the new Chinese place. Would you like anything?”
“Karen,” the man hissed. “Come in and shut the door. I have something to show you.”
The woman shrugged and shut the door, coming to stand by the desk. “You okay, Gary?”
“Okay? I’ve never been better. How astonishing this is!” He thrust the paper at Karen, along with a heavy book. “I’ve just been grading labs, you see, and I’ve stumbled across an amazing result.”
He pointed at the book. “This is the result the children are supposed to get, and this is the result that Bobby Richards got.”
Karen frowned. “Doesn’t that just mean he got the wrong-“
“- it means that Bobby Richards has made the most important discovery in the history of science.”
Gary looked up at Karen again, his watery eyes gleaming behind his glasses.
“Think about it, Karen. This completely undoes everything we thought we knew about chemistry and physics. Who would have known that the greatest scientific genius of all time was sitting in my third period science class?”
“I certainly wouldn’t,” Karen said. “He usually just sleeps through my class.”
“He’s beyond anything we can teach him here, of course,” Gary said, waving this aside. “We need to get his work published in a journal right away.”
Karen took the paper from Gary again, and smirked. “Maybe we should erase the dirty pictures he’s doodled on the margins, before we submit it.”
“Those aren’t dirty pictures,” Gary said. “He’s had to invent an entirely new scientific notation to express his radical ideas.”
Karen shook her head. “Sure. Of course he has.” She turned and walked to the door.
“Hey, where are you going?”
“I should get back to grading my own papers. One of my students has written a poem- half of the words are misspelled, the grammar is atrocious, and the meter is completely off. Obviously, it’s a brilliantly existential deconstructionist critique of the human condition,” Karen said acidly.
Karen turned back, and saw that Gary had stood up. A broad grin stretched across his face, baring a mouthful of even, white teeth. He stretched his hand out.
“Congratulations,” he said, “on your discovery.”
Karen sighed, and turned back to the door. “I’ll bring you some lo mein.”